Most of you know I had breast cancer back in 2008. I didn't have metastatic cancer, mine was Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) and was still contained in my milk ducts, but back in 2008 it felt just as life-threatening.
Juan and I both journaled our way through - he photographed and I wrote. When I was diagnosed I had searched through women's cancer stories looking for candid photographs showing how surgery changed their bodies and their lives but found none. When we surfaced Juan shared his images with me. They were honest and intimate, the kind of photographs that would have helped me make the tough decisions cancer demands, so I wove our journals together, creating a photo memoir entitled Cancer's Eddy.
Some women's partners leave them when they discover breasts are about to disappear, a scenario which is unfathomable to me or to Juan. But I was one of the lucky ones. Juan was the most incredible partner I could have had! His enormous capacity to cradle all of my raging and fearful emotions enabled me to maneuver cancer's blind curves. He taught me the power of laughter and lightness and how deeply one's intentions must be rooted for commitment to survive.
Partners whose loved ones have been diagnosed with cancer don't always know what to do. I thought sharing Juan's way of supporting me might support others.
It took me seven years to create this final edition - so many edits and revisions! - but I actually love that part. Editing is when I lose track of time and slip into that deeper zone of knowing what I truly feel and think and then watching it appear on paper. It's a remarkable experience. Juan was my primary editor. He skillfully edited my words when he felt they didn't get to the essence of our experience and he also remembered what I forgot. I asked lots of friends and family to read our book and weigh in on ways to make it better. It was essential to get other's eyes on my words and design. So very essential! I send my deepest thanks and love to each and every one of you!
Juan and I endearingly refer to our book as "The Booby Book," because losing my breast became the conduit through which we traveled in order to get to the other side. When I fretted over whether or not to include photos of intact breasts my daughter, Mikaela, said "Mom, you've got to show what you lost." So the photos show all.
The bottom line is far too many women are losing their breasts. Far too many people are diagnosed with cancer. I won't delve into it on this post, but why aren't the researchers screaming about the hundreds of millions of pounds of chemicals we dump into our environment on a yearly basis? Those chemicals most certainly contribute to our skyrocketing cancer rate. But I'll hold off. That deserves some serious air time.
In the meantime, I have included a few non-booby photos from our book in this post.
If you are interested in buying a copy I have created an e-commerce store on this site. I am buying my books in lots of 20, so if they miraculously get sold out it will take me a couple of weeks to restock my supply. I promise to communicate with you if that is the case.
The price includes media mail shipping, so if you live in the Missoula area and want to save shipping costs, you can purchase our book at The Artists' Shop at 127 N Higgins in downtown Missoula. Since I am new at e-commerce, please let me know if you encounter any glitches and I will scurry around and figure out what happened.
If you're interested in just talking, you can contact me via email or phone. I am always open to share with others.
Thank you again for reading!
Ten years ago snow storms in Montana rarely dropped wet snow, but now our storms are getting warmer and wetter, which is distressing on so many levels, not the least of which is the rising global temperature.
Wet snow was the norm where I used to live in Northern California. My cabin was at 3,500' on the side of a mountain in what is considered the Pacific Northwest Temperate Rainforest climate zone. The storms blew off the ocean and carried lots of moisture. A the beginning of a storm temperatures usually hovered just below freezing but by the end they reached into the upper 30s, turning the snow into a heavy, sluggish mass somewhat like drywall mud.
Since we traveled on foot by a trail system and not by roads, we were acutely aware of the nature of the snow and how it changed with even slight fluctuations in temperature, sun, or wind. After every fresh snowfall we had to break trail with our snowshoes from the car to our cabin, which lay 3/4 of a mile up the mountain. The deep, wet snows stuck to the tops of our snowshoes - remember my reference to drywall mud? - miserable!! - and every few feet we had to hit our snowshoes against a nearby tree to knock the snow off so we could keep moving!
But happily, once we tramped down a trail it hardened up so we could leave our snowshoes behind and hike up and down in our boots, a scenario which lasted until the warm spring weather. Then if we didn't wear snowshoes our hike was an aerobic post-holing fiasco, which was absolutely no fun with 50 pounds of groceries on our back!
One of my daughter, Mikaela's, and my favorite things to do was sled down the snowshoe trail when going to town. We got a long run out of it - most of the trail was downhill - I simply packed Mikaela, myself, and all our gear into the sled and off we flew!
One particular year the snows were relentless. In a single storm we got 7 feet! Our cabin was tiny - 16'x22', one level, without a loft, and close to the ground. A few days into the storm it looked like we lived in a marshmallow. The snow level had climbed halfway up the front windows, nearly covered the back ones, and the snow that slid off the metal roof reached the roofline completely covering the side windows.
We were safe and warm and had plenty of food and wood so we weren't worried. Since we homeschooled Mikaela we didn't have to get off the mountain, so we cozied up inside the cabin and played games, read books, made crafts, and baked cookies in our wood cookstove while the snows piled up around us. What became the issue was keeping the roof from caving in.
Every couple of hours I tromped outside to shovel the snow away from the eaves so the new snow could slide off the roof. At night the sound of the rafters creaking under the weight of the snow was my alarm clock, with alarm being the key word! Donning rubber boots and headlamp I climbed up onto the hard-packed snow beneath the roof and shoveled the new batch of snow away from the dripline. Luckily the pile beneath the eaves was so high it kept the snow from sliding off in one massive chunk so I never got buried. After shoveling a three-foot space between the roofline and the peak of the pile I tromped back inside and crawled into bed until the next rafter alarm woke me up. Mikaela slept peacefully throughout...
Being encased in snow was an exciting experience for a little girl who lived up a mountain. Talk about immersion! After the storm passed and the inevitable warm temperatures settled the snow, I dug a hole and set Mikaela in it so she could experience first hand just how deep it was. She was impressed but wanted out instantly.
Now I'm spoiled by Montana's mostly dry snow but am ever so grateful for the nearly two decades I lived a lifestyle that honed everything down into simple terms. I was still complicated inside myself, but my days were simple! Living off the grid, buying in bulk, growing a garden, heating with wood, paying in cash - no credit card, and driving a Honda Civic enabled three adults and one child to live on $8,000 a year in the 1980s. That's pretty impressive!
I love how the snow illuminates the ground in winter. Whether there's a moon out or not, nighttime just doesn't feel so dark with a layer of white on it. It draws me out for one more walk before I crawl into bed - one more chance to smell the cold and be part of the deep silence of the blanketed landscape.
When it's completely dark out and Lily has been under the impression that her day was done, she is so jazzed to see me grab my down parka off the hook, slip on my boots, hat, headlamp, and gloves and open the door. She wiggles her little butt and prances in the snow, looking back over her shoulder with her doggie smile and happy eyes. For Lily, there's just nothing like a night walk...
I always grab my bearspray - not for the bears who are sleeping during the winter cold, but for the cougars. And I tie a thick scarf around my neck figuring that if a cougar were to jump me from behind the way they do when making a kill, the thick scarf might keep its teeth from reaching my spinal cord. I take a ski pole too, to beat a cat off, but then again, that's all probably naive. If a cougar really wanted to eat me, it would have no trouble. Life's a crapshoot at best, so I walk into the night.
The scents left by passing animals slow Lily's pace and I pause while she investigates. This walk isn't just for me and besides, I like to keep her near me not only for my own sake, but for hers. She is only 34 pounds - bite-sized.
We follow the road, walking past neighbors who have already turned in for the night. An occasional porch light shines on the branches above us and casts a cone of white on the snowy road, a reading light glows through a window, but no one stirs. It is just Lily and me.
Years ago, when I used to live on my homestead, just shy of a mile up a trail, I did a lot of night walking. It was built in - the only way from here to there - the way we wanted our reality to be - so I miss it. After a day in town, my daughter and I used to park the car at the trailhead, load ourselves up with groceries and school books and such, strap on snowshoes then tromp through the night to our cabin. Loaded up it took us twenty-five minutes. As tired as we might have been or as bent out of shape as our daily interactions with the world may have made us, we inevitably slipped back into the calmness of the forest reality. Step by step my daughter and I reunited with the peaceful rhythm that we humans in developed countries have so effectively whittled away from our lives.
By having to hike in we intentionally inserted nature's frequency into every hour of our day so we wouldn't forget or get cut off from it. I don't really understand why we humans are inclined to separate ourselves from the rich and invigorating energy emanating off this planet, but we have a penchant for it - we build buildings and ride in cars, we watch TV and wear earbuds that stream constant sound into our brains in order to block out the world we have created. I don't do the TV or earbud thing but I no longer live up a trail and if I'm not paying attention, I can easily let the comfort of a warm house, hot running water, and electricity insulate me from the world of wind and snow and darkness.
I guess that's why I keep reconciling myself with my fear of the cougar. Night walking stretches me just past my comfort threshold and opens me up to something beautiful.