The girls chatting

The girls chatting -- © 2008-2013 jmnowak, all rights reserved
The girls chatting — © 2008-2013 jmnowak, all rights reserved

Women visitors to an old blog, now defunct, commented they could relate to this image, a lot. It is a photo of a common occurrence all over the world. For me, it signifies communication, contact, friendship, helpfulness and also a form of expression. The close huddle of this group of women also told me they were most comfortable with each other. I don’t know the women.

I was in the Black Cat café on this particular rainy Winter’s day, enjoying a drink I’d never had before (a warm apple strudel drink, quite delicious and a unique specialty of the barman), as well as the ambience of a place I’d also never been to before. Kitsch interior design, comfortable couches, on which I was sitting, and observing the sunlight after the rain and what it was doing to the floor-to-ceiling windows, compositionally-speaking — some areas fogged over slightly, rivulets running down, raindrops frozen on the panes, and with interesting shapes and colours coming through from the street outside, in a nice abstract way. As I’m always looking for and seeing new images wherever I am, I carry my compact digital in my handbag for such moments. This day was no different. Ambient light photography is my preferred mode.

These three elegant, mature women came through the door. Took their seats at this table. I observed them closely for the fine details; clothes, jewellery, hair, makeup and so on that told me something about them. What I did notice most particularly is that their spectacles were so now. Their elegance said money and good style habits. They felt comfortable in their skin.

My knack for switching off to nearby conversations meant I was able to concentrate on my own thoughts, but I also quickly took this photo without being obtrusive (they didn’t notice in fact, they were so engrossed in their chat), and occasionally I caught snippets about their work. Colleagues. Professionals. Well paid. Aha, now I understood!

It’s happened…

Like many other women have experienced, I too have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, something, I admit, I didn’t think I would get, despite everything else in my medical history. If you were to ask, I would smile and joke with you, to quote “The only way you can tell I’m a woman, these days, is by my vagina and breasts, everything else is gone! Oh, and by the fact I wear lipstick when I’m out in public (must keep up appearances!).”  Do I feel less of a woman because of this loss, well, No! But, then, I don’t view myself as a ‘woman’ but as a person, that’s always been my viewpoint. I won’t discuss the philosophy behind that attitude in this post.

Interestingly, the breast where the carcinoma is located (right, very near the nipple) is the breast my recently deceased step-brother loved to use as a punching bag as a young boy and teenager whenever the mood took him (he was a bit of a bully, I’m a pacifist but not a doormat)!  I can look at this metaphorically and say that taking out this cancer will be the final letting-go of that link to him and now I am free, literally and figuratively. Now I can concentrate on nurturing myself, at last!

Interestingly, too, it has been the left breast and armpit that have been quite sensitive over recent months, yet the cancer is in my right breast! Weird! I can’t figure that one out…other than to say, I guess my left breast went out in sympathy! LOL.   ;)

Illness as metaphor has been a long-time interest of mine because I have had much ill-health and a few major operations. I’ve recovered, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. As someone who examines her daily actions at the end of each day, as part of meditative practice, it has been interesting to look over those times and see how my life, at that time, was revealed via my illness at that time and to be so cruelly accurate!  Decisions made to change my life post-those operations and incidents generally proved fruitful, but not always as, sometimes, the circumstances didn’t allow such major change to be made. My health practices allowed me to cope and deal with my life in a more healthy way especially when I wasn’t able to make the necessary changes.

What are the breasts used for? They are there to provide nourishment to newborn babies and that allows a mother to also bond with her child from such an intimate activity.  Nourish, nurture, same word root.  I think that a cancer appearing in a breast is also a sign that the woman needs to nurture herself to live a healthier, more fruitful life that gives her joy and a great sense of accomplishment, learning to take care of herself first. Often this is hard for women to do as, in my experience of Australian culture and society, and most likely elsewhere, we are trained from a very young age to think of others first, not ourselves. This is not healthy! This is death emotionally, psychologically!  How can we love and nourish/nurture others, if we don’t love ourselves first? That’s my view.  How this relates to me is that it’s been around eleven years since I truly nurtured myself, by listening to my instincts and intuition and acting upon those urges. My situation hasn’t allowed it, unfortunately, and irrespective of the fact I now have a ‘contented’ demeanour and don’t stress out necessarily, the future has been of great concern and, the way I see it, it’s not going to be pretty! I won’t bore you about that as it will depress you. Live each day as it comes, but make goals that you can work towards. I hope to be able to do something positive in that regard, at some stage soon!

The operation I will have is a lumpectomy (2cm carcinoma invasive) with sentinel node biopsy and possible removal of the level 1 nodes (ultrasound showed the lymphs to be clear), with radiotherapy afterwards commencing 4-6 weeks later; overnight stay in hospital.  Follow up meeting one week after the op. to discuss treatment and review the pathology results.

There are many who have survived this operation and the outcome for me is looking good too. I have spoken with two women survivors, have had some great laughs with them about things and the process, and I know I’m on the right track and feeling more confident than I did.  The only concern is my age and other current physical limitations, and living on my own, but there is plenty of support available and as someone who doesn’t panic and is well organised, if I need something I will make sure I get it! Part of the nurturing myself outlook I am taking on now.  :)  Set for 14august at 1pm, arrive at 9am. It will be a long day.  I am giving my most favourite music CD to the team (Begin the Beguine, a compilation of 16 big band tracks from Tommy Dorsey to Duke Ellington to Glenn Miller etc, and with Ella Fitgerald singing on some tracks), as a thank-you to them for their roles and to play throughout the operation, as I’d like to wake up feeling good!

Wish me luck!  A recent fortune cookie in my favourite Thai eatery in the CBD reads: “A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” I laughed, as you do when you realise it’s the truth….I bought a Tattsloto ticket with the lucky numbers written on the back; wish me luck!!!

PS: This is the last post, for a while. But, I will be back!

Even the seagulls enjoy the surf -- © 2008-2012 jmnowak, all rights reserved
Even the seagulls enjoy the surf — © 2008-2013 jmnowak, all rights reserved

16aug Update:  The operation and recovery went well! It was the first time in my life that I did not throw up during recovery, so the anaesthetist has done a great job with the mix (we had a long chat beforehand), and my recovery nurse, Jason, was just the best, a truly lovely guy (gave him a handkiss on his cheek and said thank you).  Am at home, no pain, and taking it easy eating a bowl of breakfast cereal with yogurt, banana and dried cranberries, writing this update! Follow up meeting and pathology results review is next Tuesday, depending on how quickly they can get the results (they’ve been told to hurry up!).  All the staff at the Alfred Centre were terrific. I shall be writing a letter of thanks and making a monetary donation too. The Alfred Hospital is a teaching hospital connected with the research-based Monash University (I nearly attended there many years ago hoping to do a counselling psychology degree, but didn’t make it as I was too emotionally tired at the time, but would have been accepted due to my STAT scores). The hospital complex also has a number of research institutions located thereon. A great facility with a long history of doing ground-breaking work.