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Yesterday (February 19th) was my one year “cancer-versary.” I clearly remember walking out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, holding hands with my cousin Emma. She may be young in age and small in stature, but she became a large part of my life and a friend over the past two years. She donated her hair to Locks of Love, cuddled with me on the couch when I needed rest, massaged my back and rubbed lotion on my bald head. She just spent time with me – happily. Instead of my partner doing these things for me, I received more love and friendship from a girl one-third my age. Life’s simple juxtaposition of disenchantment and beauty, I suppose.

Although finishing treatment was an occasion to celebrate, my spirits were low, a year and a day ago. I recall how sadness gripped my body and every movement, every word, every thought was laborious. Friends and family helped by holding me in their presence and listening and letting me regain my footing at my own pace.

The past two years-from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and through rebuilding my life-I’ve changed. I know better what I want in life. I know how a moment can change a life. I am more cautious about falling in love, about trusting. When I start to feel that heady, fun, fluttering feeling courtesy my autonomic nervous system, my brain shuts the fun down, constantly battling my drive for companionship, reminding me that there’s a long winter to be had if I don’t heed its warning.

I expect that the struggles not only matured me but aged my body. When I look in the mirror today, I sometimes notice the divot under my right breast where the cancer was excised. I sometimes notice the scar extending from my armpit where my lymph nodes were removed and biopsied. I more often feel that on a daily basis, whenever I stretch my arms over my head, scar tissue puts tension between my shoulder and breast. I see darker circles under my eyes, I suppose. Maybe they look a little sad, but it’s hard to tell from my perspective. However, mostly I just see…me. Sometimes my boob even looks completely normal and I don’t notice the lymph node scar. I feel like the mirror is reflecting a mere façade.

I imagine I see the physical manifestations of my emotional metamorphosis in my dogs. Mulder, always stoic and with more heart than sense, has trouble on long walks. His spirit is high but this past year his physical capacity has decreased and won’t ever return. He can no longer chase dirt bikes, but he surely still wants to! His ears perk up and his body trembles with excitement whenever he hears the start-up revving engine. He oftentimes loses his hind footing and ends up seated or laying on the ground. He plays it off like a purposeful mishap, not losing an ounce of dignity, turning a sudden fall into an opportunity to roll in the cool grass and scratch his back. Jenna is my first dog, my beautiful independent girl. Her eyes are clouded now. Her hearing is selective. It always has been, but now it is not by choice. She still explores the world with confidence and delight, though. She trots about with her nose to the sky, tail wagging, and hips swinging. She prefers unrestrained outdoor living to the creature comforts of the home any day.

Senseless afflictions, brought on only by endlessly changing seasons, not any fault of these selfless beings.

Should only I have acted with such grace and dignity in healing my physical and emotional wounds of recent past! Instead, I remember plenty of instances where I cried, complained, and exercised self-pity. I spit venom instead of espousing forgiveness. I was ugly. The reunion with my animal family could not have come soon enough. Caring for their well-being is such a small effort when they remind me everyday how to live, moreover, how to live in peace with myself. They greet each morning with excitement, eat with gusto because they can, loudly gulp down water, get dirty because it’s fun, draw in the newness of almost-spring through their nose, gallop and dance when happy, and aren’t afraid of the dark.

Enough time has passed now that on the occasion when I slip, when I rouse myself from a daytime nightmare about my great health scare and even greater relationship disappointment, the churning in my stomach quickly fades. Rare now are the moments when I cry over what happened, what I had, or what I lost.

I feel it is nearing the end of winter.

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