Once upon a time...

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During treatment, this instagram account became my attempt to still be part of the world. The proof that it worked is that connections I've made during that time, that only existed online, are still part of my cancer afterlife. Other heroines, mostly. Or those who dare to live with those with cancer. Not a task for the faint of heart.

But, little by little, that account became a source of anxiety. It would drag me right back to what I have lived. The anxiety of others would trigger my own fears. Each new scan, each new biopsy, each re-occurence became my own,  and I realized it wasn't any longer healing for me. So I closed this Instagram account.

Some of the photos of that time are now part of this gallery. Just as proof that all was real. It did happen to me. Sometimes I catch myself doubting that.

 

a year later

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October 26th, 2016 = date of my mastectomy

Oct.26th, 2017 = new photo exhibition

Just got accepted on this group exhibition. Coincidence or not, the opening is on the date of my mastectomy last year. What a way to celebrate life! Who wants to come?

Opening on October 26th - 5PM-7:30PM 112 W. Delaware Ave. , Pennington NJ 08543

#overcoming #becoming #living #life #livemyart #ayearafter #mastectomy #ayearlater #breastcancer  #exhibition #photography #NJ #jerseyarts #ArtoberNJ

See my latest project BORDERLINE at www.jennifercabral.com

 

in-love

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https://www.instagram.com/anna.bonny

What can I say?! On the one-year anniversary of my mastectomy I feel a revolution has taken place.

Surgeons were questioning my choice of no-reconstruction on my left breast as I was being wheeled into surgery, - to the point I wasn't sure what I would find once I took all bandages out: would they have left extra-skin for a "future breast-mount" as they were recommending, or would they have respected my wishes for a flat left side? They followed my wishes and I am now a proud lefty or righty depending on your perspective! ;)

An article on the New York Times a year ago was just the first wave of confirmation I had made the best choice for myself ( https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/well/live/going-flat-after-breast-cancer.html ).

This month's Oprah's entire section on women who have chosen to go flat ( http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/going-flat-why-some-women-reject-breast-reconstruction-surgery ) made no-reconstruction "mainstream";

And finding someone like @Anna.Bonny - who like me, is in awe of her body and wants to continue playing with herself and with life is so empowering. We are amazing! #happyoneyearanniversary

 

follow my instagram account @milkyway.myway

Wonder Woman

This article is also available at Medium.

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Sometimes a cancer patient has to start a war. Not because of what you need, but because of what others might. Every other month my insurance company threatens to cut my psychotherapy sessions. For many, therapy sessions during cancer treatment is an after-care, an after-thought. “Psychotherapy session?! That is not a priority when you are about to die”, some might think to themselves.

As cancer patients we get so overwhelmed with the diagnosis and treatment we easily overlook resources that are available to us. Psychotherapy is one of those resources only mentioned in softly-spoken, hush-hush, word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer talks that might take place when you are both at the radiation lobby, as you wait for your turn. It’s the 28th session during the Xmas holiday — It is cold inside and outside of you. Or you may hear about psychotherapy from a person walking out of the oncologist room beaming with health, as you are sitting there with no hair, no strength and you dare to ask: “How did you survive through this?” That is when you might hear the word: “psychotherapy” — “It was really helpful; It was a lifesaver; I can’t recommend it enough; Why don’t you try it?”

And I did. I did it from the beginning. I did as soon as I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not because of a recommendation by a doctor. I never once heard from a doctor: you might want to consider psychotherapy. But a breast cancer survivor did. One of those heroines that have beaten the 5-year mark. The one you look up to, and makes you feel as a little girl that have just held hands with Wonder Woman. She gave me the name of her therapist. And suggested I get psychotherapy support alongside my cancer treatments. And psychotherapy sessions became my weekly routine. I chose the day after chemo to see my therapist. The hardest day of all. And he we would help me to talk. And he would help me to breathe. I would see him on the following week when my body was a bit stronger but when the fear of the next chemo session was already starting to build. I had sessions before surgery. And he helped me to deal with the trauma of having my breast removed more easily. I had therapy sessions as I was getting daily sessions of radiation. And he helped me to be patient. Because he knew it would take time for me to feel like myself again. He helped me to deal with the anxiety. It engulfed me as time came to walk out into the world and go back to work as if everything was normal. The weight of all you just went through following you like a ghost.

Right now, I am the one walking out of the oncologist room beaming with health. Right now I am the one who gets to play Wonder Woman. I am the one daring to say the hush-hush word “psychotherapy” into a cancer patient’s ears. And I whisper: “Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for your sanity and that of those you love. It is a long battle, cancer. Longer than you can imagine. You will have to fight it for the rest of your life. It doesn’t end when treatment ends. It’s your everyday.” And the hardest battles are fought alone, in the dark. Because there are days you can tell someone you love: “I am afraid.” But there are days you cannot. There are decisions that you will have to make on your own. Because if you share it with your best friend, which happens to be your husband, it will shatter him to pieces. So you find someone else you can talk to. Someone else to help you to process, to understand, to believe in the impossible: that you can live with cancer and after it.

Those who do not have a voice because they are in the middle of the battle: in and out of chemo sessions, appointments, surgeries and radiation treatments; Those who have lost the battle already even though they tried everything to stay alive, and were alone in their process of departure; Those are the ones I am speaking for! I wished psychotherapy sessions were widely available for those who are undergoing cancer treatment, or those like me that are just trying to live after the fact.

That is why anger bubbles inside of me, every time United HealthCare requests a peer review to evaluate my need for frequent psychotherapy sessions. According to a representative only extreme cases are eligible for weekly sessions. May I ask, If having cancer is not an extreme case, what is, Maam?!

The insurance company requested a detailed description of the symptoms to justify my need for psychological support after cancer treatment. Call it PST. Call it fear. Call me a coward, if you want. But the waves of panic come. The waves of grief come. It comes out of nowhere. It catches you when you least expect it. Like, when you stop in traffic for a mother holding the hand of a 5-year-old on his first day of school. And all you can think about is how you would like a turtle backpack just like that to be sitting next to your purse as you drive your child to school. But you will not. Because just 6 months ago, 24 weeks ago, 182 days ago, 4380 hours ago it was confirmed you are infertile for life after chemotherapy treatment.

So do you still want to hear my symptoms, Maam? Do you want to understand how come I still need weekly psychotherapy sessions after having cancer? Are you sure you want to know about becoming instantly menopausal? Hot flashes are the least of your problems. Try having sex with only one breast. I keep looking for the missing piece all the time. My husband, too. (You can laugh about it. We do.) Do you want to talk about hormonal therapy effects and the cramps on your hands that wakes you up in the middle of the night, and the fatigue that makes you lay down in the middle of the day? What about the lack of strength on your left arm and swelling that limits you to carry the tool it took your whole life to master? Now you have to carry it less and less often. The camera is just too heavy. Photography might be no longer your profession but just a hobby. Call it economic depression if you like!

Oh, but let us not talk about that. Let’s not talk about co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket fees and what is really behind all this. It is not a matter if I need psychotherapy, or not. Or the fact that psychological support to cancer patients help us heal faster, and keep us healthier longer. It is a matter of the insurance company not wanting to pay for this treatment anymore. But I won’t mention the word M-O-N-E-Y if you keep your promise which according to United HealthCare mission statement is:

“We believe: In order to achieve the full potential of our enterprise in its purpose, to Help People Live Healthier Lives, we must fully understand and align with their needs and realities.”

So understand and align with our needs and realities, please! Trust a patient when they ask for a treatment. Do you really think a cancer patient will ask for a drug it doesn’t need, a therapy session that is not necessary or a surgery out of vanity? That means you know nothing about having cancer. Which is even more disturbing. Because I don’t want people who don’t know about cancer to define if I fall into the category of cancer recurrence, cancer survivor or cancer casualty and determine if I will be graced by insurance blessings and have my health services covered, or not.

Not only presidents get to start a twitter war. Some days you dare to question openly, what no one wants you to say:

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Sometimes, you start a war quietly in waiting rooms, at the hospital cafeteria or during a walk in the park and you meet a person that gives you a gift by trusting you with the words: “I have cancer.” And you reply back: “Me too.” And they look up to you and ask: “how did you survive through this?” And they hold your hand as if you are Wonder Woman and you whisper many secrets in their ears including the hush-hush word: psychotherapy.’

It’s a word of mouth rebellion, a peer-to-peer revolution. The more we demand, the more we ask, the longer we might be able to say” “psychotherapy is covered by insurance”. It is a real need, and it should be a right of every cancer patient. Not an after-care, an after-thought. Psychotherapy plays a key role in my ongoing cancer treatment and it might help other patients which are also dealing with the unimaginable reality of having cancer. I never thought I would have this disease just like I never thought I would get to be Wonder Woman.

~ For Geoff White and every Psychotherapist fighting for the treatment of their patients to be covered by insurance. And to my first Wonder Woman, Robin.

Fuck you

This week I caved in. Fear took over me and I caught myself paralyzed AGAIN. No O2. No H either. No water. It was a stillness that goes against everything my fluid body is. Not only from fear itself but mostly from the sheer guilt of: "you did it again: you let fear come over you." But the more I try to ignore it or the more I fight it, the more it takes over a part of me. All of me! So I can only do one thing. Recognize that fear is in the room. It just crashed my party and I have to walk up to it and say: Oh, Hello. FUCK YOU. Now, come dance with me." You hold it tight. You turn it around. You push it and let it go. Just to pull it close to you again. You shake it and you spin it. You face it and declare: this is now a dance. And that's the only way I allow you to be with me. Because i know you will stick around. You will be there, no matter what I do. So, May I have this dance?

As others brilliantly described it better than I ever will:

" Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. ~ Pema Chödron.

You can see the full article on this bedside book I should open more often here. Thanks for reminder @brain.pickings #pemachodron #cancerfears #dance #faceit

Your sisters

Do you know how heavy it feels - to be the one one alive in front of your eyes?

Suddenly, surviving is so much heavier than dying. Because dying is what is expected. Dying is human. But surviving is what you call miracle. Surviving is supernatural. Like the strength to take each step, bearing the weight of those who don't make it.

Don't think that being the one alive proclaims healing was attained. Because living as if nothing happened; going back to my routine; bringing myself "back to normal" - this normalcy, this is just a deception I am willing to play so you can continue to tell yourselves: "Now, we can just go back living as we always did".

Don't think that being the one who died declares healing was halted. Because dying was the ultimate form of healing she could reach; a sign that all pain and loose ends are no longer; bringing herself to herself - this parting, this is just a deception she was willing to play so you can continue to tell yourselves: "healing is pointless without a cure".

 

So when you look at us, look at us as sisters who groped the air as our legs gave in, but never rejected the mountain underneath us, even though we knew it was calling us to sleep.

When you look at us, look at us as sisters who scavenged earth and sky for a cure, but went even further to heal who we were before we had a name.

When you look at us, look at us as sisters who bit our lips pulling any blood that was still in our veins, but found only sweetness invading our mouths even as life disbanded it.

Every second is so bittersweet, but not the last one.

 

~ For Lorraine Florence Nevers

05/08/60 ~ +06/05/17

 

 
 

HOW MY JOURNEY STARTED?

See how I became a cancer apprentice. Here is my story from the very beginning.

 

Prayer of entry

Let me be clear. I don't pray.

That comes from a resistance of being selfish, and doubt of being worthy. "How can I possibly ask for anything else?" Add to that, the fact that I am too open or too curious to stick to one religion, one practice, one way. I've locked myself into catholic monasteries and buddhist ashrams with the same devotion and lack of commitment, just as a temporary visitor. The excuse that serves me best, is the need to let my spirit wander and wonder as it pleases.

But there are moments when my spirit comes across something so deeply true that it makes me fall on my knees. In an instant I become humble. And for the first time I can dare to utter a prayer. What matters is that I got to this place. What took me there, doesn't. Because it only works for me, anyway. You must find your own achilles heel that will make you bow.

Let me be clear, I still don't pray. But from now on

I am prayer.

I'll leave you at the door. Only you can allow yourself in. Take this prayer-map. I hope it guides you to a place you've always known.

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Prayer of entry

I am now entering my sacred cell. I am closing the door and forbid all outside influences from entry into this sovereign space. I am now alone with the divine.

I embrace contemplation so I can hear the call of my own divinity. My heart clears my soul of any fear of my own immortality, and of any fear of my own truth, because it's all this heart now knows.

My need for safety and understanding I now surrender. I release the need to know, just as I release the need to let others know they've harmed me. I can surrender because I've witnessed the inability to be abandoned by that which is unmanifested on this manifested world.

I gracefully carry this knowing that I am cared for and will never create my life alone. Every call is heard. And every call is answered. I am prayer as I unmistakably touch the unmanifested with my silence. I am grace as I unmistakably touch the manifested with my kindness.

From this sacred cell within my silence I am in the intimate presence of the divine. It's voice is the only I can now hear. It's face is the only I can now recognize.

So be it. So it is.

 

 

~ My own version of the "Prayer of Entry"

by Caroline Myss, from her book "Entering the Castle".

 

 

Magic Spell

I'll be completing 6 months of anthroposophic medicine treatment. Three times a week I inject this homeopathic remedy made from the sap of the Mistletoe plant into my body. It became a ritual. It took me 20 minutes to have the courage to puncture myself the first time. The fear is always more painful than the event itself, isn't it? I can say that about the injections and the cancer diagnosis. The fear of it, kills us. Don't get me wrong... The diagnosis and its treatment were harder than I could ever imagine. I could never envision anything like this for myself, or anyone to have to endure. But the transmutation and lessons along the way were just as unfathomable.

All I can say is that once you dive into treatment, you are in a current stronger than any control you might wish to have. All you can do is flow with it. With the exception of very brief moments. And in these moments is when you make the choices that will define the course of your treatment. You will know when the time comes for you to speak loud and clear not only about what you want but, what you need. And that is why I've chosen this form of immunotherapy: to strenghten my body's own abilities of combating cancer, and to strenghten my soul's own abilities to manifest itself.

After undergoing nine months of the traditional medicine protocol of chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy, being able to make a choice of my own is a cure in itself. Being able to offer something supportive of my body without harm coming from it feels suddenly so rare and so essential. Taking Mistletoe is my way of naturally and preventively kissing goodbye to any unhealthy cells that might emerge in my system. I feel protected. It's like casting a spell. After all I've been through, I still allow myself to believe in magic. And I hope you believe it, too.

I've written a bit more about Mistletoe on a previous post that you can read here. And some info on medical trials using this remedy can be found here. Please find certified Anthroposophical practicioners to guide you on your healing process if you decide to follow this method. A list of doctors in the United States can be found here.
 

Being told

Suddenly, I didn't know what to do.

So, I stopped my car, grabbed a blanket and laid down on this field.

I cried until it made no sense to cry anymore.

I had just been told I had cancer.

I had no idea how to start. Who do I tell it to? How do I tell it. When do I tell it?

I had no idea how to end this. How to fix it. Who could fix it. Can I fix it?

But suddenly I knew what to do.

I stopped my thoughts, I grabbed the blanket and stood on this field.

I surrendered until it made sense to surrender even more.

I had just been told I am eternal.

A song that reminds me of who I am

Forgive me. The Brazilian in me had to express itself at least once in its native tongue. Here is some portuguese for you.

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Quem é muito querido a mim

Quem é muito querido a mim
É muito querido a mim

Aquele que não inveja
Que é amigo sincero
De todos os seres vivos
Que não tem senso de posse
Que tem a mesma atitude
Na tristeza ou na alegria
Que é sempre determinado
Tendo a mente e o intelecto
Harmonizados comigo
É muito querido a mim
Harmonizados comigo
É muito querido a mim

Quem nunca perturba os outros
Nem se deixa perturbar
Além da dualidade

Do sofrimento e prazer
Livre do medo e da angústia
Também é muito querido
Aquele que não se apega
Nem ao prazer nem à dor
Que não rejeita ou deseja
Ao que agrada ou aborrece
Renunciando igualmente
É muito querido a mim
Renunciando igualmente
É muito querido a mim

Quem age do mesmo modo
Com amigos e inimigos
E não muda de atitude
No ostracismo ou na glória
No sucesso ou no fracasso
Que nunca se contamina
E sempre fica contente
Com o que lhe é oferecido
Este me é muito querido
É muito querido a mim

Este me é muito querido
É muito querido a mim

This is my garden

 Georgia O'Keeffe ~ Jimson Weed, 1932.

Georgia O'Keeffe ~ Jimson Weed, 1932.

 

~ Written after walking by the chemotherapy infusion room and its garden, during a routine visit to the hospital. Which is never routine.

Was it really me, sitting on that chair? Trapped in tubes and veins.My roots and branches force-fed?

An Encased garden: my own body.

It's arboreal blood streams; it's solid bone filaments; it's expansive air ducts. It's blooming heart.

My garden!

Yes, it sat there encased in glass. Apart. Severed. Cut off. Disconnected. Alone. It did.

But THIS GARDEN.

(I pound my chest as I write this).

This Garden is again mine.

Sovereign. Private. Secret. Unviolated. Untouched.

This is MY GARDEN.

Watered. Fertilized. Nourished. Evergreen. Alive.

 

Mended

Is there a thread of something missing on the fabric of my being? Or has this thread sewn me whole closing shut a void that was forever within myself?


How I look at a stitch has the nuance of silk. Fluid. Transparent. See through. This tear on my fibers can be repaired. With needle and thread I oscillate. Mending myself into opposite perspective:  was I ripped open, or was I sewn together?

My reality is teared apart.  All I am given is more thread. Never ending spool. I am weaving myself. Spinning. Spinning.

impriting

~ Reflections after attending current exhibition at Princeton University Art Museum;

"The Berlin Painter"

Vase detail ~ Greek, Attic, ca 500-494 B.C.

I am half-male, half-female. It is not shocking or unfamiliar. Vestige from deep pasts along with present curiosities sooth any pain for what is no longer there. A memory of what is like to be flat chested and open hearted remains in the back of my eyes. I face my own anatomy on a vase. What was hidden behind my breast is now my left chest. My heart behind it's intercostal cage has only a thin layer of skin. It's beating exposed. I can hear it louder now. But it can be so easily wounded. If I knew I wouldn't have deeply wounded so many hearts. A simple touch would've been enough to imprint so many lovers.

BINGO!

"From what I understand, cancer cells are normal cells that have been rejected by their host. They are outcasts, deprived of nourishment and support. So they try to survive in a hostile environment, feeding on anything they can find to live on - toxins, pesticides, narcotics, anger, fear, resentment, self-recrimination, guilt, depression and remorse."

~ The Cancer Whisperer, Sophie Sabbage.

 
 
  Image by R.Buckminster Fuller

Image by R.Buckminster Fuller