Living in Prognosis…. In Red Cowgirl Boots

This week I wore cowgirl boots to every single medical appointment. Red ones. Because obviously, stomping is more effective in red boots. When you kick off the red boots to be weighed, that’s when the pathologizing starts. A year ago today, the pathologizing began.

Suddenly, you are no longer a private, discreet body. Rather, your body is public, an object to be fraught over and examined and written about. A friend recently saw a picture of me in one of those blue hospital gowns in the doctor’s office, and she asked, “How’d you get this picture of me?” It was not a picture of her. It’s just that bodies in those blue gowns perched on those doctors’ tables become so indiscriminate, so incredibly the same as all the other bodies wrapped in blue gowns perched on those doctors’ tables, so pathologized and so public that she couldn’t even recognize herself.

Suddenly, there is a prognosis. A timeline. A timeline for chemo, for feeling well, for fertility, for survival. There is a timeline for decisions, a timeline for surgeries, and a timeline for survival. A timeline for survival, on which we each should locate ourselves, and on which we are constantly located both by people who know cancer and people who don’t. Cancer, to most, means death. It means dying. It means seriously fucked to the tune of mortality. And so they place you on a survival timeline without knowing anything about you. The doctor talks of cures that are never certain, the public talks to you like you’re already dead. That is living in prognosis. I’m just trying to do it in red cowgirl boots.

A year ago today, I went from traveled from the world of the healthy into the world of the sick, and I was dragged into a world of bald people, old people, people with ports, people who know what AC stands for, people who can recognize chemo-pale. Cancer people. And then of course there are the healthy people in cancerland. A year ago today, they flooded into my life. Doctors, surgeons, nurses, exercise practitioners, nutritionists, naturopaths and on and on and on. A year ago today, and so what?

It’s important to not make it bigger than it is, I think. So 365 days have passed. It’s arbitrary. Someone decided that the Western calendar would be the architecture of our thinking time, and each year time cycles past us again and again. It won’t mean much, the cycling of time past my original diagnosis date until ten years have passed. Another decade.

A year ago today, I saw something flicker on my UBC online health account, and I called the doctor. She called me back. She wanted me to come in, now. I was feeding my kitten Benito and his siblings, then only a week or two old. I wanted her to tell me now. She couldn’t say it. I’m afraid its positive, she mumbled over the phone. Come in now, she urged, and I will clear my schedule to review the pathology report with you. She would go on to try to answer my questions about grade and stage by Googling. She knew nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the first person she’d ever told they had cancer.

And since then, what? My life has changed irrevocably. I’d give pretty much anything to hit rewind and not get cancer. It still feels like a dream. It feels impossibly real, like my life is made of up utter impossibility. How could this possibly have happened? It’s true that I wonder, often, about my pathology report. I wonder if they made a massive, horrifying error. It’s certainly happened before. It seems more possible than me getting breast cancer at thirty, it seems more possible than all the screening technologies that exist failing, it seems more possible than the memories of card games during chemo. If the chemo was a mistake, the ongoing hormone therapy unnecessary, the entire year full of appointments that should have never been, then what?

How does one convince them self cancer happened, when it’s so impossible? How does one start to believe the material consequences of cancer treatment map onto breast cells turned murderous? It feels like a dream. It feels like it didn’t happen. It feels like it’s not real. It feels theoretical. I’d rather write about it, explain it, dress it up with discourse, shut it inside a book and pour a glass of wine.

A year ago, the impossible began. It has been 365 days of impossibility. And still, I ask the oncologist, “Are you sure I had cancer? Like, really sure?” She sighs. “Yes, Chelsey, I’m sure.” She goes on about study results and MRIs and mammograms. I want to ask again. But she said she was sure. She gives me a hug, and she whispers, “You had cancer. You don’t have it anymore. Love your boots.”

And so I put on the red cowgirl boots, and toss aside the stupid blue gown, and walk out of there. Living in prognosis, in red cowgirl boots, for 365 days. That is today.

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cancer girls group, take two

I should begin by saying that tonight, my Facebook status is: there’s something magical about spending an evening with others who just totally get it. thanks for the cancer giggles Kristina, Kara and Rethink Breast Cancer

Right after I was diagnosed, I scoured the internet for people, groups, organizations, information, anything about women in the 35 and under- or better yet, 30 and under- crowd and breast cancer. Of course I came across Young Survival Coalition, but I eventually found it’s Canadian equivalent, Rethink. Only about three weeks post-diagnosis, I went to a Rethink Breast Cancer event for young folks like me who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was already unnerved because I had a totally weird exchange with one of the Rethink people, where I felt incredible chaffed at because I had reached out for support in the only way I know how- with multiple emails, eager for a response, hopeful that someone would read my many exclamation filled emails and respond. They did respond, but there was some uncool commentary about the eagerness for response, about the two emails I’d sent, about how I so badly needed connections to other young women that it seemed desperate. At least, that’s how I felt. I was hyper sensitive and so the abrupt and slightly critical discussion about how I reached out felt like skinned elbows and stubbed toes. But, I needed people and I needed them badly, horribly, critically, and even though I wasn’t quite ready to be “people,” at least, not “people with breast cancer” I cycled to this event and I showed up, and I didn’t even look like I had cancer yet.

So I went. I had long, red, curly hair. I didn’t want anyone to ask me anything. I wanted to be invisible and also I just wanted to be there, silently. It seemed there were a hundred facilitators and no attendees except me- the facilitators were young women who had had breast cancer in the past- and I felt like I had nothing in common with them, that I was the only one who didn’t know the cancer stuff. Probably, it was more balanced. But the feeling was real- I felt alone. I wanted to know what they knew and turned my nose up at their knowledge at the same time. I felt like I’d walked into the wrong room. At the same time that I wanted so badly to be a part of this community, I wanted nothing to do with these cancer girls. I wanted nothing to do with cancer. I couldn’t totally accept anything, let alone that I was part of a group of young folks who had all had breast cancer. It was though, comforting to know they were there, in a weird kind of way, comforting to know they’d be there every month, comforting to know if I decided I wanted to be a part, they’d probably still be there. The group that met for educational sessions and informal snacks was tantalizing and hopeful, horrifying and anxiety-producing all at the same time. I left as soon as the nutritionist was done talking, and I didn’t even eat any of the snacks. I rode my bike home so fast I couldn’t remember the ride, and my cheeks were bright pink from the cold.

Since, I’ve been back twice. Tonight was amazing. I walked into the room and into the warm embraces of two other young people- K and K- who I’ve come to love dearly. It was small, and we talked about sex and sexuality and intimacy. And I was definitely a part. Each time someone spoke, I nodded as I heard their stories echoing mine. And then the speaker left, and we gathered around the snacks, and it turned magical.

We laughed hysterically about how ports and prosthetic boobs look in wedding dresses, connected over experiences trying to convince hairdressers our hair was indeed long enough for a haircut, and commiserated over the way chemo makes long fine hairs grow on the side of the cheek. It was so healing to eat carrot sticks with five young people who totally got it, five people who could belly-laugh about ports and weird mastectomy infections and tamoxifen and period and the superstitions surrounding getting rid of wigs. Five people who I knew would unconditionally understand why I had to bring the pony-tail of hair I cut off before chemo to the hairdresser as soon as my hair grew back in, so she could dye my hair exactly the colour it was before chemo, because, you see, it grew in light blonde where before it was red. Five people who could understand the relative creepiness of taking a pony-tail of hair to a hairdresser and asking them to match the colour, and also the total necessity- five people who could just totally laugh at the ridiculousness. Five people who could witness the pain of trying on wedding dresses with one breast, and who could both viscerally feel that and also laugh about it. Five people who could surmise about chemo-pause and menopause-like symptoms and laugh at the embodied mix-ups and total body confusion caused by cancer treatment. Five people who got it, five people who could tell cancer jokes, five people who fit. Five people who’s stories I fit into. Five people who’s cancer jokes were hilarious. That’s all you need. Five.

You know what the difference between tonight, and a year ago was? I’ve settled. I don’t like it, but I realize I’m living life in a body that has cancer. I have stories and experiences and thoughts (and songs!) that attest to that life. It’s not to say I like it anymore than I did a year ago, but it is to say that I’ve grown a little more comfortable sitting in discomfort here in cancerland, and it is to say that I can acknowledge I’m here long enough to know I need others and to invest in time spent with those others, who’s experience is like mine. Never an identity I wanted, but one I can wear long enough now to spend an evening cracking cancer jokes with other young people once in a while. Intersectional identity is a funny thing. Certainly, I am a white woman, a queerish feminist, an academic– and I can understand and theorize those identities in relation to each other and political movements and pedagogies for pages and pages on end. I never thought I’d add cancer to the mix though, and for the first time I find myself thinking about able-body-ness, about how healthy bodies are privileged about how female bodies are pathologized again and again, and about how that female-body-pathology is exasperated by cancer in the breast, by ill health, by surgeries and plastic surgeons and medical charts. And yet, here I am. And in getting to know my post-cancer-body, I am so grateful to find five other young, women-identified people who’ve had breast cancer, who can witness cancer horror and crack cancer jokes in the same breath. Tonight was so comforting, so funny and so real. Comfort, funny, and real— it may be the recipe for healing.

Wishing you all comfort, funny, and real.

dearheart

Today I went to a writing workshop, at Callanish, and this quote was the prompt. Below is how I responded.

“In undertaking a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected with our heart” -Jack Kornfield

I’m handing her my heart. She’s keeping it safe for now, but we’ve only met once- no, twice. She seems right. She feels right. We feel in synch. Like a fit. But hand her my heart isn’t easy. I was supposed to hold my own heart, beneath my own breasts, in my own body as it always was.

But my heart broke. The cancer shattered what was. I need her help now, to put my heart back together again. I am angry I need her help, I am angry I am broken. I am grateful we found each other in this world of Craigslist missed connections. And so we venture, into what seems impossible, together into what is.

They said it wasn’t a good time, they said we weren’t ready, they said to be responsible. Time has shifted now. Waiting seems pointless, timeless and timelines produce only deep feelings of ambivalence.

She was surprised when I told her I needed everything, and that I needed everything now. She was surprised when I told her how I feel everything has sped up, that clocks feel like they are spinning meaninglessly, that I feel so much more urgency now to do, to feel, to be, now. I’m afraid if I don’t get it now, it may never manifest. She thought I’d want to slow down, smell the roses or something. I like roses, but I want them together with babies and book deal and weekend hikes and yoga and professor jobs and friends celebrating and song writing and ukelele class and coffee in the morning.

I want to gather time and hold it, I want to fill my basket until it is overflowing, I want to hold all the clocks in my arms and drop them, slowly, one at a time, into the ocean, and I want them to sink to the bottom of the sea, and I want a mermaid in a couple hundred years to happen upon them while swimming and wonder if the clock graveyard was purposeful.

But more than that, I want a nene. Un bodoque. And so we twist time, and with her, I step into a warped land, a futuristic reality where they store embryos on ice for decades at a time, where my cells can grow into a human inside of a body that’s never known mine, where I am disciplined every night with an octagonal white pill, one that I pop out of silver backing and wash down with water from the bathroom sink. What power, that tiny white pill. That pill, that forces my heart outside of me, that makes my body inhospitable for my own heart, that requires I trust her, know her, and ultimately, that I allow her to help me.

Mine Alone

I wish we could sit together, and have a cup of tea, and talk about breast cancer. And feminism, and race, and diaspora, and narrative, and academia, and the world. I think we could talk about all of those things, through the lens of breast cancer. After all, she wrote The Cancer Journals- the first (as far as I know) chronicle of breast cancer that critically interrogates the personal, political, embodied experience of cancer, in a way that only Audre Lorde can. Her work has mattered to me for a long time, since a prof assigned Sister Outsider in a freshman level course I took at Pitzer College, yet her Cancer Journals has struck a chord inside me unlike her other work. I have read and re-read passages, I have asked what treatments she did and thought of copying her, I have spent hours considering my surgery decisions in relation to her beautiful, political, writing about how breast reconstruction is a symptom of greater, uglier social ill surrounding the female body as an object of attraction, about how we need to be able to recognize each other, about how breast reconstruction let’s everyone live in la-la-no-cancer-land. In the context of cancer (but also always in the context of lesbian/black/feminist/mother/poet), she wrote: My silence had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. I wonder what she would have made of the world of blogging, of the proliferation of cancer blogs and dedicated cancer twitter chats and facebook announcements. Gosh, we need her. I am angry at breast cancer for taking her. And I am angry that decades ago- decades ago!- before I was even halfway through elementary school,  she called for a cancer revolution, she called for bodies to be dumped on the steps of what matters, she called for organizing— and you know what? It hasn’t happened. Because here I am, twenty two years after her death, and I had breast cancer, and her words still ring true. Not much has changed.

Tonight, I watched a film about part of her life– Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years. We sat together in the Vancity Theatre. I was buzzing, because earlier today we met with our fertility team and surrogate, and it looks like everything is going to move forward with crazy-baby-making involving our embryo in someone else’s body. It was the first time I saw lots of UBC folks since my diss defense, and there were many “Oh, you look so well!” “Oh, your hair is so long and looks so good!” and “So your health is OK, now, right?” comments. I do look well, my hair is (relatively) long, and since I used to have cancer, well, anything looks good in comparison, right? There’s such a fixation, I’m always reminded in these contexts, on my being healthy. There is no space for me to say I’m not healthy. And of course, I am healthy, and that’s awesome. However, I feel always compelled to blurt out, “But with breast cancer, no one can ever know. There’s no way to monitor.” It just feels so pervasively like, you must be ok and if you’re not I can’t hear about it/don’t want to know. Especially this month, in the wildly inappropriate pink celebration, I have to refuse the “but you’re OK now, right?” Because, and if only because, who ever knows? And also, not everyone is OK, and that is especially the case in the more aggressive breast cancers that affect younger people. But mostly, what if I stopped being OK? It’s as though there’s no room for me to qualify my health, and not even the tiniest nod to the insane amount of damage wrecked on my body, mind, and soul. I suppose I’m so bothered because it leaves me no choice to respond but with, “Yes, I’m OK.” Instead, why won’t they just ask how I am? Why can’t they let me answer? I wouldn’t spill my guts to most of these folks anyway, but then they could actually witness my statement that I’m OK (or that I’m not), instead of defining my experience for me and making me wish I could disappear into the ground. This is like human interaction 101: Empathy. Even Brene Brown said so. 

I loved the movie. I was entranced. I was hopeful- listening to this inspiring feminist. I love the way Audre Lorde speaks, the slowness of her words, the carefulness in her speech, the way she uses her eyes to really get right at the heart strings, to produce feeling and wonder and hope in only a few words. What a gift that her words are recorded anywhere. I was in absolute wonder. She is awesome. But then they started down the cancer route. It was like a splinter underneath my fingernail, wiggling around in there. First the doctor on camera said she had survived longer (her breast cancer was metastatic) because she was “special.” Ok look, she was special. But so is everyone else, and I bet she’d be the first to argue that, and then maybe she’d argue for just health care practices (she went to Berlin to access alternative health care). I loved every second she was on screen, but these kinds of moments left a metallic taste in my mouth, the feeling that it just wasn’t represented as carefully as it could have been, the feeling that her cancer words were bruised and misunderstood.

Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe I am over-reacting because I over-react with any kind big-screen cancer representation. Maybe it’s still to raw. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll always react. But all I wanted to do was book it, as soon as that screening came to a close, and talk with my cancer-buddies, who I desperately wished I had dragged with me to the screening. And as I drove home, I realized that the kind of profound misunderstanding I felt after the film, as more questions of “But you’re OK, now, right?” peppered the small talk is mine alone. And so in solitude, I drove across the bridge, and it was silent, and it felt right, and the air felt heavy with my thoughts and my anger at cancer having stolen Audre from the world, and my rage that nothing has changed, and my sadness that I can’t have a cup of tea with her.

And then I found myself in Sammy’s arms, and he reminded me that today is a day to celebrate. After all, before I went to the film we talked hospitals and birth weights and ferry rides and midwives with our surrogate over lattes after we all signed endless paperwork at the fertility clinic. It felt good, and we all were giggling with excitement, and I can’t believe it’s actually happening. And it’s pretty freakin’ awesome to figure out how to do something you wanted really bad, especially when you thought it had become impossible. Today, we made real gains on scaling up the side of an im/possible cliff. For months, all I could think of was the cancer killing me. Really. I was certain the cancer would kill me. But my certainty has given way to something else, and now I’m only certain we can have what I thought was impossible. Im/possible. What a hopeful slash.

And so we did. Cookies and tea. About the best kind of celebrating as far as I am concerned. Cheers, we said, because we passed the phsych screening test to proceed with surrogacy. Cheers, because we think we’ve found the right woman to carry our baby. Cheers, because the doctor was hopeful and helpful. Cheers, because we can still fight for what we want, even if its not how we envisioned it, because we want it bad enough to be creative and silly and stubborn in our pursuit. Cheers, even though there is darkness, even though there is sadness. Cheers, because the darkness’ twin is light, and cheers, because they always exist together, balancing and sometimes, producing a grounded hope. Grounded hope.

Mine alone is the feeling of knowing that Audre Lorde film from a white/cancer/feminist perspective. That’s both terrifying- mine, alone?- and liberating- how many multi-faceted, creative, surprising interpretations were there? What would happen if we could all listen to each other reflect on the lifework of this ground-shaking feminist/lesbian/poet/black woman? I wish we could sit with tea, I wish I could listen to her. But instead I have her writing, her texts, her poetry. And you bet I’ll be reading again, soon. And mine alone will be the feeling in the bottom of my stomach, when I feel her stories, when I know the cancer stories from the inside out, when I hear them reflected by my cancer buddies, when I hear my own cancer stories echoing hers, when I wonder why nothing feels like it’s changed, except that now breast cancer is dripping in pink ribbons. Mine, alone. A power to claim, that is, indeed. It is most certainly a way of knowing that is critical, and it is mine.

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde

I thought it was The Onion

When I saw this picture, it felt unreal. It felt surreal. It felt impossible. This picture popped up all over Facebook on the one year

10383718_10152714513382708_868238968349762656_oanniversary of my very first lumpectomy, the lumpectomy that was for a lump that had only a teeny, tiny, itty bitty, percent chance of being cancer. Ha. This picture doesn’t even seem real. It seems like The Onion. Doesn’t it seem just totally impossible? I think the critique of pinktober, of breast cancer pink, of the horrible capitalist monopoly surrounding breast cancer is pretty accessible, totally public, and mostly part of general knowledge. Like you’re a person in the world, you’ve probably heard the critiques. If you haven’t, please start here, and don’t stop reading until you’ve also watched Pink Ribbons Inc. And then commiserate with me about how insanely ridiculous it is for Komen to partner with a freaking FRACKING company. I mean come on, next to pink capitalist crap, fracking is another major issue that’s gotten a ton of publicity lately and that is basically embodies the evil of all capitalist humanity. It is surreal, unreal, unbelievable, impossible.

You know what else is surreal, unreal, unbelievable, and impossible? You know what else belongs on The Onion, not on my body? This fake, no-feeling, rigid excuse they call a fake breast that people herald for it’s perkiness and perfectness. A few weeks ago, some folks from Callanish helped the Art Therapist Who Presides Over Feathers and Sand and Acrylics make me a new breast cast, one that captured this thing on my chest, as it is now. And today I stared at the sculpture that had been sitting behind a dark blue curtain, waiting for me. I looked it straight at it, that replica of my chest in paper machet, and was stunned into total disbelief. Only for a moment, I could recognize my own body as actually having been through cancer. I could only barely believe it for a second. For one second, I could actually believe I had cancer, I could I actually know my body was forever and totally changed. It felt real and impossible, like I was seeing double, like my body was a mirage from the inside out, like I couldn’t fit into myself. They’re connected though, the old breast and the new one. The old breast is off in the land for breasts who died too soon, with all the other mastectomied breasts. But my heart is still pumping blood through the skin. And maybe there’s a connection. Maybe in the mirage, the double vision, the not-fitting, maybe they can talk to each other, be together, become together. Maybe the body accepts and loves the space that once was, the space that kept the cancer inside and away from the rest of my body, the space that sacraficed itself so I could be well. Maybe. It feels weird, but maybe a little less like it could be in The Onion.

And then I went to Blenz Coffee, and they served me a latte in the most awful hot pink cup with a horrible hot pink top and I lost my coffee craving. Another young adult with another kind of cancer recently told me that they felt jealous breast cancer got so much attention. But you know what’s weird about that attention? It’s intensely focused on making my actual breast cancer experience, you know, the experience I had while I had breast cancer, totally invisible. There’s signs all over about a “future without breast cancer,” which is great and all, but the only outcry about fracking funding cancer research is on facebook. It’s so ironic. And then of course, there’s the endless signage about how to avoid breast cancer, passed out on hot pink notecards at the grocery store and hanging around tin cans collecting change at the bank, signage that imagined I am not there. Signage that clearly states instructions for not getting breast cancer: lift weights, eat salad, don’t get wasted every night, stay skinny. Signage that says nothing about fracking. Signage that totally denies my body, denies my experience, denies that I did all those things and still got cancer, denies that I even exist. Signage that speaks to everyone else but those of us afflicted with breast cancer, during breast cancer month. Signage that looks right past me. Signage that makes me invisible. And signage that writes me out of reality, writes some warped version of history without my story, writes a world that has amnesia, a writes a world in which there are fracking drills for breast cancer even though fracking causes breast cancer. And that is why I hate all this pink stuff so much. Sure, it’s political. But it’s also horrendous and so unnerving to walk through the world during a month dedicated to the illness that invaded my body and feel so totally and completely invisible, impossible, and ignored by the “awareness” celebration for the illness that invaded my body. I am both everything and nothing, in relation to the breast cancer awareness month. It’s f*cked.

Breast cancer “awareness” is f*cked. We need a cure: we ALREADY ARE aware. We need people to know what it feels like to be in two bodies, to be disenchanted with the way your body takes shape, to wonder what if. We need people to see double, to feel triple, to move big. Tonight one of my besties A photo-3dropped by on her bike. She peed, and she asked what I had written on the mirror in lipstick. She asked if it said I AM OK. I was taken aback. It was merely a reminder to take my tamoxifen, and I’d scribbled TAMOX on the mirror behind which I keep my face cream and toothpaste. But things are not always as they seem. There’s always a double meaning. Pink ribbons make me- a breast cancer survivor/patient/something- feel invisible. Breasts beneath shirts may be merely plastic ridges filled with saline. TAMOX might actually mean I AM OK. And TAMOX meaning I AM OK might be really hopeful. Can you see it? Can you see how it could mean either TAMOX or I AM OK? Sometimes, nothing is as it seems. That is today, that is tonight, that is Pinktober, that is cancer.The breast isn’t as it seems, the cancer isn’t as it ever seemed, the casts are not as I see them in my mind, the lipstick doesn’t read to her as it does to me. That is today, that is tonight, that is Pinktober, that is cancer. I love that she didn’t see TAMOX. I love that she saw I AM OK.

You know what feels really good, like f*ck you pink everywhere, f*ck you fracking, f*ck you people who write me out of public discourse, f*ck you cancer? The song. Kate’s song. On repeat. Adnauseum. All the time. So that’s why I can’t hear the phone or the doorbell or the FB ping you sent. I’ll give you a free preview. The chorus goes: Cause they took my left tit away/Like they didn’t even give a shit/And I’m on the brink of a fit of rage/Because all I’m surrounded with is breast cancer pink. When the world doesn’t have what’s good enough for us, sometimes we have to make it. Or our friends do. We have to make the music that will heal our souls and tell the stories that no one else is telling. Because clearly, we do exist. Brightly, wildly, we exist.

Storytelling

Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering.
Rachel Naomi RemenKitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

I’m struck this afternoon, by the healing power of stories. I am struck by the way that stories weave magic and love through the hardest of times, about how stories can be told again and again and again, and how each time, we can hear something new, about how stories can make us want to laugh and cry and dance all at once.

This weekend, my guitar-playing-hot-pink-hair-touting, totally awesome buddy Kate made a pot of earl grey tea and we sat on her couch and talked about cancer things, about an old blog post she loved, about the way pink ribbons have hijacked all of October, and about how I thought those button down boyfriend shirts with rolled up sleeves were going to disguise my mastectomy. And you know what she did then? She took those stories, and she remembered that blog post, and she fashioned them altogether into this absolutely stunning song about my breast cancer fiasco. It even sounds like how I describe this whole catastrophe. Kate has sent me a few versions now, and I love them all. I more than love them. I wish I could wear my earbuds in yoga so I didn’t have to stop listening, on repeat, to this incredible song. I think I’ve listened to it upwards of five hundred times now. I may never get tired of it. (I don’t know how to post it here, but I’ll find out and paste in a link).

As I laugh at myself a little for the repetitive listening, but not enough to do anything but listen on repeat, I remember that a few weeks ago someone said to me, about a blog post and a short little stop motion I posted to my blog: “It’s so comforting. I read it and watch it, over and over and over again.” At the time, I was truly surprised that something I wrote/made could have touched someone so much that they watched/read over and over and over again. I know that stories are powerful, that words are weighty, that when I need comfort I turn to books and media and creative processes. I just had a hard time grasping that something I made could feel as soothing as a hot cup of tea or fuzzy slippers. But today, I get it.

Kate’s song is so healing. When I listen to it, I can’t get enough. It makes me want to dance and break in half and laugh and cry all at once. Its as though the song holds all of the emotions inside of the music itself. It makes what happened so real, real in a way that can be shared, real in a way can be grasped and held and felt and considered by others. I sent it to a few breast cancer buddies, and the responses were so tender and heartfelt. I’ve rarely felt so reflected and so heard. And being reflected, hearing my story in such a beautiful way is so healing. It’s not ignoring what happened, it’s writing it into my history, making it part of the fabric of how I know, how we know, what we know, why we know.

Stories. Told in song, told in stop-motion, told through writing, told around campfires and across Facebook. We are stories. Stories are so comforting. And we can never know carefully others will hold our stories, we can never know how deeply the stories we tell will make their way into the hearts of our listeners, we can never know which stories will be healing, or for whom. But we can know that stories are what tie us together across time and space, stories are shared beliefs and hopes and experiences and dreams. And what could be more important than that?