This inspiring post is from our Executive Director's cousin, Jo Gordon, with our thanks.

Jo Gordon Reflections

Several months after my dad died – 13 whiplash years ago – I was driving home from the gym one evening when a Josh Groban song began playing on the radio, Where You Are. Sitting at a red light, the mournful music washed over me. One verse gripped my heart, and squeezed and squeezed: Fly me up to where you are, beyond the distant star I wish upon tonight, to see you smile, if only for awhile to know you’re there, a breath away’s not far to where you are.

I started to cry in a way I hadn’t before – not on hearing the news of dad’s sudden death, not standing at his gravesite on a chilly Johannesburg morning as kaddish was recited, not at the prayer service that evening, not as I waded through his closet, setting aside small treasures and throwing out boxes of boxes and bags of bags; not even that impressive collection of emptiness that he had stored so fastidiously for so long had been my undoing. But this one line in this one song wrung me out.

When the light changed, I drove across the street and pulled into a parking lot where I sobbed until I was hoarse. Eventually, snotty, flushed, and exhausted, I made my way home, took a long shower, and put myself to bed, feigning a headache. Those lyrics were my tipping point. The endorphins from a workout made me ripe for the emotional picking.

I have wondered, since my cancer diagnosis back in February, when the tipping point would come for this loss. You see, I am back to my normal routine, working, feeling good, and have been declared free of any evidence of disease. That’s all really, really good news. But I am not quite myself. I have lost the part of my persona that takes the morning for granted. I have lost the ease with which I used to dismiss a little ache or pain, powering through and setting it aside as trivial. I have lost the presumption of my longevity.

During my medical leave, I met with an oncology therapist a couple of times. It seemed a smart thing to do. After all, every other type of physician was having a field day with me, so I figured having my head examined couldn’t hurt. But it did hurt. It really did. Confronting this loss, acknowledging that I was fundamentally changed, would come at a cost. My therapist was lovely – kind, warm, patient. She knew exactly when to push the Kleenex toward me and she knew that my tipping point was yet to come.

“It can help,” she explained, “to know that grief is a normal part of this transition from the old new to the new you.”

I stored that away, remembering Josh Groban’s raid on my psyche back in 2004.

So last week, I had my annual mammogram. Routine screening. I’ve been through this medieval routine since I was 25. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. She was just my age at diagnosis, and at almost 80 now, she is the epitome of survivorship, still working full time and saving everyone from themselves.

It is customary at my imaging center to hang out in a private waiting area for the images to be checked before getting dressed, just in case they need additional pictures. When the technician came back to me, all chipper and sunshiny, to say they needed a couple more scans, I didn’t think too much of it. It happens. I waited again. Then she came back to me, radiologist is tow. It was just the three of us in the waiting area. My heart froze.

“Mrs. Gordon,” he said, leaning forward in his chair, with his hands on his knees, “you’re fine.”

He explained that what had at first looked like a small mass was in fact just an area of folded skin on the first image of that area. He said he had reviewed several years of my past films and was certain, after examining the second view of the same area, that there was nothing there. Given the updates I had made to my medical profile since my last visit, he wanted to be thorough, and he also wanted to put me at ease himself.

The doctor shook my hand, the technician gave my shoulder a squeeze, and I went back to my dressing room. I locked the door and the floodgates opened. I stood in a corner of that small space, my hands up against adjacent walls, bent over the chair that my clothes were on, and tried unsuccessfully to stifle the heaving sobs that were seeping out of me. I gripped hard on the nubby wallpaper under my fingers, wondering how many women before me had stood exactly here, bent over as sheer panic or pure relief washed over them. In an effort to regain control, I sat on the floor, bit down on the robe they’d given me, and waited until my breathing normalized. I heard the technician outside my room, leading another patient to a dressing area further down the hall, away from the sound of my anguish. Finally, I dressed, put on my sunglasses, hurried out the building, and drove home, feeling utterly exhausted.

I think that may have been my tipping point.

On Saturday morning, I was in my Yoga for Cancer class. It’s a great class, designed for people who benefit from squeezing out the lymphatic system while strengthening the core, and it pays attention to inner health as much as to physical health, ending with a wonderful meditative series of poses. Just three of us in the class, so we’re like a little family now. During the ending meditation, as we lay in savasana (appropriately called corpse pose), our instructor read a beautiful passage. Peaceful and affirming. To my left, a member of my yoga family began to cry. Quietly. I turned my head to look at her and saw her whole body shaking, so I reached out my hand and touched hers, the two of us making snow angels on our yoga mats. She gripped my hand tightly. Together, we listened to the rest of the reading, refocused on our breath, and regained our collective center.

“I guess I just needed someone to hold my hand,” she told me after class, wryly. “It was a relief not to have to answer questions or explain myself. Something in me just tipped.”

We hugged and went our separate ways. I get it.

Namaste.

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