"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."
—Michelle K.
The Fire Within Blog
Awakening From the Edge

My mind pinballs while new insights flood in as I count off the days till I start chemotherapy in an attempt to save my life after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer – all massively complicated by 37 years of CRPS.

Since my last sharing, I’ve been wading through the good, the bad and the ugly. But, much to my surprise, the most vibrant feeling that emerges from this health scourge is my steadfast desire to live, to embrace the world I’ve created since my “death” at age 21.

Before this epiphany though, I’ve had to stare down a ton of scary.

My PET scan was a nightmare as the contrast dye inflamed my breast and lymph node tumors – and I screamed bloody murder for twelve hours in John’s arms. Tomorrow I’ll undergo an MRI with another dye. No way out and no one knows the outcome. Next week, I’ll have a port implanted which is another hurdle, another chance to reignite “The Suicide Disease.”

For best chance of survival, my doctors want to blast me with chemo, surgery and radiation. But in the words of my CRPS doctor, “any of these treatments could very well destroy your life.” These are my choices.

I’ve come to the hard reality that my cancer is another chronic illness, my lucky number 13 co-morbidity (the first one of the malignant variety.) Let’s face it, if I survive this round, from here on in my life will be all about trying to prevent a recurrence of this most aggressive breast cancer.

Then there’s the mental game. In my thoughts, time has become disturbingly finite. I just got the new iPhone. Will it be the last smartphone I get? As the election season heats up, I wonder if I’ll live to curse the next President. Will I enjoy another Thanksgiving feast? Over the summer I canceled a trip to Iceland to work back east. Did I screw up?

Despite this avalanche of scary, goodness is happening – and I’m holding onto the beauty that is within reach.

A dancer friend in my awesome pilates community led the charge by surprising me with a shaved head in solidarity. After this Greek god’s golden curls were left on a barber’s floor, I was dumbstruck for words of appreciation and love. Others will be donning “The Cynthia Cut” soon.

My Anthropologie personal shopper, a fellow woman in pain, will meet me this holiday weekend to pick out scarves and beanies. And girlfriends are looking into finding me a pretty wig (eh, probably not my style.) My lady friends at the Coco Chanel counter have given me eyebrow drawing tips and cuticle oil for my nails as they’ll likely ridge far more severely than they have from CRPS.

People check in everyday with calls and texts, and each card in the post makes my heart sing. A few strong souls from my past have re-entered to aid in my fight. John’s making lists of who will help with what, including lending ears when we need to vent, ANYTHING, ANYTIME. And they mean it.

John and I have hugely amp’ed our cuddle time which is the best kind of pre-chemo medicine. We retire to bed early these evenings with our rescue kitties, light some candles and he touches my tumor as we send it love. I long ago learned to embrace every part of me as good.

These gifts are rays of light for this woman in pain in her darkest hour. Yep, I’m staring down death, that thing I’d yearned for since forever to deliver me from my misery. Now I find myself stunned with a new awakening.

I’m having dreams about my past that are filled, not just with heart break, but also beauty and gratitude. I’m coming to treasure life again since seemingly losing everything decades ago. Pre-CRPS, the world was at my fingertips, and after it all slipped away, my life has been a steady drip of hardship. But I now see that working through my suffering, making something out of nothing to help others avoid my fate, has given my life great value. The gift of my cancer is realizing I have a life worth living.

Love, not hate. Appreciation, not sorrow. More than ever, I gravitate to comfort those in pain. Today at the pool, a woman in pain was hurt verbally by an aggressive swimmer. She broke down in tears, and I sped through two lanes to get my arms around her with kind words. Any hesitation I might have had to help before no longer exists. There’s an urgency now.

I learned goodness from my mother. She isn’t herself these days as she tussles with advanced dementia. Somehow, someway, Mom’s been calling, asking with her familiar concern how the chemo’s going. I gently remind her that I’ll be starting soon. I think, “Isn’t it a miracle that her loving maternal extinct shines through her topsy-turvy mind?” My mother still leads with her heart.

I want to be like Mom. Though darkness is closing in, I want my heart to be above it all. We women in pain can easily forget life’s goodnesses as we’re understandably wrapped in our suffering. But it shouldn’t take cancer to find our rainbows of gratitude.

People often share that my work and determination helped them survive. They tell me not to give up, that my voice has power and resonance, and decision makers are listening. I’m needed, and must forge on with my mission.

Standing at cancer’s welcome mat, I now see that I’ve created beauty in what life has dealt.

Women in pain, during this season of gratitude, let’s rise. Each of us must do what we cannot do every moment of every day. We’re on the hero’s journey and there’s nothing tougher, nothing more elevating. Live a life of service, to others and yourself. Love deeply. Then I promise, no matter what stands in your way, even cancer, you’ll fight on.