It’s been nearly 8 months since I was diagnosed, six months since  my surgery, five months since my radiation oncologist told me during one of my radiation appointments that I was cancer-free.  Next week I’m heading to Indianapolis for another follow up appointment with my oncologist. It’s the first stop on my Health Defenders Trifecta Tour!  I’ll have my first mammogram a few weeks later in April, just before my scheduled follow ups with my surgeon and radiation oncologist.


Right now I feel like I did when I snorkeled the first time in my life.  I was excited to be in water so blue and clear I didn’t believe it was real.  I listened to the master diver explain how to regulate our breathing and go downward so we could each enjoy the experience.  I heard that we could see 60 FEET beneath us. Let’s go, I thought!

Excited by my surroundings I dove beneath the surface and swam down deeper.  I watched our leader glide effortlessly downward deeper still to catch a ride on a manta ray.  It was amazing to watch.  But then the SIXTY FEET idea hit me.  That’s how far I could see clearly beneath me, but that wasn’t how deep the ocean was.  I figured I’d gone down about 15′ or more already.   Panic ripped through me and I looked up.  My ears were popping.  I was deeper than the bottom of the diving well of the neighborhood pool.  I could see FIVE TIMES FURTHER than the deepest part of our pool.  This wasn’t a neighborhood game of sharks and minnows.  I realized at that moment I’d never be able to touch the bottom and bound upward like at the pool. I felt sick but knew I’d surely die if I began to throw up.  Terrified, I turned myself around and dolphin kicked to push myself to the surface, lungs pounding.  I pulled my snorkel off and started to hyperventilate.  Then came the tears.  I shook.   What had just happened?

Another woman followed me up and stayed with me.  She explained that I’d just gotten overwhelmed with the reality of how deep the water was and how vulnerable I was.  She tried to coax me into trying again, but I was too frightened, so she gave up her adventure and stayed with me.  I’d never been that terrified before that moment.

Yesterday during my massage therapy appointment I had a similar experience.  Patrick and I always talk about how far into healthy I am, when my next doctor’s appointment is, what I’m feeling, how I’m feeling.  He sizes me up and determines where he’ll start working before he leaves the room so I can get undressed and lie down on the table, covered in the thick, warm bath sheet. He gives me time to calm my thoughts and relax before he enters the room.

I enjoy my sessions with Patrick.  We’ve known each other nearly 30 years, so we have a personal history with one another that reaches ever deeper than friendship.  Each appointment is like a deep sea dive into the tangle of muscle and fat and fascia of my body.   He’s like the master diver I watch, or feel, diving deeper into my scars, riding out the grainy and gritty scar tissue into nothing.  We talk quietly, freely about what’s going on in my life, his life.

While he works he’ll give me directions to breathe deeper or fuller, to move my body in a particular way to work against his pressure.  He has me visualize my body stretching out or lengthening as he moves his fingertips through the tissue.  Sometimes the movements are painful, but the release I feel through my chest or arm or leg is worth it.

About half way through this appointment he had me lie on my right side with my back facing him.  He then gave me a pillow for under my head and another large, soft pillow to sort of snuggle into my chest.  He then lifted my left arm upward and began to press deeper into my rib cage and up into my chest then through my armpit.  It was a little painful, but I could breathe through the stretches.

As he worked I began to feel like I did that day I first snorkeled.  Although I was fascinated with the feeling of having the tissue worked so deeply, the position, the movement, the intensity, the conversation brought up a panic inside of me.  I had been explaining how Judy, the mother of a friend of mine, had jumped into my life and organized taking care of Emily, our daughter,  for my surgery; driving over an hour back and forth to take her to school, and then to pick her up again,  and then driving once again to get her to swim team later.  She kept Emily overnight with her two granddaughters so Emily would not feel scared while Don and I headed for Indianapolis and my surgery.  As Patrick and I talked about this woman’s willingness to help as if I was her own daughter, I felt a wave of sadness wash through my chest.

“I had breast cancer.”  The words caught in my throat as I said them and tears flooded my eyes.  I tried to breathe as he continued to knead at my chest.   “I had fucking breast cancer. “ I sobbed as though I’d heard that fact for the first time, the reality of the seriousness hitting me in the chest.   My emotion scared me.  I grabbed hold of the pillow against my chest.  I didn’t open my eyes.  I bit my lip as I tried to control my breathing.  Patrick took my arm and placed it against my side on top of the warm towel.

“Let it go, Angie.  Let it out, ”  he said as he embraced me with his hands.   I wailed.  The sounds scared me. They didn’t sound human.  I couldn’t stop.  Patrick didn’t say anything.  He just kept his hands firmly over me as I sobbed in raging gushes.  I realized I hadn’t cried this way in all the months since the diagnosis.  And now I couldn’t stop.  Where was the bottom of this abyss I could drop down to and push back up?   How would I breathe?  How would I live?  My lungs were busting.

I continued with my feral cries while I cursed out loud with such anger that the words flew like spit off my lips.  And Patrick held me until I calmed down.

He finished his work and  left the room to let me rest a little bit to collect myself again.  He came back in once I was dressed and we talked about the experience.  He explained that our bodies hold onto emotions like anger, fear, and sadness without our really being aware of it.  Our life experiences scar us as much as surgeries or radiation.  He told me he’d “felt the sadness” in my chest and manipulated it until I couldn’t help but release it.  I felt drained and achy.

We talked awhile more about our lives over the years.  “There’s a lot of hurt there,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my tumor was up against my chest and over my heart, “ I said.

Then we embraced like those who’ve shared a life changing experience do, as though he was breathing fresh air into my lungs.  And I was hungry to take it in.