There is an ache that spreads and feels good like a scratch set to an itch. It’s the burn right after a long day in the garden. Lifting, reaching, pounding a hammer, cinching and tugging the rodent fence, wire cutters clamping, dirt in my sweat and sawdust in my eyes. I revel in a good kind of tired, the well earned type, that leaves a grin floating on my face. The sun sets inside of me, a peaceful knowing of myself. This is in spite of the fact that on May 16th, 2014, one year ago today, I received news that I had breast cancer.
I was cleared yesterday, to offically “resume normal activity”. (What would my surgeon have thought, had he seen me moving load after load of soil with the wheelbarrow!) I’m testing my body to see what she can do, what I get to do, what I choose to do.
When this news came, the curtain came down, an ominous cloak that prevented me from seeing or dreaming of anything beyond. I wish there was some way my present self could have gone back and held my scared shitless self of the past and offered her some solace, some assurance that I could get from there to here. I am unable to do that, but maybe someone reading this now just got some heartbreaking news. Reach out your hand into the misty void. You too will be ferried over this great divide. Let a deep faith in something more carry you.
I bow to myself and I bow to you who is reading this. I’m too tired to write more, so I share this piece, which I read at Storyslams last Saturday. The theme was, “I Believe in the Power of…”
No, I’m Not Dying
by, Melissa Eppard
Normally one to privately lick my wounds, I would secret away to some private journal entry, stuff my feelings there, swipe my snotty nose with the back of my hand and emerge with a puffy, blotched face. Five minutes later, feelings neatly in check, there would barely be a trace of the storm that had just passed.
I’m sure this ability is written in somewhere in my Waspy, Puritanical genetic code –passed down through the ages like a collection of tarnished silver baby spoons. No longer serving up tasty morsels, but stuffing up my silent suffering… such a bitter thing to swallow.
All of that changed for me the day I was diagnosed. The call came while at work. “You have breast cancer. It’s an aggressive triple negative tumor.” -Fourty-five minutes away from my family, I crumpled on the floor –blue grey fibers scratching my cheek. My manager came to comfort me. Strangely enough, her previous career was as an oncology social worker. You can’t make this sort of thing up.
SUDDENLY my messy, semi-chaotic life with 3 part time jobs, my husband and 4 year old son, swirled out of focus and I found myself at the fuzzy pin-hole end of a tunnel. Who the HELL am I now? …How do I get to a safe place with all of this?
When a childhood girlfriend called from Tennessee, choking with tears after hearing from a third party – an estranged ex-girlfriend who I hadn’t spoken to in 6 years- that I had stage 4 cancer and that I was dying, I knew I had to take control of the rumor mill. I admit it was my pride and my vanity that pushed me over the edge of secrecy and out of my comfort zone.
I became one of these… these… these… “BLOGGERS”!
Born out of necessity and cowardice… Yes. Cowardice!
How could I face person after person, telling the same sad story, answering the same heart breaking questions? Oh, and the advice! “Don’t do the chemo. That stuff will kill you! Don’t you know you can cure cancer with cannabinoid oil! Don’t let them take your boobs!” (Someone actually said this to me 2 days before my surgery.) I heard an endless stream of well intentioned advice touting holistic, herbal and energetic cures. After a decade spent in this very same world of holism, with a deep appreciation for the mind body connection, it was as if I had been been bitch slapped by God and left at the side of the road.
So my blog was born with an emergency c-section, all raw and urgent. Documenting and sharing this experience helped make it more palatable and real. I was still learning the language, struggling through a maze of terminology and insurance bureaucracy, getting second and third opinions, going to appointments one after another… I wept openly with strangers.
I unzippered my organized, good girl mentality, took a pen and sliced myself open. What came pouring out shocked me and shook me and rocked me to my core. I was bleeding profusely now, my ink splattered hands splayed out grasping for some new identity –some foothold in this nasty cancer trap that took my breasts, my fertility, my hair, my vitality, my hope at times…
This conveyance of facts and medical updates soon became my pacemaker and lifeline. Not too unlike the thread between two soup cans –a magical transfer of voice to eager ear. My people heard me and they leaned in for more. After the double mastectomy left me house bound, in pain and all through five months of immune depleting chemo, writing was the life raft I desperately clung to.
The more I shared, even at my most vulnerable, what came back was a feeling of containment and a promise of life to come.
“You’ve got this Melissa. We’ve got you. You are not alone.”