While in hospital for my mastectomy last week, I had the privilege of meeting other breast cancer warriors/survivors who provided real inspiration to me. These were not fellow patients as you might think, but rather hospital staff who contributed in some way to my care.
As I was sitting just outside the operating room, waiting for “my turn”, I began to feel a little apprehensive. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman approach me dressed in O.R scrubs. She introduced herself and told me that she enjoys reading my blog. There stood this magnificent woman, who had recently undergone a double mastectomy, and is now awaiting chemotherapy. What courage to offer support and encouragement to me as she faces this battle, in the midst of a stressful job. As I sat lamenting the imminent loss of my breast, she was the epitome of confidence and grace. My lesson: The breasts do not make the woman.
A woman who worked in another area of the hospital shared her cancer survival story with me. Maybe it was because I was about to lose my breast that I could not help but stare at hers. I think I may have made her feel a little uncomfortable though, because she pulled her cardigan tight across her chest and folded her arms before saying, “These are both re-constructed.” She didn’t have to tell me that personal detail, but she did, and her story gave me hope that someday I too will count myself among the survivors. My lesson: Do not stare at other women’s breasts.
As I was wheeled into the recovery room after my surgery, I met another phenomenal woman; a nurse named Liz, who had some cancer perks of her own. I asked Liz to write a guest blog post so that I could share her story with you, and I am so thankful that she did! Liz says……….
“The willow which bends to the tempest, often escapes better than the oak which resists it; and so in great calamities, it sometimes happens that light and frivolous spirits recover their elasticity and presence of mind sooner than those of a loftier”
Sir Walter Scott.
My name is Elizabeth. I am a mother, a wife, a nurse, and I am a cancer survivor (In that order) . I am married to a wonderful man and we have two teenage sons who can make me feel the deepest love and the most intense frustration all at the same time. I went into nursing at the age of 30, and was very fortunate to have found my calling in life. Presently I work in a Recovery Room, where I am able to meet some wonderful people who are at various stages of their cancer journey. I learn a lot from those patients and I hope in some small way that I can be of service to them, as a gift of gratitude on my part, for having been given a second chance to live my wonderful life. I recently met Florence in the Recovery Room and she invited me to share my perks of cancer, and so here I am!
In September 2008, at the age of 49, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I underwent a lumpectomy with axilla node dissection of my left breast, along with 6 courses of chemotherapy and 25 courses of radiation. I did not “battle” my cancer; it was more of a surrendering. Not an, “OK I give up” surrender, but like the willow, I recognized the great power that I was up against and decided to “bend to the tempest” (No small feat for someone who is a control freak with a plan A, B and yes sometimes a plan C for everything I ever did!)
No bathrooms to clean for six months.
For a female living with three males this is a big perk! I remember a few years ago going to watch one of my son’s soccer games. Several times the ball was kicked towards the net but invariably would go over, or to the side. One of the Dads watching said “I don’t understand, it is such a big space, how can they keep missing when they are so close?” “Funny” I responded. “That’s the same thing I think about the toilet bowl. It is such a big space, how do you guys keep missing when you are so close??” Get the picture? The wonderful group of nurses that I worked with at the time of my diagnosis gave me a gift of money to put towards maid service, so I had someone come in once a week to clean my bathrooms, big nets and all. I thought I was in heaven!
Seeing life through rose coloured 3D glasses.
I was off work for a year while I weathered my tempest and during that time I started my spiritual journey in earnest. I had been on a road to self-destruction, both mentally and physically, prior to breast cancer and now I had the time to reflect on my life. I read books on spirituality, enlightenment, meditation, and yes…I even watched the Oprah Winfrey show. After a few months I felt empowered. My life could change into anything I wanted just by me changing my thoughts! All those nasty chemo side effects were dealt with one day at a time, something that was manageable. I never looked too far ahead and I tried not to think too much about the things that had gone passed, it was over and done with. All my stresses melted away. I know it may sound weird but I felt better than I had for years. This was it! I HAD FOUND THE SECRET OF LIFE!!!!!
I was about ready to pack my knapsack and head to the highest peak of Mount Pearl with a “Line up here for the meaning of life” sign. Then I met a very wise cancer survivor, who pointed out to me that although right now life was tough, there were none of the usual day to day expectations and demands being made on me (another perk!) and the challenge would be to keep my positive attitude and newfound outlook on life when things got back to normal. Turns out grace took care of that for me. One day I was walking my dog in a wooded area on a beautiful winter day. I stopped for a moment to take in the blues sky and trees with snow thick on their bows. It was breath taking! In that complete stillness I felt love like I had never felt before. It was as if I had been wrapped in a warm blanket, accompanied with a sense of knowing that everything was going to be alright. It lasted for only a moment but that feeling stays with me today. As small and insignificant as I am in this vast universe, my Great Love is always by my side, ready with that warm blanket any time the need arises. As for those rose coloured glasses…I still wear them and only take them off occasionally to clean off life’s little smudges.
God bless you all,