There is something uniquely cathartic about the Oregon coast. I feel a sense of peace, calm, safety, clarity, and clearing; I feel at home. It is never too frigid to remove my shoes and peel off my socks to press my feet into the ocean sand. I found myself coastal bound on Monday January 6, 2014 – instinctually drawn to my private refuge to ponder.
It was a typical annual appointment with my oncology
nurse practitioner– we laughed at times, were mildly serious with a twist of
levity as we discussed my anemic state – my practitioner noting: “I have to tell
you Christina, I have never quite seen an iron panel quite like yours … it’s so
low!” My response was something along the lines of, I am here to provide a
service and challenge your knowledge. After reviewing blood work, we were fix’n
to wrap things up. She asked if I wanted to have a breast exam – I was
agreeable, as long as I did not have to put on the awful gown. I prefer just too
… well, you know … whip ‘em out. I thought she could take a look at the end of
my lumpectomy scar. I pointed to the inner end of my scar, where I felt
something liken to a small round nut. There is quite a bit of scar tissue that
can be felt under the skins surface, but this area felt more structured,
rounded, and separate from the scar tissue. We decided it would be best to have
it checked out by way of imaging.
I was agreeable to undergoing a bilateral breast
ultrasound, in Oregon, only if the radiologist would be present to discuss what
she was seeing during the test. I traditionally travel to the TOPS breast
clinic in Texas to have testing – TOPS has the radiologist participating in the
ultrasounds and discussing the findings in ‘real time’, I like this. My nurse
practitioner stated she would look into my request and follow-up with me. The
following day, Friday, I received a message from the oncologist that my request
was granted, it was a matter of matching schedules, and we would connect Monday
or Tuesday. I was in a good space. No worries. However, Friday early evening, I
received a voicemail from the oncology scheduling office informing me that they
had scheduled an appointment for me to be seen first thing Monday morning. I
gasped. Normally, I would be ecstatic that I would not have to wait for an
appointment. As my heart sank into my stomach, I said out-loud, “they think
something is wrong”. Let me back-up really quick here. When I went to my
annual appointment, it was going to be routine. My tumor markers looked good –
all in normal range and I was more interested in discussing my freakishly low
iron levels. I was going to decline a breast exam but thought I could have her
look the area at the end of the scar. I was not concerned when leaving her
office after all my tumor markers look good. I was not concerned until I received
the telephone message noting my ultrasound appointment. I could sense the practitioner’s
urgency. Now I was concerned.Monday morning I find myself listening to the
radiologist tell me that the mass was cancerous and that there was lymph node
involvement. Her recommendation was to immediately have a biopsy so a course of
treatment could be charted. There I was, on the exam table, in the darkened
WHAT the WHAT?
Did she really just say that?
I don’t believe it!
Take it back!
You have no idea what you are doing!
Biopsy, um … NO!
Course of treatment – um… do you know
who I am?
I was not emotional. I was however, shocked, numb,
disconnected. Surely, this is some kind of mistake. What is now being called “The
Mass” is cancerous; this was completely incongruent with my tumor marker tests.
It does not make sense, no sense at all. I called my husband – when I told him their
findings I could hear him gasp and quietly remark “oh my god”.I needed to be alone to process what I just learned. I
apologized to my husband, I think in a text. I told him I was sorry – I know he
did not sign up for this. His response – actually, I DID sign up for “this”,
for better or worse. Why the hell was I apologizing? What exactly was it that I
was apologizing for, it was not as though I went to the store and said, “Yep, I
will take a nugget of cancer with side of lymph node involvement … have a nice
As I drove to the coast, my mind was all over the
place and I could not make sense of what was happening. I was numb and still in
shock – still disbelieving that the cancer was back. I slowly walked along the
shoreline, wiggling my toes in the cold dampened sand. After walking awhile, I
scouted out a place to sit-down so I could write.
As I approach
the sandy beach, I peel off my socks and shoes. I plant my feet in the sand–
feet and sand become one; I feel grounded. Drawn to the sea, I approach and instinctually
turn left and stroll. Not inclined to rush, hurry; to get wherever it is I
think I may be going. I walk. I gaze at the footprints left in the sand – a memory
etched and left behind. I am reminded of early morning beach walks, just grandpa
and me. My two footprints beside each one of his. We held hands you know. I
would fill his pockets with treasures left by the sea. I always turn left; does
this have meaning? Perhaps. I am in a daze. I sit upon the cold sand, bare feet
buried in the sand. The sound of the sea is loud and echoes along the vast
shoreline. Watching each wave’s distinct formation building only to crash to
Today I was
told the cancer has returned by way of a tumor and it seems as though the precocious
cancer has most likely went on holiday and traveled into my lymph nodes. I was
calm and questioning. I don’t believe what the doctors were saying for many
reasons. I walk in the sand breathing in the fresh sea air. I find solitude. I
feel grounded. I feel peace. I feel my grandpa with me – he is smiling as he
looks into my eyes. His eyes tell me I am true perfection – flaws and all.
I don’t believe
the doctors, I just don’t. An image on a screen only details a guess, a suspicion.
I say I don’t believe them, yet as I drove over the mountain, I was making
mental notes of things I needed to say to people, the legacy I hope would be
celebrated, ways I could let those I care deeply for can know I will forever be
with them – even when I leave this lifetime. I could link these co-occurring
thought patterns to my ADD combined with my love for organization. On the other
hand, does it hold another meaning? I am not sure. I am okay with not knowing.
I don’t have to know everything.
I believe that what we need will be provided, at just
the right moments; we must simply be open to receiving. I was going to spend
all day Saturday reading in preparation for the first day of the spring semester,
which will begin Monday. Instead, I found myself enjoying some television
followed by several hours of making earrings. Recently my close friend Leslie
shared her jewelry making knowledge. I have to say that handcrafting earrings
into interesting arrangements is calming, therapeutic, and rewarding. Before I
knew it, the day had slipped away. I decided that a Calgon take me away moment, was exactly what I needed. As I relaxed,
I began to read The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re
Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Brown, 2010). There it was; just what I
needed. The words resonated deep within me. As I read, I reflected back on why
I had apologized to my husband after learning the cancer has returned. I believe
I felt shame that the cancer was back, fear of what was to come, and judgment
of those around me. If the cancer is back – I have not only let myself down; I
have failed everyone. My friends and family believed that if anyone could
conquer this diagnosis, it was me. The naysayers would think and remark, “I told
you so, this is what happens when you choose your so called alternative
treatment – serves you right.” Those choosing alternative treatments would now
have doubts. I turn back on myself and start making a list of things I could have
or should have been doing better, more complete. There you have it – I was
feeling shame and fear. This is a piece of literature to be celebrated and a must read.
As Brene Brown writes:
bottom line: If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want
to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things
that get in the way – especially shame, fear, and vulnerability. (Brown, 2010)
I am working on talking about the things that are getting in my way.
My shame, fear, and vulnerability. I am going to show true courage, I am going
to talk about some of my fears.
I am afraid.
I fear cancer is going to end my life.
I fear my time is short.
I fear I will lose my mind.
I fear looking into the eyes of those I love and
feeling their pain and hopelessness.
I fear being in pain.
I fear not knowing.
I fear being alone.
I am a strong, hopeful, and realistic. I am week, fearful,
impractical. I am beautiful because of my imperfections – perfectly imperfect. For
now, I carry on. School begins tomorrow and I am looking forward to an exciting
second semester. My first semester was incredible; I enjoyed nearly every
moment! It was challenging academically, personally, and emotionally. Pleased
that I made it through 13 credit hours (4 classes) earning a 4.0 GPA. Bigger
than my GPA was my emotional and personal growth – this program has a way of
nudging you to go deeper in your own journey. I will travel to Texas this month
to obtain a second opinion on the mass in my breast. I will not be making any
panicked decisions while in Texas including biopsies and/or surgery. I will
however, be gathering information from all my practitioners. Upon my return, I
will chart my course of action.
Today, I am hopeful~