Knock, Knock. . . Who's There?. . . Cancer

I have been told that each person's experience with cancer is different. Each approach to treatment is different. And each person's reaction to treatment is different.

It was summer of 2001 and I was driving home from having spent a nice weekend camping at the coast. While in the cab of my truck I experienced a startling pain in my left breast. I drew my right hand to the spot, testing for tenderness to touch. It didn't feel sore as a bruise would. But there was a lump.

By March of 2002, the lump felt more noticeable. A bit larger and harder to the touch. The lump moved about freely; it was not attached to anything, but I felt a deep concern, and an inexplicable need to have a doctor look at it.

On 3-11-02, I called the doctor's office and explained I felt I needed a mammogram as soon as possible. It had been a year since my last mammogram so I was due. My desire to have it done ASAP I could not explain except to say I felt deeply compelled to make the request. Following the mammogram several more tests were conducted.

On an April afternoon, on my way back to the office from a home visit with a client I received a call on my cell phone. It was my doctor. He asked me: "Are you in a good place to hear some bad news?" I pulled over and turned the engine off. The test results had come back positive for cancer.

My moments before, lucid world shut down. All doors closed on what had been, in an instant. My world was suddenly a world filled with delirium. What I said, or how I was able to respond at all is mostly a mystery to me. I recall thinking the sun seemed extraordinarily bright. I thought about the people on the street around me, going about their normal and rational activities. And how I felt cut off from their reality. I know I spoke to my doctor while at the same time my silently screaming self was reeling.

My mother took me to the hospital on that cold and rainy Tuesday, the last day of April. It was dark out in the early morning hours. I signed in and registered. I had a mastectomy and left the hospital the next day.

My oncologist was a physician at a California Cancer Center, and it was at the Center where I was to have my chemo treatments. I remember dreading my first appointment--my first treatment. My mother, may God bless her, drove me to my first session. I walked into the Center, looked around, saw the people in the waiting room--the patients and their families...and fell apart.

Having been apprised of what chemo could do to a person, the side effects, I felt a little prepared for what might happen to me. But actually facing it...sharing that experience with others was heartrending and spirit-buckling at the same time.

My attitude, in the beginning, was one of defiance, anger, and disbelief. I felt vulnerable and helpless. I felt mortal. None of which felt comfortable.

But after a time, the feeding of those negative emotions began to take their toll on me mentally and physically. They were doing me no good. They only served to cripple my functioning. Rob me of any sanity I might yet be able to cull out of my changed life. I wanted peace and serenity back in my life. I wanted to feel and function as normal as I was able.

The tools to transform my existence into a satisfying experience were within my grasp. There are timeless moments. Many of them. And they blow about just as the wind blows autumn leaves, or scatters words in the skirts of a breeze. The routes of the pockets of timelessness move by no planned course. They just are; like the wind. And they can occur anytime. Any place. They are offered, and only by accepting them will I live them. It is so simple, really. Savor the brush of high emotion on the face of a dear one; allow my spirit to be carried with the wind as it courses through the trees; open myself to all that lives around me. On that walk I may take in the morning one of those pockets may be within my reach. The window of opportunity to reach out and grab hold can be as long as only a single breath. If I hesitate, I have lost that opportunity. I cannot say: I'm too busy now to enjoy that. I'll wait until the next time. There will not be a next time, for that particular moment. Each one is special and unique. For me, I do not hesitate-I grasp like a starving soul, at each moment.

And I have learned . . .

Each minute I draw breath something divine is happening, and somewhere else, something harrowing. Other beings are experiencing the most exciting moments of their lives. While on the flip side, other beings are suffering through their darkest hours. I will rarely be able to change or effect any of it. I know that it is true and when I am experiencing tough times, I recall that somewhere, someplace, the extraordinary is happening. The sublime. I draw on that. Picture it in my mind's eye and a peace suffuses my spirit.

Give thanks: It never hurts to do so, and it improves your attitude, gives you a brighter perspective on your outlook for the future.

I give thanks--thanks that God listened to my prayers and the prayers of others, and responded. Thanks that I can still enjoy things like I used to, with a childlike joy and awe. Thanks that life goes on and the world still turns. Thanks that the close friends I have now are the same ones I had before. Either they have good judgement, or I do, or both. It is a blessing! Thanks that though I feel more mortal than before, at the same moment, I feel more alive.

And I respond now: To my heart, my mind, my questing spirit. I don't let an opportunity slip past me to explore more of the world around me. More of the splendid wonders still waiting to be discovered.

I reach out to others who might benefit from my experience. From my pain and my joy. I give them honesty, but do so with compassion.

I respond to my friends and family. They still need me, as I need them. That hasn't changed. It is what friends and family do for each other.

I respond to my needs, be they medical, nutritional, health, physical, mental, emotional, occupational, or financial. I don't neglect them.

Life goes on: Lock the door, or leave it open. The world continues on, and life in whatever form it exists in goes on, too. I'm not going to change that. So I accept it with a smile. It can't hurt. And I will live it, every day, for as long as I am here.

The world around me is there for me--today. It is no different for every person on this globe, young or old or middle aged. This is my time and it is no less substantial than any life lived a lifetime ago, or a century ago.

I hope I live it well, honorably, and fully.

Copyright 2003 by Kathy Anne Harris

Four of my books have been published. They are available at, Barnes &,,, and other online dealers. You can also order them from your local bookstore. I also write poetry. I am a social worker by day, a writer by life. I live in California's San Joaquin Valley.

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