The Blackboard, or, “My Cancer Recovery Meme”

Picture a blackboard. On the blackboard are written two paragraphs, in chalk. The first one reads:

A nurse walks in to the cubicle. She is dressed in a hazmat suit. Fluid-proof gown down to her shins. Booties over her shoes. There’s a paper cap over her hair. She wears a face mask with clear plastic eye protection. On her hands, industrial-strength rubber gloves. She carries a 60cc syringe (very large!) filled with a red liquid called “The Red Devil”. This is the Infusion Center, where chemotherapy happens. She injects the liquid, all of it, into the port in my right upper chest. The chest tubing dumps the chemotherapy agent, Adriamycin, into a subclavian vein, which only has a few inches to go to my right heart where the poison gets circulated to every cell in my body.

The second paragraph goes like this:

I haven’t looked at my chest in the mirror yet. It’s been several weeks since the bilateral mastectomy and the bandages covered me for the first two weeks. I’m beginning to feel a bit stronger and maybe I’m ready to take a look at myself. I have to do it someday. So far, I’ve been quite skillful in taking care of myself without actually looking at my chest, mostly because David has been monitoring my wounds and bandages. But today’s the day, so I look. It’s bad. But, I knew it would be. Livid red scars running across my chest where my beautiful breasts used to be. I am now concave. I don’t have  any flesh at all there. I look like an old, old man. I take a deep breath and remind myself that the surgery saved my life. I may have been in hospice by now without any treatment. So, if this is the way it’s going to be, well, I can live with that. The scars will fade. Then, I notice a small, pale pink dot, about a quarter of an inch wide, down near the scar on my right chest. Is that a piece of surgical adhesive? Suddenly, I feel sick. I sit down hard on the toilet seat. That little pale mole is one that used to ride high on my breast, like a little ornament. Now its several inches lower and flat against my rib. I start to cry…

Well, the good thing is that these two paragraphs are getting erased, bit by bit, from the blackboard. It started right away, the first time I could walk farther than around the block with David. It happens every time I laugh with my daughter. An eraser comes into the picture and removes a few more letters.

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The Tramper Voyage is helping. Each time something wonderful happens, the eraser comes along and removes some of the paragraph. Looking up at the starry sky at Baxter State Park.  Gracie smiling at me when we played together. Swimming in the warm Gulf of Mexico at Cape San Blas. Zealen running out in the morning saying “I’m a blueberry!!” because he dressed himself all in blue. Riding a bike out into the beautiful wilderness with David.

At these times I am filled up with happiness and more words are erased.

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I’m not the only person in the world with a blackboard. These paragraphs, written in chalk, are my own personal events from cancer treatment. But, everyone has a blackboard, deep inside, where hurtful things are written. Nobody gets through life without one. The trick is to let awesome things happen, then recognize that your own personal blackboard is slowly being erased.

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I fully realize that my rate of erasure is accelerated by being on an extended vacation. But, good things and good people happen everywhere, all the time. Even at work. Sometimes, even in traffic!

With grace and love and hope, we can all heal.

– Jane

20 responses to “The Blackboard, or, “My Cancer Recovery Meme”

  1. Beautifully written. Since I met you when you seemed to be in such good health – it is difficult to believe this even happened. I guess that eraser really is working. This brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Janie, this is beautiful. My blackboard is in my head and in my heart. Every time I get hooked up I wonder what the mixture is doing to the rest of my body. But, the good part is knowing that whatever it is it is working. My tumor is shrinking, my marker numbers are down, and my heart grows lighter. Hope, faith and a good sense of humor have gotten me through this now for the second time. And my head wraps around my photography and the prospect of more photo trips in my future. No matter what type of cancer we live with, the feelings are the same. And I pray for hope and a future for us all.
    Love, Lin

  3. Janie, we need to share our cancer stuff too. It makes all the good stuff even better.

  4. vminichiello@gpstrategies.com

    You leave words of wisdom for the rest of us back in “civilization”. The thing I take away is that, in some way, some time during each day or week, we’re all on our own tramper voyage if we can see what is around us and past the discontent with our lots in life. The best things are free and they are everywhere. Thank you both for spreading joy through this trip and blog. I so look forward to it! I also look forward to seeing you both again on your return. God bless. Keep the eraser and a clean bucket of water and rag working! That blackboard will be shiny as a young childs!

  5. This is a beautiful post!

  6. Nice, Jane. It’s nice you have such a great attitude.

  7. Anahita Anvari-Clark

    You are an inspiration! And, I am very inspired right now to look at the good things I have in life and enjoy each day I am given. 🙂

  8. Absolutely beautiful Jane, and so thoughtful…..thanks for sharing this beautiful insight. These writings are just further proof of how awesome it is to know you and David – Love to both of you….xxxooo

  9. Thank you for sharing your perspectives about your experience. It is so important to appreciate this beautiful gift of life. We have so many blessings that it is easy to not appreciate everything. Thanks for putting things into proper focus. Have fun skiing. I miss y’all.

  10. This is powerful writing. It needs to see publication beyond this blog. The new York Times comes to mind – nothing less! Wow!

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