We all experience loss. It may be the loss of a friend, a pet, a loved one. Forty-five years of pharmacy practice on top of personal experience taught me that there is nothing as devastating as the loss of our sense of self. When I contracted Lyme Disease in the 1978 I had small children to take care of and keep safe. While the headaches and facial paralysis happened suddenly, the loss of function happened gradually as my brain swelled. The team at Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Ct. made suggestions and offered solutions. It took 5 years to fall into the pit of dyslexia and double vision and lose the ability to read for comprehension. After the spirochete was discovered and IV antibiotic treatment, I gradually climbed out of the pit and learned how to do things again like balance the checkbook. Because of the slow nature of it all I adapted and used the anger to fight my way back. The tools were Clan of the Cave Bear, which I read three times, and very complex cross-stitch and eventually quilting. I don’t remember having time to negotiate, or ask “Why me?” I did use the experience with my pharmacy patients and it made me a much better pharmacist.
This last February, I had a routine mammogram. The call back for a follow-up didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the appointment for the ultrasound. Then there was the biopsy. Knowing “doctor speak” is not always a good thing. By the time the biopsy was done, the radiologist was pretty clear that I should expect bad news. It was in his voice and his terminology. The biopsy was done on a Tuesday with the preliminary results due Thursday. I slept through the call from my primary. The message asked that I call the office back “as soon as possible”. The receptionist asked if I could come in the following afternoon. My response was, “I guess the biopsy wasn’t clear”. The silence on the other end of the line was deafening. On Friday afternoon it was official – breast cancer. Surgery is scheduled in two weeks. There are hoops I have to jump through before that. Everyone is optimistic that this will be easily cured.
To the outside world, I am holding it together. I can tell jokes. I dyed my hair lavender. At 72 I can die my hair any color I want to (except black because it is SOO overdone). My hair color is the only thing I can control. I cry in private and am running through the stages of grief. I made 32 bird-like quilt blocks in different colors to take my mind off this while I wait.
Times that I am angry, I can take a rotary cutter to scrap material and cut it to pieces. I pushed to finish piecing my daughter’s wedding quilt. If there is nerve damage from surgery, I will use my quilt making as rehabilitation along with meditation. I will define a new ME.
Life is not static. We redefine ourselves with each milestone. We reinvent ourselves every time we take a risk to learn something new, or relinquish control of something that doesn’t matter anymore or don’t have the expertise to handle. We learn how to rescue ourselves. Each of us should look at life’s challenges as opportunities to enhance the complex quilt that is our own unique life.