What Breast Cancer Can Not Destroy

Summer and Fall 2013 005

I’ve taken a trip to hide.  My husband has business here intermittently, and having just had my breast removed because of cancer, he was not inclined to have us separated.  Me either, for that matter. There is a period of time after surgery where no fake part can be used to get out and about, because the wound is just too raw, and reconstruction immediately is not an option for me due to other health conditions.  I’d be looking like a freak, all bound in an ace, one still with me, and the other giant nothingness where something use to be.

Days have passed… weeks.  I’ve decided that though my breast is gone, some things have not changed. I’m not hiding anymore.  When I can ware the fake pad, I will.  When it’s too painful, I won’t.  When it slides to the middle of my chest and you stare at me…. , than stare on.  Some things one cannot prevent unless one changes ones life to sitting idly by, making sure ones faulsie does not shift from it’s designated location.  To live, in my skin, is to move.  Therefore there will be awkward moments of things not in their place.  So be it.

I still have my family, the same as they’ve always been…. crazy, fun, loud and eccentric as all get out.

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I still have God.  Praise, anger, gratitude, rage… when I sob so deep in my gut I break blood vessels in my face, He is still and close and listens.  I can feel his smile on me sometimes, even when I blather on and on.  He loves me as is. I let that soak into me.  I need it right now.

I can still sing… I wasn’t sure how much would change as the breast sits over-top my lung, and thought maybe it would hallow out the sound, or weaken it.  No, all’s intact there.

My husband still finds me beautiful.  When you love someone this long, there is so much more to beauty than dimensions and contour.  His love and attraction gives me confidence to get about and live life, even now in a state where I can’t use some pretend thing to make myself look “normal”.  Sometimes hard things rip a couple apart.  Sometimes trauma heals broken places.  We promised each other before surgery we would not waste this horror, but would make sure the pain became fertilizer for growth and love.  God has helped us keep our promise to each other.  We are still a couple with ups and downs… but feel safer with each other, less defensive.  The love is real and blows about our hearts as we silently wonder how long we have each other.

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Jazz is still as amazing as ever, a good standard still fills up the pours in my soul.

This is still My Father’s World. The beauty on the hills around me the past 3 weeks has, at times, overwhelmed me.  Last weekend we got to 10,000 feet, it took a lot of huffing and puffing, but we did it.  Up there I can almost touch God, there where the clouds hover beside, pink our cheeks and frizzle hair with dew.

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Jury is still out on swimming.  I can’t yet, as the wound has not healed.  It has not stopped me from getting in the pool waist-high, and doing a kind of 46-year-old version of a ballet warm up, hanging on to the side with one hand, toe front, than swooping under and behind all the way back, out of the water, then front again… trying to keep myself from turning into mush.  I still feel the excitement stepping into the pool room, smelling the water.

I remember, a number of years back, the first time I discovered my connection to God and water.  I was trying for the 100th time to make my way through the Bible, found myself waylaid at Genesis 1:2 “The Earth was without Form; and void.  And darkness was on the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God hovered over the water.”  I realized at that moment that so much of what hurts us now…. giant voids all around and so much darkness, that Gods Spirit still hovers over, wanting to immerse us, heal us, and fill in the void that aches us.  Since then, I have discovered that swimming heals anxiety, have experienced the tonic of running in the rain, fresh grated ginger tea, a hot shower, ice on a twisted ankle, and standing on the bank of frigged mountain river, I watch as one child, another year, another child, and then again, our oldest three choose death to self and life to Christ in Baptism.  I still experience God near the water, and can’t wait to return to all the healing opportunities of my ugly blue swim cap, goggles and the crawl that has coaxed me out of bed and to the pool 5 a.m. BBC (Before Breast Cancer).

I can still RUN!!!!!  Found myself some Brooks.. my old ones were hanging by a thread.  The ones I just bought are mostly PINK.  What’s with PINK AND PURPLE RUNNERS THIS SEASON??… Oh well…. I ran, ace baggage and all, in red rock along a dirt road not far from Arches National Park. OK, just a walk/run under 2 miles, but it made me smile to know I can do this!

Have not tried to bike yet.  Should be OK, am just having to be OK with looking strange as nothing stays in place when truly active.  I saw a to-die-for baby aqua blue road bike I coveted at REI the other day.  It’s important to openly talk about ones temptations:)  And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking if I have a most strikingly beautiful bike, maybe the sideways station of my presentation will not be noticed.  OK, I’m justifying.  I’ll be fine with the ole stand-by:)

Cancer has slowed me down some.  “In our intact bodies we Live, and Move and Have Our Being” – NOT!  I hang on tight to Him in whom I live and move and have my being…no matter what is going on with my body.

In some ways breast cancer has changed me.  The feeling that life will be long.  Confidence that I will get to raise my children.  With the breast cancer diagnosis came information about a couple mutated genes that given the predictions could put me into a fetal position permanently.  I won’t pretend I haven’t soaked my pillow over and over, the future looming and heavy, but I regularly have to release to God my desire to raise our kids to adulthood, and be involved in our future grandchildrens lives.  These things are up to God.  He will decide.

Cancer is nasty.  Some people refer to reconstruction as “A Boob Job” and “A Tummy Tuck”.  I’ve been told loosing a breast is no worse than loosing a tooth, that I should be thankful for…and a long list of horrors are presented that are “much worse than loosing a breast.  What good are they, anyway?” I’ve heard things from people about loosing my sexual power by loosing a breast, and how sorry they are for me.  Some women may feel that way, but I don’t have the foggiest idea what that would be about.  No hard feelings.  These words come from people I love, and who love me.  They just don’t know what they are talking about.  Of course there are the words and actions, kind and wonderful.  Hundreds of them, thousands maybe.  In moments of black, however, they stand at a distance, hard to recall, and too far from me.

My breasts took a lot of getting use to as I was one of those freak girls who had to ware a bra in 2nd grade, was shy, and didn’t want attention for physical reasons in any way.  Missing a breast is just as embarrassing, people notice me for physical reasons.  Awkward.

The reality of loosing a breast is complicated…takes some getting use to.  Try imagining that every day when you dress, you put on your left sock first… and suddenly your left foot is gone.  The routine you once had is not possible, don’t quite know how to start your day. 

A week after surgery, I gathered all the strength in me and had a look, first time, at the wound.  The shock was horrific.  Looked as if a rabid animal had ripped breast from chest wall.  Revoltion, hot tears, the punishment I deserved for having been fondled at 8 by Land Lord of Apartments.  The words ringing in my ears, round and round in my head they condemned me “It’s interesting that you were the one molested when the others weren’t.”  The implication obvious… I had done something to cause the molestation that time, and the time when Youth Pastor molested me at 12, in car, along side road, on the way to babysit children so he and wife could go out for date, removing his pants and asking me if I’d ever seen man turned on before.  I deserved the cancer, the tearing shred, heavy chunk of black flesh atop scab.  Bones projecting from up to collarbone and down to nothingness.  I deserve shame.  That’s what I get. 

The words of people I’d tell secret to, in prayers preaching to forgive and forget.  Even since the cancer, in prayers, and to my face, telling me with hearty laugh “You know you did this to yourself, don’t you.  You have no one to blame but you.” The laugh resumes and walks away and burns hot. 

Things not thought of in so long become vivid color, words and actions with the viewing of the hideous chest, the hole.

I have observed nothing so violent before, although experienced birth four times, six miscarriages, a burst appendix. Nothing, including cancer, however, is nasty enough to rip away the “me” made in Gods Image.  That dignity, no ravage can touch.  I’m still the same me I’ve always been.  I’m done hiding.  If the void in me makes you uncomfortable, I suggest you find yourself some water.  I know I’m going to.

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Amelia Ponder

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13 Comments

  1. Hi Amelia ~
    I am Judy a friend of Cherilyn’s your blog is pretty, you are beautiful, and I love your “way” with words and honesty. Thank you for opening your heart and soul! I want to share your journey.

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  2. You are so able to write out your feelings! I can hardly imagine anyone being so cruel as to suggest you brought his cancer on yourself! Or that you some how at 8 yrs old you asked to be molested! Again at 12, old man devil knows just what will hurt us the most! What is inside our minds is what makes us who we are! Along with our connection to God who heals us in all ways! Keep writing!

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    1. Thank You Dawn. I know I’m not the only one that cancer can complicate places of pain in the past. That’s why I’m writing. I hope that someone out there who has experienced things similar can find some healing somehow by my sharing.

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  3. I can’t help but think of the losses mentioned. And comments others make about them. I struggle when I hear someone quantify a loss. Especially one not their own. As a “loser” (one who has experienced loss), I sometimes find it difficult to come to grips. Even after years, sometimes decades, of trying. Since I find it challenging to quantify or even understand my own losses, how could I begin to do it for someone else? And how can they for me? Or you? Not that I want someone to!

    The longer my life experience, the more I see of other’s lives and the more I understand how little we often share with each other. Sometimes this makes me sad. BUT I also understand many of us are not safe with the tender secrets and losses of others. Oh to be a safe and healing place and friend!

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    1. Loss is funny. It can be tiny and can rip us to pieces… or huge and hardly affect us. That’s what makes judging anothers loss such lunacy. Becoming safe is something we can all develop I think, as we grow our empathy and vulnerability muscles.

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  4. Your words are shrouded in hope – even as you describe such heartbreak. You need to know I see no void or hole, rather a sweet spirit filled by God’s love. God is using you in my own healing dear sister. You are truly a daughter of the King!

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    1. Thank You Jan. Love back at you. It’s fun to be doing this blog project. Now I have a place to put all the many thoughts that forever end up on some piece of paper, usually on the back of a grocery bag, written while sitting in car waiting for kids to emerge from somewhere:)

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