This isn’t new – yet it’s my contribution to how to find ease and flow even in difficult times. An anthology of women writing about how to deal with the global pandemic of Covid 19. The pandemic that keeps on giving through the politicization of a virus with several vaccines available in first world countries yet with people who believe it is just fine to find themselves on the news saying to any such reporter to get the shot. Get it because you don’t want to feel this sick. Nothing about possibly passing on the virus or its variants to others with compromised immune systems.
But if selfishness drives vaccines so be it. Since Julia died in February I’ve had a hard time mourning since I didn’t find out until May. But at least I found out within some relevant time period to find a way to peace with it. Yet there’s no peace with losing another 39 women in the UK to metastatic breast cancer every day. Add that to the 119 in the United States that’s 150 per day only in two countries. Who knows how many really. But here we are.
I’m lucky. Lucky to have friends all over the world who support me and who have metastatic breast cancer, breast cancer, metastatic cancer, or have overcome cancer or had a relationship with someone dear to them who had one of the above. Julia Barnickle is a friend. Like me, she’s been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Unlike me she’s brought two ebooks together of essays by friends who have blogs and some who don’t. But all of us have cancer in common.
A dauntingly difficult task, she’s creating a global community of writers and bring us into two books of essays. The second book, Lessons from Lockdown, is the one she’s kindly asked me to participate in. I give you here the full text of the essay but I encourage you to go to the link above and read the rest. I assure you the quality of writer-ship surpasses what you come to expect from my typo riddled 3 am thoughts – not to say I don’t put a great deal of myself into my blog. Writing is a process – just as reading is a process. You’ll find new ways of coping with the pandemic the likes of which we’ve never seen in our post industrial society.
My Relationship with MBC and Time
There’s only one single impossible to ignore facet of living, other than death, and that is change. For we cannot escape change any more than death – life itself is a terminal disease – we are born to die but were also born to live. We can take joy in the changes that time presents to us moment by moment, rather than failing to see the wonder of life’s ebbs and flows. I can hit my head against a brick wall trying to avoid the inevitable, but why feel pain when it’s absolutely unnecessary?
There’s a hard truth to that brick wall in relation to the detrimental alterations of ourselves caused by cancer. Out of our own control, cancer and Covid19 both share the same negative circle of life’s huge Venn diagram of positive and negative emotions. However, there is room in the overlap with the positive emotions. Believe it or not, the major transformation takes place in emotions that are highly negatively connoted: uncertainty and isolation. Covid and cancer both place a handcuff upon each of us and can transform our lives without a doubt. For metastatic cancer and the Covid epidemic, these are the top two psychosocial complaints.
To describe uncertainty and isolation as negative isn’t necessarily the correct approach to the situation. Indeed if you replace “uncertainty” with “change” and “isolation” with “time,” we now have shifted to the positive side of the Venn diagram. Perspective keeps those of us with metastatic breast cancer alive with hope. And change and time factor into hope in an enormous way.
Let me explain. Uncertainty and isolation can both be viewed as negative outcomes of metastatic cancer and the Covid virus, but do they have to be completely negative? Neither has to bring us down to our knees with misery. In fact, our relationship to time itself can take on variations and permutations we may not have known existed.
More time, more moments of quiet and peace, although perhaps imposed rather than chosen, give us more space to think, learn, create, deepen, fine tune and ultimately develop new skills and experiences.
In fact it’s not necessarily even a lack of time, but aspects our personalities exhibit as adults, that keep us from experiencing the wonderment of learning for example to draw, to paint, to write poetry, to ride a horse, or even something as personal as to meditate. All of these new skills require time and a turning down of the fear of failure.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s not time or fear but our egos that get in the way of not having a perfected set of skills to immediately present to the world. Et voilà! Here is my born of a virgin masterwork of art, as I am an adult prodigy of painting like the Dutch masters! An operatic singer lived inside me all these 55 years and here I am at Carnegie Hall! Laughter is good medicine for the ego – as it is for cancer.
Yet as we understand it, time marches on regardless of hope or change. Time shifts, in some strange way, came along as a bonus with my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. My relationship to time changed my relationship to my entire world view – both internally and externally.
The internal transformation manifested itself in ways both obvious and undetectable to how people view me – both before and after the diagnosis five years and four months ago. Surprisingly to me, the actual dispersed mutations stage 4 cancer has inside somehow became eclipsed by the vicissitudes my diagnosis made on my relationship with the external world. This shift includes: my friends and family; my financial status and my ended 30 year long career; and my comfort with my own body in that it’s turned against me somehow; and coming to terms with all the shifting changes of my life. Oddly the same shifts that Covid seems to have upon the rest of the world, minus the approximately 155,000 of us with MBC [in the USA] who already know.
I had a friend, who I think was going through menopause at the time, say I was not being respectful of her time although she knew I wasn’t able to get to her place sometimes due to traffic, and others due to over time oncology appointments. Once she even offered to get in line early for a huge rummage sale and asked that I simply be there before 8:30 am, and I was – she reassessed her POV and said I was terribly selfish for taking advantage of her. Between time and money I seem to not have enough of either for her. She understands now, however and said she really finally got what I meant about losing myself in a project, a long meditation, a great view of a sunset. Whatever the next beautiful moment might bring me.
I think Covid is the first occasion where it’s come full circle since I once had all those responsibilities. And the responsibility I have is to my body and my mind now. The health of those allows me time to be with people I love, to write, to learn to draw, and to help others with my 5 plus years of knowledge I earned the hard way through experiences, now to become a true patient advocate.
I’m so happy to feel something of import can come from all this. And I’m trying to see my way to giving myself the permission to do so. To me if you’re getting your work done who cares when you do.
You’ll thank yourself for the time you’ve spent and ask yourself what you’ve always wanted to ask yourself with the advance of time and the gifts that change brings us – medically and emotionally. And to be given such gifts allows us to enjoy what we’ve always wanted – whether through MBC or Covid.
As the late Gilda Radner said: “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
I’m a poet. I am a writer. I am a woman with metastatic breast cancer. Like me prior to March of 2015: Incurable and alive. My life prior to diagnosis at stage IV consisted of the wobbly first steps of my life’s spiritual journey.
I do not believe cancer is a “gift” or a “war.” It is not a choice I made nor a karmic wheel pinning me down. It’s an epidemic and I am 1:3 women who have or will become diagnosed with this shit.
It’s incumbent on me to share of myself with anyone who cares to take a peek at the moments in my life by modality of essay, poem, rant, and above all love. I give gratitude and positive stadium waves to you for your support, including those who remain strangers and those who become friends.