Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Story of Hope

I posted this on the YSC yesterday, and then thought maybe my readers here would appreciate the story.

West Seattle is a small place. If the woman in question reads this post, or if I've inadvertantly identified her in some way (I do wish to respect her privacy), please forgive me or contact me and I'll remove the post if it offends. But I want to offer thanks to that woman for her incredible gifts and wisdom. The women of YSC have all responded with love toward her, and wishes to meet her, to be like her. Lady, you are greatly admired, and you've offered a lot of girls hope. Thank you for that.

In the sea of bad news that has been hitting my cancer community, this is of great comfort to me.

Here's the post.
For once, I was at the gym today.

I was standing next to my locker, and a woman came in beside me. She had obviously had double mastectomies. Because I often speak without thinking, I said, "I'm a breast cancer survivor. Are you, too?" and she was very open to the conversation and said "Yes" and shared quite a bit of her story.

The short version? Diagnosed at age 40. She's 72 now. She's a 32 year survivor! Hurrah! Paget's disease of the nipple, and her doctors initially gave her 6 months to live. She demanded a mastectomy (which they initially didn't want to do for some reason), refused chemo and radiation, and did naturopathic treatments. (Not what I would do, but it's obviously working for her!)

She had a recurrance a few years later, and repeated treatment on the other side....another mastectomy, again refused chemo or radiation, again did naturopathic treatments.She mentioned that she'd had a hysterectomy due to an unrelated cancer, much later, as well.

She said she never considered reconstruction. She said, "My husband never touched me again after the mastectomy. He was a fool. I've had several intimate sexual relationships since then" (I loved her candor - not what I expected of a woman of her generation!) "and I tell them up front: I want a man, not a boy. If you're here for the boobs, get lost!" and that has worked quite well for her.

She said she often forgot that she had mastectomies, and sometimes forgets her prosthesis, which is only "important" to her when she's going to the office.

(It could have gone the other way. She could have been offended by my questions, and by my obvious noticing of her double mastectomies. But she was not, she was very open. And, just to be fair, I flashed her pretty well, also!)

I admired her more than I could say. I thanked her for the hope she offered me, but I wish I'd thanked her for sharing her love of her own body and her understanding of her own self worth and sexual prowess. There we were, naked in the locker-room, and this woman did not have the body of a Roman goddess, more of a Gaia-mother-goddess. But make no mistake, she was a goddess in form. It shone from her eyes.

I wanted to share with you girls, and as soon as I could post today, that's what I'm doing.

My wish for all of us - to live that long. To feel that comfortable in our bodies. To feel joy in our sexual relationships. To feel confident in our choices. To forget that we had mastectomies (or chemo or whatever). To be confident in the locker rooms, regardless of our size, shape, and breasts (or lack thereof). To share our success with strangers who have the nerve to approach us, so that they can feed from our joy.

I hope this story gives all of us hope. Those with dire predictions as to our survival, those who have recurred, and those who hope to never repeat our experiences. Those who have already found supportive partners....and those of us who WILL find supportive partners.

It gave ME hope, so I'm sharing.

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