Living in the Northwest, surrounded by Nature’s grandeur…..the mountains, the ocean, the trees, all of which I marvel at every day when I catch a breathtaking peek at the Olympics, or stare up at a giant fir to find the Raven chortling to me. This is big land.
Yet I am drawn to small, ironic, since the message, directly and indirectly, all my life has been that by American cultural standards I live in a ‘big’ body, ‘for a woman’. By those same standards I live in a small house, which we find plenty big. In Nature many of my favorites are quite diminutive. I adore pikas, (Mike shares this attraction, they are our cuteness standard, other animals might be ‘pika cute’, or ‘almost as cute as a pika’). Also high on the list are tree frogs, chipmunks, chickadees, nuthatches; small beach pebbles and tiny shells catch my attention and find their way into my pocket. The hummingbird that decided to winter with us fascinates me, a role model for tenacity and bravery, in a tiny package! (After the sugar water froze the other day, we replaced it, but didn’t see the hummingbird for several below freezing days. A sign of hope, in a mind looking for hope, this morning it reappeared.)
Small. I draw small “doodles”, make relatively small cards, grow many tiny-blossomed Primulas, and Violas. Small feels like a ‘home’ place for me. It’s comfortable (except small closed spaces!) A small and cozy moss covered spot at the base of a tree, or a small hollow behind a boulder or beach log, even as a child, felt like a place to settle in and be cozy. We have a small travel trailer, when in it I feel at home, it is just the right size…..it is enough.
Now I have a small tumor in my breast, I wish it were smaller, better yet not there at all. For something small (technically it is “intermediate”), it has made a huge impact on my psych and our life. As I watch fear settle in more than I want it to, and feel anxious about pending surgery, I am grateful for small, knowing many women are not told “their” tumors are small. I do not consider this mine, though doctors like to say “your tumor”. It is an anomaly in my body, (my body itself an anomaly, one reason surgery is riskier). It is my body’s inappropriate response to something, to a physiological stressor or toxin, probably triggered by psychological stress.
I find the language of cancer both interesting and disconcerting. Never good at learning languages, this is not one I particularly want to learn. I try to choose my vocabulary to describe this experience carefully. I don’t care for the word cancer, which means crab apparently in both Greek and Latin, and to me is better used to describe the place on the zodiac where summer begins or the fascinating little crustaceous found on the beaches of inland bays where we walk. It is used to describe over a hundred diseases, which can be very different from one another in nature and manifestation. I would rather say “there is a tumor in me, it is small, but growing, and it needs to come out, then I need to find ways to support my body and make sure it doesn’t grow again.” I am not naive, I know there is more to it, I know all the other words, all the other ‘measures’, pluses and minuses, of this particular tumor, about sentinel lymph nodes. I have had the terminology explained to me. As the days go by, the appointments add up, I am given litrerature to read, I find it difficult to translate the cancer culture language into something that is simpler, more hopeful….something that makes this small.
Last week many small blessings came into my life after this rather big news of ‘having cancer’. The wonder of small blessings is that they come from large hearts and contain big doses of love for the receiver. One such blessing involves small birds made by my friend Phoebe, a sculptor. Here is Phoebe’s message to me:
“As you know I make a bird daily as a little meditative start to my sculpting day. When I know someone is having a health issue I also have taken time to make a bird or such while they are undergoing surgery or whatever. So yesterday, after making my “daily bird” I made a Penney bird while holding you in my meditative place. I will continue to do that every day, and then you will have a little flock of birds full of healing intentions. Just letting you know how you are being held by me every day. Love, Phoebe”
I bought one of Phoebe’s little birds months ago to give my mom, but she did not take it with her when she moved into the assisted living facility. Yesterday I took it to her. She is understandably worried about me. Part of her manifestation of Alzheimer’s is to be obsessive about whatever her mind gets stuck on. In her attempt to help me, she is ‘stuck’ on buying me a recliner chair, understandable, since she lives in hers and it makes her aches and pains feel more comfortable. I told her many times, our house was “too small”! In a letter for her I included Phoebe’s message. I suggested when she worries, or has scary thoughts, about me, she hold the bird and pray for me. I wrote suggestions for prayers in the letter. She told me several times “but I prayed every night you wouldn’t have cancer”, I could tell she was having a crisis of belief. I said, well, you can also talk to the little bird.
My mom also likes small. She loves small birds, chickadees being her favorite. She understood. Whether she will remember, or do it, I can’t say. But hopefully Phoebe’s little bird brought some comfort to my mom, something to focus on, a connection to me.
So I will have a “flock” of little clay birds, or, given the little helmet Phoebe also felt I needed, perhaps it is an ‘army’ of birds……not for a ‘battle’ against cancer, but the more insidious struggle with fear, negativity, lack of hope that invades the mind.
This small act is huge, full of love and daily intention to help me heal. There have been many such small acts……a poem, an offer of help, a hug, an angel to wear, a doctor who gives generously of her time, a new acquaintance offering her healing skills, phone calls, emails of support and concerns.
On my dresser is a picture of me when I was small, one I don’t remember seeing before, but found when I started to sort through Mom’s memorabilia. There is an expression of delight I’ve not seen in other childhood pictures of myself. It was taken before I was self conscious, before being told I was ‘too tall’, before I learned life can heap on big challenges with such regularity, you barely catch your breath……before there was a tumor in me. I look at this little me and want to know: what was I thinking when I was small that created such big joy on my face?
Note: You can purchase Phoebe’s little birds at Daily Bird Pottery in Port Townsend. The proceeds from sales goes to a different non-profit each month.
If you would like to read the letter I gave my mom: Letter To Mom