Awakening

It was early morning, a couple of weeks ago, when I was awoken from a deep sleep by the sound of a doorbell. As I laid there, trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes and calming my beating heart, I listened to hear if Coco was stirring. She wasn’t and I realized it was a dream. But like many dreams, I feel they are speaking to me, so I had to find out the meaning as to why I don’t recall anything else from my slumber, except for the sound of a doorbell.

I got out of bed and made myself a cup of coffee. As I often do, when I’m trying to what I’m being told subconsciously, I jumped on the internet and Googled, “what is the meaning behind doorbells in dreams”. I found:

To dream of hearing a doorbell represents unexpected news or unexpected waking life situations. To dream of ringing a doorbell represents your attempt to draw attention to yourself or some issue. You may be surprising someone else with something they weren’t expecting.

dreams.metroeve.com

This post is the hardest thing I’ve written to date, and I have written about some very difficult topics for me: failure, loss, betrayal and injustice. However, being vulnerable and raw in these posts have helped me: to move through emotions, these particular life events, and to understand myself and the world around me. In writing about these adversities, it has also helped me to be grateful and find joy in what is around me. So I add a warning to this post, if you’re looking for an ooey-gooey, happy ending, I don’t know that I can deliver it this time, but I promise it is another honest look at myself and the world around me through my Ms. Adventures with a twist of humor.

After this dream, I knew I had to wake up! In the past couple of days, I had told those close to me that I had felt a lump in my left breast and had scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist to take next steps. It was unnerving. It took me to a dark place, but a heavy burden was released when I could talk about my fears.

Vanity and cancer

It has been on my mind for weeks.
If you’ve ever witnessed a loved one or you, yourself, have gone through treatment, you know what I mean.

Losing your hair.
The sickness and nausea.
The poison that courses through your veins.
In many cases, your body is carved to remove the enemy.

And you are left a different person.

And if the cancer doesn’t kill you.

Are you still whole?

Do you learn to appreciate the sun rise?
The full moon?
The sound of birds?
The hum of the city?
The smile of a stranger?
The way your body looks?
Why aren’t you appreciating it now?

And why does vanity weigh so heavily?

I knew nothing about what this lump was, but it took me to a place that I had tucked away years ago, my experience with cancer. My mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 16 or 17, she quietly went into treatment and at the end, she was in remission. She had milestone appointments to ensure that the cancer didn’t return. After her 5th year, she received a clean bill of health. However within a few months, she experienced debilitating headaches, so when she went back in to see her doctors and they found lesions on her brain. I went with her to her oncology appointment where the doctor explained the findings. He made a comment that, while in shock, stopped me. He suggested she get her affairs in order. Overwhelmed by the information, we left. I went back to work and in relaying the information to my uncle, whom I worked with, I was struck by that comment and decided to call the doctor. He blatantly told me, “typically this diagnosis means she has 6 to 9 months to live.” I never told my mom this.

As her treatment started, I was with her when she chopped her long beautiful black hair to make way for a shorter do and the potential of the shorter locks falling off due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Outwardly, she remained in good spirits. Six months passed and it seemed the cancer was subsiding. I thought it to be a true miracle and spent as much time with her as I could while raising my young family. Around the ninth month, the cancer settled in her spine which caused her to be somewhat paraplegic. Confined to a hospital bed in a rehabilitation center, I had learned to help with her catheter and check and clean her bed sores. After a couple of months, she was released to her home. I would go over daily and sit with her, talk about anything and everything, help her move her muscles and other things as needed. My grandparents had moved in full-time with her. As much as I wanted every breath of her life I could get, by the grace of God, I asked for her suffering to end. On June 22, 1996 she succumbed to cancer.

This is the most detailed writing about my mom’s journey I have written to date. I’m not going to lie, it hit as hard as it did living through it, but I think it’s important for me to finally realize this is what cancer is for me. Although I have many loved ones who are survivors and thrivers, and so many medical advances have occurred in the past 25 years, this traumatic experience is has been imprinted within my psyche.

You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid <afraid, but putting on a brave face under my smile

Rise Up, Andra Day

I went from feeling shame for my own vanity, to not wanting to place that type of burden on my own children (even though I would do it all over again for my mom if I had the opportunity to have her here with me), to hating not having control of the unknown. All this, while not even having my gynecological appointment yet. I only told my mini’s, my brother, my aunt and a few of my closest friends.

I went to my appointment and was so grateful when offered to be driven by my loves. I explained my concern about the lump, but was able to get a few laughs out of the nurse and doc…when talking about my life or lack thereof and was dumbfounded when asked if I was happy about my weight. I looked at the doc with a blank stare and wanted to ask, “does anyone answer, ‘yes’, to that question?” She prescribed a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. After my appointment, I sat in the parking lot and called the Breast Imaging Center and lucked out to get an appointment within the next week. Then, I was reminded I was not alone when my angel numbers 11:11 and 12:22 appeared that day. As I do, to get out of my head, I put my whole self into work, until, it came to my mammogram appointment. Again, while I was so grateful for the offers to take me, I opted to go alone. I have never heard from anyone who has gone through this experience describe it as enjoyable. I have never been more contorted, smashed and uncomfortable than during the mammogram. Being told to take a deep breath and hold it, made me feel like I was going to pass out. The plan was to do my mammogram and followed by my blood work. That was nixed after I had to sit there drinking water to get my blood pumping into my head again.

Made my peace with the river
And went to sleep
Floating up to the surface
Graciously
I made my way to the arms of the open sea
Took my soul to the heart of the endless deep
But I breathe
I breathe, I breathe, I breathe,
I breathe

Breathe, Ellem

After the mammogram, I was taken to another room for the ultrasound as I laid down, I took in my surroundings: the low lit room, the wind chimes hanging from the ceiling, Magic 99.5 playing softly in the background. The kind technician asked me to turn slightly to my side and she got to work imaging my right breast, stopping and clicking along the way. She moved over to the left and took a multitude of images, then brought in the doctor. He looked at the images and informed me they were going to schedule a biopsy the following week. He also wanted to connect me to the nurse navigator after I was dressed. I met with her and she gave me some paperwork with definitions on how to read my pathology report. She mentioned their go-to surgeon and if the need arises she would connect me with that office. I left feeling a little overwhelmed and a little sore, but went to work. A few hours later, the nurse navigator called and informed me she was going to forward my contact information to the surgeon as a precautionary measure.

I am rereading The Alchemist and I always stop at the introduction story because of the beautiful twist to the what we’ve been told. May you always share the reflection of the beauty in others.
“The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus.
The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.
But this was not how the author of the book ended the story.
He said that when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.
‘Why do you weep?’ the goddesses asked.
‘I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied.
‘Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,’ they said, ‘for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.’
‘But… was Narcissus beautiful?’ the lake asked.
‘Who better than you to know that?’ the goddesses asked in wonder. ‘After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!’
The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:
‘I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.’
‘What a lovely story,’ the alchemist thought.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (copied from Good Reads)

The next day I was blessed by friends, Carla and Allen, to again style and outfit the young adults from the Ranches. It is humbling to me, to see the work you do empower others. This time 14 young ladies were so incredibly grateful for the gift of a new outfit and I could see how beautiful, comfortable and confident they all felt in it. I was reminded of the power we have even when we are struggling ourselves.

Valentine’s Day was that Sunday and my biopsy was the following Monday. Indoor dining had finally opened up and I wanted to go out with friends on Saturday night. I sent a message to my gurl gang to see who might be available. I had planned on hosting Galentine’s at home that Saturday but because I ended up working I didn’t have time to clean and cook. I needed to get out of my head. I am the girl that has tattoos but is afraid of needles and boy was I fixated on the needles. I was not looking forward to the appointment and on my way home had a mild panic attack. I got home, remembered to breathe, let go and played with my Coco(-nut). I went to bed exhausted, yet woke up at 4am trying to catch my breath.

“I am awake, I see the sun. I am going to give my gratitude to the sun and to everything and to everyone because I am alive. One more day to be myself.” Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

I got up and conquered my morning routine: reading, journaling, mass, drag by Coco, exercise and headed into work. I was looking for dresses for clients when I came across the perfect night out dress.

I made the decision that I wanted to dress up on Saturday, so I asked the girls the same. I got some push back and with the impending storm there were concerns about going out. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep compounded with all the feels, but I flipped a bit: “So this shit has me freaked out…because of my own past experiences with cancer. I just need something a little extra because that’s how I am. I don’t care if it’s Mac’s Steak in the Ruff. I just need to get out and get out of my head. I understand if you can’t make it and appreciate those who can.”

“There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make it through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, ‘Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.’ This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, ‘I AM the wilderness.'”
– Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness

Luckily, when you are surrounded by the best people who see and don’t judge, your soul and being are in a safe place to be understood even in flip out moments. The power in truly being seen is that in times of celebration and times of vulnerability you feel absolutely the same way. I am grateful they see me. I worked a crazy busy day on Saturday (all those last minute shoppers getting their Valentine’s gifts before the winter storm set in). I got home, put on my dress, blew out my hair, put makeup on and threw on heels. It had been a year since I got this dressed up. Denise picked me up and we laughed the whole way there talking about something that would actually fit and how we don’t know how to wear heels anymore. We got our table in the low lit dining room of Copper Lounge and it was wonderful to see so many people enjoying each other’s company, the food and libations. It felt like a time long ago in a galaxy far away (just checking to see if you are really reading this). Ang and Lee arrived and we spent the evening laughing and in thoughtful conversation while drinking and eating too much. I shared various life stories and it led to another conversation about a childhood friend’s mother, and her cancer diagnosis. My heart hurt.

— Word Porn

Although I hadn’t talked to him for quite sometime, I decided to reach out with my care and concern. He responded with his mom’s address. I sent her a note that included this message (above) I found just a few days before and all my love and prayers. While I hadn’t seen her for a number of years, she is one of the strongest women I know. I told her if she needed anything, she only needed to ask.

Monday rolled around and my KK took me to the biopsy appointment. When I was taken into the ultrasound room, I joked with the tech saying, “don’t laugh when I tell you I hate needles and you see my torso tattoos”. She laughed and I was glad I had a sense of humor. As I laid exposed on the examination table, the tech used the ultrasound to pinpoint the areas on my right and left breasts and marked them with a sharpie. Once complete, she brought in the doctor for the procedure. He explained that each area would sting and burn with the numbing solution and that he would count to three and then I’d hear a click for the sample taken. Finally, he explained that he’d be inserting a little titanium tag and that I would take a few more mammograms to xray that were in place. I’m sure I was covered in sweat and I held tight to my angel coin. However, it was not as bad as I thought it would be at all. Thank you, GOD! And, bonus, I couldn’t feel the mammogram.

They bandaged the entry points and packed me with Cardinal Health ice packs, which made me smile. I headed out with a reminder that it might take 2-5 days to get the results. The anticipation and anxiety of the biopsy wore me out. I was glad this step was over.

KK and I headed out. We stopped by Target for some Tylenol and she took me home. I immediately took the Tylenol and warmed some apple pie for her to eat. It started to get really cold again and I forgot to grab fire logs from Target, so I reached out to Isaiah asking him to bring me a couple on his way home. I also received a text from Denise telling me not to eat because dinner was going to be delivered at 5pm. Isaiah arrived and asked how the day went. I explained the procedure and he turned as quessy as I did when talking about needles. He shared with me he received a raise at work and that made me happy that he was being recognized for what he does. About that time, the doorbell rang and Denise arrived with an armful of pizzas and a bag. I thought maybe she was dropping one off and taking the rest home.

“You can always tell who the strong women are. They are the ones you see building one another up, instead of tearing each other down.” unknown

She placed them on the table and told me the girls were coming over. It was a school night and had been a cold wintery day. I couldn’t believe they were doing this for me. It was the best surprise ever!! Going back and forth of 30 minutes of icing my chest and 30 minutes off, we had a lively conversation filled with laughter, tears, and smiles with pizza, salad and wine. We made plans to get out of town as soon as we could. I was also so grateful to receive text messages from my Laura and my aunt Lisa. I was exhausted but felt so loved.

There’s always space for pretty little things

Back to work, I agonized about receiving the news. I had an appointment with the surgeon on Friday. I received a call, which I thought was pushing out my appointment to the following week because they hadn’t received authorization from my insurance. Later I found out that it was for a MRI appointment not the consultation. Wednesday night when I got home, I realized I missed a call from the radiologist. Too late in the day, I called first thing Thursday morning.

He was blunt and matter of fact. The pathology report determined that the mass in my right breast was benign. However the report found that the tissue sample taken from my left breast was found to be lobular carcinoma. I don’t remember what he said after that. I said, “thank you” at the end of the call, hung up and tears ran down my face. While I always knew in my gut it was more than just a lump, hearing it from the doctor finally cemented it. Luckily, I was in my back office at the time. I reached out and informed the group and Ang responded that she was on her way.

She sat with me for a little over an hour. We talked and laughed…laughter really is the best medicine. She asked what time my appointment was the next day and asked if she could take me. I said, “yes”. I went through the rest of the day with an out of body experience feeling.

That afternoon, I was working on a project when I heard “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. I was immediately taken back to “Flashdance” and Jeanie’s ice skating scene. It reminded me that no matter how well you are skating through life or how prepared you think you are, sometimes you get knocked down. Sometimes you fall hard! However, it’s not what knocked you on your ass that counts; it’s how you get back up.

I asked Ang to pick me up from work at 11:30am. She arrived promptly at that time. We arrived at the surgeon’s office about 10 minutes later. I was grateful that not only she could go in to the waiting area with me but they welcomed her into the consultation office. I needed an extra pair of ears and I know Angela would ask questions if I forgot to.

There were various stages meeting with different people from the team. They took my vitals and checked to see if I was bloated. They broke down my body weight, which later Ang and I laughed hysterically about when she thought I had memorized it (I couldn’t remember what time I told her to pick me up and she thought I’d remember the breakdown of my muscle mass and fat?!?). I knew the doctor; I had actually outfitted a year and a half before for a community fundraiser. She recognized that and we talked about work. She was very calming and provided overview of what the mammogram and biopsy found. However because of the type of cancer, she prescribed an MRI and wouldn’t be able to determine the treatment plan until she was able to review those findings. So she had her team schedule the MRI, a follow up appointment, blood work, and ct scan. They provided a referral for a reconstructive surgeon just in case one was needed. She also asked if I wanted to do genetic testing. I totally opted to do it. I want to be able to share those results with my minis and was super happy that the test was taken from saliva vs. blood. I made Ang laugh again when I had a hard time trying to fill the test tube with spit.

Throughout it all, so far, I have received incredible support and care. I am grateful for loved ones that have have been so supportive and have seen me…and not fragile like a flower but fragile like a bomb (like that, Ang). I appreciate that my health providers are taking an aggressive approach. I have been told how strong I am. I don’t feel it and in moments of self-pity, I wonder why I have to continue to show my strength, but at the end of the day I’m a fighter. I don’t know what the future brings but I am grateful for the day in front of me. I continue to focus on enjoying life to the fullest in this moment and sharing it with those who want to be part of it.

PC: Erin Killion Photography

I appreciate those who have taken time out of their lives to check on me. For those of you I didn’t tell right away, I didn’t know how to. What do you say, “how are you? well, I have cancer…”? So, bear with me as this is my way. Blogging has always been cathartic for me. It’s the best way for this overthinker to say what she needs to say and share what she’s feeling, and I get to hide behind the screen and be vulnerable without feeling shame. If you see me, please don’t act differently. I don’t know how to act and I’ll make a face and run away. I need laughter. I need conversation. I need authenticity. I need prayers, good energy, good thoughts and good juju! I need to be surrounded by the best people and things in life. I don’t need outward sympathy, pity or thinking I’m too fragile. I know I will have my moments, so be patient, but I also know I am not the first person to go through something like this and I know EVERYONE is fighting their own battles. This was another awakening for me and this chapter of my journey is only beginning.

All the highs, and the lows, and the way it all goes
You can’t let them keep you down
If you’re lost, if you’re broke, if you’re stuck on a road
You can turn it all around
‘Cause we gotta trust in love
Something that can’t be touched
A feeling to lift us up
All in the name of love

Learn to Fly, Surfaces (feat Elton John)

With light and love,
Dara Sophia

12 thoughts on “Awakening”

  1. With tears running down my old face I read this and found strength in it. Praying for the best for you 🙏🏼 Love you ❤️

  2. My darling Dara, I am so sorry to hear about this adventure. I too have ventured into breast cancer in 1990 and again in 2017. Its scary, I know….however so grateful that over the years medical technology and treatments have improved dramatically. What can I say? I know that you will be okay, I feel it in every fiber of my being. You don’t have to be strong every day, you can cry, be frightened, but also be hopeful.

    You will survive and being the amazing person that you are, you will come out the other side stronger with the love that’s sent to you in boat loads! I Love you Dara! dbh

    1. Diane, you are such an incredibly strong woman to hear from you builds my strength #fightlikeagirl!! Thank you for sharing this with me!! Much love, Dara

  3. Dear, Dear Dara
    Wishing you a journey of love and healing. While not one of your gang, know that I am with you and available for a walk, a talk, a laugh or a cry. Wine will be in there somewhere as well. Many gentle hugs. Ona

    1. Thank you so much Ona! I will definitely take you up on something as soon as I can finish these tests. You are definitely one of the gang! Hope you are well. Much love! Dara

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