Where have I been?
Short answer: Battling breast cancer.
But, of course, there is no short answer when a doctor says the words ‘cancer’ and ‘your name’, twisted together, in present tense.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Both my maternal grandmother and mother were diagnosed and survived. No, I wasn’t surprised, but I was scared. Traumatized. This was not a club in which I wanted membership.
My husband lost his former wife of 30+ years to cancer. She had melanoma and the skin cancer took a year to take her down. He assured me that we would battle this disease together and that we would win, just as my grandmother and mother had won. I did not realize, until the treatments were over, how stunned Ron was by the diagnosis. Only recently has he admitted that he worried God might be so cruel as to tear two wives from him through this illness. He hid his anxiety from me and took over as caretaker, advocate, and saint-in-the-making.
A team of doctors—surgeon, radiologist and oncologist—took over and laid out the treatment plan for me. I did not read up on the disease or ask too many questions. I put on a cheerful veneer, conjured a false bravado, and followed protocol. Diagnosed last summer, I had surgery in August, began several months of chemo, followed by daily radiation for five weeks. It’s been a tiring journey, but the doctor and nurses were gentle and caring and I am on the other side and back into the fullness of life. My hair is even growing out into a sassy Katy Perry spiked pixie.
Unlike Natalie Goldberg, I did not journal my way through this part of my journey. I’d say I’m ashamed, as a writing workshop leader and memoirist, that I did not chronicle my experience. But I’m not. I believe we have to honor our unique ways of facing adversity, or we lose our authenticity and integrity. I chose to go into my cave, pulling my husband inside to hold me in the darkness, and to assure everyone that I was doing well, no worries. Truth is, there were worries, but I pushed them aside and let that strong women inside me whom I call Herself to rise up and take care of business. Now, I can take time to reflect on the seriousness of my disease. And immerse myself in gratitude. Literally wallow in it.
Dr. Joyce M Boatright