SIZE MATTERS: THE BENEFITS OF BEING SMALL

Our Milky Way

Our Milky Way

A real dark night sky is a tonic for the soul. That’s why in the weeks following a diagnosis that I was growing cancerous tumours, feeling overwhelmed with it all, like an Indiana Jones-sized rolling rock of grief and fear was heading my way,  I stepped outside onto the front porch. Luckily, the sky was clear and when I looked up I heard the Milky Way calling out to me for falling into. I was bewitched by the white splashes along it’s twining body. I felt into the space within these mind-blowing cosmic stains, appearing so because they indicate numbers of stars so dense I cannot fathom the universe except in the most basic of ways. I wanted nothing more than to dive on in and  swim far enough through the sparkling infinity, so that I would be sure to reach the farthest place, the point of pregnant expansion from which I would retract like a catapult in reverse straight back to the core – the spot where I stood. I would fly back to the womb of my own rebirth. For a blessed moment, I confronted my own mortality and was not afraid to do so. I stood in a black hole filled with peace. Loved, loving. Happy. I felt for a fraction of a moment the freedom of understanding my own insignificance. And then it was gone.

Living is hard. Really hard.  I do want to mention here that I am not claiming hardships that compare with the lives of those born into poverty. Those who are more likely to experience physical suffering, discrimination, disenfranchisement, injustice and displacement. That’s hard living. Then there’s the rest of us, more or less enjoying lands of milk and honey those in poverty dream about. The poverty stricken must think us delirious with happiness. Yet we find a Milky Way of reasons not to be. Our ‘hard’ living is generally a result of a lack of appreciation for the things and opportunities we do have and an unfortunate craving for what we don’t. We can’t handle the excess all around as it wreaks havoc within us anymore than those in poverty can manifest what they need from without to sustain them within. What is within us is mirrored by what is outside.  A perfect imbalance. It’s all hard, but different.

Sitting in our ‘first world’ lives we believe our lives to be BIG. The dramas and dreams which emanate from our egos are so large and loud. There is logic in that. The will to live is pretty much hardwired – all things are driven by the blueprint for survival, growth and reproduction. But with the expectation – or at the very least, hope – of great things from our experience of life comes wave upon wave of dissatisfaction and disappointment as we judge at  every moment every detail of our progression in the cause of survival, growth and reproduction. Those whose suffering is starvation, sickness and early death – every day, without reprieve, do they have the luxury of thoughts other than those concerned with survival?  When I learned of my sickness, my tumultuous thought processes screamed to a halt. The myriad of  inner voices grew quiet – desire, envy and dissatisfaction stopped lending their unhelpful demands and judgements and I heard my still, small voice.  It spoke to me of the basics. What did I need to survive? It helped me make decisions about my treatment, it helped me speak to my children, mother, brothers, friends. It helped me look at what dying might be like. I discovered that I love myself and I love living – especially when death threatens – but also that it’s ok when my time is up. That moment on my front porch has led me through dark times.

And so I share that moment with you because it was possibly one of the best moments of my life – like falling in love and seeing my babies for the first time. Because it reminded me that what I think doesn’t really matter but is everything and all I have. It also reminds me that even in my darkest times, my life is privileged. To have such a positive vision of my difficult experience is something I feel very fortunate to have. I have stopped and thought for about 30 seconds for beautiful experiences of this world that I treasure. I realise I could fill a universe with them.

Swimming among innumerable stars to the ends of the universe and back showed me the blessing of being small. Infinitesimally small. Insignificant and hidden. It was a moment of true freedom.

COMING SOON – THE RACK IS BACK

LETTING GO

LETTING GO -photo by Helen Coetzee

It’s a cliché, but I HAD A DREAM last night. Actually, it was in the 10 or so minutes between waking and rising this morning. I am blogging my way through my experience of breast cancer. Well I only discovered blogging this year and so will have to go all retro on the early stuff. Yes, it’s therapy for me of course but I also want to reach out to other people going through this because talking through all the stages really does help.

Here’s my dream.

There is a meeting. A long, long table with chairs around, blinds at the windows of an ordinary office meeting room. We file in, about 30 of us. The Oncologist enters the room but doesn’t seem to settle on a place at the table. None of us do. 

Immediately, we are relocated  to the inner city, in the way that dreams can shift seamlessly and with ease. Hundreds of us now, we all sit on stone steps that bank up the steep hill with blackened old buildings at the top and sides. It is pleasantly urban. I feel like I am at a university lecture. Huge sycamore trees with contrasting light bark have lost most of their leaves which now lie on the steps providing bolts of welcome colour. They seem to be on our side. It is damp but not cold. 

The Oncologist is talking. I feel like a child though he is younger than me. He becomes quite impassioned, excited by the power he holds over us and our massive presence. There is a sense among the mass that we are not all the same, though we have been summoned here as if we were. We are CANCER and The Oncologist is THE CURE. We are to report our list of treatments and we are to receive the next stage. As he asks for submissions of experience from the massed crowd, our difference becomes clear. Hands rise into the damp air and each voice claims a treatment, brave people conquering fear and confusion, clinging to their faith. They are the anointed, they have walked through the fire of retributive justice, thrown everything in the arsenal of toxic war waged upon the alien cancer cells that rose up to destroy them.

And The Oncologist salutes them. He is rallying the mass, justifying their suffering, telling them that in following orders they have dealt the blow they crave. He fires up, raises his fist in the air and is shouting about reaching every single last corner of the empires that are our flesh, every cellular outpost – “And I will seek and destroy every last trace of cancer….”

To my right just below where I am sitting, a swathe of the mass begin to boil and move, dissatisfied. Murmurs become a chant and in turn the people rise to their feet. Moving down the grey stone steps as one they turn their heads away and leave the assembly. They are singing, low and simple, “We don’t know you anymore,” over and over.

Then a voice pipes up. Her mouth isn’t working properly, the left side appears to be anesthetized and flaps stupidly, spoiling a crisp delivery. But she is straining to be heard, and winning nevertheless. The Oncologist is rising to a frenzy in the face of the dissenting party but her words are challenging his in mid-air, gaining momentum. Other people to the left and to the right, above and below, begin to pop up, arms raised freely. Mouth gaping to the left and chest hurting with the effort, she bellows –

She bellows in her heart.  She wants to take The Oncologist by the hand and ask him not to be disapproving, not to doubt her, not to be worried for her. She needs to find her own way of dealing with this most personal of diseases. She grew it, she owns it, she will transform it. Don’t try to frighten me with your statistics. You don’t tell me of those who follow your orders  and still don’t ‘beat’ this thing. So work with me. Let me be free. You want to be free.

It is only a little voice, trembling on the air.”You are trying to give us a guarantee that is not yours to give! You cannot say we will never have cancer again. You don’t know, YOU JUST DON’T KNOW.” And you don’t know me anyway.

I wake, my mouth flapping and my chest hurting. It’s 5 days since I had stage one of reconstructive surgery. I went under feeling incredibly fit and well. My chest wound had healed so well and I had strength once more. I have navigated difficult decisions and arrived at a place of confidence as great as anybody can really have It was harder to get up on the table this time than it was last. It was elective surgery. So why put myself through it?

At first, I didn’t think I would ever go for it. I said stuff like, “They’ll only be speed bumps, they won’t be real.” I was in mourning. We women can’t help but have such a complicated relationship with our bodies. We ask so much of them. Our ladyhumps particularly. Ask any mum who has breastfed and you will get that dismissive ‘Well, they’re never gonna be the same again are they?’ No, they are not! But to lose them completely……that was something different again. And then when I could see the years still to come unfolding before me, it started to seem like a long time to do the penance of the staunch. I don’t want to hold on to the anger and the shock anymore. Despite reassurances  that I was no less of a woman, there was still the private moment I step into a bath, the secret throwing away of the naughty nighties, the sudden disappearance of the thrill of a hotel night.

This is difficult to admit but let’s get real. I think we are adult enough don’t you? So I’m taking a cue from  those women brave enough to chase their fantasies and take what’s available – breast cancer or not. It’s going to take a couple of months to achieve a result initially, then a year or so before completion. And when it’s done I shall be wearing a super-sexy-cool t-shirt which you will be able to purchase from my website, in aid of breast cancer awareness. It will say –

THE RACK IS BACK

SELFIE AWARENESS AND BREAST CANCER

Photo on 24-03-14 at 9.03 AMSelfies. We love them. The latest trend is for no make-up selfies to raise money for breast cancer awareness. Good cause. Follow up with regular checks and if you have any concerns, or are eligible for the free mammograms, go have one. Don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t eat too much sugar, eat whole foods, exercise enough blah blah PRAY THAT YOUR GENES ARE GOOD ONES……

First, thanks to my beautiful sweet friends who have done their own selfies. You haven’t tried to hide a thing. It shouldn’t be such a big deal should it, but I know that we don’t like going out without any enhancement. Jeez, if I don’t draw in some eyebrows these days, people think I’m sick again. Truly! And to my lovely friend whose mother died from the disease, I adore how you always add in there somewhere – FUCK CANCER! Don’t get too cross though, those cortisol levels need to stay low.

Going nude is quite liberating isn’t it? Models schmodels, the faces I like the best are the real ones, nervously smiling or showing the discomfort – no eyebrow or lash tinting, just you. Some of the faces have a quiet pride, ‘this is who I really am and it feels good’. Make-up does a lot more than paint our features doesn’t it? It’s as if we can paint ourselves into a personality, or a position in life, status, success, happiness! Yeah, it didn’t quite work out like that for me either. Amongst ourselves, though, it works – one of my friends is ROCKING a shade of red lipstick that I have been looking for all my life. I love it on her face! Well her lips anyway. And I think we all know that most men don’t care either way. Shall we be honest and say there’s other things they hope we won’t give up. Ever.

So I thought I’d share my own make-up free selfie. Of the thing in question.  If you all think your faces are scary without make-up, think again.

And look after beautiful selves. x

WHO AM I TO JUDGE?

ImageSo, two and a half years without breasts and I’m ready to concede that I might have another decade or three claiming a place on this rather overloaded planet and thinking that’s a long time to be without the orbs of feminity. Too bad that my hair won’t grow back like it used to be and I have opted for the punk staccato meant for the woman of my age who has either given up or wants to roar -visually. Or just be cooler – literally. I need something to make me feel gracious again.

Everyone jokes about what happens to our milkbags after they have done service. A man once wrote that women over 50  ‘do that terrible thing (sic) and cut their hair short’. Well fuck off dude, what do you know? Take you nazi follicularism (er….) and fuck off. Hope you go bald – that ‘terrible’ affliction of men over 50 and often much younger. And man-boobs can droop too.

Anyway, I meant to control my tongue and my hot temper for this blog and muse on the subject of women judging women. Last week, I had my appointment with the plastic surgeon who will, if I am brave enough, cut open my well-healed scar all over again and place small plastic bags where my breasts used to be.  For the next 2 months after that, I will visit the nurse who will use a magnetically attracted syringe to find the hole through which to pump a little more saline solution each time, to stretch my skin. I don’t have enough body fat to use my own tissue, which is the only time I will be disappointed about that fact. Then, when the optimum size is reached, I will have silicon implants. Followed 3 months later by reconstructed nipples. Then have them tattooed.

I force myself to write this. I am embarrassed, disgusted, intrigued, excited, terrified, anxious. Desperate to be ‘normal’ again.

While I was waiting to go in, a girl of maybe 18-20 appeared with her mother. She got up on the scales that stand at the side of the waiting room. I look up, distracted and do a double take as I notice her shorts, which barely skim her buttocks. Honestly, my knickers were larger than those shorts. She sits down and loudly proclaims her weight. Her mother reaches out and tucks a strand of blonded hair behind her daughter’s ear and murmers encouragingly. I wonder why they are here?

I have my face time with the lovely man who radiates clarity and makes me feel very confident. I cry a little when he shows me faceless pictures of his work on a woman of my body type. I can’t believe it looks so good! I tell him I didn’t want to be a bride of Frankenstein.  OMG, I’m on the waiting list. 3-6 months and I could get a call anytime telling me they have a space next week. And I don’t have to pay a cent. I am so lucky.

As I am getting weighed (out the back) and blood pressured, the young girl and her mother enter the same room I have just left. Whoa! Either she or her mother have been unfortunate to have had breast cancer – or the young girl wants implants. To make her perfectly healthy breasts as large as her shorts are short? The thought appalls me, embarrasses me, disgusts me etc. etc. I remember how proud I was back in the day when I had a fair pair of homegrown tits, all my own work.

But how many women haven’t fantasized about fuller, rejuvenated boobs? Age and service history doesn’t really have anything to do with it anymore. I believe there are girls out there who haven’t even developed yet, who have the promise of breast enhancements when they are legally old enough! I marvel at their confidence, at their determination, at the fact they don’t care whether they look as good as they can naturally or not. I feel like a macramé making garlic stinky 70’s hippy feminist. Who gives a shit if your body is au naturale or hand crafted these days? Did anyone ever care much?

Well I’m now straddling the two camps. Allowed as I am now to take the plastic option, I can embark on something I ‘knew’ I would never do. And yet I will always mourn the loss of what nature gave me. You just never know do you, the decisions you may be asked to make? You never know until it is happening to you.  Who the fuck am I to judge Ms Shorts? Go for your life.