I had my annual bilateral breast MRI today. I was happy to get out of there. I had my face in a cradle that made half my mouth go numb for the approximately twenty-five minutes it took. Usually they play music through the headphones they put on you to drown out the loud clanging of the machine, but today, even though I requested to listen to the Spotify Kurt Vile station, nothing was coming through the headphones. So I listened to the clanging and the tones and made little songs out of them.
“Doodoo, doodoo, doodoo, doodoo,” one of the series of sounds seemed to say, like a robotic four-year-old, taunting me. I had to refrain from listening to it that way because I was afraid I would start laughing my ass off and then screw up those images.
When I finally was freed from the machine and face cradle and IV (they use contrast dye for these MRIs) the nurse pointed to the exit so far down the hall I had to squint to see the sign. Hospitals here are so big.
“After you get dressed you can go through that door that leads to the lobby.”
In the changing room I pulled off the blue scrubs and booties that look like shower caps for your feet and put on deodorant I brought from home and pulled on my soft grey leggings and blue dress with seahorses on it, worn to keep it light today. As I walked not fast enough to the exit I felt like Persephone leaving the underworld. Like I could be pulled back in at any moment.
Having been medicalized a bit after having early stage breast cancer in 2016 I’ve gotten familiar with the texture and energy of hospitals. Hospitals and our medical culture are so yang, metallic, male. For a long time I felt far too squishy and small to compete with that. And then last week while at therapy I was doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy) and it occurred to me I could root into the divine feminine. I had considered trying to make myself feel bigger and more yang than the hospital, but then I realized — no, I need to get in touch with the ground (I think that’s a Duran Duran lyric). I needed to solidify my connection to the divine feminine.
And a cool thing happened. Instead of feeling too small and squishy today, even with the lip-numbing face cradle, I realized the divine feminine is far more ancient than the yang hospitals. We carry the secret of life and we are the reason for the hospitals. The hospitals were invented to do the best we can with this wild and unwieldily and mysterious thing called life. And we’re doing an OK job and oh, am I glad I live today and not a hundred years ago. But the divine feminine is still far more powerful. So I felt into it and it helped me turn what I thought was powerlessness into power.
I looked at today as an opportunity and a lesson. An opportunity to cut the addiction to the monkey-mind. An opportunity to open my heart more. An opportunity to manage my emotions by acknowledging them:
“Hey, you’re scared, huh? Yeah, I know. This can be scary. I hear you,” I told the scared part of me.
“OK. Yeah. It is,” the scared part said back.
And then I felt an exhalation. A letting go.
This month is kind of heavy on the tests and cancer screenings. Since I’m on tamoxifen to help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence I have to keep an eye on my womb. The grand irony being that tamoxifen can cause uterine cancer. Woohoo! It’s like cancer whack-a-mole. Club one down and another one could pop up! Because I was having breakthrough bleeding I needed to have a vaginal ultrasound, which revealed maybe a thicker-than-usual uterine lining. Which can lead to uterine cancer. So! The order of the day is a hysteroscopy D&C at the end of the month. Which I’ve entered into my calendar as “womb refresh.”
Here’s another thing I embedded into my psyche during EMDR at therapy this week: “I’m not waiting, I’m living.” Because the waiting, as Tom Petty sings, is the hardest part.
So whenever I get those swirling thoughts, those pesky butterflies in my stomach (I’m not going to lie — I’ve got some now), I remind myself: I’m not waiting, I’m living. I’m thriving. And then I’ll go on to do whatever the hell I feel like. Which is usually writing and music, with some retail therapy thrown in, yoga, deep breathing.
I’m taking this breath-work course that started this month with Erin Telford. Sacred Terrain: A Six-Week Journey Into the Landscape of Your Emotional Body. And journey I have. One of the most important pieces of this work is not to shove down our feelings. Many of us were raised to put value on certain feelings and devalue others, as well as shove down certain feelings altogether. Erin suggests we develop a relationship with all of our emotions. And so as I feel anxious or whatever I look at it and acknowledge it. This has been very helpful and the breath-work has brought up a lot of feelings. I’ve approached each one with self love and curiosity.
Self love and curiosity are basically the cornerstones of my life and have been at least since I was diagnosed and treated in 2016. My PTSD is starting to lessen and I am grateful that I’ve moved from a state of emotional triage while having these tests and procedures and more to a place of being able to use it to play with treating myself better and deciding where I want my attention to be. It’s hard to explain, but I need to try.
I think of my mom telling my sister “Have you ever had a feeling you didn’t express?” As if it were a bad thing. Conversely, my mom had so many feelings she didn’t express. She bottled a lot up. My legacy is different. Clearly. And it’s a choice to make it different. I will not be the squishy body skewered upon the sharp metal yang skewer of the hospital. I will not be a leaf on the wind of our medical culture. I will be, well, I’ll be whatever I feel like being in any moment. But also ancient and soft and nourished and powerful. That’s more than a big old metallic machine that says “doodoo” over and over can say, right?
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.