Ofttimes while watching a movie I figure out what is going to happen well before it does, but watch anyway, hoping to be surprised. In life we do the same. We know some unpleasantness is bound to happen, yet we cling to optimism.
A while back, while driving home with Ed, I told him I thought Diane was done. I shared with him how she had sounded so tired and ready to give in to cancer. I noticed at that moment, as he paused for consideration, he more firmly gripped the wheel, moving both hands purposefully outward. It was odd for him to have such a strict posture behind the wheel and his terse reply, “She will die if she has that attitude,” was an echo of his physical bristling. It was as if he had perversely misunderstood the script. As if he had some how defied the direction of “terminal.” I noticed his hands, like a stunt driver’s spaced widely apart balancing the effort of steering with commanding intent, while his words adeptly swerved around cancer and its wreckage.
As soon as we got home we squabbled, in pretense, over a piece of mail. I was angry at him for being naive, pretending, acting, badly. I expect he was distressed at my pessimism and frustrated nothing could be done.
If you follow my yammerings, you know Diane passed away, not long after I foretold it. You may have also noticed I haven’t posted for quite a long time, just “Ode to Diane.” I have not written about cancer, which I wanted vanquished from my consciousness, nor have I made a final analysis of my year of avoiding plastic. Both subjects had unhappy endings.
I didn’t care to share that I couldn’t stop cancer from its carnage. You already know that. I didn’t care to write that even though I would like to convince the world we should change our wasteful ways, I was incapable of reaching my own seemly easy goals. I feel a need to remove the mask, tone down the theatrical bravado and expose that I’m just me, a little 110-pound, middle-aged woman, audacious enough to hope I can do something of import. I recognize my feeble push is ineffective against such big problems, but mostly I choose to ignore how implausible it is that I can change the world even in the smallest way.
I don’t like confess to resorting to prayer to cover for my human shortcomings, even though I do it daily. Recently, while thinking of the loss of Diane I dusted off an old standard and gave it a whirl. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The prayer has not been answered. I don’t expect it ever can be. I’m too stubborn to realize I can’t change the unchangeable, much less recognize the immovable, but the pondering of my wee influence on the Sisyphean has not reinforced any feelings of futility. Indeed it has pulled the curtain to renewed optimism. Perhaps the prayer helped me realize I can not change many things. I can only hope to change — something. That simply is all I can do, and that is enough.
Warrior maven of defense.
You led us, your sisters, through fields where
we battled insurgencies within our own breasts.
You offered sorties of resistance,
standing resolute, hell bent against giving ground.
You were our stalwart midwife past death,
delivering us to shimmering new days.
Be we cowards or brave,
without judgment, you ushered us to hope or glory.
We rewarded you imperfectly with our beating hearts
or saddened you with its confirmed stillness.
On grounds hallowed by your tutelage
you have sheathed your own sword
as pink ribbons flutter silently in salute.
You have surrendered to peace, at last.
A few days ago, I watched what was intended to be an uplifting video of hospital workers, all wearing pink gloves, dancing with glee. As I watched I bitterly asked, “What are they celebrating?” Earlier the same morning I learned a special friend is now in the end stages of battling breast cancer. I felt no joy in her cancer story, just a stark disconnect between the dancing hospital staff aiming to raise a chunk of change for research and care and her predicament. I watched the glove groove disheartened, angry and hurt that such a wonderful woman could be taken by a disease — while those people danced in hopes for a cure that could not help her.
Perhaps the breast cancer public face we have painted is a too happy mask. We know that false face so well. We think of cancer and see a pink cover of walkers, racers, ribbons — a fluffy feminine shell of the heroic and tearful quest for survival. Below though, under that facade of success, there is still suffering, loss and death — the naked, ugly scars of breast cancer.
Watching the pink clad hands swaying, flicking and swinging in a breast cancer jamboree, I felt like a grim wedding guest considering the impending divorce of the bride and groom. As I viewed the video of the hospital staff cavorting, I questioned how many of them knew the face of breast cancer struggle and loss. Did the surgical staff, dressed with masks and eye shields know what it was like to loose a breast, or a life? Were any dancers survivors? Which revelers were they? I searched the faces to pick them out.
Was she dancing because she lived, like me? Was he joyous even though he lost his mother, sister or friend, or did those folks excuse themselves when asked to help with the video saying, “No, I can’t dance.”?
Now, a few days later, while I am still hurt, I understand why they were dancing. They were celebrating hope, an irresistible reason to dance, but a tragedy when it has faded.
I’ve done what I did not expect to do. Survive breast cancer. It surprised me, but probably nobody else.
I didn’t think I would make it even though survival, no matter how demanding, is expected of women. Thousands of women do it, not unlike going back to work after a child is born or raising kids alone when their dad remarries. No big deal. It is just another challenging thing women do every day.
My five-year anniversary — the prize I couldn’t imagine while I was beaten down by treatment — came in spite of my congenital pessimism. It came even though I was not always hopeful, often afraid and in spite of thinking I could die.
I’ve been avoiding writing about cancer. I’ve been avoiding thinking about it too. I chase it from my mind each time it dares to enter. With the fifth anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis just around the corner, I am finding it difficult to accept it ever happened to me. I’m in a weird delayed state of denial. Read more
A few days before Christmas Ed and I set out to do one of my least favorite things, shop. We ended up buying a bottle of fish oil pills, a digital camera for my mother and decided we would give money to a charity instead of buying junky stuff that no one on our lists wants or needs. I gleefully declared my shopping done. Whew!
Leaving the busy parking lot, Ed and I pulled behind a car with a special breast cancer license plate,
the kind that cost 25 bucks extra each year, the additional proceeds going to the plates stated cause. This plate has a big pink ribbon on the left of the tall, black, block letters, and I know from considering purchasing one, that along the bottom it said, “Early Detection Saves Lives.” Buying a breast cancer plate is above and beyond the more common, less costly magnetic pink ribbon commitment to support breast cancer research. I assumed therefore, the driver had a compelling reason to extravagantly identify themselves as a supporter of early breast cancer detection. Impressed, I tried to get a better look at the person behind the wheel. I could not see much, just a dark silhouette. I glanced back at the plate looking for any clues to who this was, and wondered if we were connected by survivor-hood. The car was registered in June. On top of their black plate cover, in bold caps, stamped in hot pink, framed by two pink ribbons was “Save the tatas!”.
“What THE … ?” I huffed, “Save the tatas? Well! How about cutting the dammed things off to save your life?” I exclaimed in overblown indignation. Read more
How could Jellyfish, the Nobel Prize, a step toward a cure for cancer and your five bucks have be connected? They converge with Douglas Prasher.
Jellyfish — Not everyone has seen a jellyfish, so I need to share my limited experiences with them.
The fist time I saw this gelatinous invertebrate was not in their natural habitat, the ocean, but on the beach on Galveston Island. After a string of tropical storms pounded the island my family drove under the still gray wagging tail-end of a near hurricane to get a look at the Gulf, churning in the aftermath of the severe weather. On the beach we found jellyfish strewn like soap bubbles across the hard, flat sand. They had been swept ashore in such great numbers it was hard to imagine a single creature of their kind was left in the sea. I was unaware they were poisonous until a beachcomber with a metal detector warned me to watch myself and my then very young son. I certainly did not know that jellies were bioluminescent — containing a glow-in-the dark protein. Then I had little inkling just how curious these delicate animals were but the scene of their death and decay left me wanting to discover more. Read more
cont. from (Women Sailing the Pink Sea)
I have contemplated my question for six weeks now and can now answer, “It just happened.”
“How could this happen?” is as unanswerable as, “Why am I here?” when not asked in reference to a senior moment. Why someone gets breast cancer is complicated beyond anyone’s understanding let alone mine and probably has many answers, none of them nearly telling the full story. The fact remains, it happens and it happens to women, and men too. It happens everyday. Breast cancer just happens, just like shit happens. Read more
This is my first entry in the Sailing the Pink Sea blog. When the blogmaster (Hummm? Is “blogmaster”
a valid blogosphere term?) asked what my purpose was for the blog, I had to honestly answer, “Uh, gee
I don’t know.”
Now I have given it some thought and I can say, I have been encouraged to share but have no grand purpose. I certainly do not expect to profoundly sway, educate or enlighten anyone with my meager postings. I confess that I could have waited until I had the perfect purpose and wise words to offer up but I realized that would never happen. So here I go, yet another cancer survivor, not unlike the millions of other survivors, or as my husband likes to point out, I am unique, just like everyone else. I have no special training or skills to make me an expert on breast cancer or for that matter sailing. I only try to be honest and brave when I touch on either subject and write what is the truth for me and hope it is of some value to you.
And for the sailing — what you may ask is the connection to breast cancer? For an answer, I would urge you to consider reading the free chapter of Sailing the Pink Sea to make that discovery for yourself.
I define myself both as a breast cancer survivor and a woman sailor and in this blog I will write about them both.