What about me?

As it turns out, I am more like the woman I used to be before this fifty year old showed up.  It’s a good thing too, considering that breast cancer has little patience for those who don’t fare well with ambiguity and scoffs at people who make plans. People like me. How I used to bemoan the pace of life as a woman attempting to play equally well the roles of mother, wife, daughter, sister, best friend, and educator all the while waiting for Tom Petty to call and ask if I would please be one of his Heartbreakers.

A million years ago, I almost went to Stirling University to study English but chose instead to stay in my beloved Belfast, Northern Ireland. to pursue a degree in education. On my side was the conventional wisdom, (more commonly known as my mother’s) that teaching was “a great thing to fall back on.”  I have realized it is perhaps one of the greatest things, the science and craft of it keeping me within the profession almost as long as Tom Petty and his other Heartbreakers have been in rock and roll. (Between all my adventures in the school-house and our house, I must have missed Tom when he called to steal me away).

In spite of being so busy for all these years, with no family history of breast cancer, and because I have an obedient streak, I dutifully showed up for all my mammograms, each one clear. Not clear enough, I have since learned. Ill-informed, I did not know to ask if by chance dense tissue was camouflaging a flourishing cancer. Hardly surprising, then, that I was wholly unprepared and displeased to add cancer patient to my curriculum vitae. Me. With cancer. Seriously? There I was, facing the half-century mark in fine fettle, paying more attention to my health, taking vitamin D, drinking more water, eating cruciferous green vegetables, and running every day. Buoyed by my sister-in-law’s success, I even committed to going from couch-to-5K in nine weeks, and, in a moment of madness, bragged on Facebook that the 2012 Belfast Marathon was within my reach. No doubt this would have given John Lennon a good laugh, life happening the way it does when you are busy making plans.

In a twinkling, when I wasn’t paying attention, I found something. Just like that. Not a lump exactly. But something I hadn’t noticed before, what my doctor would describe as “something distinctly different about my right breast.” I could say I was doing my monthly self-exam, but that would be untrue, as it is for almost every woman I have asked. No. I just happened upon the cancer that was happening to me.

The diagnosis unceremoniously deposited me in a new land, requiring me to dust off my finely honed immigrant skills. A new lexicon baffled me with once familiar words taking on new meanings – staging no longer applied only to the theater, fog replaced the stuff of Van Morrison‘s misty mornings with a kind of cognitive loss, and the cure was found not in hair of the dog but wrapped up in a nice pink ribbon. Then there was the business of dealing with people who were dealing with my breast cancer, and the ever-widening gulf between myself and those who did not and do not fully understand the language, the business, the norms, the politics of Cancer Country, a place where I would find the very best, most noble expressions of humanity along with the very worst.

Such a place was not on my itinerary, nor was the blogosphere. But here I am, at once a part and strangely more apart from the people who know me best. No stronger, no braver. Wiser? Perhaps. Bolder? Definitely. With a nod to Gilda Radner’s “delicious ambiguity,” this blog of mine is just a place from which I can take stock, look out and within, learning lessons from the field.  Tom Petty was right after all, I don’t have to live like a refugee.

Pull up a chair …

15 thoughts on “What about me?”

  1. So very glad I found your blog! Looking forward to more…

  2. What a beautiful writer you are. I’m sure I will be learning from you ~

    • Wow! Thank you so much, Carol! If it weren’t for what I learn every day from women such as yourself in this blogosphere, I would be utterly confounded by this entire cancer business.
      P.S. I totally get the shutterfly obsession 🙂
      y

  3. Love your updates in “What About Me!” And I’ve already grown to care about you dear friend and have a small addiction to Time to Consider the Lilies!

  4. 11.11.11…What a day changer…I’m sending you strength, wisdom and love. xo

  5. dear yvonne,

    i so related to what you wrote about, …”at once a part and strangely more apart from the people who know me best.” what you blog about, what i comment on – no one to whom i am close has an inkling of much of the aftermath of where we have been. but i think that’s okay. much of the time i am grateful that the ones closet to me don’t have to be privvy to what goes through my mind; it’s mine to own, to work through, to come to terms with, to lean into some of what is grieving, and to honor that grief, because it pays witness not only to the nightmare of cancer, but also to the desire to now want to live in the best and most fulfilling way. i just feel so fortunate to have such dear, loving, compassionate and gifted friends, like you, yvonne, who are only a click away, and who respond with such empathy and understanding that gives great comfort and reassurance and validation – with such grace, openess and dashes of good humor.

    i loved, “…conventional wisdom (commonly known as my mother’s)…” – made me laugh!

    much love, XO,

    karen, TC

    • Dear Karen
      I think it’s okay too. Kathy Kolb (of The Accidental Amazon) shared one of Marge Piercy’s poems with me the other day which I think kind of speaks to what we experience with these people we may never meet, but who are never far away. The last lines really resonate with me: “Strong is what we make/each other. Until we are all strong together/a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.”
      Truly, I will forever be grateful for the kindness I have known in this virtual “neighborhood,” for the friendship – and I do consider all these bloggers (and The Resident Commenter :-)) my friends. It’s really about humanity, I suppose. I think cancer maybe forced me to slow down to notice it, bask in it, and reciprocate it.
      Yes. I just had to throw my mother’s wisdom in there – when I was young, I used to ask her for advice when I just didn’t know what to do, and she’d always say, “What would the wise woman do?” to which I”d retort, “Well, that’s why I’m asking you!” And we’d just go around and around. So, with a nod to my mother, Sophie gets her name from the Greek for wisdom.
      Thanks so much, as always, for stopping by, Karen. Nice to “see” you at the end of one of those long days when the fatigue is just like lead.
      P.S. Here’s the poem:

      “For strong women”

      A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
      A strong woman is a woman standing
      on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
      while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
      A strong woman is a woman at work
      cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
      and while she shovels, she talks about
      how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
      the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
      develops the stomach muscles, and
      she goes on shoveling with tears
      in her nose.

      A strong woman is a woman in whose head
      a voice is repeating, I told you so,
      ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
      ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
      why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
      you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why
      aren’t you dead?

      A strong woman is a woman determined
      to do something others are determined
      not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
      of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
      a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
      to butt her way through a steel wall.
      Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
      to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.

      A strong woman is a woman bleeding
      inside. A strong woman is a woman making
      herself strong every morning while her teeth
      loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
      a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
      every battle a scar. A strong woman
      is a mass of scar tissue that aches
      when it rains and wounds that bleed
      when you bump them and memories that get up
      in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

      A strong woman is a woman who craves love
      like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
      A strong woman is a woman who loves
      strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
      terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
      in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
      she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
      suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
      enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

      What comforts her is others loving
      her equally for the strength and for the weakness
      from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
      Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
      Only water of connection remains,
      flowing through us. Strong is what we make
      each other. Until we are all strong together,
      a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

  6. betty watterson said:

    Yvonne there is no stronger woman than your goodself, I often wonder how you keep going after all that has happened. But I also think you are a very very good person and i love you for the person you are. mam xxxx

  7. dear yvonne,

    a great mystery has been solved! frequently, i go back to many of your posts to re-read them. often, my pudding brain needs refreshing, and i also find that sometimes i glean new insights from your writings, things i may not have absorbed first time around, and enjoy and learn from other comments left. (okay – i confess – i also
    wonder if there is some delicious response from you!). for the life of me i could not find this post – i searched the roster of previous posts several times, bewildered and worried that it just somehow disappeared. then, i saw the “what about me these days?” at the top left – sheesh, it only took me – what? – 2 months – to notice it?! then it made sense – am i right, that you were making a significant transition with your blog? from, “time to consider…” to “considering…notes from the field.” how brilliant!

    anyway, i can’t begin to tell you how much i appreciate your response to the comment i left. and marge piercy’s poem – i am crying and crying, about “for strong women”. it feels like an answered prayer, to read those words. thank you, thank you, dear yvonne for sharing it with me. my tear ducts are open, relief is flooding my cheeks.

    love, XOXO,

    karen, TC

    • Karen
      You are too funny. I do that all the time … I try to keep up with so many blogs but unlike you, I am TERRIBLE about commenting, especially if it’s one of those blogs that asks me to type in the captcha code thing. I can never quite make it out and after a couple of attempts, I give up. I always mean to go back and comment, but then I get distracted …
      So here’s the thing that happened with the title of the blog. It started out as “Time to Consider the Lilies … and my life Since Cancer came to Call.” or since cancer came calling or words to that effect. And then, within a very short period of time, I’m ashamed to say, I just could not keep writing exclusively about cancer, and I felt really quite guilty about it because there are so many women (many of whom you know) who blog with such elegance and tenacity on the breast cancer culture, the need for a different approach etc They blow me away with their advocacy and their accuracy on the subject. As you do with your unflagging support.
      Hence, without really admitting it out loud, I changed the title of the blog. I suppose I realized that, for whatever reason, I was writing about all kinds of things, some of which hadn’t crossed my mind for ages, but which, it turns out, were important after all in teaching me something. I found myself going back to a childhood I didn’t appreciate at the time and reconnecting with literature and music and all the other stuff that has shaped me. So it became “Considering the Lilies … and Lessons from the Field” and then all the posts became field notes (which I thought was clever 🙂 )
      Now I am rambling … there was some point to all of this. Oh yes, Marge Piercy. I love her poetry and Kathi Kolb just knocked my socks off with it. I am so glad it brought you what you needed today.
      x

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