In my twenties I faced long odds by living fast

In my twenties I was shaken to the core when I was told I had cancer of a deadly kind and was given perhaps a maximum of 2 years to live. Surgery, skin grafts and convalescence later I began my life in earnest. I figured if the odds were that I would probably die within two years, I’d better get busy living and living fast. I became a new Gail. I cut off my dresses and turned them into miniskirts, learned to go bra-less (with the encouragement of the skin grafts), and more or less let my hair down too!

Live fast I did. For Christmas a few months after surgery I had my boyfriend paint a huge acrylic flower on my shoulder and trail it down my spine, and then I wore a backless long gown. I turned my scars into something beautiful.

I decided to spend new years weekend in England celebrating with friends of friends at the RAF base. So I did. While there I learned the Gay Gorden and danced myself silly. Then, back in London I had someone take a photo of me with the men in our party in their tuxes as we were all standing at the urinals in an upscale restaurant. Long before the iconic photo was taken. I felt certain they copied my idea.

A second visit to the dark face of cancer

A month or so ago at my annual check up my dermatologist did a ‘look at this’ to his colleague. What to you know, their magic black light turned up a black spot on me, totally separate from the place we were originally examining. He kindly but firmly booked me for a biopsy. I was certain it was just caused by make up or cream interfering with the black light.

But when I returned for the big event two weeks ago, I asked him if I could see it, and into the dark room we went with the light box and mirror. I was shocked when I saw a big  black patch of skin that even I couldn’t pass off as make up or cream. Minutes later, cut cut, stitch stitch and band-aid and I was back on the road and on to my next task for the day.

And then it started. The OH MY GOD, WHAT IF? big loud voice.Then in burst the past of many decades previous when the first one happened.

Surgery immediately in New York City, alone and without my Mom.

What is the message?

I have traveled a long spiritual path since then, and mostly initiated by the first occurrence. So my first question I asked myself this time was, “What is the message for me?  What do I need to face and erase? What are the similarities?” And of course, the recrimination. “How could I have allowed this to happen again?”  You see, I knew I had created it the first time around. Well, I was pretty sure back then. Yes, you heard me right. I also knew that it was up to me to heal myself. I was way ahead of what medicine and psychology were soon to find out – how our emotions feed into our health and illness patterns.

This is a story about healing and about gifts we are given to work out when we stare into the face of awful things happening to us. I explored the message for me this time and surprise or rather no surprise, it was the same. I was allowing myself to react too emotionally to the shocking things around me.

The elevator plunge, the crush of people, the meltdown…

The first time I had a brush with cancer, I had been in NYC three years filled with fast living, career change from a nurse to a security analyst on Wall Street, and then two accidents including an elevator fall 41 floors with back injuries as a result. Even a back brace. All of this however, were incremental messages I had missed. The message was this: Small town girl moves to NYC and is shocked by the lifestyle and the things she experiences and sees.  Subway crush hour, mix of people on the streets and being constantly buffeted by people just walking down the sidewalk. And oh the new things in the stores!

All of these combined into a melt down. As a sensitive person (I was the last to know, I suspect) I couldn’t  or didn’t handle it emotionally. So my body said,”Don’t worry, Gail, we will take this on for you and reflect it back to you.”  Sure enough, there it was. My sensitivity and what I was seeing and experiencing was eating away my own skin. It was too much change too fast for me. I couldn’t handle it emotionally.

Of course I didn’t get this clarity until a few decades after. But I did know instantly upon awakening from surgery that I was in charge of my life and how was going to play out…dead or alive was my choice too.

Was my sensitivity eating away my own skin, again?

So two weeks ago when the biopsy was taken and the black seen by me, I realized I was repeating the first event….too much for me to handle right now. I accepted I have been shocked and horrified by what has been happening in the US politics and culture. This was compounded by the changes in my little community that was being overtaken by high rises and hot money exchanging hands to allow it.  Everyday for a full two years I have been worrying over, shocked over or distressed over something or other.

So my body said once again, let me echo this for you. You haven’t been paying attention to your emotional health and you have become overwrought and truly over sensitive to these intense changes. I got out my diary and wrote questions and answered them and explored all the alleys and connections to the first time around. Repeat, repeat, repeat. How did I miss it?

A new lease on life, and a lesson learned

Yesterday the stitches were removed and the results came in. Benign. OMG, I exhaled and jumped off the medical table. I must find healthy ways to be less personally sensitive to what is happening in my world. ”Be in it but not of it, Gail,” my inner self chanted to me. My response? I was completely drained last evening and today, big dark circles under my eyes and barely able to move. I realized this is was a good thing. I needed to drain off the old memories and fears.

The gift of this second visit to the dark face of cancer and to the possibility of its recurrence was to wake up and smell the coffee, the flowers, the kindness and compassion, the courage, the transitions and all that jazz around me. And to back off from taking it personally, cause that stuff can eat you up if you do. I had to back up a bit on feeling it all so intensely.

This morning I made pancakes and sausage. I celebrated me and having the opportunity to keep going. I feel like I got a new life boost and imagined all the changes I will make and how much more I want to do in my life.

While I was celebrating over breakfast, I remembered with a wry smile that my dad used to make pancakes and sausages for us when we came back home to visit. I was going back home to refresh….courtesy of pancakes and sausage. And bonus, I get a new kick at the can of my life.

If you want to explore more about cancer and how our lives can change for the better after having cancer, check out this article. , Living Thanks to Cancer, October 2012, p. 20-25.