Facing the bird

No one wants to talk about cancer. To use the old hippy phrase, it's a bit of a downer. Famous people have shown up on TV shows extolling the benefits of their bouts with cancer, comments I assumed were just one more way to keep their faces in the press. No one wants cancer.

My turn came. I had skipped mammograms a few years because we didn't have health insurance. I felt something in one breast, however, and decided to get it checked. After the mammogram, an ultrasound, and a biopsy, I called the doctor from work, the day the results were to arrive. (This, by the way, isn't a smart thing to do if you don't want to lose composure in front of co-workers.) Fortunately, I worked with wonderful, supportive people. I had breast cancer, but not in the breast I thought was suspicious. It would not have been discovered had I not gone in.

I broke down, of course. It's difficult to explain. Everything a person knows is suddenly different. I remember thinking that I didn't smoke, rarely drank alcohol, and had led a pretty clean and active life, but now would never be the same. I would be someone who had cancer; a black "X" had been painted on my forehead. We know we're going to die, but getting this diagnosis is like a shot of clarity, much like putting on a new set of glasses and seeing the outline of the leaves for the first time, in very bright, vivid colors. It was the first and only time I've experienced jelly legs. "Walk," I told myself. "Right leg "¦ left leg "¦" The doctor told me she didn't want to talk over the phone, but that tipped her hand. She referred me to a breast cancer "nurse navigator" who, by the way, became one of the most important persons in my life.

After the surgery, once I was able to function again, I realized I had changed. It was like the earth had shifted. I had a great surgeon and for the most part, all the outcomes were good. Waking up in recovery, hearing the doctor say "The lymph nodes are OK," I gave a thumbs-up and in my mind thanked the universe for every blessing I received and for every blessing I might experience down the road.

One day, after returning to work, I walked outside and saw a bird sitting on a post. It looked and me and I stopped and looked at it. It tilted its head to one side and so did I. We stared at each other, and in my mind I thanked the little bird for the conversation and then walked away. It was early spring and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Cars drove by; people walked by. The intensity and power of my beautiful life, and all the nature and experiences that surrounded me, rolled into sharp focus and I almost cried. Before my diagnosis I wouldn't have noticed that bird. I would have left work tired, thinking about what to make for dinner. Never again, I thought, will I feel sorry for myself over mundane, stupid things, or take my life for granted. Never again will I treat others with disrespect or put myself last. I had been given a second chance; cancer had made me a better person. I was wrong about those movie stars on television.

Now, several years have passed and I occasionally lapse into bouts of self-pity, or want to tell someone off because I think they need to hear it, but then I remember that this kind of thinking is merely garbage. I no longer need to feel superior or right. Every moment is a gift, and every choice I make is deliberate. If I start to "fall off the rails" and go back into my unconscious behavior, I think of the bird. It is just sitting there, waiting for me to notice.

Ginger Gough has a background in journalism, a part-time writing instructor and creates websites and promotional materials. Her joys are her family, friends, and singing with the Rogue Valley Peace Choir

Send inner peace articles to innerpeaceforyou@live.com.

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