Dwelling in Possibility

I’ve been pondering what to do with this blog much the same way I’ve been pondering what to do with my week, my year, my life. Everything is a swirl of dust these days. I don’t experience that as a negative. Living in swirls of dust is certainly challenging, but it is other things, too. There are particles of hope and love and inspiration spinning alongside the scary-side-of-the-unknown. There is doubt, uncertainty, sometimes even panic. (Where will I land? How will I land?) But there is also wide-open potential. There are whole new paths to carve, relationships to nurture, passions to explore. (Where will I land? How will I land?)

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My life is fraught with possibility.

Still, for the time being, I am swirling in dust, and how hard it is to take a step when everything around me is blurred.

But it is dawning on me, suddenly and miraculously, that perhaps my work is not to figure out where and how to land. Perhaps my work is to figure out how to float.

My life is not a life I’ve known before. I have one and one half feet out the door of a 15-year old-career, and rather than jam-packed days, I am hovering in hours of unstructured time. All three of these things are true at once:

  • I love my new life.
  • I feel terribly guilty about all this privilege.
  • I am (at best) slightly anxious at all times about how I use my time.

I like answers. I like clarity and direction and purpose. I like order. I like to have something to show for my day. I like lists and crossing things off of lists. I like movement: internal and external, physical and spiritual, tangible, emotional, interpersonal—you name it, I like movement.

But I also like the kind of quiet that only comes by slowing down. And I like the kind of possibility that only comes by dwelling in the unknown.

So many swirls of dust. So many crossroads.

I’ve written here before about trying to let the wind carry me (a beautiful way to float). But I realize I’ve been standing here, at point A, directing my gaze way out at the horizon, toward point B, saying, “Wind, please carry me there, to where all the answers are.” The “dawning” is that as long as I focus on the horizon, I’m missing the ground (or air) beneath my feet. “Be here now” has become a mainstream mantra as well as my own personal reminder, and tiny layer by tiny shift, I get a little closer to understanding how to be here now. This month, it’s with the realization that whether or not I’m in transition is beside the point. Even in transition, the point is not to get to the other side. The point is still—the point is always—to Be. Here. Now.

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Today is my birthday, and I keep thinking about what was happening one year ago. (I’ve actually been thinking about “one year ago today” for several weeks now. October started with, “One year ago today I found the lump,” and ended with, “One year ago today I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”) Now that it’s November 23rd, it is: “One year ago today, I was 5 days into my first chemo infusion.” One year ago today, I was so sick and so exhausted, that I spent most of my 40th birthday in bed, either sleeping or writhing or staring blankly at my wall. It was the very beginning days of, “I have never been so still.” It was also the very beginning days of a very long year of breast cancer treatment.

I am now in the beginning weeks of my first year post treatment. My last surgery was five weeks ago, and I am more or less physically recovered. (“More or less” because I have a long way to go before rebuilding the strength and stamina I lost to a year of aggressive chemo, radiation and surgery.)

I’ve written here before about how, for the majority of women, the first year post treatment is harder than the year of treatment itself. I know (and am comforted by the fact) that my current struggles are not unique, just as I know that in the months ahead, I will likely walk steep and treacherous road. In other words, I know I am not done with breast cancer. I know the hardest parts are likely yet to come. (Many of you know this because you know the same road. I hope the rest of you will realize it now, too: Your mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend who has just finished breast cancer treatment is not done with breast cancer. The hardest parts are likely yet to come.) All three of these things are true at once:

  • I am ready for the next leg of the journey.
  • I am terrified about the next leg of the journey.
  • I am brimming with eye-popping wonder about the next leg of the journey.

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For the last many days, as I start a new chapter of my life, I have wondered whether it is also time to start a new chapter with this blog. I know I will keep writing. I know that some (if not more than some) of that writing will continue to explore the impact of breast cancer in my life. I know that writers, like myself, want an audience and that I have been buoyed by this audience. I know that some of the blogs I most frequent are by women reflecting on life post breast cancer treatment, and that I could continue on here by doing the same. All of this is true, and yet, it feels like time to do something different.

I have no idea what that means, not yet, not amidst the swirls of dust. I think it is very likely that the “something different” will be a subtle shift: that I will continue to post here but with a new focus or a re-imagined site. I am not prepared to close the door. Instead, I am drawing a soft line in the sand; I am turning to a blank page and keeping the book open.

Until I return, I leave you with this picture of me cocooned by my wall of cards, which sprouted and bloomed over the last year. This picture, these cards, my wall — they are a tribute to my year, to so many of you, to what I have learned and survived and lost and loved. Thank you for walking here with me. I hope you will stick around and float with me for awhile, too.

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Grief and Gratitude

I am tired of writing about grief because I am tired of grieving. I have been here before, teetering at a crossroads. I have learned some things over the years, like the importance of letting myself feel whatever it is I am feeling. I have learned the difference between honoring my feelings and wallowing inside of them. I have learned (though I don’t claim to be perfect at it) to notice when it is time to make a conscious shift in perspective—when doing so doesn’t mean pushing away feelings that need to be felt, but rather, slowly shedding what is ready to fall away.

More than one person has reflected my experience back to me, describing my emotional state like that of a wounded animal. I have been battered, shell-shocked, shaking with fear, and hence too timid—and far too exhausted—to leave my den. But I have begun to sniff the outdoors; to circle the perimeter before crawling back inside.

I still carry my grief with me: somedays, like today, I carry it on my chest like a ten-ton weight; but yesterday I carried it in my back pocket and laughed like I haven’t laughed in weeks.

I know healing, like life, is not a straight trajectory. I know not to get too attached when the days feel easier, just like I know not to give up when the days feel unbearable. I carry a strength that I have built, one challenge at a time, brick by brick by brick, and it will get me through anything.

I carry fear and rage, but I also carry joy. These days, it mostly lives in my back pocket like yesterday’s grief, but I know it’s there. I can feel it like a seed, precious, with an entire garden living inside its shell.

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I want to water it with gratitude and watch it bloom:

I am grateful to be running again, slow and heavy, but running nonetheless.

I am grateful for all the women who, because they have been through what I have been through—are going through what I am going through—understand even when I don’t have the energy to explain.

I am grateful for this week’s sun, hot and bright and luring me out of my skin.

I am grateful for the people who have never waned in their presence and support; and for the people who have shown up unexpectedly with their presence and support.

I am grateful for my family’s tree-planting ceremony; and for our new tree (a
sweetly-sad looking specimen that will blossom into a beautiful weeping cherry); and for our meditating frog that makes me smile every time I look at him. (I’m not sure why I think it’s a him, since I usually go with “her,” but I do.)
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I am grateful that my children love each other the way that I always wanted a sibling to love.

I am grateful for my home, which wraps its walls around me like a cocoon.

I am grateful for Josh, my love, for loving me still. For loving me more than ever.

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