AMONGST THE TRIBE
“How come you haven’t been to the Sister’s of Survival dinner?” I was asked by my aunt a few years back at my first diagnosis. I tried not to roll my eyes. “It is not really my thing,” I responded as graciously as I could muster. If anyone can possibly imagine at that point, I was trying to keep under the radar so the thought of sitting with a group of breast cancer survivors discussing their breast cancer was way too much for my newly diagnosed self. This has been a part of me and my personality that I have been trying to work on. This part of my personality that I definitely inherited from Ann (aka the woman who gave birth to me who doesn’t speak to me)- the quick to judge part, the quick to say no part with no possible consideration that it may just be what I need. How would I know if it would have been helpful if I wouldn’t even give it a chance?
Fast forward two years and we all know what happens next- a new diagnosis, a double mastectomy, reconstruction and there is no hiding out this round. My writing is out there and so am I. There is no under the radar anymore. Here I am again, but this time, one of my favorite and dearest long term clients asks me. “How come you haven’t been to the Sister’s of Survival dinner?” Here I realized that I had actually never been asked so instead of responding with my quick and typical no, I softened the reply with the truth. “I have never been invited.” She seemed surprised by this and we continued to discuss the positives of the dinner and then the conversation concluded when she was called to her appointment. Little did I know that this casual discussion would later come with an invite to this past week’s Tuesday evening dinner. I really couldn’t say no. First off I love the intention of the group, I love the women who started it, and I love my client. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and say yes.
I have always had a bit of hesitation around cancer type groups. For no reason other than my own seriously stupid need to be independent and I can do this myself attitude. This never serves as I have learned in my business world, certainly in parenting. But breast cancer for some reason, I just didn’t want to join the pity party. My aversion and concern about jumping into this was twofold. Firstly, I didn’t want to walk into a full blown two hour dinner with comparisons of surgeries, doctors, ailments and stages of cancer. Secondly, and most importantly, I didn’t want to be around a big group of sadness leaving me feeling sadder and depressed. Clearly this wouldn’t have been helpful for healing. I think that my revelation of getting lost and my fear of it comes into play here. I realized that my deep fear and anxiety of getting lost in the woods on my hiking trips that I love is a profound metaphor for how I travel in my life. The reality is that getting lost is a knowingness of relinquishing control. Breast cancer diagnosis is also this. Sure, we can blast off to nutritionists, do extensive searches on the internet (where we endlessly quote to our doctors all of the facts we find- talk about eye rolling) go to alternative naturopaths, start purchasing enough monthly supplements that could otherwise feed a family of ten every month and so on to allow us to think that we are in control. Ultimately though I have come to realize for the most part it is out of my hands. The feeling of release, of getting lost on the path and more importantly allowing it is actually better for my soul and its healing. I am just talking about me here. Everyone is different.
So as Tuesday evening came closer, I had a bit of a nervousness in its approach. This in itself is out of my comfort zone. I am a social being. I love parties and connections with other women. The butterfly feeling in my gut surprised me and I was guessing it was because of the unknown feelings this dinner may conjure up. When I found my friend, her biggest brightest smiley and happy face met mine along with the group of also smiley and some familiar women she was sitting with already downing their first pale pink gorgeous cosmo and I was immediately at ease. I sat with her and four other power house survivors who were kind and joyous and extremely welcoming. There were stories, yes. But they were filled with humor, laughter, and an automatic knowing between us that just made me feel like I was taking a much needed nap from my busy alayne white self. I loved the dinner with them. I didn’t have to explain anything. I could be quiet and listen or I could talk and engage and it was all accepted with love and warmth. The only analogy I can come up with is my trip to Israel at Christmas time about seven years ago. Living in a primarily Christmas town, I have spent most of my son’s life explaining and listening to him explain that we don’t celebrate Christmas (because in case you don’t know, not everyone does and it is OK.) Going to Israel and seeing Hanukkah decorations abound and no Christmas decorations allowed us to be Jewish among Jewish. It was so easy to hang out and say Happy Hanukkah and not have to explain that it is not “our Christmas.” We were among our tribe during an otherwise month of the usual red and green and everything Santa. It was a relief.
The Sisters of Survival dinner was like this. It was a relief. It was a rest. It was getting lost and found and knowing that even if I got lost, I would be rescued and if I wasn’t rescued then I wasn’t. It was the moment, not the what if. It was the sharing and the camaraderie amongst all walks of women who have found themselves because they got lost when they were diagnosed. This was the surprising rescue of my soul. It came because instead of judgmentally jumping to a no, I kindly and graciously said yes for a change and allowed and accepted the experience. The reward was a lovely evening with the strongest and kindest of women who offered their hearts to me without having to say a word. Lost and found indeed.