In 2012 I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A 2cm lump in my left breast, The Experts told me. A lumpectomy should fix you right up, The Experts said. The Experts were wrong. The lumpectomy revealed a 9cm tumour that the so called best technology had missed. Another operation to remove your left breast, The Experts said. But We don’t think you will need chemotherapy, The Experts said. The Experts were wrong. Four rounds of chemotherapy, and six weeks of daily radiation therapy after that. And then I was done, on just about every level.
My story of courage is not in the breast cancer diagnosis, but in the living afterwards. Don’t get me wrong. Going through the diagnosis and subsequent surgeries and treatment was incredibly terrifying and debilitating and not something I ever want to go through again. The sheer volume of information was overwhelming and all semblance of feeling that I had a choice in my treatment was a clever construct by a health system and professionals that are on the spectrum. The Face would go up in public, and come tumbling down in private. But as a purely physical entity, our bodies are incredibly tough and we are designed to get through incredible amounts of pain. Just get through, just get through became my mantra. Just one more chemo, just one more chemo, halfway through now, all done. I made it through.
Two months after my treatments finished my friend, Tashe, died after battling her own breast cancer for three years. That was the lowest point in my cancer.
Because, if Tashe could not beat it then what hope did I have. She did everything right, she read everything there was to read about cancer, she made all the big changes, she was fearless in the face of a beast …. And still died.
A nasty little voice settled in my head, and would question why I would want to do something when I might be dead in 3 years, five years, ten years. There did not seem to be a lot of point in the living, and the fear became immobilising. I refused to admit that at the heart of the problem was a vulnerability that I never wanted to show anyone, not even my husband. After all, I was the steady one, the sensible one, the one who fixed everything and made every one better, both in the little family I had created and the one I was born into 48 years ago. I was resentful that it was me, and furious that I would cry at unexpected, and what I thought of as inappropriate, moments. The “de-Samanthification” of Samantha had begun, and little pieces of me were broken off. And shit kicked down the road for all the world to see. For a while, I kept running after those little pieces, gathering them up, and crudely gluing them back together to maintain what I thought made me Me. But just as quickly as I gathered and glued, the pieces would break off again, slowly exposing me.
It takes courage to accept ourselves for who we are. Courage comes from acceptance. Not a resigned kind of acceptance that pulls us down and in, but a quiet recognition that things have changed, and that there is a way forward – acceptance that we are an addict and will have to face the people we have damaged, acceptance that we don’t fit into the norm so that we can live a life true to oneself, and for me, acceptance of my vulnerability so that I could accept support.
There is also courage in accepting that, despite our best efforts and being told relentlessly that we are in control of our own destinies, we can not control everything, and we most certainly can not control whether we get cancer or not. Nor do we have to have all the answers or feel that we should have them. Cancer was not my fault, I did nothing to get it and I don’t know why I got it. There is courage in accepting that sometimes shit just happens to good people. When we accept then resistance melts away, and only then can fear be overcome, and we can live the life we want to beyond the shit that sent us spiralling. It takes courage to face the person you never thought you were, that society or family said we should not be, that we smother in order to be the person we think fits in or we think everyone wants/expects us to be.
It takes courage to get up every morning in the face of numbing uncertainty, and to scream in fear’s face, “YOU HAVEN’T WON YET.” Cancer might come back, and in fact, I have to have another operation to remove my ovaries because they are not playing nice, but I accept that these things are going to happen and I feel more courageous in the face of my vulnerability.
Written by Samantha Poling. A quietly humorous kind of gal who loves nana knitted cardigans, vintage crippety-crap, a good laugh out loud, clever-creative-type people, old buildings, and of course, my lovely little family that I work really hard at, but don’t always get right.
You can follow her facebook page here.
And her instagram here.
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