April 8, 2010 I stood at the window staring into the black night, on the edge of a deep end, afraid of drowning. If I didn’t take the plunge into the best medical advice for this era, I would risk dying younger than I planned. That night, I revisited another fear:
In 1968, I had enrolled in the required Aquatics class at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska. I learned swimming strokes in the shallow water and almost enjoyed paddling around.
One day, the instructor demanded we gather at the deep end and line up. When prompted, everyone but me jumped in. The churned water splashed against the sides and brought my attention to the six-foot mark. I subtracted a height of five-foot-four-and-a-half inches. Nope. Water would be over my head.
Fellow students eagerly returned to the queue for another chance to swim. I edged to the back and continually stationed myself at the end of that line. The instructor’s assistant stood by with a hooked rod to rescue us, if necessary. No comfort for me. I likened his tool to a fishing hook to skewer and drown worm bait.
Once the teacher thought everyone had jumped, she instructed us how to dive. After the other twenty students individually dove and swam to the ladder, she dismissed them to the locker room.
I was caught sucking air. Gills didn’t appear. My heart raced.
In the diver’s stance she’d taught us, I stood last with knees bent, arms overhead, thumbs interlaced, fingers and head pointed down. I took several deep breaths and held one, but could not thrust myself into the water. Legs threatened to fail me. Breath returned with a gasp. Tears streamed down my face.
The instructor stepped towards me. I cowered, because surely she intended to shove me over the edge. She said, “What’s the matter with you? You just jumped. Go ahead. Dive.” She gestured at the swimming pool.
My head shook with panic, but this also served as a negative answer. I didn’t tell her I’d crept to the end of the line. I thought, “If I dive, I drown. If not, I fail the class.”
After I perched for what seemed like hours, she pursed her lips, groaned, and glanced at her watch. With a disgusted wave she dismissed me to the locker room. I didn’t argue about the “C” final grade.
I thought about following the doctors’ instructions tomorrow. Fear again surfaced. The surgeon’s answer had been mutilation to remove the tumor. The oncologist convinced me I must face being poisoned with chemotherapy. Poison and mutilation are the twenty-first century’s best options?
I valued my life and wished I did not have these harsh choices. Medical science already failed me by not detecting the problem early enough to give complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies a chance. My preference involved gentler energy work.
I struggled with trusting medical treatments. Dad had died of lung cancer nine years before. Surgery and chemotherapy didn’t save him and diminished his quality of life. My mother and Jim, my only sibling, both suffered fatal heart attacks last year. None of my birth family was physically present for me. Spiritually, they called me to join them. Instead I chose life and decided to depend on my husband Rob, son Scott, and friends to remain supportive.
I spent a few hours re-reading all the documents the cancer clinic provided me. I also reviewed some recommended computer links. The more I read and highlighted side effects, the less I was prepared. Dire results might last the rest of my life.
Months ago I prayed for this life lesson to be removed from me without surgery or chemotherapy, if it was God’s will. I thought His answer came from the guidance I received about CAM therapies. I mentally chastised myself. I should have been more diligent with self-help much sooner.
I’d been paddling around for a couple of years in the shallow end of CAM. Once this serious medical need appeared, I ramped up my efforts for two months. I practiced all the physical, nutritional, spiritual, and emotional support known to me. But they were too little, too late.
When at first I refused to dive in to medical advice, I still survived. But my body didn’t receive a passing grade on the MRI. The tumor grew anyway. I surrendered to surgery.
Defeated, I faced also submitting to chemotherapy. Tears found familiar channels over my cheeks. I looked out our window into blackness.
I thought I’d had enough life-altering events for one lifetime. My desperate prayer on that eve was to ask all my spiritual guides in the light to assist me. I whispered, “Help me through this life lesson.” I wanted to learn as gently as possible, repair my cellular damage, and look forward to the next third of my life, God willing.
“I’m willing. Are you, God?” Silence answered me.
As I contemplated the darkness, I heard Rob snore and smiled. He wouldn’t let me face this alone.
I couldn’t stand forever staring at the night. I needed to dive in, but wanted to strap on flotation devices. Could I be strong and enlist the clinic to support my CAM plan?
The computer cursor blinked and I resumed my research for what I intended to incorporate. Many tools were already in my arsenal: energy work, crystals, positive affirmations, essential oils, antioxidant foods, supportive family and friends, an iron will, and future plans. I pledged to be disciplined in using all available to me on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis.
For positive affirmations, I said, “I am strong and healthy.” I promised, “I will smile, laugh, and sing. I will encourage others and gain encouragement from those learning from cancer as patients, caregivers, and survivors. I love life and I’m not done yet.”
As I crammed for my first treatment appointment, I hoped to weather the stormy days as well as the fair sailing times. I remembered that on the day I discovered the tumor, Rob and I sailed on a cruise intersecting Tropical Storm Erika. We survived then and will again.
With heavy tear-ravaged eyes, the bed called me to sleep. I resigned my search. Rob stirred when I pulled back the covers, crawled under, and tucked them under my chin. We dozed into tomorrow.
(An advance excerpt from book “Cruising with Breast Cancer.” Publication date not yet established.