Today as I disrobed to put on the gown for my final radiation for breast cancer it felt as though a wound in my heart was bleeding. Not only was it blood but tears too that were flowing out from a wound that the radiation seems to have highlighted or deepened or opened.
It was an early treatment today. Usually I have the time to rise and prepare myself for the next onslaught. I get dressed, eat breakfast, potter about the house and then make sure that I get my dog, Jasper and out into the park and nature. It is so important for my mental and emotional sanity to have this touchstone before I have to enter the world of machines and radiation with the other sufferers who are on the radiation treadmill. For me, nature will always be my place of spiritual sanctuary, touching base with that which is living is so important as I face the killing world of radiotherapy.
This morning I had spiralled down so deeply into sleep it was difficult to rouse myself. Showering with my PTSD is triggering especially as my lymphatic system arks up with trying to dispel toxins from the radiation and there is a lot of stretching that has to take place before I can feel I am in balance. Today this process took over two hours and I was due in radiation in half an hour. No time for the park I would have to let that need go, just for today and recognise my limits. I played some music and cried a lot. I seem to be crying as a result of the treatment so much this past week.
My sister was due to collect me at 11 am at 5 past no sign of her. I waited for a while then just got in the car and drove myself. When I arrived at the hospital I called her to find she had got the time wrong, she arrived 15 minutes after I asked her to. I had to cut the call short and get undressed, but the abandonment pain was huge, even though I KNOW it wasn’t a deliberate mistake and I knew she was going to be feeling really bad about it. I thought she would soon arrive but as I sat and sat waiting to be taken (ironically they took me in 20 minutes late today) the pain got deeper. Cycling about in my head were so many thoughts, if only I hadn’t put her in this position of having to take me to radiation both of us could have been spared this stress (but I know I would have felt sad facing it alone), but what about all the other people here on their own? Maybe I should have just waiting and trusted they would be okay with it, or may be running late. Also other questions why hadn’t she arrived still, was she upset I hung up so abruptly, where was she, had she had an accident? I was called in for treatment crying and shaking. The assistants were lovely to me, asking if I was cold. “No”, I said, “Its PTSD shock”, also a combination of fear which I recognised. “Do want us to stop”, they asked me. “No, please”, I said, “I just want to get this last treatment over and done with.”
By this stage my body was trembling and shaking, while I was trying to hold it still and keep attention on my breath. The time passed and I was referred to the nurse’s desk, more tears. The radiation has now burned a big patch on my chest just off to left of centre of my heart. Apparently the intensity of the pain is due to keep elevating for the next week. I may end up developing an open wound or sore. I was given a cup of tea and two different creams to use.
As I returned to change room I had two visions running through my head, one was of the sacred heart of Jesus, I have often seen. In the image it as though Jesus’s heart is on fire. It is the fire of love and/or pain, probably both since what wounds us more than love so many times.
The second was a dream image I had 11 years ago following the end of my marriage. In the dream I was in a changing room (just like the one I go into in the oncology ward) and it was my child self involve in the dream. Little me, aged about six, had a dress on and it was attached to me along with a wire coat hanger that was sown through my shoulder and breast like barbed wire. I was trying to get the dress off but could not remove it as the barbed wire coat hanger was so deeply enmeshed into my skin all around the shoulder (near where my lymph nodes have been removed and close to the heart).
I could not help but think of this dream image today. I wondered about the prophetic nature of the psyche that can metaphorically depict psychic situations which end up materialising some way down the track. I thought of how much of the depth of what we experience lies hidden in our souls a long way from view, yet known to us only on a shadow level, or briefly sensed during the night when we visit the land of shades.
As I walked out of the radiology section into the hospital I saw my sister sitting there waiting, she hadn’t realised that she could come through to the treatment waiting area even though she has been with me at least five times before. We embraced and she said “I am so, so sorry, I don’t know why, but I wrote down the wrong time”. “I thought you weren’t going to come, I thought you were angry with me”, I said. I knew it wasn’t deliberate but I still question how she got the time mixed up and it was interesting to see how in the stress so many powerful underground emotions had risen up.
We had organised to got out to lunch to celebrate the end of my treatment. I drove my car home, my sister collected me and we collected my Mum who gave me a bunch of flowers she had assembled herself tied up with pink and silver bows. “You have done so well”, she said “I am so proud of you.” Part of me baulked. I wish it wasn’t I who had to carry this wound. I have always stood by during all of the pain and at times I have wished that I could be so far away, I know I am carrying a wound of disconnection that has been inherited, one that I have never really felt fully capable of transforming.
All through lunch I was close to tears. Part of me felt captured. Later I returned home and as soon as the roller door went up which blocks the last part of my drive, little Jasper ran out and jumped in the car, we drove to the park, more tears pouring out. I felt such a strong sense of detachment from everyone there, the only thing that I could feel was the ache and burning in my breast. There seemed to be living there a grief too deep for words, or was it just the pain of the radiation? No one dared to come near as I was crying quietly and silently, part of me felt relieved that they could let me be, part of me felt bereft, I could have really used a hug. Of course, the dogs were there right by me, despite the tears.
I had a sense of being a container of a wound that didn’t start with me, one which was a culmination of so many losses and tribulations gone before. Returning home I felt a sense of the most complete exhaustion which I just surrendered too. Jasper and I rested in the calm and quiet of our little home. I opened my phone to find several people had posted likes on my last post, one that I felt ashamed of and reluctant to share. I felt the pain in my heart lift as I opened these little messages from the WordPress community and the pain in my heart eased.
It is a mystery to me at times how I can move between states of such deep pain into states where I find release, but perhaps this is what happens when I feel fully received. I don’t want to intellectualise about it, but I do feel lots of gratitude for having a blog space within which I can share from my heart, what is closest to my heart, here. It eases my pain.
It seems sometimes that I can never feel more alone than in a crowd of people and never more at home when I am contained here in the silence as dusk descends, fingers tap, tap, tapping on the keyboard.
In my mind I have visualised a beautiful piece of artwork which shows a woman with a wound which is the bleeding heart, muck akin to those Iconic images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I am sure so many breast cancer sufferers experience just this pain. For now I am carrying my wound explicitly. There are times when it will hurt and others when the pain will recede from awareness and in its place will be feelings of peace and love.
Nothing is constant, all things change.
Today these words came to me just before I left for the hospital:
At the moment you are in the centre of the storm
You must face the storm
For there is no avoiding the storm
It is in facing and enduring the storm
That you are transformed
And find your centre
So stand strong
Amidst the strong winds that blow
That in time
This storm will pass