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The Art of Being: Cancer Journal-January 17, 2022 Yay! I'm a llama again!

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

If you are familiar with that pop culture phrase you will get the sense of irony. If you are not, I will just start this post with last Wednesday when I woke up from my second “biopsy” for the mass in my chest to find out that it is “just” a bronchogenic cyst. So, “Yay! now I only have breast cancer!” It’s been a while, much longer than the every two-week schedule I set myself for these posts. This last three weeks has been pretty eventful. An unsuccessful initial biopsy attempt left me with no surgery and no answers before Christmas. But also, a wonderfully pain free (other than the pain in my chest which is ever present anyway) Yuletide with my dear family. With how I feel today, even 10 days after surgery, I am very grateful for NOT getting surgery two days before the Holidays. There were lots of emotions though, carrying the weight of unanswered questions and an uncertain future during the “most wonderful time of the year “. But it still was wonderful. I love my family so much. An impromptu nativity video making session highlighted our Christmas Eve as we focused in, as best we could with nine of our grandchildren in the house in various stages of understanding and attention, on the true reason for the season. Precious moments.

On the way back from the Holiday break, to work and medical appointments in Grande Prairie, Ross (who came with me to support the surgery) and I stopped off in Edmonton for a quickly organized second biopsy attempt. This is when the news about the cyst brought so much relief and joy! While it is still problematic and has to be dealt with, it is not an inoperable tumor of a potentially different kind of cancer than I already had enough of. I am grateful for a busy and talented specialist that took the time to come and tell me the “good news” herself, rather than let me wait days for the results. I am constantly impressed by the care, compassion and humanity of these ministering angels of medicine with whom I get to rub shoulders on this journey. The next day (speaking of which) I got an excited call from my surgeon inviting me for surgery the following day, as an operating room had opened up. He had received less than 24 hours of notice which rubbed him a bit the wrong way until he remembered me and booked me in for surgery 10 days earlier than originally planned, along with a couple of other lucky folks. He also gave me the choice of a mastectomy over a lumpectomy, which was unexpected. Time will tell whether I took the right road there.

So now, 10 days later, that operating room is available for someone else who is anxiously waiting. And I am finally, after a week of pain and after care, back at home recovering and experiencing the trauma of this, apparently, “minor” surgery. Not minor to me or any other woman that has gone through this! The first leg of this journey is almost over and I am glad to be free from the 16 cancerous lobes and nodes in my breast and underarm. But I am grieving the loss of pieces of my body that I have been attached to for almost 56 years. Grieving also the lost time an earlier diagnosis would have given me to get ahead of this before it took such a toll. Grieving the uncertainty that still remains about a number of things.

Mournful while marvelous. This is a major step taken toward ridding my body of cancer and saving my life, and some revelations that have changed the potential long-term outlook. I am truly grateful. A couple more tests to determine a few more details, with some still real worry about the supposedly cancerous looking nodes around my thyroid, and a “golf ball” sized sack of poison (how I see it, but I don't actually know what is in there...) in my chest, but also a few weeks of rest and readying for the next leg of this journey: chemotherapy. Mental and emotional exhaustion, mood roller coasters, trepidation, anxiety, uncertainty, lack of knowledge about something so vital and determinant in my life and plucky resolve to master it and manage it. Like a painful opening of a door into a new way of being. I have been here before.

I remember, decades ago, clawing my way onto the road toward mental health, facing a lot of unknowns, confusions, trepidation, anxiety, uncertainty and such a lack of knowledge about something so vital and determinate in my life. With, at that point, very little understanding of how much so, let alone how I could master or manage it. Learning about what was happening to me, and doing what I could, led me to more discernment and comprehension which provided some light on my way and led me farther along the path. I have lived it and learned that “what we can do,” if we do it, gives us greater resources and skills to do more. A vast amount of knowledge and resources were available along with people who could help, support, and cheer me on. But it was a daily struggle and grind, and I had to step out of my own way to achieve it. It was, and continues to be, a lengthy process.

Deep dives into my mental and emotional systems and ways of thinking, feeling, doing had to occur. Assessment, investigation, revelations, figurative “surgeries.” To remove harmful, toxic, threatening elements like mindsets, paradigms and dysfunctional ways of being and clear the way for the help, healing, and hope that would need to come to figuratively, but also literally, save my life and improve the long-term outlook. There was no instant gratification. Each step toward that improvement involved discomfort and pain, disappointments and frustrations, a painful opening of a door into a new way of being. There still are, even this far down that road, moments of uncertainty or misstep, leading to relapses, retrenches, redirection. This is just the way of change.

Community work is no different. Except that it is on a far larger scale involving more humans and needing even more resources, coordination, collaboration, compassion, a group vision and mutual resolve. But it boils down to a group of people each doing their own work with a collective determination toward help, healing and hope. Learning about what is happening to us, and doing what we can, leads us to being able to understand and do more. Each step fraught with anxiety, trepidation, facing unknowns, trusting processes. It is a painful opening of a door into a new way of being. There is no instant gratification. Just months and even years of daily grind and struggle.

Deep dives into our community sectors and systems and our individual as well as collective ways of thinking, feeling, doing, have to happen. Assessment, investigation, revelations, “surgeries” to remove harmful, toxic, threatening elements like mindsets and paradigms and old ways of being, and clear the way for help, healing and hope. There will be moments of uncertainty, or missteps, leading to relapses, requiring retrenching and redirecting to literally save lives and improve the long-term outlook. But everything that is learned, every step that is taken leads to more ability, resources, and resolve. The vision of wholeness, of all the things working the way they should, of things being right and good, and the knowledge that we are not alone, spurs us on through the hard stuff. No matter how difficult the prognosis, how hard the battle, it is worth every effort. This I know. I have been here before.

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Cheryl Naglis
Cheryl Naglis
Jan 18, 2022

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