I awoke before dawn with a dull aching sensation in my left breast. Normally, I might have been alarmed. But not today. Today I’m convinced it’s solidarity pain.
Two sets of breasts under further scrutiny today. Too close to home. In fact: home; one is physically here and the other, south of the border. If I could opt to clone myself, today would be the day. I’d like to be here and there simultaneously.
Instead, I’m lying immobile in bed, in total darkness, with thoughts hovering above my headspace like so many propeller planes preparing for their descent, awaiting their cue from air control, eager to land and fire away at my brain synapses. And when that plane-door opens, each passenger spews out onto the tarmac replete with baggage and history. A cascading waterfall of human emotion.
Here’s one of the first that landed: What must it be like, I try to imagine, as a ten-year-old girl, on the brink of teenage-hood, struggling with identity issues of her own, to be told that your mother has breast cancer. I can’t fathom how that information is processed in the brain of a ten year old. Is fear the first – and only – feeling that takes hold? Is there breathing space for anything else, for hope?
A new thought descends as if out of the clouds: What if I had still been traveling in Asia when all of these breast cancer diagnoses, surgeries, pathology reports and emotional upheavals were at their prime? Deependra had warned me to take a break from my travels, go home and tend to some family health matters. His brow was creased when he spoke with concern, but he kept the details to himself. Deependra shared these thoughts in the summer of 2008, at the back of his nondescript ayurvedic pharmacy in Patan (a suburb of Kathmandu), where his astrology readings were highly touted by ex-pats in Nepal. What was I to make of it then?
Another one was gliding in, bumping up against the haunting memories of Deep’s diagnosis: Everywhere I turn, nearly every day, the word is on someone’s mouth. M’s father was diagnosed just last week with colon cancer. D’s best friend (D herself wrestling with the disease), recently diagnosed with a terminal, untreatable cancer. And this morning, we learned that Dr D’s wife recently died of breast cancer, just weeks before our first appointment with him… and he is a medical oncologist. (It’s a terrible thought; even if I didn’t think of it as criticism, still it flashed through my mind: .. even HE and his team of specialists couldn’t do anything to save her???)
As I write this, I am in my usual prayer pose, kneeling next to my bed (because I still can’t sit without pain), praying and thinking and reading and processing and desperately wanting to know: Is this any kind of normal that we are supposed to get used to?