The B-Side & The Bump In The Road

photo by: Wikimedia Commons

photo by: Wikimedia Commons

“It’s easy to feel like you’re divorced from your culture when you’ve had cancer…
Especially since the culture itself is in the throes of divorce, from illness and death.” 
Katherine Russell Rich


A couple weeks ago, my gals and I went out to celebrate the end of my surgeries as well as my one year post diagnosis. It was a sweet gathering, with these amazing women and really fun. Though I would have much rather it had been as a result of something more fun and far less dramatic, I do love seeing how my dearest art friend, work friend, school friend and yoga friend have been brought together—and fit like a beautiful glove! At one point, Betty asked how I was feeling about being one full year from that event that changed my life forever. I didn’t know how to answer. It seemed like a logical question, but strange because mostly I felt that I was supposed to have a lofty and happy answer, but my instinct was less than that. While, the A-side of this experience, would include my being quite lucky to be surrounded by people who, whether directly or indirectly offer energetic support on a regular basis; it would also entail the acknowledgement that a lot has happened and moved for me in this one year. However the The B-side, or the flip-side of that is the feeling that my life has been at a stand still, tethered, cancer focused and stuck hovering in that space—and that FEELS LIKE CRAP...I'm OVER it.

I’ve been told stories of spouses who leave and walk out on their ailing partners and friends that conveniently become too busy to stay close to their sick friends. Apparently, this is what illness can do. It makes everyone uncomfortable. We don’t know what to say, or fear that the words we do come up with will be inappropriate. This causes silence and room for separation, distance and misunderstandings. And this is all true for the person who isn't even ill. How do you think the person who is actually sick, or compromised feels? Awkward. Our culture does not talk about illness or death in the way that other cultures are more comfortable —except of course if we’re discussing it in term of business. From a business perspective in this country, illness is king!  Pharma and health insurance are big businesses and make big money when it comes to ‘healing’. But illness and true healing for the most part, is something that is swept under the rug and avoided like the plague which resembles something like the plight of the lepers? Cancer is a bit like that. You feel like ‘other’, banished and different from the rest — or I do. Often.

In the beginning, its like living as an alien in a parallel universe because you don’t look any different than you did, and no one would know that you are. And though you know that you’re alive, you’re not sure if you’ll stay that way, so there’s a foggy sense of being in between one and the other. Living becomes a lot like walking through a mine field. You're super sensitive. Some of the things that once mattered still do, some things matter a lot more and others don't at all. You feel relatively the same, but the tests and results prove that you’re not only NOT at all the same, but very, VERY sick. You’re fearful of becoming more sick, or that you did something to have become sick in the first place. Its all a confusing and an overwhelming blur.

I did not have to do chemo- or radiation therapy, and other than my family, friends, staff and teachers, no one was aware that I had had or was having three separate surgeries three months apart to remove my cancer and reconstruct my breasts, because I didn’t show or tell them. It really wasn’t that noticeable. And that is, and was pretty cool! I was happy to be living and going about a lot of my normal routine. That was huge for me but there was a film, that is only getting a bit thinner as all the rest of my cancer experiences are moving further and further behind me. That film is just enough to keep me separated from the rest of the world. That is what its like post cancer and throughout the next phases of scheduling, treatments and appointments. Here you are cancer free, but not free of the residue and effects that the aftermath that cancer has bestowed upon you. Everything is different, but a lot is the same. Its weird. Your family, life, work responsibilities and concerns are as they always were, but there is the added layer of strain from whatever treatment has added as well as any health concerns and activities that have become a newly additional obligation to perform. It is always looming there in the shadows making it difficult to sleep, relax, let go and just live at ease. And that's where I am.

Other than that, I would say that life is an absolute and sweet miracle. Now, just as I say that, I am brought back to an early appointment with a member of my second opinion team. It was when Kym and I were given the results of my 3D Mammogram that had showed a second mass that needed to be biopsied. The biopsy was scheduled, however my new doctors were missing a pathology report and films from the previous hospital and original biopsy. After many attempts, phone calls etc. the missing pieces were unable to be presented. Therefore not only did the second mass have to be biopsied, but in order for my new medical team to be able to proceed properly, the original mass needed to be re-biopsied. For this, the doctor that I nick-named that day, ‘The Blue Eyed Angel Doctor ‘, performed both biopsies as she expressed her deep apology for having to re-biopsy the mass that was just tested weeks before. She also expressed her dedication to my case and her assurance that she was there to take great care of me —and nothing else.

That ‘Blue Eyed Angel Doctor ‘ took a few samples that were not at all un-painful. Due the location, one of them really hurt for which she apologized again profusely. I believe that she actually felt my pain. Once done with the process,  she sat me up. After re-capping what she had done and why, she held both of my hands in hers and looked directly into my eyes, (that’s why I know they were blue). There was a moment of silence, that made me understand that she was about to say something important, something that I was to remember going forward. What she said to me was this, “What you are going through and what you’re about to go through is a bump in the road. Granted, it is a HUGE bump, but you will get through it and be okay.” And with that she became my 'Blue Eyed Angel Doctor'. She continued to share with me that one of her family members had just gone through what I was about to, and that this family member was doing just fine. She proceeded to give me her card with her cell number just incase I felt the need to contact her. I never did need to call, but it was nice to know that I could have. I have re-visited the memory of that interaction many times throughout the year—and again now a full year later. I remember that it was in that very moment, that I knew it was time to find a pair of grown-up-ass-woman-panties and pull them up for battle. They still don’t feel very sexy, but since I put them on they've done a tremendous job in helping me to show up, so I'll be keeping them on for a bit longer.


Teri Gandy-Richardson