(by Susan, diagnosed with a recurrence of inflammatory or infiltrating breast cancer and locoregional metastasis in March 2010.)
Way back in 2003, I was deeply involved in animal rescue, fostering beagles and helping them become ready for new homes. I did telephone interviews, homechecks, ran an online auction site, and participated on an email list for beagle owners.
One of the contributors to the I-BARC listserve was a man named Bruce, who lived alone with four beagles who he doted on. One day, he lost his first dog, a beloved little beagle named Duncan. Duncan’s death just about broke Bruce’s heart, and he talked about it online with his friends, who understood and provided support. Bruce grieved deeply, talking about the loss of his little friend, not knowing how he would move past his grief. It was my first brush with public grief, and I grieved along with him, as did we all, for we were learning that an internet listserve could be a very tight community.
Then, one day, the tone of his posts changed, and he told the list about the everyday magic of a bright yellow butterfly that visited him as he took the beagles out to the back yard. The butterfly lingered longer than most, flitting around as if to be sure that Bruce noticed him, and staying longer than he should. Bruce took this as a sign of hope, a message from his lost Duncan, and at that moment he knew that he would be okay.
As a scientist, I admit I scoffed. Quietly. But as a person with a heart, I was so relieved that no matter the source, Bruce had received comfort that day, and that he took the passing of the yellow butterfly as reassurance that Duncan was at peace, that he didn’t want Bruce to worry, and that Bruce would turn the corner and his heart would begin to heal. I was amazed as over the next weeks it did. Bruce’s tone became cheerier and cheerier, and he began to delight in the antics of his other beagles, coo over the list’s puppies, and celebrate adoptions with the rest of us.
I told you that to tell you this.
The week of my surgery, a pair of doves moved into our garage. They laid eggs, tended the nest, and raised their babies until they were able to fly on their own. We watched them from a distance, feeling comfort that our home was peaceful enough for doves to thrive in as lowly a place as the garage. We parked in the driveway, tiptoed in and out of the house, and saved the “brrm-brrms” of the boys’ trucks for the sidewalk. When the baby doves began to fly, they came around the house into the back yard, and they took practice flight after practice flight across the yard as my children and I sat on a blanket and watched them, amazed that they would do all this so near to us.
Not two days later, another mama dove moved into the nest in the garage. She and her partner laid eggs, kept them warm, and hatched another pair of baby doves in that same nest. They’ve been growing and growing, and the mama dove chirped to her babies from the driveway, coaxing them out of the nest, this weekend. They took practice flights to the windowsill and back, finally moving out late Sunday afternoon.
On Monday morning, my husband and I went to Sloan-Kettering for a second opinion on our treatment. We’ve been worrying over it for weeks. We were gone all day and into the night. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post, but I will tell you this. When I left for radiation Tuesday morning (#19 of 35), two young bunnies emerged from a hole in our small pile of wood chips (where our giant maple used to be) in the front yard. They hopped a few feet, looked at me, and sat down, as if to tell me that they were moving in. And for reasons I can’t quite explain, I not only heard the message, I felt reassured. I went to radiation surrounded by a sense of calm acceptance, and I daydreamed through the treatment.
I’ve been having a lot of trouble blogging this cancer, as I feel much more private this time. I want to keep talking about it if it helps others, but I’m not interested in blogging for sympathy. I need to be a big girl about this, and keep my mind on other projects in order to finish them up and to not get dragged down in the pit of questions (is my cancer metastatic? is it a recurrence? is it a new stage 3 cancer? why am i so lucky as to get three cancers in three years? what did i do to deserve this?). You know this, as I haven’t been posting every day like I did last time, and I don’t always talk directly about the experience. But today this was on my mind and my heart.
We don’t know what causes cancer like mine. We don’t know why some cancers respond to treatment and some cancers don’t. We don’t know a lot about it. As always, I am hopeful for research to make breakthroughs that will help cure my disease and prevent others from developing inflammatory breast cancer. I work to raise awareness of the symptoms, to encourage people to join the ACS Cancer Action Network and to sign up for studies through the National Institutes of Health or the Love/Avon Army of Women, and to raise money by supporting Relay for Life. But some days, like today, it is enough for me to fight my cancer as the doctors tell me, to love on my children, and to take hope from everyday miracles like the constant company of small creatures.
Crossposted at Toddler Planet.