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The Exchange

by Candice Michel

Oh yes, self-sufficient, first and foremost- a caregiver, not accustomed to being on the receiving end, and by God, not comfortable with it! I learned it from my mother, who walked herself virtually unaided, except by medical personnel, through four childbirths, a couple of miscarriages, a stroke, open heart surgery, and finally breast cancer with all the attendant chemo and radiation horrors. She just did it, and that's what I learned- just do it. And so I have, through my own litany of breaches and terrors, mostly alone because that way you don't have to take care of your caregivers when they fall apart. Or so I believed. But, my diagnosis of breast cancer shook me to my marrow, and I couldn't recover from the shock quickly enough to seal the doors before those helping hands reached in to keep me from falling. Suddenly I was surrounded, by my daughter, my husband, my family, my dear friends, and women I didn't even know, crowding out that lonely self-sufficiency, filling that rigid space with soft words, deep hugs, shared tears. I, who was used to always being OK, was not OK. And miraculously, that was OK. Breast cancer gave me a gift in exchange for the two precious breasts it took. I learned how to receive, how to just be quiet, and allow the offered love, concern, and support to wash into my heart. Much to my surprise, it made me stronger, not weaker. And that's a lesson well-learned and precious in its own right.

Candice Michel was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in 2003, and had a bilateral mastectomy. Her poetry and short shorts have appeared in several different publications, most recently "Learning to Live Again", published by Stanford University's School of Medicine. She lives and thrives with her husband and two yellow labs on the beautiful coast of southern Oregon.