Wake up call

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Hopefully it will inspire you to look for the silver linings in your clouds

Submitted: September 21, 2016

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Submitted: September 21, 2016

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The English say: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. And when life gives you cancer, what do you do? Fasten your seat belt and leave your modesty behind. Not the physical type of modesty, as much as the spiritual kind. Your soul will be repeatedly and, at times, wildly laid bare by a dose of truth greater than any imaginable. You might as well not hide, I say.

You get sick and your journey starts. It’s not the journey you’d have envisaged or wished for. Still, you embark on it. Depending on your nature, you make it more or less yours. If you come to understand that everything happens for a reason, you even learn a lot. About yourself and about others. Not with hostility, but with wonder and curiosity. And when you recover, if you recover, you discover that you have turned into someone else. Then a journey of a different kind begins, not at all easier than the first one. No maps, no compass to help you find your way on the trip to the centre of yourself, in a world that is unchanged but that is no longer certain still to have room for you, former caterpillar and now funny winged creature.

Since my journey began, one and a half years ago, when I found out that a sneaky lodger was hidden amongst many cysts in my left breast, nothing has been the same again. And thank God, I should say.

I think timing is the crucial factor that turns a possibility into a success. Just like a seed produces a flower only if it’s the right season. Dedication, too, obviously has to be consistent. But if two people with the same good idea stood in two different points of the same path, the fact that one of them is seizing the right moment to turn that idea into action becomes crucial.

That’s precisely what happened to me: it was an appointment with destiny. A lifetime  spent feeling guilty without knowing why, chasing approval and delusions, feeling like I was never “enough”, was swept away in a matter of minutes by an extraordinary ability to be present to myself, a lucid peace, a clear intent that has never left me since, not even two surgeries and six months of chemo later.

The reputation of this illness is terrible indeed: the taboo “cancer = death “still intimidates many people, both sick and healthy. But this is a story about Life. Mine has literally been a re-birth. And not just because I survived it.

Yes, this experience targets, one by one, the most distinctive features which make a woman a woman. They cut into us, take out partially or completely the female attributes par excellence: breasts, then hair, then fertility. We are women like no other, it’s true. And no, getting sick was not one of our childhood dreams. We are our wounds that are yet to heal over, our marked and tired bodies, the fragmented dreams of a tormented and restless sleep. We are the fear that lights up when a new pain appears, unannounced, and unsettles us as much as a hooded messenger would unsettle you, in the middle of the night, as you know he will almost certainly bring bad news.

But there is a solidarity that is entirely Feminine and gives her daughters a shining sword. If you look at us carefully, there is a light in our eyes that you won’t find elsewhere. We are the shining, weeping army that passes hand in hand through the nights.

I would never change the person I have become back to any of the previous versions of myself. Every day in spite of everything, I feel my heart full of satisfied joy for the challenges I was able to face and for what I manage to share with the people I choose to have by my side.

If you are a practical and proactive type like me, during the time of the treatments you go as fast as a train. Soon your life is down to a handful of certainties: how many weeks until the end of the therapy, how many homeopathic tablets left to fight off the side effects of chemo, how many people support you daily; how many have, on the other hand, vanished as they “could not bear to see you suffer”.

Equally there are many certainties of things that you cannot do, things that you do not have or that you are not allowed to have, at least for a while. No sun, no swimming in the sea, no physical efforts, no hair. And challenges never end for a woman “differently healthy”.

As a matter of fact, if it is common knowledge that facing the treatments is quite demanding, no-one ever talks about the “afterwards”. Once the chemo is over, once the hair has grown back, everybody wants to assume that you are well; they try to make you understand that it is a priority that you go back to “normality”. But there is no longer a normality, at least not like before. My normality, now, is to seize the extraordinary within the ordinary.

The family of a woman with breast cancer, after having tried more or less successfully to support her, once the therapy is over, may beg her to close this “chapter” once and for all. Impossible request. That is not because you haven’t recovered or because you are not more than ready to live the rest of your life. It is just that the change, where it really occurred, has been too extreme to be reduced just to an episode of your life.

And finally there you are, suddenly an orphan of those intertwining dates, therapies and rituals that had become a familiar and almost comforting routine. Suddenly, you find yourself vulnerable and indecisive about what to do next, just like a chick. You actually really look like a chick, with that thin hair on your pale head. The hormone replacement treatment, another legacy of your former squatter, steals your thoughts, your sleep, undermines the routine of normal activities.

So, you might ask me, what is left? Confronted by death, sickness, and excruciating memories, what’s left besides emptiness and fear? YOU. You are what’s left. You the Witness of Life, You the re-born, you the new chrysalis with crumpled but working wings.

Every day has its problems but I devote my resources only to the things that it’s in my power to change. Crisis is an opportunity, fear is a fuel.

Until a few months ago, I still thought that I had to receive a sort of “validation” from others, as a testimony to the new “me”. It was important that they could see it, that they’d accept it, that they could understand the new challenges of the period after the therapies. But the truth is, if no-one prepares you for the “afterwards”, it is because there are no rules or magic tricks to help you face it. It takes much more than an illness to light up rainbows in the puddles.

Therefore if you choose to keep repeating the same dynamics that were very possibly poisoning your life before, you are more than welcome to do so. If, on the other hand, you have learned your lessons, and this experience just like a magic wand, has taught you how to knead every thought of yours with grace and healthy selfishness, in the face of the risk of being misunderstood, then no, there is no need for anyone to recognise, approve of or support the person you have become. The self-respect given off by your every act will speak louder than a thousand explanations.

With regards to families, we grow up thinking that we know what is to be expected from the most important relationships of our lives. A person close to us hurts us and with resentment we say “of course”. But there is nothing obvious about it. Look again, really look at what remains after those words have come down as hard as chisel blows. There is something else, down there, underneath the obviousness of those disagreements. It’s Love. Always just Love. Hurt or proud, or misunderstood or too strict.

Now I get it: growing up is not so much about forgiving the unforgivable. But rather, it’s about seeing more clearly, seeing beyond. This intuition carries a particularly crucial meaning, having come to me during my recovery. Because it implies that, after all, there isn’t a knot too tight that an open heart cannot break up.

So, this part of my life is called: “Gratitude”. An illness is inevitably like a watershed: it makes it easier to draw conclusions. The most important conclusion of all for me has been learning the difference between being alive and feeling alive.

The poet Gibran expresses what I feel by talking of “waking at dawn with a winged heart and giving thanks for another day of loving”. My life has not only changed, it has blossomed. I feel privileged.

Many of the people met on this very particular journey are my new points of reference, my new “sisters”. Just like old friendships have ended in a matter of minutes. This is due to my allergy to those who, because of their dullness or their fear of having a real conversation, may come to a judgement about me without even spending enough time to get to know me, to make it to the other side of the fence, to accept my naked, glowing soul.

You CAN live through cancer, not just survive it. It’s not a paradox. Surviving is simply not enough.

So, don’t be afraid if an illness causes you to re-question everything you have and everything you are. Wake at dawn with a winged heart, and give thanks for another day of loving.


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