With every sweet mouthful I smiled grateful to the Creator for bringing me through this trial; grateful for the pain to be fading, grateful to be together again with my family and full of thanks for the love among us.
by Nahnda Garlow
Republished with permission from Two Row Times
Today marks the second anniversary since my double mastectomy. I know I’ve shared a lot with you all so far; my pain, my fears, and the struggles I endured through my cancer experience. But today, in honour of the approaching Strawberries Ceremony that many Haudenosaune will be putting through, I want to tell you about my victories.
Two years ago today I was up before the light, packing my bags and heading into surgery to remove the cancer that was trying to grow inside of me. I’ll never forget the way the sun was shining that morning and how its warmth brought a sense of peace over my entire being just as I was walking into a huge unknown.
After surgery I spent four days “recovering” in the hospital. My actual recovery time would be a full six weeks of bed rest. For the most part I couldn’t do anything but sit still because every move was painful. Did you know that chest muscles are integral to eating? Neither did I until mine were manipulated by a plastic surgeon. I needed help to eat and drink for quite a while afterwards.
After two weeks the community nurses came in to finally remove the drains and bandages. That was when I got my first glimpse at my new breastless chest. I stood in the washroom silently staring at the new me in the mirror while I filled up the tub for my first bath since the surgery.
As I listened to the water pouring into the bath, a million emotions began pouring out of me as well. I expected that the first time I saw my chest I would have some sort of emotional breakdown. Oddly enough it was the exact opposite. Seeing my own reflection and facing my truth, perhaps for the first time in my entire life there in my messy bathroom – I felt triumphant.
Climbing into that bathtub was an amazing victory as well. You know how that first shower after suffering through a three day flu feels so awesome? This was similar to that, but with a certain solemnity. It was quiet maybe for the first time since the surgery. No machines, no nurses, no one hovering over me with food and medication, no tubes or bandages – just me and my bathwater. Then I heard a quiet knock at the door.
“Nan, are you okay?” It was my husband coming to check on me to see why I was taking so long. He stepped into the bathroom and as his eyes filled with the sight of the new me I saw the gravity of this naked truth hit his being as he took it all in. Immediately the sense of panic wanted to grab me. What if he’s disgusted? What if he rejects me? What if it’s all too much to bear?
Then he spoke to me calm and quietly. “You are a warrior,” he said, and then he smiled. Panic fled, and peace came in its place.
Once I was dressed, all fresh and clean my father in law arrived with a whole flat of fresh strawberries. “You want some berries Nan?” he called out to me. “Yeah!” I shouted back.
Strawberries are ceremonially special to the Haudenosaune. They are the leader of the medicines and when we give thanks for them we also are taught to give thanks for our lives and be joyful for being together. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence at all that strawberries were being offered to me. Maybe somehow the Creator put it all into place because in that moment I was so very grateful to be alive and to be together with the ones I love while I was coming out victorious from one of the greatest battles of my life.
Suffice it to say I totally ‘gwissed’ out on strawberries that day. I think I had three bowls full. In fact I’m fairly certain that those strawberries were the first thing I was able to feed myself since the surgery. With every sweet mouthful I smiled grateful to the Creator for bringing me through this trial; grateful for the pain to be fading, grateful to be together again with my family and full of thanks for the love among us. They were the best strawberries I ever ate and truly good medicine because they nourished my body, my spirit and my soul.