This weekend, I feel broken. When I think on the last year, I know I am broken. I am not who I was last August. My upcoming mammogram tomorrow along with the reminders of this season are all making me reflect on this past year. What I feel now is brokenness.
When I look in the mirror, I see scars and a mutilated body and completely different hair from a year ago. When I try to live the busy life that most people in today’s society live, I can’t keep up. When I think of a mammogram and appointment this week with my medical oncologist, I worry. What if the cancer has come back? What if this breast tenderness I’m experiencing is not healing but is cancer instead? What if I have to go through more chemo and surgery? What if?
But I know that worrying over the what ifs won’t change the future.
The last couple of months, I’ve jumped into more and more activity. I’ve done more, been to more meetings, met more people for lunch or dinner, driven more, gotten out more, been more active. But I had a hard lesson last week. During my trip to Savannah, it became very clear that I’m still weak, that I can’t keep a busy schedule of activity, that I have to rest often, take days off, listen to my body even when it tells me what I don’t want to hear.
I was planning a driving trip to Montana to see friends at the end of this month. I love traveling. I especially love the West and driving there. But when I was too tired to finish a celebratory dinner at my favorite Savannah restaurant, when I was literally too tired to sit up and had to go to the car so I could recline, I became painfully aware that I can’t drive to Montana this month. I don’t have the stamina. Though I can do lots more than I could two months ago, I still can’t do what I could a year ago.
And I became aware that I need to grieve that loss. When I started feeling better, stronger, I pretty much jumped back into activity without considering my journey and where I was in it. I just wanted to be better. I wanted to be well. But the upcoming mammogram and this fall season are making me look at my journey, where I am now, that I am indeed broken.
And that is not all bad.
I know tomorrow I’ll go into Battlefield Imaging, the place where I got a mammogram and ultrasound and biopsy last year. The place I went for an echocardiogram and a PET scan. And where I had the super-stinging shot for the nuclear medicine to find my sentinel nodes before my lumpectomy. All of the emotions of that stressful, scary time are coming back.
So how do I deal with them?
I spent a lot of Friday and yesterday crying. For my brokenness. For what I’ve lost – the illusion that I am strong and fit and able to do just what I want, that all of my friends will support me through whatever journey I have, that I am always safe and protected. Because all I have to do is look at my body to see the differences. All I have to do is feel the pains that I have every day. All I have to do is see that some friends have quietly disappeared.
I know I need to grieve what I’ve lost. I have not fully grieved my losses, my brokenness. But I know that grieving is healthy. I agree with Rachel Naomi Remen when she says this in My Grandfather’s Blessings: “Unless we learn to grieve, we may need to live life at a distance in order to protect ourselves from pain. We may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us or allow ourselves to be touched, to be intimate, to care or be cared about. Untouched, we will suffer anyway. We just will not be transformed by our suffering. Grieving may be one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise.”
So the mammogram tomorrow and the medical oncologist’s appointment on Friday will help me remember what I’ve been through. There will be more to go through, whether it’s more cancer treatment or whether it’s reemergence into health. Either path will involve grief. Even if I get a clear mammogram, I’ll still have college football games on television on Saturdays to remind me how sick I was on the Saturdays after Thursday chemo infusions. I’ll still have the angle of the sun and cooler temperatures to remind me of last year and what I was feeling, what a difficult journey I was undertaking.
I’ll be reminded that I’ve been broken.
And I’ll be reminded of all that I’ve learned from brokenness. That we are all connected, even when we don’t want to be and don’t acknowledge that connection. That each of us will die one day. That pain and illness will be a part of every one of our lives. That disease, whether it’s cancer or some other one, will bring suffering to people of all ages.
And that even in this reality, life is beautiful, shining through the cracks of my brokenness. That the brokenness is helping to wake me up, to let me see the Light more easily. That I can grieve loss as a way to acknowledge the journey, what it has brought me. Brokenness and beauty.
And so I grieve this brokenness and try to live into it. And so I am kind to myself today when the fall feeling in the air reminds me of my cancer journey and tomorrow’s mammogram and the unknown future.
Life is precarious. I am broken.
And it’s all okay.