INTRODUCTION: THE STATIONS OF MY CANCER
On April 25th, 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis caught me completely unaware (no family history of any types of cancer). I started this series as a way to start a dialogue about cancer. I used my background as a Catholic statue restorationist to develop the "structure" for this series based on the Stations of the Cross and Christ's steps to the crucifixion. Christ's journey of suffering mirrors our own trials as we travel our personal paths. I finished all fourteen stations with the final station being my cure... 2023 so far all clear...
SHE IS SENTENCED
Station 1: " She is Sentenced" (Jesus is Condemned to Death) A routine mammogram lead to an ultrasound which led to a misdirection that led to a cancerous tumor. The doctor broke the news of my cancer with a series of 9th grade biology diagrams. I was astounded to know my milk glands were broccoli trees. I left my appointment stunned and crying.
SHE TAKES HER CANCER
Station 2: "She Takes Her Cancer". (Christ Takes the Cross). I was handed a cheerful hot pink envelope with my biopsy reports, a bandaged breast and little more...
HER FIRST FALL
Station 3: Her First Fall (Jesus Falls for the First Time) depicts that moment when you have to tell your friends and family you have cancer. The first reaction after you break the news to people is that they ask, “Are you ok?” And you really don’t know at that point...”Am I ok?” And then you cry some more.
HER BLESSED SPOUSE
Station 4: Her Blessed Spouse references the meeting of Jesus and his Blessed Mother. On my cancer journey my greatest support emotionally has been my husband. Cancer has a way of putting people in our lives that are needed for our recovery.
THEY HELP HER
Station 5: They Help Her (Simon of Cyrene Helps Carry the Cross). This step along my journey refers to my getting a second opinion at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. I quickly learned that while my diagnosis did not change, my treatment as a woman with cancer did- I felt more empowered at Roswell. I finally shook the hold cancer had on me a bit, don't get me wrong, I was sick but I felt stronger knowing I had others to help carry my illness.
SHE RECEIVES COMFORT
Station 6: She Receives Comfort (Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus). This station depicts the compassion and caring I received from family and friends. Just as Veronica tended Jesus my friends tended my spirit with flowers, cards, food and gift cards and lots of time to listen. This was also the time I threw out all my underwire bras- my life was changing.
HER SECOND FALL
Station 7: Her Second Fall (Jesus Falls the Second Time). This period of doubt creeps in before surgery and reoccurs throughout treatment. Doctors cannot give 100% reassurance that you will be cured and until the tumor is removed follow-up care and treatment is a big unknown. Sometimes a little self pity was needed. Would I lose my hair? Would I need chemo? Would I see my kids graduate, marry, etc.?? The moments of fear and doubt pass but they need to be acknowledged. Cancer doesn't make us automatic heroes.
THE MANY WOMEN
Station 8: ( Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem). As my surgery approached I realized that many women I encountered whether it was at work or at my church knitting prayer shawl circle had personal experiences with cancer. These women shared stories, advice and prayers. I knew I was continuing my journey but these women were my guides and "angels" sent to comfort me.
HER THIRD FALL
Station 9: (Jesus Falls the Third Time). The time came when I began to question whether I would recover quickly or would I face a long arduous recovery? My sense of mortality settled in heavily and I wanted to shake away the fear. I wanted to explore- fly- live more... a trip to New York City. I was weightless for a weekend.
SHE IS STRIPPED
Station 10: (Jesus is Stripped of His Garments). The surgery arrived. I was marked with instructions. A hospital gown replaced my clothing. Blackness and then a hazy trip to my hotel room ensued. Now the cancer was out, would it reveal its secrets?
Station 11: (Jesus is Nailed to the Cross). The genetic testing is sent out and the tumor is examined. The results come back and the alphabet rearranges to form an elaborate code :ER/PR (+), HER 2(-) BRCA1, BRCA 2 ....I am no codebreaker. I am just a woman going into the next step of treatment. I am the one in eight women that will develop some form of breast cancer.
HER CANCER DIES
Station 12: (Jesus Dies on the Cross) I had 30 days of radiation. It was a routine that completed my summer. I would arrive, strip, gown up, arms overhead, hold my breath (the best I could) and laser beams would bounce around me. My summer tan emerged beneath my clothes. I went back to work as if nothing happened.
Station 13: (The Body of Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross) The tumor is now gone but cancer has become a part of me. I am not the person I was before this experience. I take a pill daily for the next 5 maybe 10 years that reminds me of my journey. I am humbled.
Station 14: (Jesus Lays in the Tomb). I am waiting for the magical 5 year anniversary to mark me as cancer free...until then I wait.