My world recently turned upside down.
And I’m receiving a range of signals to write about it. Maybe, just maybe, it will help me make sense of what I’ve been forced to face, through no choice of my own.
Also maybe writing and reading about it can remove some of the negative energy we collectively feel around cancer.
There’s nothing all too unique about my case—millions of women and fewer men (1% of the number of women) have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have survived surgery and/or the arduous months of anti-cancer treatments. And countless writers more talented than me have shared their cancer experience.
When I was first diagnosed with invasive breast carcinoma (stage 1), Nottingham grade 1, in July, 2021, I took it like I do any diagnosis, the under-active thyroid, the Dupuytren’s disease in my hands, or the Ledderhose in my feet: that is, merely a physical condition to learn about and to deal with according to any evidence-based treatments in the most holistic way possible. A blip in the bigger picture of my life.
Then, after the successful lumpectomy surgery in September, I received my discouraging post-op lab report. The good news was that the cancer had not moved into the lymph nodes. I had, however, drawn the short straw on the IHC analysis: triple positive, meaning my cancer cells had all three types of cell surface receptors—estrogen, progesterone and human epithelial growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). In plain English it means my body offers a perfect playground for cancer cells to create and multiply. Yuch!
With my breast surgeon telling me she still did not think I needed chemo “but we’d better be sure and consult a medical oncologist,” I was not prepared for what was coming.
The ensuing telephone consultation was a hit to my gut. He told me, in short, that the standard procedure in my case was chemo infusion for 12 weeks, Herceptin infusion every three weeks for a year, radiation therapy, plus hormone therapy thereafter for a decade. And all together it was to cost a small fortune; one I didn’t readily have.
After that call, my first thought was that I was a convenient nail for a hammer. I had to get a second opinion by someone who had no possible vested interest in the process.
I got it and eventually came to accept that if I want to minimize my risk of developing bone, brain, liver or lung cancer, I had no option but to get on with it. I committed. I started Tuesday, October 19.
So, after describing in brief the context of my circumstance, you may now be asking yourself what is this journal about then?
While all the above was going on, I also happened to be paying attention to various online events, discussing about trauma, about Jungian analysis, and about mindfulness and compassion. These are topics that perhaps the pandemic has helped to make more mainstream and accessible.
For me, those are not new areas of interest. Back in the late 1970s, I earned a degree in psychology, and it was the humanistic arm of that field that most attracted me. Living in Asia with my China-born honey for over three decades has exposed me to Buddhist and Daoist philosophy.
One day recently, I was listening to a talk on the heroine’s journey and I had a flash of insight.
I grasped that a significant part of my life to date had involved my living various versions of the hero’s journey.
In a nutshell, the hero (being one of the archetypes of the masculine in both males and females) grows or transforms through external battles. The hero fights, fixes, builds, troubleshoots, and overcomes. (I’m not trying to be academically correct here; just painting a picture with the broadest of strokes.)
In my younger days, I was often told I’m “one of the boys.” I’m analytical, rational, and mostly calm. I’ve intentionally avoided stereotypical feminine work like cooking or care-taking. Friends say I’m their rock. When I announced my cancer, many said that I was strong, I’d handle this challenge and “beat it.”
The heroine’s journey is not a female on a hero’s journey, although that is often how it’s described. You can find good examples of women on a hero’s journey. In movies, think Wonder Woman and Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Or in the world of myths, Psyche or Mulan.
The heroine’s journey I’m interested in taking is an inward one. Perhaps it’s an exploration more of my feminine side; to uncover perhaps a novel way I can relate to it. I intend to explain this further in my posts.
As so many fields of inquiry have said in so many different ways, it makes sense to me that in order to reach our individual full potential and sense of well-being, a wholly developed adult must integrate all aspects of themselves. The masculine can’t be developed at the expense of the feminine in us, and vice versa.
I’m sensitive to the view that dealing with cancer is not a journey at all; it’s certainly not a fight. I agree, it’s a physical condition that needs to be treated. And it’s not something that defines me or anyone else in my shoes.
And yet, this cancer has caused a disruption in my life as it was. I certainly need to allocate time and resources to my treatments and healing. I’ve put my business partly on hold so I can be more open to fresh insights that this situation might bring up. This gives me the space to feel, to play, and to explore. And I’m hoping that this journaling will help me stay focused on that.
Calling it a journey implies that there is a destination. But is there one? I don’t know. That’s what this blog is about, to let me share my observations, perhaps learnings. If it leads to nowhere, so be it; that too will offer a learning.
And I invite you to join in… share whatever moves you.