What Breast Cancer Taught Me
One of the hardest things a person can hear from their physician is the words "You have cancer." In January of 2013 two women in my immediate family were diagnosed with breast cancer and so began the journey. They did not have the same type of breast cancer so they took a different path when it came time for treatment. One would have the tumours removed, still keep her breast and begin chemotherapy. The other would undergo a radical mastectomy with no treatments to follow as this very rare cancer appears not to respond to chemo, hormonal or radiation therapies.
When cancer struck my family I went from the initial shock through to turning all my attention to their needs. I tried to suppress the "What ifs." Afraid that I may be some force in the world, I rejected as best as I could every negative thought that came my way. I did not want any negative energy to be the cause of more discomfort. With the pace of pre and post appointments, emotions that descended upon my loved ones and myself, along with calls to everybody who wanted to be kept in the loop there could have been little time to consider one's own health. Instead it became more of a focus.
I had always considered myself someone who had embraced life especially after a previous near death experience but that didn't mean I was always kind to my body. Whether through youthful idiocy or adult pressures there were certainly times when stress was high and coping was low. Though I have come to know that most cancers are not hereditary it still made me assess am I doing all I can to treat my temple well. So began my efforts to step up the laughter, reduce the stressors, incorporate yoga back into my day and be conscious of my breath. Interestingly, I feel I was more prepared for the challenges that our family was facing then I would have been a year ago. Now the mind and body connection was foremost in my thinking.
Besides my increased awareness of biology and belief came another interesting awakening attributed solely to breast cancers arrival. I learned to fully love my breasts. Once cancer and breasts became the topic of every conversation I couldn't help but think differently about my own. I always had a love-wish relationship with my breasts. From girlhood to womanhood I have comparatively assessed their appearance usually to standards set by a whole host of outside influences. For the most part I have been happy with their appearance but there have been many a time when I had wished for something "better." In conversations with other women on the topic of breasts each woman would throw in her opinion on what she likes and what she would change.
When I watched the women I love grapple with the reality that their breasts will be either disfigured or removed, it changes the way I saw my own body. The breasts were no longer used to attract a partner, to show off in an outfit or for feeding babies. Instead their significance became about life, death and their natural beauty. Now, I could care less what others think of my breasts or how they have changed as the years have passed. The only thing I think about is how thankful I am to have my breasts free of cancer. Watching breasts become more of a ticking time bomb than a feminine body part changed my perspective completely. I stand before the mirror now and think how beautiful they are.
However, if by chance in the future , I sit in a colourless office with a white coated Doctor, holding results of a scan in a file, pulling up a chair so she can tell me, "You have breast cancer", I will know that I am not alone. As these months have passed I have seen multiple women escorted to examination rooms in gowns, saw a cancer centre filled with families waiting alongside their loved one as they met with countless specialists. I understand the helpless feeling that takes over as you watch the gurney take them away to an awaiting surgeon and follow the aftercare that is both psychological and physical. It is only through this journey that I have seen and felt the most intense sadness, overwhelming anger, debilitating fear and incredible bravery displayed by women in my life. Yes, breast cancer has taught me and those I love a lot; I only wish the lesson could have been less invasive.
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