Content Warning: This article discusses motherhood and abusive relationships. The Peak urges you to take care of yourself by reading what will best serve you at this time.
Attending Camp Breastie was something I didn’t even know I was longing for until I arrived.
As I stepped out of the car, I took a deep breath as looked across the field and smiled. I didn’t see anything, but I could feel in my soul that this is where I was supposed to be. With each step, my excitement grew and grew as I trekked with my bags toward the hill.
As I was taking this all in, I noticed a wooden sign with a quote. A little while later, another. These signs were hand-painted with words of wisdom, my favorite saying, “Tell the story of the mountain you climbed, your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.”
This is something that I have seen before, but when I saw this planted by a tree right outside the cafeteria, a place where it would always be seen, it inspired me. To show others how vulnerability can be scary AND so cathartic. How vulnerability can be a strength, not a weakness. To finally release all those words and fears and thoughts swirling in your brain making everything feel so loud. These signs were spread out all throughout camp, almost as if these quotes were to guide us and to help us make sense of this confusing and dichotomic new world we call cancer.
Navigating a Contradictory World
A world impacted by cancer is one where so many different feelings can be true all at the same time, but how is that possible? How can you feel two things that contradict?
I am so grateful to be alive, so how can I be so angry? Angry that cancer took my breasts. Angry that cancer took so much of my presence away from my son. Angry that my first night away from my son was when I was admitted to the hospital after spiking a fever following chemotherapy. I was angry that I am stuck at home with my one-year-old son instead of meeting other moms and giving him the chance to play with other babies.
Well, what if we could feel all those things? What if we allowed ourselves to feel everything that comes up without judgment? Emotions do not make us weak, they make us human. My cancer journey has truly forced me to embrace the power of and.
Even now when I try to resist or try to convince myself to feel a certain way, whatever emotion is trying to push through gets stronger and stronger. So yes, I do feel so incredibly grateful to be alive AND angry that cancer took so much from me in one year.
Unpacking the Feelings In Between
Becoming a mother has been the most fulfilling experience of my life AND it has been truly the most difficult transformation of my entire life.
When I gave birth to my son, I would experience so much happiness that I would sob AND be so terrified that something would happen to my son, and it would be all my fault. I would feel so at peace with him asleep on my chest AND desperately want to be free so I could have some time and space to myself.
Before I became a mother, the relationship I had with my own mother was toxic and abusive. When I was younger how I was able to survive was to stay busy. I thought I just liked it, but I was running from all these heavy emotions I had been internalizing my entire life.
When I gave birth to my son, I had nowhere to run alongside the rigid guidelines of what I thought was allowed to do as a mother: how to dress, who to spend time with, what I could watch, and how much time I could allot for myself. It was exhausting, but I thought this was the only way to be a good mother. But then I went to Camp Breastie.
Finding Your Safe Spaces
At Camp, we were all taking time for ourselves. Choosing ourselves not because we are selfish, but because we want to return to our families the best version of ourselves. This was another time to surrender and embrace the power of and.
I can be a good mom AND take time for myself away from my family. I can be a good mom AND be passionate about other things outside of the home. I can be a good mom AND wear a neon fishnet crop top and shake my ass all night to music with my new Breasties.
I can be a good mom AND admit that I need help to get me through. After having my son I dove head first into healing, emotionally as well as physically. The past two years I have been working with a therapist and processing so many things that have been building up for decades and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, for which I began taking medication. Despite my anxiety, I found myself driving six hours with someone I just met that day to stay four days at a place with literally hundreds of people, without an ounce of overwhelm.
It wasn’t the absence of anxiety at Camp Breastie that made that possible, it was the presence of emotional safety and choice. These are things that were not given to me freely as a child, but the second I stepped out of the car and walked up the hill I truly felt like I belonged. A sense of emotional safety flooded me as if it was infused through my blood that was carried to every cell in my entire body.
I closed my eyes to breathe in this new feeling, a feeling I have never received, in a place full of strangers: maybe the strongest sense of belonging in my entire life. I can feel nervous AND brave. Anxious AND at peace.
I am home.