Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Butterflies, Boobs, and Beginnings

A year ago, around this time I remember pulling up to my office and I saw a butterfly (or maybe it was just a pretty moth) on our office porch. At the moment, it appeared dead and I thought to myself "this can't be good" given butterflies metaphorically represent transformation. But my colleague pointed out that it literally had just emerged from its cocoon (or is it a chrysalis) and so we set it on a leaf and it was on its way. That felt a little better and I could easily get behind the symbology of emerging anew. 

Within days of this, I reached out to my now mentor, teacher and friend Flint Sparks. I had heard him at a TedxAustin talk years ago and had been wanting to connect.  Given it was a new year and sensing some type of change was on the horizon for me, I reached out. The soonest he could see me was in 3 weeks.  That felt good - no rush. I was about to celebrate my annual girls weekend with my high school friends. Life was good.

Fast forward one week to February 7 and my world was forever changed.  The actual day of my diagnosis was on February 14 (Happy Valentine's Day!:-), but my annual exam was on the 7th, and after seeing the expression on my Doctor's face after feeling the lump, I knew, I just knew.  

A week later,  I remember the mammogram, the ultrasound, the biopsy, the look on the radiologist's face when I looked her straight in the eye as she was reviewing my ultrasound and asked her if I had cancer.  And with deep empathy, she looked at me and said, "I do think this is cancer." She was quick to qualify that until the biopsy came back the next day (rushed - which was another indicator), nothing was for certain.  I broke down, asked for my sister, and had that surreal moment I'm sure most people diagnosed with cancer have.

The next days/week were a blur.  Meeting with all sorts of doctors until I found my home at MD Anderson and Texas Oncology with a super star team I felt the utmost confidence in. While my treatment and surgical plan was still to be determined, that was an important piece of the puzzle for my family and I.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I realized my appointment with Flint was on the calendar. My initial reason for outreach seemed petty at this point, but I figured I would go anyways. As he asked me what brought me there, I explained that my initial outreach was that I was sensing change was on the horizon, now I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. He stopped me right then and told me that there were a few things I should know about him. That one of his specialties is working with cancer patients and helping to cultivate their psycho spiritual experience with it.  And that is how my journey started.  The right people and circumstances showing up EXACTLY when I needed them.  

What I'm realizing is that this is how life works if we can be awake and present enough to welcome it.  Having lived in this tender bubble of awakeness this past year, I can see how my old ways of intellectualizing and problem solving kinda don't work anymore.  I'm realizing that I need to keep taking pause and feeling where I am versus my old ways of seeking approval from others. It's admittedly a little disorienting, almost like I'm rewiring. And wheras it seemed so natural and easy during my treatment phase, as the realities of life creep back in, I now realize that is a conscious choice I can make - in every moment. To be and stay awake.  

Everything is literally coming full circle for me over the next couple of weeks as I go in for my reconstruction surgery on February 6. It will be just under a year exactly.  I can feel myself growing anxious to try and distill all of the lessons learned and insights gained before the year mark hits.  I know this won't happen because life doesn't work that way. At the end of the day we are always evolving - cancer or not.  Regardless, I'm craving that full circle moment, the completion, the bookend, the check mark.  And as is the case with most endings, I realize that there are new beginnings just on the horizon. 

I suppose that similar to that butterfly I discovered a year ago, I too am emerging from the cocoon, except instead of getting my wings, I'm getting new boobs.