"No one can do it, but then you expand. You think you can't do it and you do it anyway."-Harriet Sloane.
In fact, this quote was talking specifically about motherhood. I was watching the Apple TV series Lessons in Chemistry (SO GOOD!!) and I was immersed in the story of a woman who was feeling very overwhelmed, scared and defeated by the idea of becoming a mother. I could totally relate, as many women can, but my mind quickly switched from raising humans to this same feeling of how it's related to what it's like when faced with cancer treatment and survivorship. I've often been told how strong, brave and resilient I am. I know there is heartfelt sincerity when this type of encouragement is given, but honestly I don't always feel very strong, brave or resilient. Quite the opposite on some days. I feel as though I wasn't really given much of a choice in the matter. It was survive or don't. I recall that very first phone call I received when my diagnosis was confirmed. I was being given a full itinerary of scans, appointments and tests that were being scheduled for me. My mind just couldn't catch up with what was happening. I was still feeling like they must have the wrong person and yet they were bombarding me with a very scary to do list a mile long. I thought I had hung up the phone when I fell to my knees in a puddle of my own tears on the cold bathroom tile floor muttering repeatedly "I can't do this, I can't do this, what in the fuck, I can't do this".....I heard a voice (from the phone on the floor next to me that I did NOT in fact hang up) tell me that "you CAN do this". Next week will be six years since my intial diagnosis of Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and Two years since my Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis with a single met to my spine. It's been years of my doubting myself and questioning what got me here. As scared and defeated as I have often felt, like the quote says, I just show up and do it anyway. A really good friend and mentor taught me years ago that the goal is NOT, in fact, to be fearless. Not only is that pretty much impossible and absolutely unattainable, but you can actually learn more about yourself when despite your fears, you show up to do the thing that you think you cannot do. My job is not to be fearless, it's to show up for myself and dance with that fear. It's hard as hell, but what I find is that I do it and then I expand. I become a little more brave, a little stronger and a lot more resilient. But believe you me, I work at being and becoming this type of human every hour, every day, with every treatment, every scan, every surgery (7 and counting) and with every side effect I face. Six years, including two that have been really, really intense, is a long time to be stuck in fight or flight mode. In the beginning I never understood people who quit treatment or never even went for it in the first place, but in my longevity of being in the cancer world, I can understand it now. I have wanted to give up.....I mean, when the hits keep coming, surrendering seems kind of peaceful. Last month my dad took me to my monthly oncology appointment and infusions. After he parked the car I just sat there. Feeling tired and well, sick of this, I told him " I just can't do this anymore." It took only a millisecond for him to respond with 'You have to. I need you to." On the surface I am just so, so over this. When I dig deep though, I know I have a hell of a lot of fight left in me. All I have to do in those moments of doubt, is look at the three faces of the three beautiful children I am raising and I instantly jolt back to the reality of why my goal is to survive and hopefully thrive. They need me and I need them. As it goes in the quote, I think I can't do it, I do it anyway, I learn some life changing lessons on the way and boom.....expansion.
Next week, just two days after my cancerversary, it's scan day. The process of scan day is nothing new to me. I've been scanning every three months for the past two years. This will be scan day #8 in 2 year's time. Not to mention, how many I had prior to my Stage 4 Diganosis. I honestly did not keep track back then. Scans bring up a ton of emotions and now with the frequency of scan day for me, I've had to learn how to not let the stress of it all completely consume me. I should be applauding myself for how conditioned I have become! I used to celebrate with a clear scan for a month, become uneasy month two and then pretty much panic month three leading up to scan day. Now I have become more focused on taking care of myself and trying to find effective ways to alleviate side effects from my meds for the whole three months between scans. I start to worry about scan day usually two weeks out. This is such an improvment from stressing for 12 whole weeks! It's fascinating and perhaps a little sad, how one can adjust or, our new word, expand (😉) even in the midst of trauma. Cancer is just that...trauma. And I am learning how to find some control in a situation that is so out of my control. If I'm being completely honest, while I'm hopeful and optimistic about this next round of scans, I'm also scared. It feels like a big one, this scan day, because "two years" was the goal from the moment I heard Stage IV. I mean, 30 years is the goal, but two was the first benchmark. Two years of no active disease means hopefully completing reconstruction of my left breast, you know, the one that tried to kill me...twice! It means a hysterectomy on the horizon, it means well, a tiny victory. I've had my sights set on two years for so long that I'm terrified of not getting to cross this one finish line successfully. My body has endured so much that I need this break and my mind has endured so much more that I need this win. The truth of the matter is, however, the only thing I can control, is that I show up, how I show up and that I don't give up even though I am bone, fucking tired.
In the cancer circles, we often talk about loss. Not just as it pertains to death, but loss of security, relationships that fizzle out because of the stress of this disease, sudden financial insecurity, a suddenly different outlook on faith and the one that is hitting me really hard right now, a loss of identity. I feel like I've been at least ten different versions of myself since that sad girl crying on the bathroom floor. I've had to. There was a version of me that got through IV chemo, one who survived organ failure and sepsis, one who's body has changed several times over, one who had to tell her kids twice that cancer was threatening her life...and their's, too. I could go on and on, but I think you catch my drift. I have to almost create a new version of myself to withstand the various forms of torture I endure just to walk on this earth here with you all. I create them, become them and then say goodbye because I need a different version to sustain the next brutal storm. This creates confusion, sadness and sense of great loss. It also always leaves me wondering who the hell am I? Those of you who have not faced what we cancer survivors face are probably scratching your heads wondering what in the hell I'm talking about! haha! That's perfectly ok. My hunch is that even if you haven't experienced the big "C", maybe you've faced another kind of loss where you just don't know how to move on and this resonates. I always say, cancer is my hell, but trauma understands trauma. And Lord knows, there is enough trauma out in this world for us to find some common ground. So whether you are grieving a loss of someone you love or a version of yourself, I have to believe that the moments where you feel weird and awkward will lead to feeling whole. Chemo Mia, while scared shitless, owned that experience. She was fierce and brave and would show up for chemo on Friday and dance competitions for Iz on Saturdays. ICU Mia was close to checking out, but she spoke to the angels who helped her to come back from the brink of death. She was transformed. Mama Mia had to break her kids' hearts two times over but managed to do it with such grace and love that they thrive despite the shattered security that children don't deserve to have. She has the biggest heart...especially for them. Advocacy Mia has asked tough questions, demands answers and cares for others on similar paths. She blazes trails. Stage 4 Mia was completely blindsided and devastated. She has taken two years to be sad, scared, hopeful and is now ready to move into a more stable, peaceful and positively transforming phase of survivorship. She is ready to expand.
So as I move into Cancerversary week and Scan week....ugh, heavy...my plan is to honor the past versions of myself that have gotten me this far. My sights are set on what I wish to become regardless of the news I receive next week. I can only control how I approach things and how I respond to them. That is where my power lies. You better believe I will continue to not let cancer define me, but rather respond with a version of Mia that will blow your damn socks off.
Happy Cancerversary, Mia Rose. Don't listen to that old version of yourself...you can, in fact, do this.
Keep On Killing It, my friends...Much Love and Happy Holidays! 👼
by: Joy Oladokun
"Make Peace with all the women you once were. Lay flowers at their feet. Offer them incense and honey and forgiveness. Honor them and give them your silence. Listen. Bless them and let them be. For they are bones of the temple you sit in now. For they are the rivers of wisdom leading you toward the sea. I have been a thousand different women..." -Emory Hall 💜