On October 4th I had a truly transformative experience, and I don’t use that term lightly. Believe me, I know what it is to be transformed.
In the summer of 2013 my entire body was transformed in a 12.5 hour operation that removed and discarded my breasts, detached tissue and skin from my abdomen, and reattached it to the place my breasts had been. While doctors were able to splice together the needed blood supplies, the splicing of nerves is not possible. The result is entirely numb pseudo-breasts made from the skin and fat that used to reside on my belly. When you hear a breast cancer survivor speak about accepting “the new me,” this is what she’s talking about.
|Nicole and I in our 'Formal Wear'|
So what happened on October 4th that could rival that transformation? I participated as a model in Celebration 2014, a truly rockin’ runway show featuring breast cancer survivors in fashions donated by local merchants. The event raised money for Enloe Hospital’s Cancer Compassion Fund, which helps patients with any kind of cancer when their other financial resources run out or don’t apply.
I was invited to be in this show by my breast cancer coach, Nicole Scoubes. She’s a vibrant survivor who always seems to have her finger in a worthy pie, so I thought I’d join her for some fun. At the initial Meet and Greet for Celebration 2014 though, I saw that what I thought would be a bit of fun for a good cause was a truly elegant, meticulously organized, passionately pursued event of a caliber that blew me away. I felt honored to be involved with a group of volunteers so dedicated and passionate.
|Volunteer make-up artists, stylists |
and models, preparing
At that initiatory event I heard the endeavor referred to as “planning a wedding for 40 brides.” I couldn’t see until October 4th how true that comparison was. The number of volunteers supporting the 14-scene show far outnumbered the models. Many of the volunteers are breast cancer survivors themselves. There were make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe consultants, designers, donation handlers, caterers, florists, photographers, prop builders, producers, audio/visual technicians, choreographers and a lively cohort of firemen as escorts.
Charlene Mikeska, a 22 year breast cancer survivor, brought Celebration to Chico for the first time in 2009, and again in 2012, raising over $26,000. Part of Charlene’s biography in the Celebration 2014 program says, “Most of the models agree to serve because they believe in raising consciousness and money for breast cancer. They don’t realize until the day of the event that they will be celebrating themselves, and their endurance with grace through a difficult journey.”
I do believe I endured the difficult part of my journey with grace. My coping mechanism was humor. I chronicled my journey through a blog reminiscent of the writings of Dave Barry. A favorite feature was a running pictorial of myself with other people who shared my ‘haircut,’ including Governor Jerry Brown, Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil, my own bald mother, and a baby who was not at all happy I commandeered him for the photo.
But there was something troubling, too, at the onset of my involvement with Celebration. You see, its stated mission is, in part, to showcase “the beauty, grace and resilience of life beyond breast cancer.” Back in August, when I read that mission statement for the first time, life beyond breast cancer was not going well for me. I had made the following entry in my personal journal only days before:
“I HATE CANCER with every fiber of my being. People think the life-threatening nature of cancer is what’s bad about it. Or the sickness and pain brought on by chemo. Or the hair loss. Or the painful surgeries and side effects. I’m here to tell you all of that is chump compared to what cancer takes away from you when it’s gone. I entered cancer as a vibrant, active wife and mother, full of sexuality and verve; and here I am not even two years post Finding-a-Lump and I have turned into an old lady: void of energy, undesirable, infertile, butch and covered in scars. Cancer took away my sex life. Cancer took away the intimacy of my marriage. And oh, yeah, let’s not forget the obvious: cancer took away my breasts. Essentially, cancer stole my prime, and I’m angry about it.”
Yet on October 4th, only two months later, I rocked that runway like a diva, surrounded by
Back stage we waited in line to go on as other models filed off. “How did it go?” a model waiting to go on stage asked a model just coming off. “It went great,” she said, then quickly added, “but they’re cheering no matter what!” There was a rush of excitement to be on stage, to be so vehemently applauded, to be alive and to be part of a body of sisters so powerful and lovely. Women who had been strangers are now friends. Ours is a bond that will undoubtedly continue, as we volunteer in support roles for the models of the next Celebration.
My October 4th transformation was as dramatic spiritually as my surgical transformation was physically. Where I had been angry I am now full of grace. Where I had been resentful I am now resilient. Where I had felt undesirable, I now feel beautiful. And these differences in me make a difference in my marriage. Thanks to my talented doctors and my new Celebration family, life beyond breast cancer is a very good place to be.