01.05.16

Cancer in your Rearview Mirror

Our Guides are one thoughtful group of women. In this blog post Susan Pettit writes about what happens when breast cancer is in your rearview mirror.

SusanPerspective. Time. Gratitude. When I awoke from the haze we call breast cancer and no longer had a calendar filled with appointments, I felt as though I was frozen in time. What had just occurred in my life? Was cancer really in my rearview mirror? Had my life’s priorities and choices forever shifted? For me, they had.

I was a couple of years out from constant doctoring and now searching for purpose and adjustment to a “new normal.” The underlying current of change was happening at an emotional, physical and spiritual level despite the internal fight for my life to remain unchanged. Unchanged was not possible. The radical awareness the proverbial gift of cancer was teaching me about gratitude, time, and purpose was bubbling to the surface whether I wanted it to or not. How was it possible that cancer had a deeper message for me that would awaken the present and not a fixation on the past?

That message came to the fore when I heard an MPR radio broadcast on the topic of resilience and happiness. In his book, The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness, Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic talked about the unexpected connection between happiness and adversity. He likened resilience to rumble strips on the side of the highway. “From the rumble strip you can end up in the ditch, or you can recover back on the highway,” Soot said. With resilience, “the idea is to recover quickly on the highway of life.”

For me, the highway of life meant finding a way to give back what I had been so generously given. I hosted a Pink Beauty Experience at my house – a professional photo shoot to capture the beauty of baldness, wigs, hope and laughter – all wrapped up with a final photo holding our chalkboard statement on the impact cancer had in our lives – uncensored and in the moment. It was an extraordinary day celebrating vulnerability and strength as only seen through a Nikon lens.

As my hair began to grow, the custom scarves and hats my talented friend had made me needed new homes. The newly diagnosed continued to show up at my Fairview Ridges support group. After listening to how raw and confused they were as they began their journeys, I knew my gently loved accessories belonged with them. I was deeply touched by how often breast cancer was affecting women of all ages and wondered how and from whom they were getting support outside of this room. Were any of these women like I was? Did they struggle with isolation and a desire to talk with someone who had walked this path before they had?

Enter serendipity with a dose of grace. I began to see mention of Firefly Sisterhood, its purpose and stories popping up on Facebook groups. The unusual name and approach to supporting women with breast cancer peaked my interest. Why wasn’t it pink? What did a firefly have to do with breast cancer? I discovered the thoughtful and intentional answers to these questions by reaching out to the organization and doing a little “firefly symbolism” research myself. One site I stumbled upon stated that “although our physical appearance may seem one way, it is our internal makings – what is inside us – (such as our spirit) that makes us shine from the inside out. That which is within us will always illuminate us and those around us.”

Cancer was in my rearview mirror but my experience could help light the way for others, one sister at a time, one day at a time. And the more fireflies, the brighter the light. I became a Guide in October of this year and am working with my first match. My “new normal” of offering to others what I have so unexpectedly been given has just begun. Thank you Firefly Sisterhood for finding me.

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