So, as part of my treatment, I have to go the lab at the cancer center and give blood for various levels to be tested and monitored on a weekly basis, even in my “off” weeks of chemo. I started the process three weeks ago today, and have visited the lab three times now, the third time being today.

On my first visit to the lab, as I was sitting in the cubicle getting my blood drawn, I noticed that the band Journey’s song “Faithfully” was playing on whatever sound system they have there. This took me out of the place of fear in which I found myself on the beginning of Day One (of a very different journey), and transported me back to junior high and high school.

Music has a way of being able to do that, as most of you know.

To say that I was a Journey fan in those days would be an understatement. Starting with their third album, Infinity (yeah, yeah, I’m really dating myself now….I was in the sixth grade when it was released), I became obsessed with the band (as well as its lead singer, Steve Perry). As each album was released, I immediately used my allowance money to buy it. One of my very best friends shared this obsession, and we would spend hours wearing out our vinyl and speculating about each of the band members (especially Steve). The obsession continued through the Frontiers album. And although I lost interest in the later stuff, my fondness for their body of work from ’78-83 still exists. The shit holds up to this day, and my husband shares my deep appreciation for it (yet another of a million things we have in common).

Anyway, back to the lab. Hearing Faithfully – a super cheesy ballad that was played to death on the radio (remember radio?) until even I didn’t like it anymore – reminded me of being the awkward 10th grader I was then, fantasizing about being in the kind of sappy romantic relationship that was the subject of the song. And I realized that I now actually had that kind of “forever yours” relationship. Super cheesy, yes. But it was a much needed distraction that morning, and gave me a humbling jolt of gratitude to keep me going.

Cut to Week Two in the lab. Back in the chair getting blood drawn, and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was playing. Perfect song for where I was and still am; and I was once again transported back to those high school days. (And I started to think this was some kind of sign…I do things like that…look for signs.)

So today I walked into the lab wondering which Journey song would be playing. However, instead of Journey, Prince’s “Purple Rain” was coming through the speakers. Now that song truly was the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. I bet I saw that film at least 20 times in the theater, and that is not an exaggeration. Hearing the song today (which still holds up, by the way….always will), it struck me how much time had passed since I first heard that song. Nearly 28 years ago…what?! Holy shit.

I became emotional thinking of how young and innocent I had been then. And how I could never have imagined that one day, far in the future, I’d be sitting in a lab in a cancer center, my new husband and baby waiting for me, getting blood drawn to monitor the effects of chemotherapy on my system, listening to that same song. Whoa. (By the way, two things that haven’t changed: Purple Rain is still a fucking great album. And Prince looks as good now as as he did then.)

I’ve said before that I was a late bloomer, and it’s true. I’m 44 years old, and in some ways I feel like I’m just getting started. I was 40 before I met the man to whom I am now married and with whom I hope to grow old. And I just now had my first (and last) child. Some of my peers are becoming grandmothers and I have a newborn.

I believe that everything happens exactly as it is supposed to happen, exactly when it is supposed to happen. I would not have been a good mother in my 20s or even in my 30s. Nor, in those days,  was I the best wife and partner I could have been. I did not take relationships or commitment seriously. I was very impulsive; very impatient. I didn’t want to take the time to slow down and think about what I was doing – and the consequences – before taking action. Those default settings are still there, but I now at least try to think a bit before before acting. And I definitely consider how my actions might affect me and others.

It wasn’t until I was 39 that I really got serious about looking at myself….deciding to do the tough inner work to change unhealthy patterns of behavior and look for the authentic self I knew was inside me. Once I started on that journey, life started opening up for me in positive ways I never imagined. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t have it all figured out. Far from it. I’m very much still a work in progress. I don’t think any of us is ever “done” growing and evolving. Not while we’re still breathing anyway.

I wouldn’t change much, if anything, about my past. The choices I made, the relationships and experiences I had, even the mistakes and missteps…all made me the person I am today. And I like that person.

I’ve gone through many transformations in my life. There was the awkward girl with the feathered hair daydreaming about Steve Perry. And the goth girl with the bad perm going to see Purple Rain 20 times in the theater. And many, many iterations thereafter.

A few years ago I experienced one of the biggest transformations of my life when I met and fell in love with my husband. Love, real love, I found is extraordinarily transforming….feeling totally comfortable being authentic with someone…having no secrets….letting that person see behind the curtain, and finding that they love you anyway.  Trusting. Loving unconditionally. Accepting love. Therein lies true freedom.

Then, another massive transformation….motherhood. I never thought I’d be a mother. Once I passed a certain age, I sort of let go of the notion that it was going to happen. My husband was kind of in the same place when we met. He and I were the exact same age; had both been previously married; had never had children; and had no plans to do so. And we were both totally okay with it. Then, something happened that made us both re-think the idea of starting a family. So, after much time and serious consideration, we decided to put it out to the universe that we would like to have a baby if we were meant to have a baby. And then we had a baby.

We were transformed in that moment, the moment our daughter was born. One minute we were this DINK (dual income, no kids) couple with tons of freedom and flexible responsibilities; the next we were…parents. Everything changed in that moment. And not in the ways we had feared, but in wonderful ways we never could have imagined. Ways that reveal themselves to us more each day. Neither of us will ever be the same again.

Now I’m going through a different sort of transformation. Or another simultaneous transformation. I realized it the other day when I was looking in the mirror.

Have you ever really taken the time to look yourself in the eye in the mirror…to truly make eye contact with yourself? And not just for a few seconds, but for actual minutes. It’s harder than you’d think, at least it is for me. When I took the time to do it recently, I saw something different in my eyes. I was different. I had been through a stunning and unexpected diagnosis, two major surgeries, and two sessions of chemotherapy…so, of course I was different. But this was very strange. I almost didn’t recognize the woman I saw in the mirror. She looked a bit sad, a bit wiser, and a bit…something else. I can’t really explain it, but there was a definite change. A loss of innocence maybe. And a much more profound appreciation for the simple experience of standing in my bathroom and looking in the mirror. It was an emotional thing.

I call this post Part I because I know that this particular transformation is just beginning. I am changing, inside and out. I have scars that weren’t there six weeks ago. I am missing quite a few pieces and parts. My scalp is tender and sore to the touch now…I know that hair loss is eminent, and I have some sadness and fear about that. I know that my skin my also change, and other things as well. I might look like a sick person. Strangers on the street will likely know I have cancer. I won’t be able to hide it anymore.

But I have no choice other than to deal with each new thing as it happens.

I told my husband I was writing about transformation, and he asked if part of my transformation would include being able to ask for and accept help. I told him I didn’t know but that I’d certainly try to be more aware of it. This is still very hard for me, but I’m saying “yes” to offers of help now occasionally and finding that it really is…helpful. So I may try to do more of that.

There are lessons in this for me every single day. I’ve had some very dear dear souls, including my husband, tell me they wish that they could take this – this cancer – away from me, or that they wish it was happening to them instead. I thank them sincerely from the bottom of my heart, but also know in my heart that if I skipped over all of the hard stuff to the cancer free part (and I truly believe there will be a cancer free part), I would miss the lessons. And missing the lessons would be missing the point of all of this. This being the cancer and all of the circumstances surrounding its discovery. This being the birth of our healthy child against extraordinary odds. I know there is a point to all of this. There must be a point to all of this.

So all I can do is be grateful each day for the lessons, and to appreciate the ongoing transformation. My hope is that I’ll come out on the other side of this a healthier, stronger, wiser, more grateful, choosier and more compassionate woman, with a greater appreciation for absolutely everything. I’m already a bit more of all of those things than I was just a few weeks ago, pre-diagnosis. And the lessons continue.

Love and gratitude,
Joanna

P.S. Speaking of gratitude and transformation, our little 6-week old Magpie is smiling now…is there anything more heart-filling than that?

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