Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Circus: Part Deux

I just spent the weekend with a group of the most amazing women I have ever met, in the most amazing surroundings. I was chosen, as a breast cancer survivor, to attend a leadership retreat in Tucson, Arizona, at the luxurious Miraval Resort and Spa. I could end my writings here, and you'd probably draw a pretty good mental picture: Lots of estrogen, lots of pampering, lots of crying, and lots of self-discovery. Well, that's about half of it. I don't think I'll ever be able to fully put into words what this weekend meant to me, and that's fine. I will tell you one story of the weekend, because it so beautifully mirrors another story I wrote at the beginning of my journey entitled, The Circus.

The opportunities that Miraval provides to its guests are the cornerstone of its mission: to provide guests with one of kind experiences, while also allowing them to fully relax and be pampered. At the various panels and seminars, we discussed how to be a "Healthy Survivor" and how to heal and grow beyond cancer. With anything, you can only talk about it so much before you just have to go out and DO it. Well little did I know, I was about to take a huge step forward, both literally and metaphorically.

I signed up for "Out on a Limb" because it looked fun, and I knew it would be a cool story to tell my future children. We met our lovely guide, Nancy, in the lobby, and headed into the desert. Nancy led us to two large wooden poles, about 35 feet high, with a single wooden beam resting in between. I sat with the five other ladies, all different shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds, as we waited for our guide to start her safety presentation. Instead of going right into the logistics, Nancy asked us to introduce ourselves and explain a little bit of our background, including our fear of heights. There was Mary, a lymphoma survivor in her sixties, Anne, or "Queen Anne", as she jokingly referred to herself, a two time breast cancer survivor, Kelly from Indiana, who was still receiving treatment for Metastatic breast cancer, Dawn, a lovely middle aged woman and a two time survivor of this activity, and Julie, a woman my Mom’s age, who had endured a mastectomy followed by radiation treatment early in the year. We were a motley crew, but having a common bond as strong as we did, we were ready to face the challenge together.

When I went to introduce myself, I told the group that I had become somewhat of an adrenaline junky. It makes me blush a little to think that I actually said that to them, but in my mind, that's the image I wanted to portray. I am NOT an adrenaline junky. What I meant to say was that I used to be scared of EVERYTHING and now I'm only scared of SOME things. Alas, that's what came out of my mouth in the moment. Sigh.

I swear, the people who designed climbing harnesses did so with no mind to women with curves, but I digress. Nancy decided that because Mary was the least likely to go first in any other situation, she would be the first to walk across the beam. Mary got up there and quickly realized that because of a bad knee, she would have to shuffle along sideways. Shaky and terrified, she made her way across with thunderous applause from her supporters below. I was up next. I headed up the ladder with ease and even did a little jump from the first pole onto the balance beam. I waved to my audience (I know, I know) below and slowly began to turn around to face the task at hand. "Holy Shit", I whispered to myself. It was so much higher and so much longer that I was expecting. As I began to lift my hand from the pole, I realized that it felt like someone had crazy glued it to the wooden beam. I tried to remove it again, and as I did so, the world around me started to spin and all I could do was stand there. What seemed like 15 minutes later (I think it was actually about 30 seconds), I removed my hand from the beam and took one tiny step forward. This is it, I thought to myself. I am going to turn around and go right back down that pole... are these people crazy? Instead, I held on tightly to my chest harness, closed my eyes and began to breathe, big, heavy, centered breaths. When my head stopped spinning and my stomach stopped doing somersaults, I took another step forward. I repeated this process until I got to the other end, where I was awarded with thunderous applause. After I took in the beautiful Arizona landscape, fully equipped with mountains and boulders and cacti, I stepped back off the beam and safely landed next to my peers. Some people cried, others just hugged me and took my picture. I felt so warm and safe on the ground, surrounded by people I had only just met, people with whom I had shared a sacred experience, and people who now knew me better than most.

The rest of the group successfully completed the challenge, and we headed back to the resort. We had walked our tight rope safely, with great success, just as I did by completing my cancer treatment. I now had the tools to physically do what I had emotionally done this past year. I thought about the people at home who had helped me across my emotional tight rope and was filled with love and gratitude. Luckily, they didn't have to be up there with me physically, but were always there with me, right by my side. Nancy played the role of Seth, the rock to which I was harnessed, the person who would never, ever let me fall. Anne played the role of my Mom, who cried the second I landed safely. The other women were all the other loves in my life, cheering me on, making me laugh, and hugging me at the end of it. At that moment, I knew that I'd never truly be off the beam, never truly land where I started, but I'm getting ok with that... because look at the view from the top!

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your blog :-) So glad to hear that everything is going well. Much love!