I have breast cancer.
It feels strange to write those words, whether in my journal or a blog post. To soften the impact on myself and those closest to me, I’ve spent the last week or so saying, “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.” For some some reason, it feels like “been diagnosed with” creates a little more distance between “I” and “breast cancer” than that tiny, four-letter word “have.” No matter how I say it though, it tastes sour and feels weird.
But before you think…”Oh God, her last newsletter was a doozy! I’m not sure I can read another ‘my life is unraveling’ post from Calista”…
I’m not going there.
I’m going to be raw and vulnerable, but I’m not going to get lost in despair. Yes, I’ve cried. I've fucking sobbed until I could barely breathe. But mostly, I've tried to pause and listen. I've reached out to loved ones to ask for their support and prayers. I've educated myself and figured out what questions to ask the doctors. I’m stronger than a cancer diagnosis. Anyone who knows me, knows that.
When they spotted microcalcifications in my mammogram in January, I knew there would be follow up. Even when they suggested a biopsy, I scheduled it just to get the “all clear” before my travels. Nothing about the images or the doctor’s demeanor or my ‘Google’ searches alarmed me. There was nothing threatening to me about a few tiny white specks on my images that looked like harmless grains of salt. I suspected a favorable result - just like the biopsy I’d had several years ago that confirmed the fibroadenoma in the same breast was benign.
When I saw the medical center calling, I stepped out of a business meeting to take the call. I was anxious to get the good news and check one more thing off my list. I don't remember much of the conversation, but I do recall feeling my hands and my knees start to tremble. What did the doctor mean when she said “the biopsy was cancerous”. She certainly didn’t mean that I HAVE cancer, right?
I do. And it sucks!
At this point, I’ve been diagnosed (there’s that protective word again) with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS). Say what?? I didn’t know what this meant two weeks ago, but now that I’ve had a chance to do some reading and research, I know that this is pretty good news. Although "high-grade" (aka could get aggressive if I let it hang out), my cancer appears to be non-invasive and confined to a small area in my right breast. This still means surgery and treatments, but the prognosis is good.
I took a brief and more-comfortable-than-I-thought rest in an MRI machine this morning. (Thanks for the ear plug suggestion, Michelle!). Then I went to a Genetic Counseling session where I learned a lot about gene mutations, and spent several minutes trying to fill a small tube with saliva. How come they have to suction it out of me at the dentist, but my mouth goes dry when they ask me to produce about a teaspoon of spit for genetic testing?
Then it was off to work to resume “normal” life until I get more results and meet with my surgeon next week to discuss my treatment options.
It's time to hit the pause button.
My “shotglass countdown” is on hold until I've confirmed a treatment plan and can adjust the date of my departure. Yes, of course I’m still leaving! Why wouldn’t I? I’m so excited to have a dream to carry me through this, and incredibly grateful that my Beloved is holding my hand each step of the way and practicing what he calls “radical optimism”. I know that when we head to the airport, it will be with a sense of gratitude for making it through this leg of our journey. This particular trek wasn’t on the map, but I trust that it will deepen our relationship and our ability to face adversity together.
It’s also time to re-prioritize. Although it is hard for me to let it go, I'm canceling my Fierce Beauty retreat and taking a hiatus from coaching to focus on healing and re-balancing. It's time to put aside the to-do lists.
It's time to pause and listen. For years, I’ve heard a voice whispering to me to slow down. I tried to listen, but the busy-ness of everyday life called to me in a much louder voice. It's not that I don't try to slow down. I step onto my yoga mat for twenty minutes or an hour sometimes. Other times, I let go of my schedule for an entire day and just do things that bring me joy. Every year or two, I go on retreat. I disconnect from technology and immerse in spiritual practice. All of this is meaningful and sustains me.
But there is a different essence to the message this time. I'm being called to slow down on an entirely different level.
It’s not about taking time out or getting away. It's more than that. It’s time to stop living my life in a constant state of tired and overcommitted. My body cannot keep up this pace anymore, not even with the occasional moments of stillness and connection.
I need more time to rest. I need more time to write. I need more time to be in nature. I need more time to just BE.
I need to trust that I will not be less if I do less.
I don’t know what happens next, but that's okay for now. I trust in the wisdom of my body. This cancer is not a welcome guest, but it is here and it feels like it wants to have a conversation with me before it goes. Maybe it has something to teach me about compassion for myself and others. Perhaps it will show me how to allow others to support me, or reveal my courage to me in new ways. Whatever it has to say to me, it feels important that I pause and listen.