After months of treatment, it is finally over. The pink and yellow bracelets, balloons and flowers are beginning to fade. Fatigue and unexpressed anxiety, hidden from the gathering crowd, surround me in a gray fog. I hadn’t known what to expect, but the day has a strangely familiar lack of reality.
As I look into the faces of the people I love, incredible people who helped me through a most unusual and unexpected journey, it hits me: This is what Dorothy must have felt like when she returned home from Oz.
The twister hit in July 2008 with a diagnosis of stage 3 invasive breast cancer. Steve and I shared the news with our three teenaged children over lunch on the back porch on a glorious, summer day. Without a cloud in the sky, we were transported in a dizzying array of appointments with surgeons, oncologists, and diagnostic imaging technicians. When the initial storm died down, our lives opened into a strange new land, with amazing and interesting people who pointed us in the direction of health and healing, a yellow brick road rumored to have been paved by a bike-riding munchkin named Lance.
Instead of the green glow of Oz’s Emerald City, I traveled in a world packaged with pink ribbons, shoulder-to-shoulder with brave fellow sojourners. We rode on shoulders of women who had traveled this road before us, many of whom had returned and others who sadly did not, but left behind clues to help us on the journey. I followed the signposts that steered me around the flying monkeys and negative internet chat rooms and pointed the way toward a safe haven filled with grace hidden deep within.
“Cytoxan, Adriamycin, Taxotere! Oh my!” My trip to Oz spanned the summer, fall and winter, and included visits with neoadjuvant chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy with skin graft, adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation therapy, with stops at physical therapy following surgery and radiation. I experienced an unwelcomed, complete make-over with the accompanying loss of all my hair.
It may sound odd to someone who has never been there, but this world is an incredible place. Tin men, scarecrows, and cowardly lions, some dear ones I knew and other new faces who became dear, gave from previously unrecognized stores of courage, intelligence and love. They came to treatment, made dinner, sent cards and flowers and e-mails, stopped for tea, taught tai chi, explained options, raised money, ran races, gave rides to the kids, cheered good test results, calmed my fears, prayed with me, laughed with me, and cried with me, while a great and powerful wizard orchestrated my care.
While I do not recommend including it on your itinerary, if you find yourself in the Land of Oz, you will also be touched by its wonder. As Dorothy says to Aunt Em, “(T)his was a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice…but most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, I want to go home.”
Now, I realize, like Dorothy, I am home from Oz, and the faces in the crowd do not seem aware that we have returned from this strange land. “But I did leave you,” Dorothy tells Uncle Henry. “And I tried to get back for days and days….. And you — and you — and you — and you were there.”
If I tried to explain, they would shake their heads and chuckle. So I lift my glass in a toast to my secret homecoming, secure in the knowledge that the ruby slippers will be at my disposal should I ever return to the place beyond the rainbow.