The Gift of Remembering
When I told friends that we planned to drive from Oregon to Florida for Christmas, their reactions were priceless. I imagine most envisioned aching backs, fanny fatigue, poor sleep, and gas station food.
While some of these assumptions are certainly correct — my butt is definitely sore — I’ve found that long van rides have unanticipated silver linings. Maybe it’s because I’m unable to physically do that I’m encouraged to complete those tasks that are often ignored. For example, today I’m cleaning up my laptop files. Knowing where electronic information is stored gives me peace of mind. However, this afternoon I allowed myself time to closely examine the various documents housed on my computer. Sure, I deleted a ton of stuff to free storage. But I also found some beautiful memories. Quietly I revisited …
· college essays that our sons sent to me
· a video of my dad’s 85th birthday celebration
· our family mission statement from 2010
· personal goals from fourteen years ago
· poignant quotes saved throughout the years
· Christmas “wish lists” from our sons when they were in elementary school
Yet, I discovered one document which I had forgotten about. It was a reflection I wrote in 2014. I paused, realizing how long ago I composed that piece. In fact, it was probably my first attempt at creative writing as an adult.
Compelled to open the document and read the words that came from my fifty-year-old self, I settled back in my seat, clicked on the file, and returned to a moment in time — before I had really started my journey inward.
In honor of everyone’s personal growth throughout this past year, I thought I’d share my writing with you.
Walking out of the Shower
Walking out of the shower … that is when I was faced with the constant reminder that I was different. This was really not the end of the world ... I constantly thanked God that my cancer was detected. Blessed with amazing surgeons and an incredible family doctor, I was lucky.
Losing my hair to chemo definitely tested me, but it taught me patience, and now my hair was almost back to normal. But the rest of me, although I had an excellent reconstruction, was not. My breasts were replaced with silicone implants, and my nipples were gone.
First, let me share that I have absolutely no second thoughts about having a double mastectomy. I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, regardless of how normal I might look with clothes on, when I walked out of the shower, I felt like a freak. Again, I am thankful for excellent care, but 2 ½ years later, every time I saw myself naked, it reminded me of the most challenging time of my life. And I honestly would prefer not to remember that period so frequently.
Like it or not, losing your breasts affects how you feel about yourself as a woman. People who know me might be shocked to hear me say this. I am viewed as strong and confident ... not overly feminine. I am athletic, down to earth. I don’t love to go shopping. I cannot tell you who is on the cover of People, and I don’t know the latest celebrity gossip. I love my family, being active, and volunteering. When I was diagnosed, although I have the utmost respect for those involved with breast cancer support, I did not want any part of it. Basically, I am pretty simple. But after the surgery, I felt incomplete. And it took me over two years to recognize that.
On the way home from a weekend away, my husband and I were deep in conversation about numerous things. Suddenly in the middle of it, I started crying, proclaiming that I was unhappy with the way I looked. This outburst most likely shocked him, as I had never shared this before. He knew that I was dead against doing a final surgery – which would graft skin from my groin to create nipples. I had considered tattoos, but they looked like stamped nipples onto someone’s breasts.
My husband then told me about an article he had seen in a magazine. It was about a tattoo artist, Vinnie Myers, who had a different technique … he created nipples using three-dimensional tattooing. I quickly Googled him on my phone. Seeing that he was connected with Johns Hopkins instantly made me realize that he was the real deal. I looked at his work and was amazed. What he created was nothing like what I had viewed in the past.
So, I did it ... I called and made an appointment. Although this was a serious issue for me, I had to chuckle, as I never expected that at any time, I would permanently mark my body. In fact, my husband has threatened our sons regarding tattooing any part of their bodies. Now Mom was getting a tattoo.
When the day arrived, we drove to Little Vinnie’s Tattoo Parlor in Finksburg, Maryland. I was nervous, but when Vinnie’s wife, Robin, met us, she instantly put me at ease. All of my stereotypes about tattoo artists and tattoo parlors were incorrect. Everyone was very professional and friendly. Then I met Vinnie ... a tall thin man with sideburns who was wearing a stylish hat and had wing tipped shoes. He made me smile in spite of being uneasy with the process.
He joked with us, impressed us with his knowledge of breast reconstruction, and then told us what he could do for me. Because my skin is extremely thin, he said I may need to come back for some touch ups because in order for the ink to be permanent, it must be injected below the epidermis. Since there was not any fat under my epidermis, he could not inject the dye as deeply. We agreed to come back if necessary, and then he began.
Although I have little sensation in my breasts, I could feel the procedure, and it was uncomfortable. But I would not say it hurt. From start to finish, it took ninety minutes, but that included a lot of talking between my husband and Vinnie. They definitely hit it off. For once in my life, I was quiet as I observed the transformation. In my mind, I was returning to my normal self.
Today when I got out of the shower, for the first time in two and a half years, I did not think “cancer.” That, alone, is one of the biggest gifts anyone could give me. But, more importantly, I felt (and looked) more like my old self. Yes, I still have the scars from surgery; those cannot be erased. But my chest is no longer a blank canvas. Through his gifted artistic talent, Vinnie is helping me heal the emotional scars that I had been denying since my mastectomy. For that, I will always be grateful to him. (May 2014)
Had I not taken time to “clean up” my laptop, I would never have seen this piece. My growth as a writer became obvious, making it difficult not to revise my former words – still, I had to make a few edits. But more importantly, it showed me how far I’ve come. And I’m not referring to healing from breast cancer. No, I mean on a personal level, realizing who I am and why I am here on Earth.
As we each begin our transition to 2021, remember to pause and look behind. Where were you two, five, ten, or twenty years ago? How has traveling down your path transformed you? And where would you like to be after the next twelve months?
May we each give ourselves the gift of remembering who we were and then envision the magnificent road ahead, allowing for the unexpected magical moments to grace our lives.
“She let it go. She was ready to vibrate higher and become a magnet to miracles. Now she is in a place where everything feels right. Her heart is calm. Her soul is lit. Her vision is clear. She’s at peace with where’s she’s been. And she’s at peace with where she’s headed.” Source unknown.
My wish for you is that your heart calms, your soul lights up, your path becomes clear, and your vibration attracts miracles in this upcoming year.