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ejourneys's picture

Every day has been (and will continue to be) "Christmas" for me. Instead of the child who runs in pajamas to look beneath the tree for presents, I get out of bed (slowly, still a bit cautious about vertigo), head to the bathroom to meet immediate needs, and then rush the two feet or so to the mirror over the sink to see if more hair follicles have awakened and yawned upward from my scalp. Each new growth is a little gift with my name on it, left quietly while I slept for me to discover in the morning.

Perhaps the Chanukah metaphor comes closer. I didn't grow up with a tree, but with eight days of candle lighting and small gifts distributed over eight days. Just make my modern version eight weeks instead. Eight-plus weeks of wispy hair growth and counting.

My eyebrows and eyelashes are returning as well.

I sent this holiday card to my surgeon. It incorporates an altered image of his handiwork from just after my lumpectomy (the scar is just a thin line now):

Large size

My "cards" to my chemo and radiation centers incorporate doodles that I've done (and posted here) while under each respective treatment.

It seems strange to think of my surgery, chemo, and radiation as gifts, but they are. So, too, the Arimidex I now take. If all goes well, being cut into, taking poisons, and submitting myself to burns and blisters have extended my life. As risk/benefit analyses go, they are meant to confer the greatest possible benefit.

Some have called cancer a gift for the way it has changed their perspective. I do not. Neither do I call the severe dysmenorrhea I'd had years ago a gift, even though it had taught me -- long after the fact -- ways to deal with cancer treatments and my resulting limitations. Despite its many side effects, my experience with chemo had been a cake walk next to the cramps and debilitation I had endured for almost two decades, including between periods. I had learned valuable coping tools that let me keep a roof over my head.

Similarly, gift is not a word I use to describe the car accident that had almost killed me when I was seven, even though I had learned early on to view my scars with gratitude rather than dismay. My altered breast is only the latest in a string of transformations that had begun with the chunk taken from my abdomen and the ropy line that crosses half my stomach.

For me cancer is an invader. It had been a bolt out of the blue while I was on the lookout for diabetes and heart disease, the maladies that ran in my family. Cancer had been there, too, but more distant, and to my knowledge breast cancer hadn't been there at all. For me, cancer is akin to a force of nature: my own private, capricious tornado. A perfect storm of variables had intersected, resulting in unchecked growth, with my age being the main factor.

In the spring of 1974 I had sat on my front porch, stunned and speechless as my neighbor across the street was helped into her family's car. Four months earlier she had been a robust woman with a solid build. Suddenly she was a skeleton. She was in her 50s, close to the age I am now. I was 15 and that had been my first glimpse of cancer, 40 years before I was diagnosed with it.

As a child I had been more intimately involved with a different life-threatening illness. While going through treatment this year I thought often of my mother, who had suffered her first major heart attack at 44 when I was ten. She had continued working an oftentimes stressful job for another 11 years and had enjoyed two years of retirement before she died, less than three weeks after turning 57.

Fighting cancer has given me a deeper appreciation of her resilience. Her resilience was and continues to be a gift, but the cancer from which I drew my new realization is not, any more than her coronary sclerosis had been.

Three years after my neighbor's death I had taken a psychology course called Communication and Adjustment, which my fellow students, professor, and I had all called "C&A." But I couldn't say that in front of my mother. She hated the acronym and complained, "It sounds like cancer." Back then, the disease had been so hushed up that even a completely unrelated shorthand elicited fear and an almost superstitious aversion.

Cancer is my adversary, and one learns from adversaries. Being alive gives me the chance to learn and to benefit from the lessons. My medical team has gifted me with survivorship so that I can continue to learn -- about anything -- and to cope with bolts from the blue as best I can.

Beth Gainer's recent blog entry, "Tips for the Newly Diagnosed," is one of many examples of the gifts we give each other, because of and in spite of cancer. Another gift comes in the resilience and humor shown by the young women of #ChristmasChemoBrow and their fabulous decorations.

Speaking of decorations, the flyer for my Creativity Heals group is now live and word is getting out.

Blessings to all this Holiday Season. May your gifts be those that bring you joy.


Jean-Luc's picture

Thank you so much for sharing this! :)

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