Do you know of Tig Notaro? I first saw Tig Notaro in a recording of her 2012 show “Live”, in which she announces she has breast cancer. I too had breast cancer and felt immediately drawn in. I recently watched her Netflix movie about her life and how she used her cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to become better, a better comedian, better at relationships and eventually better from cancer. Her documentary shows she was not new to loss and has endured more than most. In “Live” she used her powers of observation to take cancer in stride. It was not her first confrontation with death and she shows her well earned bravery and confidence from her past trials. Tig Natoro artistic skill put cancer in its place and allowed her to shine.
I did not stand in front of a group of strangers when I shared my diagnosis but I did start writing. Like Tig, I exploited cancer. I used it for my writing. It was just another opportunity to shine. I started writing in earnest when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As I spent a year and a half as a full time cancer patient I realized I had already been fighting a bigger fight than cancer. I was a fourteen year survivor of depression and anxiety. Cancer was a condition that lived in my body. Depression was a state that at times took over my life and lived me. When depressed I felt the pain most of the time but could not see it. The cancer taking over my chest caused no symptoms but could be seen with machines and the loss easily seen in the pound of flesh it took and felt in the physical pain of its eradication.
With cancer all I really could rely on was my soul. It was also the only part of me that could not be taken away. My soul was where I had to build my home, my place of retreat, that only I could see. Like a child building castles in the sand the architecture had to come from within. A moat was essential in this new landscape and I started right away carving mine with words, words and images from poets whose castles managed to withstand the rising tide. I would collect the sand in the shower after a hard day of work digging. I wrote my poem Circles from the dilating effect fear has on the round muscles of my body. I have given birth twice, I know that pain would transform me and make space in my heart for God’s love to become visible. With cancer I did not know if I was to birth my own death or my soul’s reiteration. I am grateful for my soul’s reiteration through writing and I am grateful to have friends that care to read about it.
Here is Circles
In blissful nights and dark days I wander.
My world turned upside down, rhythmically, contracting, a familiar returning,
A smaller circle occurring.
A sacred circle becoming narrow, closer in, a time of passing through, being born again.
The dark star, deep inside,
The ego questions.
The circle getting smaller. The mark that will be placed on my breast, a reminder what is to be cut away, the circle a little smaller.
But the bright pink flower, lying on the snow covered ground,
A reminder of God’s need for sacrifice,
A decision made to let my breast,
Be taken and given as sacrifice.
I walk in a world relentless with its beauty.
Radiating circles, smaller circles than before, but radiating,
A light showing a new path, a light to be leaned into while the sacrifice is taking place.
A circle of friends grabbing hands saying prayers, asking the hard questions, Compassionately letting go, not letting anything that is essential pass.
Finding each other in the process.