Monday, January 24, 2011

From the Heart

The word courage comes from the Latin cor or heart.
Because I grew up in a military family, many of my male high school classmates went to West Point, and then to Viet Nam. Twelve years ago, I reconnected with my high school sweetheart and learned he'd been awarded The Bronze Star for "heroic service" in Nam. When I asked him to describe the events leading to the medal, he said "I don't think of myself as a hero. I wasn't feeling courageous. I just did what I had to do."

That's what it was like for me, as I moved from a "suspicious" mammogram to an MRI and biopsy, to bilateral mastectomy all within a two-week period. I just did what I had to do. As have many of you, I always wondered if I would be frightened by life-threatening circumstances. I was not, and so I don't feel "brave" or "amazing" as others have suggested.

Last week I went to my first breast cancer support group meeting, and the other women there said their experience was similar to mine. 

It's like driving in a heavy rainstorm late at night. You'd rather be home by a cozy fire, but you're on full alert, every sense attuned to what's happening in your immediate environment. You don't have time to be afraid. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Cries of the World

I wept when my friend Nancy gave me this statue after my surgery, with only an intuition of why Kuan Yin touched me so. Then I read this quote from Exotic India, which captures how I have been feeling these past few weeks:  

Kuan Yin: The Compassionate Rebel. Buddhism's most enduring (and universal) contribution to the world has been insufficiently translated as compassion. The original Sanskrit word is karuna, which holds within itself traces of the fragment ru, meaning to weep.

The term karuna is frequently described as a love for all beings. However, the all-encompassing nature of compassion is quite unlike conventional lovewhich is rooted in dualistic thinking and is egoistic, possessive, and exclusive. 

Karuna's root meaning is said to be the anguished cry of deep sorrow and understanding that can only come from an unblemished sense of oneness with others. The name of Kuan Yin signifies her compassionate nature, literally meaning 'One who hears the cries of the world.'

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Grist for the Mill

The Sandhill Stage -- a concert series at the Prairie Creek Lodge to benefit the non-profits Conservation Burial, Inc. and Alachua Conservation Trust.
At a Sandhill Stage concert last night, Penny Nichols sang "Grist for the Mill" from The 8 Voyages of Nep, about her own experience with breast cancer.

Penny brought it all back to me -- Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies, Janis Joplin, Mother Earth, Jefferson Airplane. So much pain, so much love, so many blessings, it's all grist for the mill (click here, scroll down and play #4): 

Bring it in, bring it in, 
it's all grist for the mill. 
What comes out is the sweetest flower, 
fills me up in my darkest hour.
Bring it in, bring it in,
it's all grist for the mill.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Theater of the Absurd

The lymph ducts of the breast usually drain to the sentinel node before the lymph nodes underneath the arm. It's called the "sentinel" because it helps sound the warning when cancer has spread.
I have been very, very lucky. The radiology team was able to isolate the sentinel lymph nodes for each breast before surgery. The word "sentinel" stems from the Latin sentire, to watch, and my sentinel nodes took care of me, alerting the doctors that no further lymph nodes need be taken, and no chemo is necessary. 

There was drama in the surgical theater, drama in my happy conversation on New Years Eve morning when my surgeon reported the news. "We did the right thing; we got it all."

Since the surgery a week ago, you can think of my life as a theater of the absurd. Stage directions:
Single actor onstage, night-time, then day-time, a bed, a reclining chair (both surrounded by rumpled covers, socks). A CD player. Actor sighs, adjusts reclining position on bed, fluffs pillows, dozes, awakens, moves to chair, raises and lowers chair back, sighs. She turns on CD player with remote, listens to indistinct voices, dozes, sighs, moves back to bed. No monologue.