Naomi Shaw – My Journey Through Cancer to Love

June 30, 2014 | By | Reply More

Fostering had poked its nose into our conversation, like a cheeky puppy pressing in between two people cozied up on a sofa. We’d stroked and cuddled the idea over the years, always returning it to that “one day, when the children leave” box of dreams.

And then it was here. That day had come. The youngest of our three children, the daughter-of-my-heart, took flight to pursue her dream of musical theatre. Then there were two.

In no time at all that puppy reappeared—eager as ever—pressing for our attention. Taking the plunge, we were enthusiastically introduced to a foster agent used by a close friend, and the process began. Invasive interviews, copious forms and thorough medical examinations.

My medical examination had been scheduled for November—sandwiched between packing up our house and preparing for a social gathering that evening.
It came almost as an after-thought, the suggestion for a mammogram. I had always had uncomfortably large, lumpy breasts. I don’t ever remember being comfortable in a bra. I’d learned to live with it. Now the doctor, pen racing across the page as she spoke, suggested we “have that checked—just to be sure,” and my world began to tilt slightly.

*****

In the weeks of waiting for the Christmas Eve appointment, the days were mercifully filled with sorting and packing boxes, cleaning and organizing the house for the move, which was scheduled for the 29th December. The prospect of moving into our “bungalow” with its unusually large and charming garden filled our imagination and conversation, leaving little room for shadow-talk.
It’s not that we were intentionally avoiding the subject. The “subject” had simply not yet been named.

“Mrs Shaw?” The voice was warm and friendly, professional. I undressed and followed instructions on where and how to position myself. I could not breathe. I was compliant, of course, and silent as the practitioner manipulated my body. The machine’s gaze silently going to work to expose the lurking shadows. Then, finally, we were done.

The results came back as “Indeterminate,” and I was whisked off for an ultrasound scan and even more prodding.

Waiting for the surgeon, my thoughts wandered to plans for Christmas. We were gathering at my son and his family’s for Christmas this year. It was another first. Our home was all but packed up and ready for the move, so we had come to a compromise. We would bring the meat, but they would host the meal.

He was not what I had expected, the surgeon. A softly spoken, distinguished looking man. Addressing me by my first name (I liked that) he talked through the notes as if they were someone else’s. The image on his computer screen was a side-ways x-ray image of a breast, my left breast. The two clusters of white flecks were clear, even to my untrained eye.

“You’ll need to come in for a needle biopsy. It is the only way to determine what these flecks are.” He spoke the words calmly, matter-of-factly. Dazed, I left the surgeon’s office and silently handed the paper to the receptionist. She’d seen it all before, the automated response masking the inner quake with its threatening emotional tsunami.

Appointment card in hand, I made my way downstairs and out of the building. The familiar blue and grey of our old Mitsubishi was a welcome sight. He was already there, waiting. Richard was, is, my best friend. I hesitated and attempted a smile. “I’m afraid we have some challenges ahead.” My voice was small, choked, as I answered his questioning eyes.

“Oh,” he replied, squeezing my hand hard. He paused for just a moment and then slowly edged the car out of the hospital car park into the night, and we made our way home in silence.

Neither of us spoke as we wrestled with our own questions and emotions. No words were necessary. For almost thirty years we had proven our commitment to each other, and for better or worse, our love remained unquestionable.

The diagnosis was confirmed two weeks later—DCIS in the left breast. The two large clusters were mostly contained in the milk ducts. A mastectomy was needed. I became an expert on researching breast cancer surgery, eventually making the decision to have a double mastectomy with immediate breast implants, asserting some level of control once again.

The most common questions posed were: “How did you cope with the surgery?” “What was it like?’” I can honestly say that I found I was never alone. The God who loved me and Whom I worshiped was present, there, every moment along the way. I once heard someone say that “grace is there when you need it, not before”—so true!

I loathe cancer and the devastation it brings to so many. However, in contemplating my own encounter with cancer, I find that I am thankful. I am truly, deeply grateful for the light that comes in the darkest moments. For it was in my darkest hour that I came to know, without a doubt, just how loved I am. And for this I am eternally thankful.

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Category: Knowing, Prose, When Women Waken Literary Journal

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