Timing, togetherness and tiny bits of brokenness….(or, why I’ve decided not to have surgery right now.)

“Our wholeness doesn’t bring us together”.  – Richard Wagamese

As soon as I sat to listen to this author speak I knew I had landed in the right room at exactly the right time. Out came my notebook, so that I could try to remember the lines that flowed out of him with such ease, and wound their way directly into the living, breathing bits of me. Richard’s story is terrifying, shameful, sad, frustrating, inspirational, beautiful and empowering, all at once. He tells the story of his trauma with grace, with strength, with beauty. He tells the story the way that I dream of telling stories. When he said that it isn’t our wholeness that brings us together, but the broken bits, I wanted to weep. I wanted to stand up and cheer. I felt relief. I felt hope. Because he’s right. For me, he’s right, anyway. I remember the persistent phrase ‘I know something you don’t know.’ playing over and over in my head, silently, but always there, once I was diagnosed. Being broken, in whatever way that may be, carves out some depth that allows you to understand others who are also broken. Who have had to put themselves together again. Who may have to do so down the road, again, because, as Richard so eloquently put it, sometimes there is a tiny “untended little bit of brokenness” that decides, unbidden, to rise up and stop you in your blissful tracks.

He also spoke about the perfect combination for him – the two things that helped him through his healing – ceremony and therapy. Right away I knew my perfect combination: Forest bathing, and counselling. I’ve continued to walk every day, getting stronger and stronger, and talking things out with a counsellor once every few weeks. It’s working.

I know it’s working, because gradually, over the past month or so, I have thought a great deal about healing. About getting stronger, physically and otherwise. About moving forward. About feeling hopeful. Consciously changing the way I speak to myself. About believing in my strengths and focussing on what makes me happy. My physiotherapist gently suggested ‘There’s no such thing as too much healing.’ Again, I wanted to weep. To stand up and cheer. Because I want more healing time. I need more healing time. I need to change the way I see myself in the mirror, and change that from ‘broken’ to ‘healing’. To ‘stronger than yesterday’. To ‘strong.’

How can I do that if I allow myself to be cut into again in just over three months? How can I allow my body – worse, force my body back to square one when I’m just starting to make progress?

The answer has come to me gently and slowly. It’s simple. It’s obvious. I cannot. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But definitely not yet.

Richard looked at us and pronounced: “I don’t want to be resilient anymore.” And I understood. I don’t want to be constantly tapping all of my resources just to survive. I don’t want to be ‘handling the pain really well’. I don’t want to be popping painkillers every four hours so that I can function with my children. I don’t want to launch myself into another potential disaster where I’m on antibiotics ten times over the course of a year. I want to heal.

And then:

“There’s a field out there where I can bark and laugh and play.” 

Right?? I want to bark and laugh and play! (Well. Maybe not the barking. But you know what I mean.)

Actually, depending on what the moon is doing, there could be some howling. But I digress.

So. My surgery was booked for September 4th. I haven’t cancelled it officially yet. But I’ve decided that’s happening tomorrow. And I will tell my surgeon that I’m not ready. That I don’t want to rebook at this point. That I will let him know. And I will decide when and if it happens. When I want to have the operation. I will take control of this one thing.

I will be okay with, maybe even celebrate, the reality that it is not our wholeness that brings us together, but the chips and cracks and scars and stories.

I had a lovely moment today on my walk. The bottoms of my feet and my shins were screaming at me. The pavement is hard on my feet. So I moved over the 30 cm I needed to in order to walk on softer ground. And my body answered instantly. Yes. That’s what I need. A soft place to land.

Softer places.

Softer places.

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Caves, cacophony and catharses (Or, yay Spring.)

I have to. I should. I need. I can’t. Of course.   I want. I don’t want. I can.

This is the basic message that has been floating around in my head over the past 24 hours or so. Banishing these phrases from my daily vernacular, twisting my brain around, stretching it this way and that, rearranging thought patterns. How fascinating to realize that somehow over the course of my life I have learned never to buy a lotto ticket because I’ll never win, never to roll up the rim on a Tim Horton’s cup because I’m not lucky, never to repair things that need repairing in my house because I can’t do home improvement. How I cringe at the word selfish, and physically recoil when it’s suggested that I practise saying I want. That I use the refrain ‘of course’ when things break down in my car, or my dishwasher, or my fridge. Because obviously, if something’s going to go wrong, of course it’s going to happen to me. Cacophony.

How cool is it to call bullshit on all of that?

Seriously, though, this therapy thing is amazing. Everyone should do it at least once in their lives. Even if for no other reason than to have someone sit across from you and help you stretch your brain. Because I’m telling you, it’s like massage therapy for your head.  Sure, it hurts a bit to get to the really tight knots. And some knots are way more stubborn than others. But when those knots release – ahhh… relief.

So my goal right now is to see if I can work toward eliminating that awful negativity from my self-talk. It’s a word game. I’m good with words. Challenge accepted, and all of that. So maybe more than one goal.

Move. Pick apples (the stretch I do faithfully three times a day that has allowed me to reach the top shelf of my spice cupboard without a chair). Create space. Breathe.

Move. Pick apples (the stretch I do faithfully three times a day that has allowed me to reach the top shelf of my spice cupboard without a chair). Create space. Breathe. This was taken on the day I was two years cancer-free. Yay. Still here.

Another goal involves sort of an unspoken agreement I’ve made with a friend. Move. Not houses, necessarily, but our bodies. Often. Consistently. Purposefully. And it’s quite beautiful.

It's difficult to say 'I can't' when looking at beauty like this.

It’s difficult to say ‘I can’t’ when looking at beauty like this.

Yesterday I had what could arguably be the most perfect kick-off to a weekend. Physiotherapy at 3:30, counselling at 4:30, walk around a lake at 6:00, pasta and wine by 7:30. When I told my therapist that I had some bruising after the last session and that I felt like I’d been hit by a truck the following day, he winced and asked if he’d gone too hard on me. I assured him that he had not. The same went for yesterday’s session. Hard work. A little bit of bruising today. And tomorrow, I know I’ll feel fantastic. He assured me that everything he’s doing is good for me. And it is. I can feel the change in my body already. It’s a slow process, but when I realize that it’s been awhile since I pushed myself up against a door frame in an effort to dig the frame into my muscles enough to provide some release, I know good things are happening. Yesterday, during our walk when I told my bff that I had just finished those two appointments, her reaction was ‘Whaaaat?? Why would you do that to yourself??’ because she knows how much pain both can cause. My response: ‘Are you kidding me? It’s the perfect way to start a weekend!’ Space between my shoulder blades, space in my head. Bring on the weekend.

We have walked over 80 km in the past two weeks. Almost daily, between 5 and 10km, clearing our heads, and getting stronger. Today, I went for three walks outside. One, 5.6km around the lake – the box-ticker of a walk that says I’ve exercised for an hour, which is, according to my oncologist, as effective as chemo. The two others, to play. To bring a friend to see what someone brought me to see a few days back – the seemingly impossible ice cave over rushing water. Seeing how much less ice there was today (twice) compared to a few days ago begged some reflection. Ice, stuck there for months (and months) of winter, freed and then melted by the rushing of water, and the persistence of sunshine. It lines up well with what’s happening with me. My body has been stuck, and is gradually being freed from what has felt like a cage. My mind has been stuck, and there is space being made there. Still some ice left to melt, but I can see that once the freeing process starts, it can happen quickly. The key may be to see the beauty in all of those stages.

Under the ice cave. It won't last long. But we walked on it today, in 18 degree weather. It's stubborn.

Under the ice cave. It won’t last long. But we walked on it today, in 18 degree weather. It’s stubborn. And very beautiful.

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In front of the ice cave. Last week that tree was surrounded by ice. Today, it’s almost free. I kind of like that.

I might go back tomorrow to check on its progress. Because I want to, and I can. I should don’t want to do laundry instead. I need want to do this.  And so I will.