Amoena Life magazine conducted its fourth Club Amoena essay contest last summer and contacted the winner in October, 2013. Meet Marilyn Wattman-Feldman, 61, a longtime reader and a courageous survivor of metastatic breast cancer who has learned a lot over the years about life’s winding road. Here, she shares how she travels it with grace.
Every road traveled in life has a curve. In one instance, it can be a treacherous road that needs to be navigated in order to reach a new destination. Or, it can be the image of a woman staring at herself in a mirror seeing the reflection of a body that has changed, perhaps beyond recognition. Life hands us “curve balls.”
The journey from normal to a “new” normal has many such curves. What starts as a simply day can end with a horrific nightmare. Initially, hearing that I had breast cancer did not necessarily scare me since I was a daughter of a long-time survivor. But when the cancer changed direction, metastasizing to both the lungs and eventually the bones — that curve turned into a dark, terrifying path. The ability for me to see beyond that point was, at best, difficult. I would find myself on a roller coaster/merry-go-round (two rides I despise) for way too many years. Those long hours of living in chronic pain, both physical and emotional, have left their marks. Attempting to find a way out — learning to embrace a new curve, took on new meaning.
There are many words that can be shared — words meant to heal and make one feel better. I heard them all. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Friends and family told me “You will get better.” “You will survive.” I needed to find my own words, something I could embrace, and thus I began to say, “Everyday in every way I am getting better and stronger.”
I posted these words on my computer screen with a sticky note. I posted the words on books I read, on the tables nearby my hospital chair where I went for chemo. Everywhere I went I saw those words and they became my personal mantra. At first, they were just words I said. I felt awful. I lived in pain 24/7. While I never completely lost my hair during chemotherapy, I did get a horrific burn from radiation. I still recall the day I ripped off my bra and threw it away. The pain of wearing anything on my breast was too much. The “curve” I was on was a dead-end.
The transformation from being in that deep, dark scary place took time. To be honest, it took years. For years I lived a totally different life — I looked different. I weighed in at 186 pounds, definitely “weird” from someone who spent 99 percent of her life underweight. I used lots and lots of “drugs” — most for pain management. I discovered that there is pain beyond the standard scale of 1 – 10. When I broke my right femur (2005) and left femur (2008) the pain scale was at 100, both times. Finding a way out of this scenario — that was logical, safe, and normal — would certainly require major intervention. This came in the way of writing. I had to return to something I enjoyed. Something that brought out a passion in me. While in the deepest of depression, I stopped writing. I could not even put two words together to form a sentence. But, when I re-discovered my interest in writing, life changed. I found a new “avenue” that worked for me.
First, it was a play titled “Chemonologues” that took me two years to write and was presented as a play reading. This reinforced my self-image, allowing me to “change the curve” in my life. I also discovered a new passion. I began exercising. Water fitness, Silver Sneakers, tai chi… eventually, I moved on to Zumba and basic spinning. That 186-pound woman I did not recognize — she lost 50 pounds in one year. And now, I have discovered a new me.
The body I saw in the mirror was still misshaped; I had curves where they didn’t even belong. The mosaic of my total self was and still is a major work in progress. However, I am finally able to “embrace every cure” that comes my way. And seriously, it feels great!