Tag Archives: breast cancer

Observations from Both Sides

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. – Groucho Marx

Types of clubs vary in design, purpose, function, and level of formality.  The earliest ones are informal and naturally occur when two or more children engage in routine play.  I suppose some psych type person out there will say the earliest club is the one formed between a mother and or father and a newborn.

Some clubs of youth include Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and various other themes and are ‘joined’ by the participating person.  In school there are clubs to join or not depending on your wish or desire.

There are other clubs no one wants to join but we find membership when circumstances outside our control force us into them.  Stepping into membership is a foreign experience and it takes a bit of time and consideration to figure it out.  It isn’t just an alien environment.  In many ways it is like an alternate universe (not the least like that proposed in theory by science, but similar enough to warrant the title, Alternate.

A normal life as you have come to know it exists as it always has, but now you are included in another normal, another life, and the awareness of its existence moves you to the core until you are able to define the duality of your personal existence.

I remember a line from a very old western I watched as a child.  I hated most westerns in those days except for Annie Oakley but when you have two brothers and one television either westerns or hockey night in Canada won out.  As I remember it a family is travelling across some dusty plain in a covered wagon when another wagon approaches.  Two hardened frontier women are introduced to a newcomer who is quite lovely and one woman bitterly remarks to the other something about, ‘Her skin may be all soft now but just give her a little time in the elements and she won’t be so lovely.’

The line took me by surprise first because of the sincerity of the bitterness and secondly the understanding that yes the elements and hardships would naturally have turned women into something other than they started out when settling in the new world.

Now you may exactly how do clubs and western settlers come together?

On one of my first of many visits to my neighborhood cancer center I was fresh faced, well as fresh as you can be at sixty-seven, feeling pretty good and healthy in spite of diagnosis, surgery and dealing with some unpleasant physical changes.  See that is the thing; many of us when we are first faced with The News still feel pretty good.  So when we begin our long line of appointments with surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and all that accompany them we still have a spring in our step, an optimism I guess you would say.

My first appointment in Clinic G, as I was given instruction and information I found myself replying, ‘Thanks so much.’ In a pretty cheerful voice, and the first time it happened a number of heads rose up and seemed startled at what I had just said, and the feeling of surprise at the reaction immediately brought to mind that very line from the movie.

‘Her skin may be all soft now but just give her a little time in the elements and she won’t be so lovely.’

The point I am trying to make has nothing to do with skin really but more about being on the inside and knowing what is about to happen.

I was sitting in that very same waiting room a few weeks later head down like everyone else, not quite so peppy when I heard a young woman, probably thirty, speak out in a clear cheerful voice, ‘Great, thanks so much.’  And our heads flew up in surprise and in a flash of time our heads went back down and I thought. ‘a little time in the elements.’

Stepping through the doors to ‘my hospital’ on a daily basis for radiation I see how quiet the environment is.  Not depressed or even sad but quiet and I think filled with expectation and hope.  I say expectation because that is what the whole club runs on.  Not necessarily good or bad expectation but an understanding that there will be change.

It’s not a club I want to belong to.  In the beginning I thought I could ride it out because I felt good in spite of all.  Now weeks into radiation that has left my breast with burns on top of scars, and nearly constant discomfort I still wouldn’t give up my membership because in a way, despite a ten inch square radiation burn, fatigue at times, all of which I am pretty sure will pass, I have met the bravest of the brave, patient and family, enduring, surviving one way or another for as long as possible and still able when we meet daily in our allotted alcove to laugh about some silly thing we came across.  We see the wife, exhausted by her husband’s care, the husband or friend boosting and lifting his dear one.  We hear the good news and cheer; we hear the bad news and comfort.  There is an underlying support of love in our club.

Our membership is worldwide and every individual is different.  Even the same cancers are different in each individual.

I hate my club.  I love my club.  I give thanks that this is my club for what I am learning, have learned far outweighs the nicety of being that young girl with the fresh skin, so cute and so untested by the elements.