As the month of October gets into full swing and our focus turns to how we can Make Strides in the fight against breast cancer we will once again be spotlighting stories of our fellow residents in Second Life who have been touched by breast cancer as a patient, survivor or caregiver.
For our first spotlight story of the 2018 Making Strides season, we are sharing the story of Aryon Dagger, one of our many warrior survivors.
I am a survivor … four words that mean so much to so many. To be able to say them, to have fought and won the battle, gives life a new meaning. People who have survived cancer live life, for the most part, as they never have before. Oh, I am sure that some survivors lived life to the fullest before, but some, like myself, went from day to day doing the mundane and not much more.
Carpe Diem, Seize the Day … there is a great deal of motivational truth in that phrase. I try to live each day like it will be my last. Every day, I get up and mentally give thanks for the gift of another day and each night, I again give thanks for having seen the day through. Sounds corny, doesn’t it? Call it what you will, but I know how lucky I am . Keep reading and I’ll explain.
July 4th 2001, is a day that will remain engraved on my chest for the rest of my life. On that day, I was told I had breast cancer.
After undergoing the usual probes, gropes and lumpectomies, it was determined that the cancer was in stage 3. It might be worthwhile my mentioning that what was found were cysts, these were drained and the husks mutated from benign to malignant both in and out of body.
I was fortunate to be under the care of the Chief Consultant of the breast cancer department. A man who, unusually for me I would come to trust blindly with my life during my bout with cancer. I was forty-five, married and was looking forward to the birth of my first grandchild when suddenly, I was being told that unless something was done fast, I would not see my next birthday. The time, from initial finding to the last in a group of stays in hospital for operations, spanned a period of a little less than four months. The penultimate operation occurring on another date that will, just like December 7th, 1941, live in infamy … September 11th, 2001.
Shortly after this operation, I went in to have the results explained to me. My surgeon told me that on October 9th, I would be having a double, radical, bilateral mastectomy. I sat there and went numb, became a robot of sorts in my responses, got up and walked out. It had taken all of 20 minutes, but it took me nearly 2 hours before I could drive away from the hospital. My life flashed in slow motion before my eyes but it wasn’t over yet.
I had a choice, I could sit back and let this vicious disease that knows no bounds regarding age or gender take control of my life until it consumed me completely, or I could stand toe to toe with it, stare it in the eye and tell it where to go. I chose to do the latter. I wanted to see my son happy, to hold my first grandchild, and so much more.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t know why one person wins their battle and another loses it. But I do know that everything happens for a reason. I know that we are all on this planet for a reason too and that when we have completed our task here, it is our time to pass over. I’m not sure what my reason or purpose is, I doubt if any of us ever know for sure but I do know that I prayed, begged and pleaded to win my battle and I did. I got to hold not only my first grandchild but my second, and third. I got to see my son, finally happy, a college graduate and a man with a wonderful family. And I got to spend the last four years of my partner’s life, with her. For that, I will be eternally thankful.
I came into Second Life to heal. From the loss of my partner of 26 years and from the immense trauma that breast cancer brought upon me. I present myself here as I am in real life. I chose the hard way as part of my journey along the path of healing. I never gave a thought to the scars during the days prior to any of my surgeries. It was not until I came home from the hospital that my scars became an issue both to my partner and myself.
I would wake up in a cold sweat, I had recurring nightmares, I was convinced it was all a bad dream and that I would wake up and the scars would be gone and my body would be complete and whole again. To make matters far more worse and in actual fact, playing a huge part in my growing to hate my scars was that from the day I came home, my partner refused to look at or touch them. They were not discussed, though I wanted to and almost assuredly needed to, as part of the mental healing process.
My partner passed away, probably never realizing how I felt, though I know many times I tried to sit down and talk about it. To say that they did not hurt … a bit of a lie since I had extensive nerve damage and still to this day get the occasional “zap of electricity”, that I was still the same person even though my body looked different. I really felt like instead of running away from my scars, that getting to know them was more important because through them and my undying will to live, I had survived. My partner never got to hear the “all clear” given to me.
It was about seven years later that someone other than a doctor, nurse or myself actually touched those scars of my battle. Not only touched them but looked at them, traced round them, recognized them for what they were and said the words that she had said many times before, without having seen them … “it doesn’t matter”. I remember it like it was yesterday. The sound of her soft voice, the tender touch of her fingertips, the look on her face. And it still brings tears to my eyes. Until that day, I didn’t know what it meant to be accepted, physically for who I was now.
Loving and caring doesn’t always bring with it total acceptance. Especially when something changes that is beyond our control. It holds no guarantees, either. When bodies become modified, whether electively or not, more often than not, there are consequences. Its not like cutting your hair, because your hair will grow back. The scars will always be there as a constant reminder of life’s little misfortunes. They will remind us of the people that turned away but, they will also record an indelible memory of the tender moments when you meet someone with no insecurities that makes you feel whole again.
I will continue to battle, wearing my scars like a medal won in a war, for life … mine and everyone’s.