A couple of days ago, lying and finding balance and support on a branch of the huge old oak tree that lies on the ground in my backyard. On Sept. 4, the tree looked so strong it seemed it was going to be there for ever. Irma and its winds brought it right down later that day. If the oak tree had fallen the opposite direction, it would have crashed the place where my neighbor, Ronika, her family and I live. As she put it,"We're blessed!"
Here's the story of how, as a double cancer survivor, I found what breast cancer means to me as an illness. Maybe this story will make a difference in a life out there. Maybe yours.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month helps me recognize my humanity through my two biggest battles —a first bout with breast cancer in 2004 and a second one ten years later. I also reflect on my sister fighters, survivors and thrivors –whatever we feel we are--, and on my sisters on the other side.
Let me share a (real) story that will tell you what breast cancer means to me as an illness. Hopefully, it won’t have anything to do with your own self at all. Or maybe it will resonate for you, or for someone you know. If that’s the case, my hope is that it will make a difference in your life or someone else’s.
January 2015. I’m coming out of the woods after being diagnosed with breast cancer seven months before. I’ve found a refuge at my parents’ home, close to Paris, and I’ve finished the big chunk of my treatments –surgery and six rounds of chemo. My hair is (temporarily) gone, and the incision and infection following my surgery six months before, won’t heal. My father is fighting his own battle against lung cancer, and my marriage is on the edge of a cliff. Thank goodness, I manage to keep the infection localized, despite chemo, my tribe’s here, and my writing client has put me in charge of a fun, global video project.
Along with the medical treatment, I begin the process of spiritual treatment, with the first step being to finally recognize who I am, instead of looking for others to recognize me. What are my dreams, beliefs and values? What makes my soul unique? Do I love my husband? Do I want to go back to Atlanta?
I have the answers deep inside. I feel I still need confirmation. That’s when I call Caroline Quemerais, an astrologer and healer, for answers.
When I step into Caroline’s home office, in the ‘hood right outside of Paris, I feel uneasy. I contemplate getting up and leaving, but, within seconds, decide to stay. She looks at her screen, on which she reads my astrology chart.
“Your father was not present by your mother’s and by your side when you came to this world. His absence was powerful. It gave you the unconscious message that you were not good enough for him to be here. This has shaped your intimate relationships. Ever since, you’ve chosen men who are absent when you need them, and you’ve over compensated to be accepted and loved by the men of your life”. I freeze while Caroline talks. Her conclusion resonates even deeper in me, “that’s what breast cancer is about. It’s about a woman’s belief that, in order to be loved, she needs to give—a lot. It’s about giving so much, and feeling it’s never enough, that she grows a third breast—a tumor.”
The appointment lasts a long, intense hour where so much is said that I’ll end up with a bronchitis the next day. I’ve since realized that I prefer working with healers that leave certain things unsaid. That day, though, Caroline tells all.
She sheds the light on positive information, too. “It was difficult for your father to decide to be away when you were born. He had to work far away from home to take care of his family’s needs. That’s love too. You can see that now.”
While listening to Caroline, I remember what my father had confessed to me as soon as he was diagnosed, six months before, “When you were born, I was up North (of France), working on building a school and supervising a team of four workers. I could have dropped everything to be with your mother. Then, I would not have been paid and neither would have the other workers. We all needed the money--badly. So, I decided to stay another two days until we were going to be done, and then run to see you.”
I hear Caroline saying these words over and over again, “Play the princess! Be a princess! Be loved for who you are, not for what you do!”
You, too, may want to say those words, to yourself or to a woman you think needs to hear them.