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Turn Turn Turn

A piece I wrote for The Underbelly ...

“To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn) and a time to every purpose under heaven…” The Byrds

“A time to plant, a time to reap”

Spring, the season of promise and new life was when I was told that I had a disease that could possibly end me. This was in May 2007 right around my youngest son’s birthday, that special time of year when the weather is laced with the prescience of summer but the evenings are still a brisk reminder of the winter chill that had recently melted. My spring went from the anticipation of peeping leafy green garden shoots to the inky black terror of the Reaper himself beckoning from the dark corners of my mind.

“A time to be born, a time to die”

I was born a summer girl, under the sign of Leo and that July I was consumed with fears that that summer may indeed be my last. I was hyper-aware that my days would not be soaked in the sea breezes and sun lotion of summers past but instead, steeped in chemotherapy. When my hair began falling out and each day began with my deciding between a hat or a scarf instead of deciding to twist my locks into a bun or a braid. The hair loss was absolutely tragic for this lioness and here’s a newsflash, it is not JUST hair, it is an introduction to a frightening new reality, a reality I wasn’t able to accept yet.

“A time to kill, a time to heal”

Yes, I’d like to think that during that summer I killed those cancer cells and began my healing through the written word, which helped pass weeks of sleepless nights, and plenty of Xanax tinted sarcasm, which got me through the long hot days. As summer waned into fall my treatment continued in the form of radiation.

“A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing”

Don’t frigging touch me is what I remember of that fall. Thick sweaters wrapped around my broken, scarred and now burned body felt like a protective armor keeping a plush separation from so many well-meaning friends and family members that wanted to hug me and reassure me that all would be okay. Ribbons for profit, masquerading as a cry for awareness, now mingled with witches and pumpkins and foliage and it was then that I knew I’d never be able to appreciate fall again without forever being tied to the pink mafia. I still cannot rectify my feelings about this because I will ALWAYS embrace my sisters in solidarity, and often it is those ribbons that lead us to one another, but I refuse to be bound by the lies of the pink confederacy.

“A time to dance, a time to mourn”

Winter blew in with ferocity I’d never before experienced. I was thrilled that chemo had ended some months earlier and while the burns from radiation became the daily routine, the cold I felt shooting right through my body every minute of every day, was astounding and incomprehensible. I was as bare and brittle as the naked trees that surrounded my home. I felt frail and frightened. What if I fell on the ice and lacked the strength to pull myself back up? What if a bone breaks and they find metastasis? What if my hat flies off my head and blows away? At just thirty-nine I gained an up close and personal view into what life is like for a woman more than twice my age. I mourned my losses, chief amongst them my innocence and naïveté.

“A time of love, a time to hate”

Time for a do-over, I resolved. Spring had finally arrived after a long harsh winter and with it came a renewed sense of hope. I embraced the show nature was putting on as the yellow sedge grass greened up under longer days and warmer temperatures. I marveled at the pristine beauty of the pure white flowers that bloomed on the dogwood tree outside my kitchen window. I was present in a grateful way I’d never been before. But there was unresolved anger too. Why me? So many questions and not enough answers. Behind my smile, pain still resided.

“A time to gain, a time to lose”

As spring yielded to the heat of summer I was anxious to spend as much time as possible at the beach … well, until I tried on my swimsuit. That’s when I could no longer deny the numbers on my doctor’s scale because weight was also mass, calculated by the classic equation of depression ÷ chemotherapy + steroids. I was big, I was bloated, I was unrecognizable. I’d been walking nearly daily since my diagnosis but it hadn’t hijacked my metabolism, it just made my legs stronger to lug around the rest of me. I decided summer was the perfect time to up the ante. I began logging every morsel of food I ate and interspersed my walks with runs, the heat of the sun warming my skin and my soul.

“A time to laugh, a time to weep”

As the years passed I was present, I had mad skills when it came to the cancer dance, I understood what was important and who was toxic. I mothered my kids, I worked, I wrote from the heart, I helped newly diagnosed women navigate the terms and treatments they were being introduced to at lightning speed. I loved, I laughed, I lived. The seasons came and went summer faded into fall, fall chilled into winter’s dim light, winter melted into spring and spring yielded always to the siren call of summer and back again to fall. It was then that I wept.

“A time of war, a time of peace”

War, my body and I were now engaged in a terrifying battle. Twenty-three passing seasons since the first time I heard the words “you have cancer” I heard them again. I was angry, I was determined, and oddly, I was empowered. Upon finding out I had breast cancer again I went into the compartmentalization mode I’d honed well over the years. I scheduled my cancer needs in between the important things in my life, my children, my husband, and my job. I may work in fashion but I freelance in cancer. I knew now how to balance the inconveniences of illness with the simple joys of day-to-day life, I refused to let the illness gain the upper hand and I was going to remain in the driver’s seat. My mastectomy was performed in November of 2012 just as the last leaves withered and fell from the trees. I gazed out my hospital window I found that there was something quite poetic in that. Like my breasts, those leaves blossomed, served their purpose, then died; the trees which hosted them making room for new ones in place, as my own body accommodated my reconstructed breasts. I knew there was still a long painful winter of treatment and recovery ahead of me but in time there would be spring, and eventually summer too and in that I find peace.

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