Waiting for the other shoe to drop just took on a whole new meaning for me. I had my second mastectomy, promised to me by my surgeon should I choose it and I chose it. Eleven months almost to the day of my first mastectomy. That one felt a bit different as that one was trying to kill me. But this one, the first to produce a thankfully benign tumour which gave me a scare long ago in my teens, this one did nothing except watch the other one happen and then hang around, keeping me off balance and akimbo, I didn’t realize how much until it was gone.
But let’s talk about my breasts for a moment. (Disclaimer: some graphic content) These breasts have been with me a long, long time. I remember when they first started to grow, the little nubbins that surprised me when I was 12, appearing right on schedule and giving me my first taste of female pains. They didn’t grow much after that for a long while. I remember being taunted in 7th grade by the boys: “Penny (my maiden name), Penny when you gonna be a dollar”… yep… Then being given the nickname A-bra by a friend in 11th grade. Get it Deborah, Debra, Dbra, nope… A-bra. Of course there is the dating and courtship and marriage stuff which I will keep to myself, but another set of stages in the life cycle of my breasts which brought on some changes and adjustments. As I moved into sharing them with someone else… Then the tell tale tenderness caused by a new pregnancy, then nursing a baby, and four more. Stretching for each new life and not going back to normal in between until I almost could be a D-bra… haha!
And then, one tried to kill me and it had to go. After that, the other one was just in the way, useless, kind of threatening, and I never felt quite right, quite balanced. My healing incision on the right side made it uncomfortable to wear any kind of insert, and a prosthetic was too costly when I knew it would have to match the other one and that one would change over time. So I walked around like a one-boob wonder for 11 months of my life. And now, as of yesterday, they are both finally gone. I am even again! And it feels right. I have heard that many women feel this way about a single mastectomy and wish they had insisted on a double. "I'll take that with cream and sugar, please! Oh, and a croissant on the side."
There is no scientific evidence that cancer moves between breasts so they don’t as a rule take them both. But what medicine doesn’t, and maybe should, take into account is that there is a mental and emotional toll which needs to be considered. Maybe it is not like that for everyone. But it was certainly like that for me. And while I grieve the loss of a body part and all the good things in my life that they represent, I am happy and settled with my decision. I am grateful for a health care system that has room in it for me to at least remove the left, get it, left one? after a while at no extra cost. I think. I will see in a while if I get a bill or not. I haven’t asked…
And speaking of mental heath… It is really so much about balance. Its success involves excising, or cutting out, the things that are destructive and then doing things to restore our equilibrium. Before my diagnosis, or at least prior to the few months before my diagnosis when my health began to seriously tank, I would have said I was well, mentally. And I was. This last couple of years have taken their toll on my sense of equilibrium, my zen has quietly slipped a bit. And in the last few weeks maybe gone altogether. Health (and now I have Co-vid, tested positive for it on my surgery day), family, and work challenges have brought me close to a precipice I never wanted to be on again. Looking into the abyss of a mental breakdown. While some may not have noticed and I remain on the pedestal for them? (hmmmnnn), others have definitely felt its effects and the concerns have returned.
Mental health is a community experience, it impacts and is impacted by others. And is not a linear experience. It has its stages and phases. And sometimes those other shoes do actually drop. And you have to deal with them. At whatever stage you are at, and they take their toll. But I think that when you know you can overcome the dysfunction, because you have before, it is easier to get back on the path and keep on doing the work. We see the warning signs and we can stay a bit farther from the edge. I have seen that each time I have made a gain, over the years. Because of what I have learned, and felt, how I have grown, if I do the work, I have a larger skill set, a bit more stamina, a bit more confidence. I am pretty sure this is true for all of us. Two steps forward, one step back is a common experience for we humans which we don't give ourselves, or each other for that matter, enough grace for. Sometimes we do it to ourselves and sometimes it happens for reasons we have no control over.
What we can control is our awareness of and our response to it. How grateful I am for friends and family who see and for colleagues who recognize when with the light is flickering and dimming and things are not as they should be. As the well me helps them to be. And for the grace and saving I have found in my spiritual beliefs and practice. My calling, passion, gift, is to be a way-maker, a mover and shaker, a standard bearer. I love to be a light in the window, offering hope and a way forward to those who are trying to find their way to what “home” means to them. I love to find and work with people with big hearts like mine and solve problems and do things differently and better. To have a purpose larger than our own selves, to get out of the boxes. I am one of the strong ones! It is part of my identity! But it has a cost to bear and a price to pay. When my light dims I need to do some things to get it beaming again.
Taking time to rest. Getting inspired by the words and deeds of others. Looking for the opportunities in the challenges. Exercising gratitude. Nurturing my spirituality and connection to my Divine Source. Depending on others to take care of the things they can so I don’t have to. Letting go and letting God, (or whatever form faith in a higher power means to each reader). Balancing my responsibilities to restore equilibrium. Self and Spirit, Family, Work, World (at least what I can do to make it a bit better of a place where I stand). If we don’t do things in the right order they get lopsided, top heavy, and feel unmanageable, unsustainable. Prioritize, assess, adjust, reorder, and move forward in a better way, in a more manageable direction. Sometimes we have to drop some ballast, things we are carrying that are doing us no good and we won’t need where we are going. Sometimes we have to find a way to use the wind to power our sails, rather than fighting against it, to take us where we need to go. And sometimes we have to do some deep diving to decide if we are going where we need to go and is it time to change direction.
Isn’t that the same as what we do in community? If we are doing community right, at any rate. This process for every human could be supported and the sky would be the limit for what we could all do together, to let go of what is broken and thrive. Can we see the imbalance? Can we reignite our collective spirituality? Connect to our mutual and diverse sources of strength through culture and sharing? Can we prioritize and assess, adjust and reorder through collaborative intention? Can we figure out what to let go of, and cut out of the scenario? Can we adjust our sails, or even our directions? Being strong has a cost to bear and a price to pay but if we are not alone, we can do it! If we don’t do things in the right order, they get lopsided, top heavy, unmanageable, and unsustainable. We need to fight for that balance that will help us all to be okay, not just a few, and not at the cost of each other. This I know. I have been here before.