I’ve been writing this blog post for months–many months. I think my last post was in May. This is unusual for me. It generally takes me an hour to write a post, another hour to marinade on it and then about 30 minutes to post it.
But this one has been harder. Different. I had planned to title it “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”and share the many things I’ve learned over the past three years (yes, three years). The phrase is the title of a book and a movie about a strong black female (Stella) who comes back stronger after a setback. The title and post is a nod to me being back 100%. But the words just were not coming to me. When I started this blog, I committed to myself and my readers that I would always be authentic and transparent—even if it meant saying things that made me uncomfortable.
As I get better, it’s harder to be transparent. To lay yourself bare for judgement. It’s so much easier to build up walls. But I’m not going to do that.
So, that requires me to acknowledge that I’m not 100% yet. I thought I was, but then I got sidelined. Not by my health, but by the health of others. People who I knew directly or through others who haven’t done so well. I know of more than a few people who have recently died from breast cancer. People who were considered survivors. It’s sobering.
Late last year, I had an appointment with my surgeon in Texas. I was sure he would say I’m done. He didn’t. I was told that one, maybe two, more surgeries are needed. As I walked out of the building I felt sad. Actually, I wanted to cry. I wanted to ask God when this would be over or at least when will I have a day that doesn’t include cancer. Rather than listening to my own whining, I looked up and I looked out. And I saw women who were bald, eyes sunken, some in wheelchairs and some not, but all looking as though they were just trying to make it through one more day. I realized that many of those women would probably love to be where I am right now—over the hump of the worst treatments. Able to walk on my own and work and do most anything I wanted with less fear.
I’m blessed; I know that. Blessed beyond measure. I think it’s no longer time for sadness. What’s behind me was worse than what’s ahead of me. It’s time for some extreme optimism.
I now know that I’m not 100%. As I write this, I’m in Houston at MD Anderson prepping for surgery on Tuesday. It’s a lot. I have a lot to say to catch you up, but first, let me finish this post, which is my list to-date of how I’m returning to myself and lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1. I have forgiven myself for getting cancer. Intellectually, I know I didn’t cause my cancer, but deep down I think my lifestyle contributed to weakening my immune system. Did I work too much? Carry too much stress? Exercise too little? Internalize my concerns to the point it weakened my body and my immune system?
2. I’ve accepted the “new” me — inside and out. Recently, I went to see a cosmetic surgeon to have him take a look at something on my breast I didn’t like. He told me he could excise this and stitch that, etc. I told him I’d think about it, but at this point perfection isn’t the goal. Living is.
3. I learned to forgive others and approach most situations with empathy. The thing about being sick is that it brings out the best and, sometimes, the worst in people. I mostly experienced the best ten times over. But, I did see the other side too. There were people who didn’t know how to have a friend with cancer so they didn’t come around much; and there were people who knew how to take advantage of people in a weakened state—and did–for their gain. This hurts the most — the people that betray you because pushing you down helps them rise. To the former, I hold no grudge; no feeling of disappointment; only understanding and hope that we can reconnect. It can be hard having a sick friend. I get it. To the latter, those who took advantage of my weakened state, well, there’s a special place in Hell for you.
4. I learned that I have a responsibility to myself to choose how I channel my energy. Where, how much, and when. I’ve said it before, time is finite. And I’m thankful for every new day that I have.
5. I’ve discovered and tapped into things that bring me pure joy: the perfect jalapeño margarita, cuddling with my dogs, driving my car with the top down with the wind in my hair, listening to music (Darius, of course), quiet moments with my husband; loud moments with my adult children as they regale me with stories of how they think they tricked us when they were kids (silly them) and their interesting lives now.
5. I learned that disease isn’t fair. I knew that life wasn’t fair. Just like my grandmother told my mother decades ago, my mother taught me that life would not be fair for me as a Black female. So, I don’t expect fairness in most situations. I really don’t. But I thought disease affected all of us (broadly) in the same way. But then I learned that breast cancer death rates are 40% higher among Black women than white women. Is it because of lesser access to good healthcare? Maybe, but dozens of studies say it’s much more than just that. Is there somewhere out there where the playing field is level for Black women? (The question is rhetorical).
6. I learned that I don’t know how to smoke pot (Is that still what it’s called?) Someone gave me these bud-like things when I was going through chemo, but I didn’t know what to do with them. I googled “how to smoke pot” and YouTube tried to show me the way. After 20 minutes of watching How To videos , I decided it was easier to just take a nap. At least then, when I woke up I didn’t have the munchies.
8. I stopped wearing bras. It’s freeing. I have gorgeous bras — crystals, rhinestones, lace, silk — you name it. But now they stay carefully arranged in several drawers that I never open. It’s not like these new breasts are going anywhere — really, they don’t move.
9. I learned that it matters that I’m on this planet. I’ve made a difference in some areas that really matter to me. I have a purpose. I know that now.
10. And finally, I learned. That’s all. I learned. This list has only 10 items, but I’m sure I could come up with 50 more. Cancer taught me a lot in a relatively short period of time. There were some hard lessons. But I learned.
Coming full circle, Stella got her groove back and I’m pretty sure I will too!