Everybody dies, but not today

Today was beautiful. Bright and shiny as a new penny, the trees are in the first stages of color change, with scarlet and brilliant yellow patches against the dark green of late summer foliage.

I went out to get my annual flu shot that ought to be the “Avoid The Flu” shot. I have begun to always carry my little Canon point and shoot camera in my bag so if something catches my eye, I capture it and take it home with me. I’d prefer using the Olympus, but I don’t feel comfortable just dropping it into my bag. I’m enough of a klutz these days that I’d probably drop it.

Thus the truism: The best camera is the one you have with you. Ironic really. My high quality lens is home and my modest little Canon is taking the pictures. Tomorrow I’ll bring the good camera. Unless it rains.

The color is coming fast now. September is ending. In less than two weeks, we’ll be at the peak of whatever color we’ll get this season. By the end of October, most of the leaves will be stripped off the trees, hip deep in our yard.

That’s the normal cycle in New England, if there is any such thing as “normal” here. If we get a storm with heavy rain, Autumn can wash away in an afternoon. This year, I’m trying to not miss anything. I’ve already missed too much.

My sense of urgency is exacerbated by having been sick and losing years of my life while recuperating. Last time, it was breast cancer. It wasn’t my first  fight for life and it obviously won’t be the last. We are all going to die: it’s only a matter of when and from what cause.

Cancer is a game changer. No one gets it and walks away unchanged. It certainly did a number on me.

I don’t like talking about cancer. I hate that I lost both breasts to two simultaneous tumors, one per breast. The odds against that are astronomically huge. It doesn’t happen. One in three million or something like that. But, there is always that “one” and apparently I am she.

I tell folks the Faulkner was having a two-for-one sale on implants and I couldn’t turn down a bargain. But really, I got mentally bludgeoned twice in two weeks. It blew out all my circuitry. As much as surgery weakened and hurt my body, learning I had cancer twice was worse. It damaged my soul and left me in a wilderness that was dark, strange and full of monsters.

Cancer is sinister. There you are feeling okay. You have no symptoms, Nothing is bothering you. Then you discover you not only have cancer, but you have had it for who-knows-how-long. While you were doing your everyday things and time was calmly passing, something was eating you from the inside and you didn’t even know it. How could I not know or even suspect?

It was just this time of year, two years ago. My surgery was two weeks away: October 10, 2010. Both breasts would be gone, replaced by “filler” that in turn would be replaced by silicon implants.

My body took longer to heal than I thought it should. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I didn’t think the surgery would be a big deal. I’d survived so much surgery and nearly died multiple times. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to die this time, so I figured anything that wasn’t going to kill me couldn’t be serious.

The surgery was nasty, but pain is an old friend and all I had to do was wait it out. The emotional hit was something else. I had lost my breasts which was bad, but I had lost me and that was worse. Whatever that particular thing was that made me, “me” was gone.

I hated the way I felt. I hated being dependent. I wondered why I was alive, except I knew that I had to keep going. If not for my best friend and my husband, I don’t know what would have become of me.

For them, I fought darkness. I couldn’t do it for myself because I had no self, but love is a strange thing. It poked and prodded at me. They were trying so hard for me, I had to try for them. So when I felt I couldn’t breathe, I did anything I could to keep my mind away from the dark places. I read relentlessly. I talked to no one and went nowhere. Healing for me is very private. Sleep was dangerous because bizarre images left me with a head full of twisted images, which, it turned out, were the result of the medication they were feeding me.

I hated my body. It hurt. Everywhere. The drugs that were supposed to prevent a recurrence left me in constant pain, bloated and looking like a parody of the Pillsbury dough boy. My fake breasts look normal to the world, but they feel alien to me.

Then it was autumn. Again. For a full year, I had not left the house except to go to a doctor or hospital. The lure of the autumn reached me … the changing light and bright leaves made me restless. I listened to the wind and went out to play.

I was better. My good days were as common as bad ones and I was not so sad. I wanted to see friends. I bought a new camera and started to shoot, learn new techniques. I began to write again. I was back. It wasn’t the old me, but it was someone I recognized.

I’m not the person I was before. Serious illness, lethal illness, changes you. I’ve fought my way back again. I’ve lost body parts and the damage to my self-image seems to be permanent. But who knows? Time changes everything. It’s slow and relentless. Incremental little alterations that carve a canyon where once a mountain stood.

Please don’t tell me I am lucky or brave. If I were lucky I would not have gotten cancer. Survival is an instinct, not valor. No pink ribbons either. The whole “put on a happy face, cancer doesn’t bother us” is bullshit. If you aren’t bothered by cancer, you have some serious psychological issues you need to address. Pronto. Or you are getting better medication than I am.

Today, blogging is my drug of choice. I write about whatever I feel like writing about. I spent a lot of years following instructions. Now I do it for fun.

Another year has rolled around. My New Year begins with the full moon tomorrow. Autumn is back. The circle is complete. Trees are gold and red and I’m alive. These days, that’s good enough.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

8 thoughts on “Everybody dies, but not today”

  1. I can relate to this only on an intellectual level…I have never had cancer. Never had a serious illness, in fact. But your courage in facing your demons is something that has to be shared. There are a lot of folks – male and female – who should hear your story. It’s moving and dramatic. How you tell it is good. .Share it.


    1. I never felt or feel particularly courageous. I do have a veyr strong survival instinct, but so do rats. The hardest part of surviving life threatening shit is not letting yourself fall into the quagmire of self pity. That’s as much a killer as cancer. If you live long enough and fate whacks you often enough, you give up and die or figure out coping strategies. Since death has never appealed to me, I’ve stuck with working out coping strategies. I’ve had a lot of practice but I’m not sure how helpful they would be for anyone else. We are unique and what worked for me might be useless to anyone else. But I did my little sharing anyhow. That’s really what my book was about, though ironically, the cancer came after that. Who knew?


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