ONE LUMP OR TWO :: After a horrific fall from grace that included suicidal depression and a mid-winter ski break – of my partners Liza’s knee – and after completing 23 weeks of non-sick days (not even so much as a sniffle or headache!), on the final Friday night of June, 2014, celebrating the most successful semester of my life as a teacher, I nearly killed myself in our pool.
It was a simple accident fuelled by vintage Rioja, excessive hand stands and a giant shark pool noodle. Given my stature and my painful fear of my own body, to frolic in water I wear a double D sports bra, two bathing suits, a neoprene turtleneck and a sticky rubber hat to protect my 1989 hair do (I had special swimming shoes but I lost one).
I was having a blast shouting “Watch this!” then flinging myself face-first to the bottom of the whopping 4 foot deep shallow end, when, during a pool yoga move I call “downward facing lucky moron”, I got tangled up in myself, essentially an underwater noodling of one’s legs together.
I remember thinking as I bobbed up and down on my head, “This is not good.” So, in attempt to save myself (after what I had been through I was so not dying like this), I yanked the turtle neck all the way up and over my back only to have it stick to my head. In another pool yoga move I call “half calf laughing bubbles”, I pulled one arm out of my shirt and threaded it through the shoulder strap of one bathing suit, successfully sewing myself together with my arms crossed over my face.
Despite my efforts I still remained upside down, my face banging on the bottom of the pool, my Titanic feet in the air, riding the shark noodle now wedged between my knees.
Unable to breathe I started to panic and began to air pedal in another attempt to free myself or at least finally get Liza’s attention. I could make out her shadow in the ripples and I really needed her to realize this was a now or never moment.
My last breath of air broke the surface as Liza’s arms submerged to grab me.
Given the wad I was in, the only parts of me available to grab onto were Ethyl and Myrtle. Myrtle, my left breast, was fine with being twisted sideways, Ethyl, to the right, was not. Liza yanked me up and out of the pool by my girls and we flopped over on each other, Liza’s hand still attached.
“Mow mow fowow,“ I mumbled from inside my neoprene headdress. “Frart thursts. Efffflll.”
“”You mean this?” asked Liza as her finger slowly pushed up under my breast.
And I then I knew. My soul knew, and my gene pool knew.
I had cancer.
Liza gently pulled me out of my rubber tomb, wiped my tears, and we did a breast exam on the deck. Well not on the deck – the deck is fine – it was me that was, rather is not okay.
Lying down the lump was really hard to feel. Only when I stood up, bent at the waist and let the girls dangle could we feel it. But it was right there on Ethyl, hard, round and terrifying.
Funny, I nearly had to die that night in the pool to find out I just might anyway.
And although there is nothing amusing about finding a lump or two – or in my case three – or in finding out you have invasive ductal carcinoma, or in finding out that you are going to lose a body part (one you are fond of) and one that people have teased you about for years (poor Ethyl; Myrtle will be so lonely), there is something sweet in seeing something bitter from a different angle.
I learned a lot about fighting for my life in the last year. I learned how to watch my entire identity die, and I learned how to turn the most negative experience of my life into the most positive one.
It can be done.
Yes, I cried my guts out. Freaked out and panicked. Threw up. Shook. Told my friends and family (and then told myself: “You are your mother’s daughter but you are not her. It is not 1989 despite your hair and you have to kick this. Kelly you got this – but you gotta do it your way.”)
Which means I have to find a way to make it – cancer – funny. I have to make sure if I do die, I do it laughing, and that those around me see and feel the joy even in the deepest pain.
I think it was my hero Carol Burnet who said “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”
But I don’t have time I gotta do it now, starting yesterday.
“So Liza, buckle up your pool noddle – it’s gonna be a lumpy ride.”
– Kelly Dear is an award-winning (former) educator, lecturer and comedian who is now focused on being an inner child desperately seeking her outer adult. Read the rest of her story at DearKellyDear.com. and follow her on Twitter.