“I thought I was done with cancer. But now they’re saying I need lymphedema treatment,” I told her, irritated at this interruption in my life. I’d traveled to Edisto Island, South Carolina for my second solo journey the day after I’d been assessed at the Lymphedema Clinic. When they told me I’d need intensive treatment, it reminded me of how breast cancer had interrupted my life and I felt like, “Here we go again!”
Sharon, the spiritual director at The Sea of Peace House of Prayer, a center for contemplation, sat with me in our first one-to-one session. I had scheduled two sessions with her during my five days of retreat, a way of taking advantage of all that was offered to nourish my spiritual life. I hadn’t intended to bring up the lymphedema, but it was so close to the surface it just popped out.
“Now they want me to schedule all these appointments this summer to reduce the build-up in this arm,” I said, and raised the left that was impacted from the lymph nodes taken from under that arm, five years earlier when I had my lumpectomy. “I don’t have time for that,” I said, and thought of my summer break from my position as a school nurse, all the projects and plans I had during those precious weeks.
“Don’t you think you deserve to be taken care of?” she asked, her blue eyes looking at me with gentleness.
Butterflies– a symbol of gentle lymphatic massage
We sat in silence and her words seeped down into my heart. Tears stung my eyes and the word deserve reverberated in my ears. Is taking care of me a waste of time, is that what I’m saying, I wondered. I had done my best to take care of everybody else — my sons and husband, my mother with dementia, the students in my school, people in need of nurture in my community, but had I not given the same consideration to myself?
“Sometimes it’s the ego, the false self that tells us we have to be in charge, that we have to accomplish more. If we let go of the control then God can show us how to rest,” she said in her soothing voice.
I felt the startle of recognition in the truth that she was speaking. I’d walked on the labyrinth that morning, the seven-circuit path outlined with shells and rocks, in what was like a moving prayer. In my path, I saw a pin oak leaf at my feet that, in my mind’s eye, appeared to have the word Pride written down the center. I remembered that word had been in one of our scripture readings that morning. What has pride got to do with anything, I’d thought. I told Sharon about the leaf and she nodded with a slight smile as if I might be getting it.
That week I settled into a pattern of morning prayer and scripture reading with Sharon and her husband– since I was the only guest, and then going to the beach to ride my bike and swim. I walked the labyrinth, more slowly and thoughtfully each time. I kept hearing Sharon’s question, “Don’t you deserve to be taken care of?” and pondering how I’d struggled, even after going through cancer, to maintain that self-care that I knew was so important.
By the end of my week, I decided I must go through the treatment. I would push aside all my plans for my productive summer to take care of me. Because I deserved to be taken care of.
What about you?
Have you found that you take care of others more readily than you care for yourself?
What drives you to that behavior?
How can you change this pattern and allow yourself to be taken care of?