On February 11th, 2019, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This writing represents my thoughts and journey in the moments, weeks, and months that followed. From this, a poem was also developed in collaboration with my mother, Josey Cooper, for a spoken-word dance solo I recorded, choreographed, and performed. View the written poem >
I guess I never imagined hearing that word applied to me, hoping the avoided thought would keep it distant from me. In the days before, a massive uncharacteristic snow storm -- perhaps the biggest in my region’s history -- quietly settled in, as an ominous backdrop. And on February 11th, 2019, isolated in the storm, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This unbelievable news was the outcome of a routine but overdue medical checkup, one that could have been taken care of months or even a year before, or could have been delayed further, but suddenly was top of mind. Benign cysts are common. Over the years there had been many of these routine exams, always with the same benign conclusion.
But this exam was different -- a new cyst was discovered. Still, not alarming; perhaps an addition to the family. But this one was not easy to find. “It doesn’t look like the others,” said the doctor. “It needs biopsy.”
And the results were back. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I didn’t know these words. Anticipating they were fancy medical jargon for another variation of another benign cyst -- and not ready to hear anything else -- I asked, “but what is that?” “Cancer,” she struggled to say. In that moment, my mental interior entirely and permanently changed.
Looking outside at the endless snow, I couldn’t help thinking this might actually signal the end of the world. Everything began to spin. Reality shifted. How long had I moved through life and all its hustles and pursuits, ignorant of cancer growing inside of me? My body absorbs shock and bounces back, I’d always thought. Suddenly, I began to discover myself as a completely vulnerable being, in the process of slowly, or perhaps not slowly, being destroyed from within. What is my environment within that allowed for this mutation?
Suddenly, I felt myself drowning in a future I never imagined -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, long-term medication, or all of those. Night after night I allowed only thoughts of faith to carry me to sleep. But each morning I awoke to a nightmare, remembering I have cancer now. I wondered if there was an exit, back into my dreams, back into the vortex, then to a new start?
After the findings of the first surgery I was told I needed a second one, as soon as possible. I didn’t imagine this could happen! Malignant cells lingered. My mind orbited in a constant state of uncertainty. Do I have a future? How much? This uncertainty has always existed, I realized, but now I lived in a heightened state of awareness. Suddenly, I began to see all the colors and textures! Suddenly, I began to consciously and actively choose life, whether for ten more minutes or for ten more years. At least I have this chance. So many are no longer among the living.
Hearing the news or by osmosis, the survivors began to reach out and share their wisdom. “In many ways it is a gift,” said one. “You’ll never have another bad day again,” said another. When cancer falls upon you, all previous anxieties and sorrows become small pebbles. “You are about to discover how much love there is in your community,” said another. And I did! I wanted to capture this in a bottle and save the world with it. Seriously, why don’t we call or text a few people weekly to check in on how things are going, without that being weird?