Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Washing Dishes

I was drafted into a war I didn't want to fight. I couldn't move to Canada to avoid it, and conscientious objecting was not an option.

Unknowingly, I stumbled into the front lines when I received my draft notice: "The pathology report was positive, and the margins are bad" translated into "You have breast cancer, and it has spread." The unspoken translation: “You are going to die."

Washing Dishes

I despise the symbol for breast cancer – the pastel pink ribbon. My treatment for breast cancer temporarily robbed me of my outward signs of femininity. I lost all my hair – my eyebrows, my pubic hair, even the fine tiny hairs on my knuckles sloughed off.

Following two surgeries within a month (bad margins the first time), my affected breast was markedly smaller and had ugly red and purple tracks on it. Unusual complications from radiation turned the already assaulted breast into a swollen, deep red, leathery lump.

Chemotherapy withered my ovaries, ensuring I would never again know the pleasure of conception, pregnancy, or future children.

No, the symbol for breast cancer should be a black ribbon or, at the very least, a deep brown one. There's nothing girlie about breast cancer.

I was told by my oncologist that if I live long enough, complications from breast cancer will likely end my life. Of course, I may get lucky and be clobbered by a Mack truck or mugged or have a heart attack. But my chances of "dying peacefully" in my sleep of "natural causes" are slim to none.

I don't like to read obituaries which state someone succumbed "after a long courageous battle with cancer." Who says they fought a courageous battle anyway? At the risk of sounding insensitive, I cried like a baby at the prospects of being torn from my children and husband. There was no option but to try and survive; courage did not play a role. My heart pounded and I felt trapped, often. My body had turned against me and there was little I could do about it. It wasn't like I could run away; the monster was inside me.

I want my obituary to read "passed away after a valiant battle with the laundry beast." We all can relate to that fight. It's a zero sum game, but we all play it.

Personally, I am not fighting a battle against cancer, and I am not a survivor. Women are notably strong, but I believe it's unnatural and unhealthy to maintain a battle-ready state of mind.

Cancer is part of my daily existence. Why should I program my mind to engage my body in a battle with itself? Studies have shown that folks who picture battle themes such as shooting, bombing, and stabbing cancer cells have a shorter life expectancy than those who use less violent imagery.

Positive imagery is a wonderful concept where folks picture their cancer cells and then picture themselves eliminating them. I envision my body as a plate and the cancer cells as leftover food on the plate. I scrape what I can into the garbage. Then I use hot water and detergent to thoroughly clean the plate. I love the idea of throwing and washing away the cancer and seeing sparkling clean body cells. It is satisfying and something I can relate to in my external existence.

To apply the medical model to my visualization, scraping equals surgery; hot water equals radiation; detergent is chemotherapy. You can just as easily visualize without relating to the medical model (although I am NOT advocating omitting traditional treatment methods).

The term `survivor' irritates me. There are concentration camp survivors who will never again be in a concentration camp. There are earthquake survivors and rattlesnake bite survivors – even bear and shark attack survivors. None of those folks ever have to repeat their experience again.

Breast cancer doesn't go away forever for those whose cancer has spread. We are not survivors. We are veterans on the front lines of death, ever vigilant for renewed enemy attack.

But we don't have to live each day in a war zone.

Instead of battling breast cancer or calling myself a survivor, I have learned to love my body and its limitations. I have a renewed appreciation of the satisfaction possible in imperfect human relationships. Having breast cancer has transformed how I experience the smaller moments of my life. The smell of dinner cooking is precious. Daily annoyances don't seem as irritating now.

Despite my aversions to wearing a pink ribbon or labeling myself as a survivor, I feel an inexplicable connection to my breast cancer sisters. There are as many ways to get through breast cancer as there are types of individuals. Just as with so many other aspects of life, each of us faces our challenges in our own way.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have plates to wash.~~GHC

Note: You can pre-order "Fed From the Blade" (the upcoming anthology that I have a story in) by clicking HERE (new window opens).

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