The Unplanned Journey vs. the Planned Journey

A short excerpt from Chapter 4

Excerpt from Chapter 4

Indeed, the two tiny masses were cancerous.  By then, the knowledge didn’t seem as terrible as the anticipation had been.  All I knew was that I was being forced to go on a journey I had not chosen.  The itinerary for our trip to Boston and England was on my desk.  All of the destinations were clearly plotted out, along with flight details, train stations, hotel addresses, and our top-priority museums.  I did not yet know the details of the breast cancer journey.  I didn’t know the type of surgery I was facing — lumpectomy or mastectomy — and whether I would have to go through chemotherapy or radiation treatment.  Genetic testing and an MRI would still need to be performed before more was known.

There was one piece of knowledge I had that I clung onto like a life raft.  From the research I had done for my sister, I had learned that it could be beneficial to time breast surgery for the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, that is, the second half of the cycle.  Although the research results are not conclusive, there was some evidence that the recurrence rate was lower if surgery is performed during that time, when progesterone is dominant over estrogen.  Careful study of the calendar led me to a make a decision that brought me tremendous peace of mind.  My next luteal phase would be four days after our return home.  No matter what we were facing on the unexpected journey, we could go on our planned journey to Boston and England.

When we left on August 31, we were aware that our return home on September 17 would begin a simultaneous trip through two unexplored lands: home schooling and breast cancer treatment.  Two conflicting thoughts crossed my mind.  What if home schooling exhausted me when I needed to be healing?  And what if breast cancer treatment was so draining that it depleted the energy I needed for teaching? I chose to push aside the concern that one or the other could negatively impact the other, and I didn’t even talk about it with William.  I didn’t want to give voice to the worry that our home schooling plan might have to be cancelled, for I now realized that I needed to have, as much as Natalie, a stellar and life-affirming year.

As it turned out, our adventure to Boston and England could not have been timed better.  It allowed us to recover from four frenzied weeks of medical tests and consultations that had left me feeling physically vulnerable, and all three of us feeling emotionally exhausted.  What I needed more than anything was space and time to recover my emotional strength and the confirmation that I could still explore the world, in spite of my entry into the cancer patient universe.

I recovered my bearings in the middle of Avebury, a tiny English village nestled below a mile-long circle of massive stones erected by ancient peoples.  Transported to this location over miles of rocky landscape, the stones have stood watch over Avebury for thousands of years.  It is a quiet and peaceful place, enough off the beaten path that it draws only a few visitors.  I found myself walking alone, while William and Natalie explored a different area of the circle.  I don’t know if it was the stones themselves (which exude a strong sense of having witnessed thousands of years of history), or the cool wind that blew across the hills, or the peaceful green of the grassy meadows, but I suddenly felt the blissful feeling of my fear falling away as I wove my way in and out of the circle.  Without that fear, and with a heightened sense of awareness, I suddenly glimpsed my life in a different context.  I saw that while breast cancer had definitely been thrust into my life story, it was just one piece of my story.

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