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.
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.
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.
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.