If you have talked to cancer survivors, you will have noticed that anniversaries figure prominently in their stories. Now I too have something to celebrate. The last week of July marked the one year anniversary of the day I stepped out of the shower at camp and noticed that my left breast was, well, pink.
A little background. In the summer, we like to go to United Church camp at Naramata Centre, in the idyllic little village of Naramata, British Columbia on the shores of Okanagan Lake. It was during last year`s trip to camp that I made my momentous discovery. (Ok - it didn't feel momentous at the time. It went more like, Jon, Jon. Look at my breast. No seriously. Does it look pink to you? What is up with that? Was it pink yesterday? Jon, why would my breast be pink? No, I don't think I slept on it funny. Are you kidding me? I've been sleeping on them since I was 12.)
OK - back to camp. We visit Naramata as a rather big bunch. Typically, there are the four of us, plus Jon's parents, Jim and Lillian, Jon's sister, Diana, and her two kids. The kids spend the mornings with other kids, grouped by grade and led by terribly cool and enthusiastic leaders. The grownups take classes (film for most of us this year, pottery again for Jon). Then the afternoons are spent at the beach, some of us reading, some dozing, some swimming. Depending on the day, some of us may also catch a morning service, attend an evening concert, eat ice cream in the village, go to the farmers' market, wine taste...it`s a full week. :-) The kids charge around, free-range, and absolutely glow from the sun, the singing and the FREEDOM!
This year, we also had the great pleasure to share some of it with Jon's daughter, Deyne. She is working in Penticton this summer and it is a short drive out to Naramata. For the most part, when she was off work, she was with us. And it was really lovely. She got to play with the kids, chat with us and catch us up on her life. She even attended an improvisational singing workshop with Diana and me one night, and we giggled out into the dark, hooting at the humour and marvelling at the magic of it. So, I guess, to sum up, this was a pretty good week at camp. Lots of laughter, lots of talk, lots of thinking.
How does it compare to last year? Last year, I was distracted by a pink breast. It was a naive, "what if" kind of distracted. When we returned from camp, I was plunged immediately into a scary whirlwind of medical appointments and diagnostic procedures. The whirlwind was followed by the devastation of the diagnosis and, ultimately, the work. This year, I was distracted by twinges where my pink breast used to be. But I no longer have the luxury of being naive. So, I acknowledged my concerns, thought about the options and then told myself that, even if it is cancer, I have good doctors who will do everything they can to help me. I do not need to let fear knock me back. I can face the fear and keep on doing the work.
I had been looking forward to going to Naramata, but was a little uneasy about how I would respond to it given last year's experience. My father-in-law, Jim anticipated this and checked in mid-week to see how I was doing. Happily, I could report that I was feeling pretty good. If there is a place on earth where one can feel recharged and centred, it is here. You are surrounded by community. Compassionate, supportive, engaged community. I watched movies about conflict and took part in fascinating conversations about them. I enjoyed my children and enjoyed other parents enjoying theirs. I ate good food, laughed, cried and laughed some more. Ultimately, I shared. I put myself out there and allowed others to do the same. And it is this extension beyond the internal that will get me through the stress of breast cancer. Residing alone inside my brain is the opposite of beating this disease. To begin the rest of my life, and to make it meaningful, I must step outside and join hands with my community.
So how do we celebrate? I think a cup of green tea is in order. :-) But when I pass my anniversary of the diagnosis in a couple of weeks, I am poppin' the bubbly. And the first toast goes to my lovely family and friends. My community.