From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul


God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons we could learn in no other way.

C. S. Lewis

Cancer was not the first time I went to war with myself.

Every fitting-room session was a battle, as was every crampy menstrual period, every saggy-eyed morning reflected in the mirror. From the time I was sixteen, I, like most women I knew, was in conflict with my body. I apologized for it often—jokingly at auditions, earnestly at photo sessions, shyly as I gave it for the first time to a geeky, sweetly bookish boy on the top bunk in his post-Salinger dorm room. As if a flat chest and broad thighs weren’t bad enough, childbirth and time added thick ankles and stretch marks to the indictment. And I never did like my nose and my hair, and . . . well, let’s not even go there.

But I never used the word “gargoyle” until I stared into the mirror at my blotchy post-surgery complexion, bloating above the gruesome biopsy scar secured by a four-inch chain of black stitches.

“My bride!” Gary teased, stalking me with his arms outstretched stiffly like Mary Shelley’s monster. “Gloria Frankensteinem.”

I faced my fate with unwavering courage and a relatively small amount of cowardice and . . . oh, all right— with drugs! Good drugs! The expensive kind! And lots of ’em! Praise God and pass the Valium.

Maybe that accounted for my Waldenesque post-biopsy introspection. Whatever the catalyst, it did seem that in the days following the diagnosis, the usual every day noise had calmed considerably. Momentum that had always carried me forward like a freight train rolled to a halt. What had seemed the most pressing obligations were now the least significant, and I couldn’t help but see the parallel between my denial of the long overdue changes needed in my life and my denial of the cancer that had already seeped from one small lymph node to both sides of my neck and down toward my chest.

I’d always given away my time and efforts as easily as an old lady offers knickknacks at a yard sale, asking little and accepting even less. From Bunk Boy to bosses to the PTA volunteer coordinator, no one ever had to beg for their piece of me, and not recognizing that all those little pieces added up to my life, I performed in overdrive to make sure I surpassed their expectations. Now, for the first time, my life was at the top of my agenda.

Women of my generation often don’t know what to do with that. We’ve grown accustomed to the concept that we should be doing the work of at least two people, and we’ve learned to pacify ourselves while our sleeping spirits slumber on. But sooner or later the alarm goes off. We’re forced to open our eyes. And much to our surprise, there is light.

Joni Rodgers

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