Stay busy they say... I’ll tell you what's a full time job, being a new born. I am a stay at home mom, house wife, and the infant all in one. At this point I don’t know if it’s the steroids anymore that have turned my life into an OCD nightmare. Just have to keep my SH*T together. EVERY. THING. HAS. A. PLACE. If my hand lotion is 3mm turned the wrong way, no one is getting sleep in this house until it is made right! This is anxiety speaking, I know. If there is mayhem in front of my eyes there will be mayhem behind. Either way…beneficial for my life and I hope it sticks.
The mornings speed by and my time is denominated by how many minutes it takes to fill up my water jug. Yes, minutes. The longer I stand in front of a water filter, the better I feel about life. If I can make it through the morning, it will be smooth sailing and I can take the afternoon easy. If I can eat enough, if I can get down a green juice (uhhlpp), if I can get down 1/2 gallon of liquid. These tasks that feel so easy seem to take so much time. Like moving through jelly.
Even the time it takes to tick off each of these letters seems infinite. Everything slows. Everything is moving pro-rated. My head is buzzing. It is life in a fog. But it’s just clear enough to see how the pieces come together. Like a perfect storm. To see where everything fits in. Is everything moving so slow or is it moving too fast? Is that flower running off the end of the dining table? Will you tell him just to be careful, that’s a Viatri he’s in! The mind tells you, you should be doing something. The body differs in this opinion. It may be OK just to stare into space today. The luxury of being able to do so. Not longing for the quickness, not grasping for the busy. Just allowing the day to be slow. When energy comes back, it will. Just witnessing all of the firsts.
Attentive to each step, to each bone in the body. The other morning I rushed to the toilet not knowing if I was going to throw up or have diarrhea, so the only likely solution….CRY. Today I uncovered the collection of acne that has expressed itself on my chest. I try out each morsel of food in baby steps, putting it to the mouth and wait for a response. Everyone’s sigh of relief, “Oh, thank God she can eat”. Mom can breathe. Textures are so important. Hot, cold, soft, warm, harsh, smooth. The delicacy of a bath is underrated. And the renewal of water is indescribable.
And then there are the moments when EVERYTHING STOPS. Like in the bath, just you, alone with the running water. The fanfare dies down. You are left alone long enough to bite off a piece of your own special candy bar. The one that is your life in this moment. The one that feels like a tidal wave. The one that you don’t want to put too much pressure on, but it’s the only one you’ve got. The moment you are left with yourself, at your center. That moment where everything suspends in time and you can touch the pieces of you. You can see them all floating around. The strength, the guilt, the comfort, the care, the beautiful, the brilliant, the sad, the child, the woman; they are all there together. Just hanging on a breathe…or on a tear. Surprisingly they are all there and you are WHOLE. They are THE now, THIS LIFE IS HAPPENING!
I went to a yoga class last night with a friend. I could see this putrid green color surrounding me. With each inhale, with each exhale working to push the toxins out of my body. Not the chemo, but all the shit that has been gathered up. If we are here, we are gonna do it together -- the chemo and I. We are going to seize this opportunity to CLEAN and to CLEAR. And to RENACER (rebirth). The stones in my hands intuitively work. I rest into the healing. The energy, or the poison I can’t tell; washes through my body, returning to the Earth. By the end of the class I am back from outer space. Something is happening and I am just going to watch it take place. Things seem to move at a surprisingly normal pace.
I pull up beside an abuelita. She eases out of her seat bone by bone, careful not to catch one on the rest. Taking her time, she shuffles into the isle, so I can pass. I shimmy in, and carefully tuck my reusable shopping bag under the seat. I gaze over, to see its doppelganger at her feet. We shift around and settle into space.
She pulls out an over-sized object; it is encrusted by bubble wrap and inside a pillow case. Behold, she unveils ... her laptop; gingerly kept secure, cherished like the Russian Doll of seat 12A. I look down at my own computer en-capsuled by my colorful shawl.
How is it on a flight to Miami, where there is one of EVERYTHING; from bachlorette to bossman, housewife to hobo chic, tattoos, Dr. Dre Beetz, Dolce and Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, and all in between, that she is my mirror.
Birds of a feather FLY together.
We are the two place holders, the margins that allow the median to exist. Except, she has a cane. And I don’t, my little secret is quietly tucked away...hidden for now. The Russian Doll of seat 12B.
I don't look sick. Because, on paper I am clear. But this doesn't mean the game is over. I could be sick again if I don’t do everything I can to make sure it's not invited back. The Regimen: nutrition, naturopath, chemo, sweatlodge, social worker, psychiatrist, energy worker, therapist, poison, medicine, acupuncture, massage, vitamins and exercise. All in hope that it receives the memo to the chemo party. Attn: All cancer exit stage left! Auditions CLOSED!
I look to the elderly woman by my side. She has lived her life and it shows with age. She has been present for the battles. The cane, a purple heart, a talisman hanging, warranting her to take her time. To be soft. To walk her Truth with ease. A banner that waves. She did not take the easy way out. She forged her way. She is HERE. She isn’t disabled at all, she is EMPOWERED. Because she MADE IT THROUGH!
The difference between her and I, is that we are on two different sides. She carries the wisdom of years. She has lived her life and I have a second shot at mine. This time, I can't run. This time, I can't hide. I can't swipe it under the rug, push it into the corner, or box it on a shelf. No, I can't close my eyes and wish it by. I have to be here, I have to talk about it, I have to say what I could not before. I have to look at all the parts. To become conscious of each choice and SEE why.
Like I said -- cancer, sickness, DIS-EASE is a bi-product of LIFE. Like aging. Except, the difference is you can't SEE it, until you do. I didn’t EXPECT it (Life) to come up so soon . I thought I had time; because time looked like years. I thought I was in my prime; because prime was gauged by a job and a place. I thought I had it all figured out; but figured out was another costume. I thought I was on top, until I was knocked back down to size. Humility. Humanity.
What? Did you think you could be whisked away to the Ball, to dance all night with Prince Charming, while the Step Sisters sit in the bleachers and the dress is on loan?!? Think again Cinderella, you can hop back in your pumpkin because that flight has FLOWN!
The pilot comes over the loud speaker, the forecast has put landing on hold. I panic as the window to catch the next flight is small. I would hate to miss the next plane. Hey! I will wish my way to clear skies! I am devoted! Look at me try! I will travel through and smooth out the clouds! I will tell this storm to quiet down. I have got it under CONTROL. Yes, perfect! Problem solved!
Spirit, please forgive me. As I see the ere in my way. I see the shadow in my sky. Please take my hand, and guide this flight. Please keep this path clear and I ask that all portals be smoothly navigated. Please keep hold when turbulence is near. Help me to find silence, so your words, I can hear. Please keep me strong in sobriety so that I can see with clarity. Please keep this path illuminated and mark the feet as I follow the foot prints. I hear that the schedule has changed. And that is OK, for I have Faith. I hear you now. And I ask for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for ever thinking I could move this storm on my own. I feel you, I hear you, I see you. And so it is, and so it always will be.
You may unfasten your seat belts, the DETOUR has led us to our DESTINATION.
The moment everything stops and there is just enough space for the thought to come in….you have cancer. Hahahahaha. What is life? You can only laugh, because you can’t cry. What is this life? Haha. No matter how much research/preparation you do, it will not change the truth. Ha. You. Have. Cancer.
Jesus take the wheel…it’s real.
Allergy attack, panic attack; who knows what is moving through. You can’t breathe. There is no space to even take a sip. You are standing still, yet crumbling. The mind reels. You have left your base, a place you have built to secure yourself, to anchor your life. To make sure your feet meet the Earth. Yet, the body speaks the TRUTH that the mind ignores.
Chicken little, your world comes crashing down. You go over in your head, the words you have heard a thousdand times, “be strong”, “you got this”, “you’re the strongest person I know”. But, why do they feel so empty? What do they mean? Not able to grasp the weight of these words until it is coursing through your veins. Not knowing what you will encounter…until you do.
Coddle. Soothe. Give self a hug. Hold her hand.
There, there my dear. I am right here.
There is always the moment when you feel crushingly alone, and there is no one there to hold your hand. It is in that moment that the fierceness arises. When the STRENGTH comes rushing in, and watch as she penetrates the surface. Durga, swinging her hips, riding high on her tiger. Kali, stepping on the skulls, frothing from the corners of her mouth as she climbs her way to the top. Thrashing, gnashing; blood, sweat and smiles.
Then look back, and there is a file in line behind. You feel the hands at your spine. You will not fall.
The support is real. To feel ALL who are holding you. I can feel each hand at my back when I am alone. I can feel each prayer vibrating through my cells. I can feel the magik. When the days are easy, weaving from one thing to the next; I can feel it. When the days are hard, and I am sitting at the bottom of the rabbit hole that is the internet (trust me, don’t GOOGLE it!); I can feel it. Whatever is to come, whatever is to be; I know I will FEEL the support and not just the words.
Yes, life is crazy sometimes. It circles in a BLUR. The reality in front of your eyes is a lie. One minute in the trench, and the next in the sky. As the pendulum swings heavy, you do your best to ride each side. Like a rubber elastic being pulled back, brace yourself. Hold on to the idea that equilibrium will one day be a possibility. These heightened states make each moment more visceral. Make you aware that life is happening now. Hold on.
The truth is, this strength is already real, and it is working silently. For example, when you tell people you have cancer, (I’ve gotten so good at it now, the best place to practice is on a plane) you have to be decided. You have to be so strong in yourself, so anchored to your core; because most often it will not be your own fears to face, but theirs’. Take one for the team. A mirror reminding you that you are holding a space where no one wants to be. Unless they have been there, then you hang on to every word, taking notes of the path that lies ahead.
I was preparing to enter an Inipi (a sweat lodge) and I asked a woman to help me cover my incisions. She looked down to my breast and nodded her head, “You’re going to be OK.” My ears perked, my body told me to listen. She continued. She pulled down her shirt to show her scar. There was silence and joy and relief and grief all sitting there between. There she stood, 16 years clean. “It will be hard….cut your hair first, it will hurt less…take your time….get some weed….you’ll be fine.” The details of this encounter, too special to release. But those words were filled with faith. Their meaning, priceless and their strength, implied.
The most cherished words of this journey, a message received….”you will be FINE.”
Back to our regularly scheduled progam:
"Excuse me mam, do you have any pre-existing conditions?"
"Mmm-hmmm, well I'm afraid I have some bad news,"
PLEASE, tell me YOUR bad news?!
"So, you are considered a...RISK. But, I think I know how we can proceed... Have you had any unexpected life events occur in the last 60 days?"
I am stuffed in the corner of a crowded airport. I have been on hold with an insurance agent for 30 minutes now. Nothing like a chat with Timmothy to knock you back into 1st world, consumerism reality.
Insurance: In case shit happens
Well shit hit the fan little lizard! And now I'm just another number. Thrown into a system where nothing breathes. Stale, stagnant. To be alive, is a risk factor. My life is a burden because it translates to $$$. How many of these squiggles am I worth? Not enough for Timmothy to invest his time. Because time is $$$. And the world goes 'round!
If I believed in this reality, my life would be doomed.
A breath of fresh air, I am back in Ecuador. The flight always feels like jumping through portals, touching down to a different space and time. Time travel, in 'real' life. The system still freshly chaotic; the paperwork rampant. Stamp here, sign there, copy here, carry this over there, file please. Do file cabinets still exist? AND HOW!
None the less, a world I can navigate. A world where I can live just outside the lines. A world where there is still space to dance between dreams and the Earth. A world where your spirit can still thrive. Where people are greater than numbers. A world where all your needs are met within a block of your home, no need to outsource life. One where humans have not yet been replaced by robots. A place where I deliver in person my insurance papers. Placing them in the hands of the man who will give my file a face. A life where a twenty dollar bill is foreign. Where a handshake means your word, there is trust in the tongue. A world that's still as simple as a smile.
Its easier to show up, rather than make an appointment. A life lived person to person, without a screen in between. It is easier to connect to the body, my feet and heart meet. Life in Ecuador is FULL, ROUND. Un gran abrazo del corazon. Un bessito.
A life that consists of the small things. Each day is made of minutes. From one minute to the next you can weave; time melts into reality. You show up when you arrive. And everyone understands that it begins when it begins, and ends when it is 'time'. But Nothing is stuffed between 15:00 and 17:45.
A dinner at a restaurant is enjoyed. Not eaten. Not leaving without a hug from the owner and chef. Understanding love through the form of nourishment, and thanking them for their heart. Passing by a friends house for a tea, watching as the conversation floats from weather, to life, to death, to love, to cats and back around. Life here has taught me that the serious is wrapped in the trivial, and that subtlety reveals truth. The spiral life. The Shakti Calling.
My heart is FULL. My Spirit energized. I feel that I have arrived to the moment where the present is alive. Where all is unraveled in the now, each piece collected and sorted. Just in time to watch as the next adventure arrives. "I AM READY." The words I needed to FEEL to believe. I am ready and it is time to THRIVE.
I knew this day would come, I didn’t know I was ready. But it's true, you can feel it. I woke up this morning and realized it was time to go. Time to cut off my hair. A month ago this decision would have been intrusive. I needed time to say goodbye. Time to spend cherishing my presence the way I AM. The woman I am NOW. But today I woke up and realized I am ready to embrace the woman I will become. Which means change; in all its uncertainty. The only way to allow her to move in; is if I move out.
Not to separate the two, because both are me. Built in layers; each step necessary for the next. They depend on each other; they rely on one another for reassurance that this is THE WAY. They are like a paper doll chain, one reaches down for the other’s hand and so on, calling for the next to rise.
I have NO IDEA what is about to happen. I never do actually, as hard as I try. The plane landing here was quite intense, my new friend let out a sigh, "Whew that was a close one, at one point I was taking inventory of my life." I could just smile and realize what a gift I had been given. This epic concept of ‘taking stock’ has been driven into each of my days. The past month has been a continuous calculation of all that has ever been and everything that will be.
Are we all hermit crabs? Sloughing off our shell in search of the next thing?
If there is something I learned while traveling, it is: TRUTH is more comfortable in transit, nothing to cloud YOUR vision of who you are. All belongings gathered in your pack. To really feel the rhythm of life as cyclic…root down, learn, grow, move on. Find the next shell, a shelter that will allow you to expand. Shed what is not serving, not cultivating and allow space for something new. The home SPACE is created by pulling into our atmosphere the parts of self we want to see. Collecting new pieces of you along the way, looking back to make sense of it all.
FADE INTO YOU…Mazy Starr, a haunting voice that wraps around my heart strings and tugs in the best way. A love interest of mine sent me this song, years ago and I was in a trance. I thought it was him, and after it ended, I would scream each time I heard the opening chords. A couple of months ago this song was on repeat, I learned it on the guitar, I sang the words to myself over and over again until it clicked. No, it wasn’t him calling, he was long gone…it was ME. If I had listened to the words I would have known it wasn’t a love song at all, it was a soul song. The words fold over eachother, “Fade into you, Strange you never knew….”, the blood pumps through my veins, “You put your hands into your head, and the smiles cover your heart”, she was calling me the whole time, and I couldn’t discern…
It was the woman sitting here at this table, typing these words, sending these messages from the roof top of a crazy yoga school in Ecuador. If the girl had only known what she would become. But she did, because she scraped herself off the floor, surrendered to breaking her own heart, and jumped on a plane to fly around the world. Nothing would become if nothing was before. The beautiful and the catastrophic all lead to the same place, a mirror to your soul.
I always thought I learned the ‘hard way’, but I am tactile; I have to SEE it to understand it. I will not throw the gems away in the mud. I promise to witness myself through this transformation.
Hermit crabs, paper dolls and Mazy Starr is what I am today.
Cancer free, supposedly. At least on paper. Maybe some of you are wondering...ok she said it, breast cancer...now what the HECK is going on?!?!?! There is a myriad of diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, so much so that to encounter another woman with the exact same diagnosis and treatment plan (and age, and treatment date, and location) must be FATE, or MAGIC...but that is a story for a different day. The diagnosis is only one small part of the journey, and each story is her own.
Officially -- Tripple Positive, Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, Stage 1.
As the tumor has now been removed, evicted at the hands of the surgeon with beautifully clear margins of 2mm around the 1.6mm in diameter tumor. Contained, there is no evidence of local metastasis. All three lymphnodes extracted are clear. Located in the 3 o'clock quadrant of left breast. The specimen was brought to pathology at 17:51, labeled clearly with patients name and date of birth.
The audience breaks out in applause, the crowd goes wild! They watch as the leftovers are launched in to the waste bin. SCORE.
About 10% of breast cancer diagnosis' are women under 50.* We ARE the statistic. With each doctor's visit until diagnosis age was my savior. And then it became The Summoner.
*not fact, just a statistic
I have found the easiest way of digesting the information at the doctors’ office or in the cancer books is in terms of 'best of the worst', and 'worst of the worst'. Over all, my specific case file seems to be the 'best of the worst', so far. (A tingle shoots up my spine as I write these words and I knock on the wood table urgently.) A small cheer each time something comes back CLEAR. Each step, one step closer to health. The knowledge that I can hold on to is what is IN FRONT of me. There is no time to be spent on the what-ifs or whys.
Like, how did a thirty year old, yoga teacher, and healthy* woman develop a cancerous tumor in her breast? The tests are in and it's not genetic! Heck, there's hardly even CANCER in the family. Mom apply sunscreen please!
*Supporting evidence provided demonstrates this is NOT a fact
Scientifically, the treatment for this illness has come a long way. There is a plethora of options now, instead of the good ole chop, poison, and suppress routine across the board. My tumor is triple positive, which is a double edge sword. It is GOOD, because they know what the tumor is eating. And BAD, because they know what the tumor is eating. It is gaining nourishment from all three receptor sites (estrogen, progesterone, and HER2neu). Therefore, they can pull out the arsenal for combat, chop-poison-suppress. Meh, Meh...
The HER2neu component qualifies the tumor cells as more aggressive. And the estogen and progestrone indicate that it is feeding off ALL hormones. Bad news for my moon cycle. The doctors suggested chemo because of my age. There is a 30% possibility it could come back as opposed to the <5% with treatment.* The Come Back meaning relocate in the breast (I chose lumpectomy vs. mastectomy), at less worst. Or, the 'M-Word'... metastasize -- to a different place in my body. At Worst. Cringe.
*Doctor fact, I heard it through the grapevine
At this point, I am guiding each choice I make based on these two categories: Life-Giving and Life-Taking. They can be applied across the board; from the type of oil I choose to use (EVOO), to the words that come out of my mouth, and ultimately opting for Chemo.
At first, it was the most difficult decision I have ever made. Now I stand firm behind taking the AMA route, and trusting that my body will recover itself. I thought, I could never put this POISON in my body! They want to destroy me! A concept, that seemed to be overlooked from the ages of 14 to 30. I didn’t think twice about binge drinking or smoking cigarettes, and not to mention experimenting with every drug I could get my hands on, made in God knows where by God knows who. Playing games with my life, I administered this poison myself. Dr. Death, Rx pad in hand. Looking back, this was a band-aid, a place holder, and each one of these choices was a cry to Life-Taking. How about we sit with this a minute and allow the WHYs to surface.
My choice now…is to LIVE as consistently stated. I know it could be done by running back to Ecuador and sitting with a Shaman for unknown period of time, or making a urine fast (I'll refer you to a person if you want details). I know it could be done by regulating my diet or by hunting down all the Chinese herbal supplements. I could travel the world searching for the CURE, but I would still be RUNNING.
No, this choice was not my own, it was made by a bigger hand. It is a medicine that has come in the least expected form. The medicine, that has to be administered in an EXTREMELY STABLE environment. Not the Hospital…HOME. I have to go back to the roots, to my center. Where I have to be VULNERABLE. Where I have to TRUST. Where I have to SEE. The only people that can administer this medicine is my FAMILY and ME.
On paper, I opted for the lumpectomy in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation guided by the suggestions of my doctors, blogs, my own research, and most importantly my intuition. In reality, I opted to LIVE. To do everything in my power from this point on…to live.
For me, this means Cancer is not a diagnosis...it's a wake-up call. Something I am doing, ISN'T WORKING. I do not HAVE CANCER, it is a part of the path that I have chosen. In FACT, Cancer is a side effect of my life. Lived and co-created by ME. A side effect that has surfaced due to utter neglect of MY self.
It is time to DO THE WORK. It is time to put all of the pieces together and to use ALL of the tools in the belt. The doctor, the chemo, the science is just another tool that I will implement in this journey to WELLNESS. In the end, I am MY healer. The tools are helping hands.
**In the mean time, "CHECK YA TITTIES LADIES!" No, you shouldn’t run to the mammogram machines, but DO TOUCH YOURSELVES! Touch the most intimate parts of your SOUL. Become familiar with your body, inside and out. Trust your intuition. Re-evaluate. Take stock. You are your OWN healer.**
**This is NOT a public service announcement, and by no way should be taken as FACT. This is strictly an opinion. The author advises you to find yourselves.**
I have spent years on the search for what it means to be FEMALE, for what it means to THRIVE, for what it means to be ALIVE. This path has lead me all over the world, drawn to women and their children, to communities, to SPIRIT, and ultimately BACK to MYSELF. Here I will share my most recent adventure, navigating a diagnosis of triple positive BREAST CANCER and each step of the way I figure out how to be a little more ME. I am Catherine-Ayer Gresham a 30 year old woman