The procedure itself was as straightforward as outlined. In and out, no problems - everything went according to plan. But I quickly realized it wasn't as sterile as I had made it out to be in my mind. I thought it was just about removing this mass from my neck, but it was so much more.
A couple years ago when Steve came home from rehab, we started attending this meeting with a group of couples trying to navigate marriage and recovery through shared experiences. There were about 6 couples that formed the core of the group and of those 6 spouses married to addicts, 2 had survived breast cancer and 2 had survived colon cancer. I remember being struck by those numbers and angered.
I really believe there is a connection between the mind, body, and spirit. Knowing the stress and chaos spouses of addicts go through, I couldn't help but blame - or at the very least attribute - their cancer diagnoses to their spouses' addictions. Living with addiction has a way of tearing you down little by little, or sometimes it rips great big chunks out of you... all that negativity swirling around in our bodies - I really believe that it can manifest itself physically. On top of it the denial associated with addiction; you just push it aside and pretend it's not happening and try to live as normal a life as possible. But it is happening and it has to spill out somehow; maybe in some people it comes out as cancer... I don't really know.
So when I found this lump back in June I was really terrified. It was about the size of a small grape just nestled behind my left ear at about my jawline. Half the doctors thought it was a lymph node and the other half thought it was a parotid gland. Whatever it was, it just kept getting bigger.
It was mid-August when we finally found out what it was and had decided on a plan to remove it as soon as possible. I had already signed up to run my first 10K on Septmeber 15 and had my heart set on running it. I talked it over with my doctor and we decided it would be okay to schedule around the race. Maybe that was stupid. Or maybe that was me not ready to face it. Or maybe that was my way of doing it on my own terms. Or all of the above? By the time they removed it, it had grown to the size of a golf ball.
It was good to get it out. I know this. And all that's left to show of it is this horrid scar snaking around my ear and down my neck, which, in time, will be less noticeable. But it's the perfect metaphor for what I've gone through the past couple years; this process of excision and scarring. So the question is, how do I transform this hideous scar into a mark of strength and courage and goodness?
And I think the answers are tried and true. They're the same lessons I've learned along the way and am pretty sure I'll have to keep learning as this journey continues.
I think the first one is acceptance. I had a hard time with the recovery. I was fighting it and I didn't even realize it. I had a hard time just resting and letting my body heal. Yeah, that didn't last very long - I got pretty miserable pretty quickly and it brought me to my knees. I'm tough, but not that tough. I finally had to surrender to the call of the couch and do a whole lot of nothing for 24 hours, and it felt so good.
And the other piece is love.... from family and friends, people who love me. I'm realizing, I don't have to do this alone anymore. I've never been alone, but I've done it alone. And I'm so used to it, that I find I'm having to learn and be intentional about asking for and opening myself up to receiving help. And it's really wonderful, the way my family and friends have loved me through everything.
It's as if I'm surrounded by angels and I can literally feel the brush of their wings against my cheek as they hover around me. And with each gentle touch comes healing. And I know that in time, if I spend enough time in their presence, wrapped in their love and support, my scars, on my neck and other places too, will fade and transform into a faint pink line only noticeable to those who know my story.
My past is a part of me. Even if they did open me up and cut it out, it still leaves a mark. But I can live with that, because it may be scarring... but disfiguring - no way. These experiences may change me, shape me, even transform me, but they won't get the best of me - they won't define me... I'm much too tough for that.