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Rejected by Victoria Secret


“The core paradox that underlies spirituality is the haunting sense of incompleteness, of being somehow unfinished…..For to be human is to be incomplete, yet yearn for completeness…” Ernest Kurtz

In 2004, I was a vibrant, successful, fifty-nine year old kick butt racket-ball player. Suddenly faced with a mastectomy, then abruptly relegated to drab, colorless, unfashionable bras ─ the ugly bra syndrome ─ was quite disconcerting. Despite the absence of one breast, I still wanted to feel sensual through the look and feel of lovely undergarments. No longer available to post mastectomy women were the vibrant colors and various materials that I preferred.

Reconstruction proved unattainable due to protracted radiation. The ever tenacious part of me sprang into action. For as long as I can remember, when faced with obstacles, I won’t stop until I have exhausted every possible means to the end. Then I think of another possible approach then another…. Driving home, resigned, having being told by the surgeon that breast reconstruction would have over a 50% failure rate my next course of action was forming.

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Breast Reconstruction Foiled

One year after my mastectomy, I was thrilled to finally have my consult with a reconstruction surgeon. Of course the treatment team had informed me that radiation would most likely preclude the possibility of breast reconstruction but I only heard the “possibility” part of that sentence. Women need to be 100% certain that we understand radiation treatments may (probably) rule out reconstruction. For a person like me who thinks she can buck up under any circumstance involving pain, I didn’t understand that the radiation in and of itself would compromise skin tissue thereby affectively eliminating my choice.

Filled with confidence and ready to get on with the next phase of my recovery process I awaited the surgeon’s footsteps with excited anticipation.

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Cancer: Bald, burnt and tired

“Learning to befriend the dark means learning to befriend nothingness.”

“Our experience of nothingness can be personal or political; they can be at times the most affirming and unitive experiences of our lives and at other times the most devastating and earth-shaking experiences. What is certain is that our nothingness experiences are never superficial. They are always rock-bottom, radical, of our roots.” Matthew Fox

36 radiation treatments after months of chemo therapy, bald, burnt and tired I was dropped off of the conveyor built of cancer treatments. Close to one year had passed since I was first diagnosed with cancer. Grateful, I was ready for my reward, a cruise to Alaska.

Except for feeling self-conscious about my baldness, I was delirious with gratitude. Oh, the many levels of thoughts and feelings that simultaneously occur within each of us are truly stunning.

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Radiation treatment: Danger Keep out

 

 

“Like water I am poured out, disjointed are all my bones. My heart has become like wax, it is melted within my breast. Parched a burnt clay is my throat, my tongue cleaves to my jaws.”  (Ps. 22:14-16)

 

Scheduled for thirty six radiation treatments, four small marks resembling large freckles were permanently tattooed on my chest precisely pinpointing the boundaries to correspond with the area needing radiation.

Sitting in the waiting room, lacking any semblance of a spiritual being, drool leaked down my chin. Three women, also in hospital gowns opened at the back, mirrored the terror in my eyes.

The moment I saw the sign on the entrance door to the radiation room, I began my “chin-quivering-drool-tic”. Large letters read “DANGER – KEEP OUT”. Panic enveloped me when my name was called.

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Chemotherapy, Skydiving and Drooling

“Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing? Are you willing to be made nothing? dipped into oblivion? If not, you will never really change.” D.H. Lawrence

I have an unattractive motion in my chin when I have exceeded my terror level. It gets numb and quivers pathetically causing me to drool. This happened during my one and only sky dive and just prior to a scuba dive off of the Great Barrier Reef. It happened as I followed the nurse down the long foreboding hallway to the hospital bed. The chin thing started when the nurse approached me in the waiting room.

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Cancer: The Dream



“The soul among all creatures is generative like God is.” Meister Eckhart.

As my first chemotherapy treatment approached, I wondered how to incorporate the recommended visualization of “blowing up” the “evil” cancer cells. This particular image was almost as ominous as the thoughts of the treatment itself. I prayed for guidance which came in the form of a dream the evening before the first treatment. I used this picture because of the colors. Never in my life had I seen such exquisitely vivid multi colors.

THE DREAM

She began her journey to the hospital as she climbed into the small car. She was startled to see hundreds of starfish-like creatures. They were friendly, cheerful and fun albeit noisy as they were all trying to communicate at once, each wanting her to know them. The woman felt overwhelming compassion for these odd, beautiful little creatures. They made her laugh. She beseeched the driver not to move the car until she could get the little ones to depart. They were everywhere. They were on the seats, under the seats, in the glove compartment, hanging on the doors both inside and outside of the car. They were even under the tires. They had not a clue of their impending danger. They would be smashed to bits if the driver moved the car. The woman felt deeply connected to these curious little creatures and intuitively knew that they meant no harm. They were simply and totally self-absorbed in the maintenance of their own life force.

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Cancer: The Mastectomy

 

“When we practice dying

We are learning to identify less with

the Ego and more with the soul.” Ram Dass

 

Holding my burning eyes while sobbing uncontrollably I beg the nurse for eye drops. Ignoring the white band on my wrist stating my allergic reaction to tape, the anesthesiologist had taped my eyes shut during the mastectomy. Unable to give me any form of eye drop relief because the doctor had not ordered them, my husband was hell bent on getting me out of that hospital immediately. He took total control of the situation, clearly distressed at my level of pain.

Precisely four hours after my mastectomy we were parked in front of a drug store. My eyes now soothed with drops, we waited in the Seattle ferry line to begin our two hour journey home. My husband assured me for the hundredth time that he could care less about the absence of one breast. He just wanted me to live.

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Portacath: What is it and will it hurt?

“And breast cancer is a dance of initiation, for no woman who dances with cancer is ever the same. She has visited the source and tasted the waters of life and death, savored the sweetness and the sharpness of her own mortality, and tasted her desire to survive.” (pg. Xiii) Breast Cancer? Breast Health! Susan S. Weed

Ten days before my scheduled mastectomy surgery I saw the doctor who had previously treated my mother. She died five years earlier from pancreatic cancer. He would become part of my cancer treatment team.

“Dawn, your veins are exactly like your mothers. They are small, they roll and then collapse. They will not support the several hours needed for your IV tubes treatment. Have your mastectomy surgeon insert a portacath

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Cancer: The angel amidst the hats.

“Some people want to recognize God only in some pleasant enlightenment-and then they get pleasure and enlightenment but not God.” Meister Eckhart

With a heavy heart I departed my favorite lingerie store. It slowly sinks in that I would never again wear those lovely Victoria’s Secret bras. Downheartedly, I walked toward Macy’s department store.

I pondered my apparent lack of emotions since my cancer diagnosis. Curious as to where my tears were hiding since so far they had remained securely hidden from me. Not a single tear had escaped since I was first diagnosed with cancer. Not during the lumpectomy procedure, nor the subsequent more serious diagnosis.

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Cancer: Vanity trumps Fear

Common sense, maturity and even the possibility of death vanished as vanity prevailed upon hearing my diagnosis of breast cancer in December of 2003. One week had passed since the needle biopsy on my right breast, which remained blotchy black, dark blue and painful.

Gripping the phone, I ask, “How much boob is normally removed during a lumpectomy?”

“We won’t know until we go in and see the size and how much surrounding tissue is affected.”