It Wasn’t Really That Easy… Breast Cancer Forced Me to Bring My Soul to Work (after the spinning)
We bring forward all that we are in tough times.
I have a strength in powering through tough times. I moved 4 times before 6th grade. I became adaptable, flexible and accustomed to change. This strength helped me be an excellent critical care nurse- I loved being first to help a heart patient when they “coded”. I loved saving cardiac patients. I love helping people. But….when it was time for me I didn’t know what to do.
2008 was a year I will never forget. My world as a woman changed forever.
Breast cancer took my breasts. I really didn’t know they were that important to me. Always the tomboy, never wanting to be limited or defined for being a woman I ignored my womanhood as much as I could. I powered through life fast, eager, wanting to take in as much as possible.
My speed and exuberance were stopped 8 years ago.
I was literally STOPPED in my tracks. My own body came to a screeching halt!
I got the call after a lunch meeting. I knew the doctor was going to call with the results of the biopsies that day. I was on alert. My mind was ready, my heart and soul were numbed out to survive the possibility. I mean after 3 biopsies I sort of had a feeling things were going down a certain path. Although I hardly fit the description of someone with cancer. Or did I?
My little sister and I were training for the Marine Corp Marathon that September. We had about 6 weeks to go for the run. It was a celebration of her health and weight loss of over 100 pounds. I was so committed to our early morning runs and being there for her. She had reclaimed herself and become a runner, just like me. I was thrilled to meet her in the dark and jog along, getting closer, sharing chafing and dehydration woes. We talked work, family and all the stuff you talk about with your sister when there is no one around to judge, just the street, our breath and our goal. We were united and close! She knew what was happening. I didn’t want anything to mess up our plans, mess up her success.
I couldn’t bare to tell anyone the news once I took the call.
Family was waiting as eagerly as I was, so I did with tenderness and tears. I have cancer. The tears don’t stop each time I write or say those words.
It is just like the movies, when the world stops and your heart beat is the only thing keeping you upright. Because the shock starts spinning the world around you. The spinning didn’t stop for months.
I just kept holding on, holding on to the marathon training, to my partner, my family, my new job. Yeah, I was only 2 months into a big, new job and I was now crawling on the floor to survive. Will they notice that my eyes are swirling? Maybe not, just suck it up and pretend it is all ok. Power through, Mo. Be the one who ran down the hall to save a cardiac patient. Be that woman.
I was on a business flight the next morning, October 1st. Delta Airlines had pink everywhere. Flight attendants were a glow in pink ties and bows. They were serving pink lemonade and proceeds going to….I guess me? But the research was late, the diagnosis was here and now I was one of the ones for whom the dollars were raised. Me, a breast cancer patient. ME?
I held it in for a while, during the meetings, I was all business, the work had to be done, the work had to be attended to. My team needed me and the company expected me to make my contribution. Plans had to be made for surgery and decisions and time frames needed to be committed to.
I hung on to the work, I hung on to all the “normal” stuff.
Eventually I had to decide. Lumpectomy? Mastectomy? When to tell people. I really didn’t want to be the focal point of pity or worry. That’s the weird part, don’t look at me as damaged. I am training for the marathon. I am doing the marathon with my sister. This will have to wait. The marathon at the end of October, our family is counting on us to be in DC for a family party.
Then the Coldplay Concert in November and trip to New York City in December, sorry no time for this. No time for this. I don’t have time for cancer. As my world kept spinning. I kept spinning out of control, but no one could tell.
After exploring my options I decided both breasts had to be removed, it was the suggested treatment with lesions in both and not enough tissue remaining to sew things up well. At first it was cut them off, no replacement. I was angry at my breasts for letting me down, for being weak, for exposing my vulnerability. I never wanted to be treated differently for being a woman.
My world kept spinning.
My mind still goes in circles now as I go back in time and see myself spinning and holding on to anything I could. My partner convinced me to get reconstruction “you will want to look normal”. She always has the best reasoning.
I am now a survivor, have worn the pink shirt in races, I have connected with many other cancer and breast cancer survivors over the past 8 years. The journey has been sprinkled with beauty, connection, charity, laughter, fear and tears.
My breast cancer journey has been a microcosm of my life. The journey through darkness took to me now. Without the jolt and the spinning would I ever have had the courage to pick up my dream? Fear grips all of us to an extent, we play it out in all sorts of ways, we stay where we know we need to move on. We judge ourselves for wanting something more because we say, “who am I to want to be more?”
Precious memories as a little girl helping other kids in the neighborhood to ride their bicycles without training wheels kept me going and brought me back to my essence. When I returned triumphantly back to work I had a deeper me, the helper, teacher, my soul expanded when I lifted others to enjoy life and be more. I brought that ME back to work.
When I sat around the table looking at my team, all of us beaming for being together we had a greater purpose than just business. We had a greater purpose because I found my soul and brought it to work. Scars, spinning and all.
I finally brought my soul to work and my career soared!
To all the breasts out there…get your mammogram. I found the breast lesions early thanks to my loving partner reminding me I wasn’t too busy to take care of myself.
Thank you to all who helped me through my dark, spinning journey and who welcomed me back to work and to a life that is a new normal.
Life is precious and short– pursue your dreams and be ALL that you can be! Your soul wants to FLY!!
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Blessings to all the cancer survivors and thrivers out there!