Survivor since 2009
I was on my way to a national ceramics conference between flights in the Denver airport. I sat down to eat my tuna fish sandwich and, as I slipped off my leather bag from my left shoulder, my hand grazed my chest and I thought, hmmm, that feels different, like a muscle I hadn’t noticed before. For the next five days I pretended I hadn’t noticed this weird bulge on one side and not the other.
Two weeks later, when I heard the words over the phone, “It seems that you do have a small breast cancer…” well, it just felt and sounded surreal. It was so hard to put the words, “I have breast cancer,” in my mouth. They just didn’t fit. My friends didn’t believe me at first. Even now, seven months later, I still sometimes feel like this isn’t happening to me, like I am watching someone else go though this life changing experience. But it is real and I know it. Going through chemo removes any doubt about how real this experience is! Everyone says I am doing great and that I look great and I don’t know- how am I supposed to look, act and feel? How does one dress for chemotherapy? I have just tried to keep doing what John and I have always done daily whenever possible, especially exercise and laugh, if at all possible.
So what have I learned? Or, more accurately, what am I learning?
Gratitude, for so many things…
Sometimes I am just overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the simplest and the most profound things, often all at once: For another day of life, for the astonishing beauty around me, for the walls of Glenwood Canyon and the way the sun hits the rock faces creating different dramatic effects of light and warmth daily. I am enchanted by the multi-colors of the November grasses along the Eagle River as I drive daily to Edwards for radiation treatments. I give thanks for every single card, phone call, email, meal, visit, car ride, offer of help from friends and family, and for every kind touch or word from medical caregivers. I am steeped in a sense of gratitude greater than I am, impossible to contain or adequately express.
Also, I am learning more about Beauty.
I feel that I am finally understanding with my mind, soul and body what beauty is all about and why I have spent most of my life as an artist attempting to serve and seek and create beauty. I am one who used to say that I didn’t need a life-threatening illness as a wake-up call to really see what’s important in life like friends, family, beauty, music, art, nature, etc. Maybe I didn’t need it, but I do know that I am now more alive and absorbing love, music, art and nature with my whole being. I have not achieved all I can and want to do in my life and career. I still have unused cards on the table that I hope to play before I run out of time. I want to use color and paint, words and imagery in ways I have never done before.
I am also realizing in a deeper way, how important and life-saving, daily Outdoor Exercise is for me.
This may sound trite but exercising outdoors as much as possible through my treatments, whenever I have felt well enough, is the one thing that has helped me the most. I have surprised myself at what I have been able to do even during chemo and radiation. I swam a mile a few times a week, climbed hills and went for long walks alone or with my husband, John McCormick, and our dog, Archie. We even snow shoed up a mountainside recently. Often I have felt like I would rather lie on the couch but I have pushed myself to get outside and be active and I always feel so much better afterwards. Nature is my cathedral. Exercise is my walking meditation feeding my soul, invigorating my body and dispelling the heaviness of depression that this illness can bring along with it.
I do not feel afraid, although the diagnosis was fearful. I do feel gratitude for life and a strong sense of connectedness to my fellow humans and nature. I also have a strong desire to give back, to use this experience to help others in some meaningful way. In an odd way, cancer has been a gift, literally extending and expanding my life, giving me some dear new friends, deepening and renewing long-time friendships, and giving me incentive to change and expand my studio work.
One of my favorite quotes recently:
Everything changes, everything is connected; pay attention. (Jane Hirshfield)
I am paying attention.