Dear Soul Beings,
A friend stopped by for tea the other day. One of those brilliant fall days, with the asters still blooming next to the chamisa, and the mountains to the east, quilted in gold. My friend and I talked of many things; art and messengers, writing, spirit and path, and What Are We Supposed to be Doing? She (also an artist), looks at my paintings and says, “So much poetry here. They speak volumes.”
The painting she points to is called SONG OF TIME and was inspired by my daughter. I look more closely at it and travel inward. To me, it speaks of light, reflection, and diving into the music of the soul. The figure in the painting is full of mystery and life paths that are not quite remembered. I am enjoying her company.
This morning I pick a medicine card. Otter is the one that shows her face. The essence of her message is not to worry, to go with the flow and that whatever I can accomplish from the heart, will contribute to the healing of the whole tribe. That is the gift of the Divine Feminine and that is Otter’s message. I return to the painting. I feel the music and know I am Divinely protected. The birds are messengers of time, hope and inspiration. My friend tells me, “Talk to her. She will inform your writing.”
Today, I’m up early. I unlatch the front door to a gust of wind and a sky breaking open in blue, grey and pink. I walk outside into the brisk morning air. The faces of the remaining asters are scrunched into purple fists. They will begin to unfurl once the sun makes her way around. There is gold on the mountain and a sprinkling of golden shimmer on the few aspens along the drive. The sky is deepening from grey to blue and there’s a chill in the easterly wind. It’s the familiar feeling of fall.
I am remembering this time of year, nine years ago. It was late evening and I was tucking my daughter into bed. Her head was nestled in the pillows, next to her stuffed Labrador puppy and the blankets were pulled up to her chin. Her cheeks were smooth and her mouth relaxed.
“Sleep tight, sweet dreams. I love you,” I said.
“Night, night, Momma.”
I undress to take a shower and feel something under my right breast. My fingers roll over a lump. A shadow falls like a dark grey ghost over my heart.
“No, no, no,” I say out loud.
I tell my husband, “I just found a lump in my right breast.”
“Oh,” he says. “You better call the doctor. But remember, we have no health insurance.”
I say to myself, it will be okay. It’s just a cyst. But I should probably get a mammogram. I call the imaging center and leave a message. They call back the next day.
“Please come in immediately.”
I say, “Okay.”
I fill out the paperwork and tell them my insurance has run out.
“Don’t worry, we can bill you,” they say.
Upstairs, the office is cold. I sit in the waiting room in a cotton rose gown, waiting for the technician. Finally she calls me in.
“Stand here, put your feet here, arm by your side. Lift your right breast and place it on this plate.”
I am freezing and finding it hard to stand still.
“Move closer,” she says. “Don’t breathe.”
Down comes the upper plate as she clamps them tighter and tighter together, until my breast is like a pancake. A tear leaks down my cheek.
She takes many images from different sides and sends me back to the waiting room.
“The doctor wants a sonogram as well. Just wait until the nurse calls you in.”
I sit and pretend to read a magazine. I look at my watch. I do not want to be late for dinner. There is a special fundraiser for a writing publication that night, and a number of my friends will be there.
The nurse stands in the doorway and calls my name.
“Follow me,” she says.
We go into another room that is equally cold. I lay down and she slides a wedge under my shoulder, then slathers me with a warm goo. Then she takes the wand and slides it over my breast, stopping every millisecond. The machine beeps as she programs the marker. Click, click, click.
Then she gives me a cloth to wipe away the goo.
“You can get dressed, but the doctor will want to talk to you.”
By now, I am quite over the hullabaloo and into total denial. Five minutes later, the doctor strides in.
He says, “This looks scarily like cancer. We can recommend a radiologist. Do you have an oncologist?”
I shake my head no. Now my whole body is trembling.
“Are you taking hormones?”
“Bio-identicals,” I answer.
“Stop immediately,” he says. Then, “You need to find an oncologist and a surgeon. Please come in tomorrow for a biopsy. You can tell them at the front desk.”
Tears are rolling down my face. “This can’t be,” I say out loud.
The doctor says, “I’m sorry.”
All I can think is, how can I get sick? What if I die? What about Marika? She is seven. How will I tell her? I start to worry, who will look after her? Gavin works all the time. Who will take her to school, who will hold her, cook for her, help her with her handwriting? How, after all this time, can I fail her now? This is my greatest fear at the moment.
But I go home, get dressed up, and Gavin and I go to the party. We don’t sit together. He is silent and I mistake his silence for anger. I do not know until recently how terrified he was. He is drinking red wine and I have a glass of white. I talk to local writers and artists and say nothing. I flirt and eat and chat and pretend everything is normal.
The next day, I have the biopsy. Gavin comes with me. Immediately afterwards, another mammogram. It makes the first one feel like a walk in the park. Later, I go to the hairdressers and get my color done. I make an additional appointment for two weeks to have it cut from waist length into a bob. I am not ready to lop it off completely. I am still holding on for the call that says, “Just a cyst.”
By the middle of the next day, the doctor calls.
“I am sorry to say that you have Stage II breast cancer. It is also in the lymph. Have you considered which surgeon you will use?”
I give him the name of the doctor that aspirated a cyst, ten years past. The journey has begun. I gather an arsenal of specialists both western and alternative. I feel I have to do everything. Gavin and I take a drive up to the aspens. On the way up we are silent. I haven’t told Marika yet. A part of me thinks, maybe I won’t have to tell her. But I know I do. We stare out at the vista of gold, breathing in the resin-streaked smell of the trees. I think to myself, “Dear God, why me? What do I do?” I wanted to throw myself down the hill and slam myself into the ground. I wanted to roll and roll and roll into oblivion.
That evening, we take Marika out for Vietnamese food and sit in a booth. Smells of garlic and lemongrass waft out of the kitchen. Our drinks come and I say to Marika, “Mommy has something to tell you. I’m okay, and I’ll be okay, but I have cancer.”
She lets out a scream. I hold her. Gavin looks at me like, did you have to do that now? I didn’t know that I was going to but I knew I had to say something. It was killing me. In a couple of weeks I would start chemo and I had to tell her before that.
“Why, Mommy? I’m scared. Are you going to die?”
“No sweetheart. The chemo will make me sick but then I’m going to get better. Will you hold my hand?”
She starts crying and I am struggling to hold back the tears. But I think, okay, I’ve done it. I’ve told her. I am sick inside. Life will never be the same. I have lost my appetite and we all muddle through dinner. Several weeks later, I call the hairdresser and tell her my story. She has me come in and braids my hair into a single plait. Then she chops it off at the neck. Something besides my hair gets cut. I hold the braid in my lap while she fashions my hair into a pixie.
It is Halloween and I cannot go out. There is a beast in me that is raging. I send Marika over to friends with Gavin. I cannot remember what she dressed up as that year. It is a blur. November second is my first day of chemo.
On that day, I find a seat in the front of the chemo room with a clear view to the window. The sun is wan but I can see trees and the road. They are heating up my arm so that the veins will open. An IV stands next to me, with two plastic bags, one with clear liquid and one with ruby red. Some people call it ‘the red devil’ but my healer friend and I call it the Red Angel. My friend is there to guide me into meditation.
I take a deep breath as the needle finds the vein and visualize myself inside a giant egg. The egg is aqua and filled with golden light. I am filled with light.
Gavin picks Marika up from school during her lunch break brings her into the chemo room. He and I ask her about school, trying to appear normal. Gavin reads the paper. I sit in the chemo chair, the cherry liquid dripping into my vein. She has a bowl of soup, kisses me on the cheek and then Gavin takes her back to school. I travel vertically into a light-filled trance and a feeling of peace overcomes me. An hour later, the needle comes out and I am weak, nauseous and weepy. My friend helps me home.
Within two weeks, I find wads of black hair on my pillow and in the bath. On Thanksgiving, a friend comes over to shave my head. Gavin takes Marika over to a Thanksgiving feast. On the way, she says, “I hate this cancer. I just hate it.”
That night, I fall asleep with Marika in her bed. I dream I am with a bunch of children in a camp and everyone is reading Harry Potter. A woman asks me if I had a contract when I got married. I say, “You have to remember I’m 53. I’m older and I’ve been around and seen a lot.”
A girlfriend is there and says to me, “You really got hit over the head. Didn’t Harry Potter get hit over the head?”
Another person says, “Not until the end. He wasn’t hit. It was the wind.”
Someone else says, “A man matters. Not wind, transformation.”
I cannot roll away from cancer completely. It walked with me, through the wind, through the leaves, through the winter. It is part of my shadow and it is also my gold. It is the window in the painting and the gold is the glimmer in the eyes of the girl. It is in the birdsong and part of the song of time. But it awakened the song of my soul and for that I am grateful.
As I sit with this figure in the painting, on this brilliant fall day, I remember. She tells me to go vertically, into the richness and depth of each moment, each touch, each poem. She helps me call in my angels and allies to assist me in dreaming, writing, painting and seeing. Anyone of us can relate. Many of us think, as I did, “This will never happen to me.” Too many women I know have been struck. I send each and everyone of you Blessings. For now, I say, listen deeply to your song.