(excerpt from book below)
Recently, a woman I've known in the community for many years told me that her breast cancer had gone to the bone. I felt a flood of compassion flow to her. My thought also ran to the fact that my mother dealt with the same diagnosis. That was many decades ago, and I'm certain little was done for patients in that era. There was no support for my mother, and shame was a common side effect in the mid-fifties. I extended my sincere wishes for this woman's health, and told her to call me anytime. Her expression revealed a strain, and in that very moment, she mentioned how overwhelmed she is. Although she's surrounded by family and friends, it's still an isolating journey. My friends, who offered their help, had to become people I relied on as if blood family. With that said, I did what I had to do when no one was available. Driving with drains and a foggy brain takes skill. But I did it, and even then, wore my lip gloss!
Presently, when inquiries are made about getting back on track with life and business, I search my mind for the right words to say. Unless you've gone though this type of medical journey, it's understandably difficult to grasp what the world is like. Because we are all natural survivors, a cocoon of auto-pilot takes over. It's necessary in order to face and navigate the rough currents. No matter what age, personality, or status in life, this is the way it is.
What happens when you're on the other side is that the human emotions of fear, sadness, trauma, and even anger catches up to you. Admittedly, this is what I've experienced after three and a half years of my own breast cancer path. Once past the seventh and final surgery, I'm back on this planet, but far from fully recovered. When I sense expectations from others, I explain it like this: "It's like I've lived on another planet in an all-consuming ordeal, and now I'm meant to just jump back into the flow of life." I add that I'm in the process of resurrecting my life on all levels. There were times when I handled the intense pain and grueling days with aplomb, and other days, not so much. But I made valiant effort to stay the course wearing natural powder and gloss on routine auto-pilot. We truly never know by seeing someone's outside appearance what magnitude of challenge they may be dealing with on the inside. Below is an excerpt from one of the essays in my book titled, "The Seventh-An End and a Beginning": Other than my respite and wondrous month-long journey from it all, when I claimed my acceptance and scholarship to the Prague Summer Writing Program, I remained on auto-pilot. It was a blessing to get me through endless doctor appointments, painful procedures, surgeries, and long vulnerable recoveries. I would drive to all the necessary appointments without recalling how I got there. But I’d get to my destination, often remembering to put on lip gloss before walking out the door in robotic fashion. At home, you’d find me sunk deep into my long sofa. The hummingbirds brought comfort while singing, chirping and wrestling for dominance of the feeder outside the glass door. Since they had become family and beautifully connected to me; my feeder refill and hand-feeding them in the morning while drinking tea, and again when the sun fell low on the ocean was my starring respite. I’d become attached and reliant on our routine and familiarity. Now I realize that this glorious routine gave me something of importance to focus on; providing a distraction from the dark high waves wanting to envelop me. Giving to the hummingbirds when blooms disappeared into the parched and drought barren earth, gave me purpose and pause. I needed this gift to ensure strength; especially since family didn’t exist and friends were often far away. Keep on swimming through life, Valerie