The Sacrifice We Make

August 25th, 2012

When I was a young girl, I liked to read Grimm’s fairy tales. Not the cleaned up versions, but the old school ones with cruel villains and extra spooky plots.

I had seen enough ugliness in the world to suspect that the saccharine, popularized retellings were inaccurate in their representation of the world, so I sought out dark stories that felt more honest.

As I have been processing all I have gone through, I keep thinking back to The Seven Ravens. In it, a girl’s seven brothers get bewitched and turned into ravens. She goes on a quest to find them, and learns they are locked inside a glass mountain. The only way for her to free them is to cut off her finger and put it in the keyhole. She does so without hesitation and frees her brothers, who resume their human form.


The moment where she cuts off her finger always caught my breath. It was one line in a very brief story, but I meditated on it as a child.

What would I have done in that situation? How badly would it hurt to cut off your own finger? What went through her mind as she brought the knife onto her own flesh? How did she have the strength to actually push it through all the way? Does she realize that she will never have that finger again? Will her brothers ever understand what she did for them?

The Seven Ravens and the questions it forced me to ponder are not unlike what I had to face as a cancer patient. I willingly chose terrible suffering, a cruel regimen of pain, as a sacrifice I made to have more life.

Being a participant in my own pain is not something that came easily or that I am getting over. As my friend Xeni has entered the middle part of her course of daily radiation, I am reminded of this unnerving aspect of the treatment.

Climbing on the table. Day after day, even as your skin gets sore and maybe even blisters. Even as you feel the energy draining from your body. Like the ancients who sacrificed animals to unknown gods, we offer ourselves up to the unseen cells we seek to placate.

All this is done on our own accord. Unlike chemo, nobody typically escorts you. The sessions are brief and frequent. You climb on the table yourself, get into position. Unlike surgery, there is no heavenly moment of Versed bliss before you lose consciousness and it is all in the doctors’ hands. Your volition, your showing up, your stillness and cooperation is what makes it all work.

What prepares us for this? How do we make sense of what comes next?

As the news of NED sinks in, as I approach my three year milestone, I vacillate between anger at what has been lost and amazement that I am still alive.

My arm catches fire with lymphedema and nerve damage.  I am in anger again.

My brain gets clicking, my energy sustains me through a day, and I connect to what I love most in life. I feel immense gratitude.

I thought the roller coaster ended with treatment. But I now see recovery has its own ups and downs. We are reminded by our own bodies, by our friends’ stories and suffering, of all that we have endured.

The challenge, as I see it, is to make the most of the moments of joy. To seek them out.

That may be the only way to make good on this terrible sacrifice.

This entry was posted on Saturday, August 25th, 2012 at 9:27 pm and is filed under Survivorship, Treatment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “The Sacrifice We Make”

  1. August 25, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I love this. Thank you for putting these feelings into words so eloquently & with such honestly.

  2. August 25, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    It’s incredibly difficult to seek out those moments of joy. I, too, suffer from lymphedema and wonder how my doctor could have neglected to tell me the warning signs. But I must grasp the comforting moments, as I did today enjoying a great pool party. For a while, I forgot my woes. Keep on writing. xox

  3. karin sa mère
    August 26, 2012 at 5:44 am

    so true, so right. It is so precisely discribed here what is hard to express to others.
    bravo for pointing your finger to what’s left to share and that we never do ( we’re not as smart with blurry confusion )
    Merci, I really connect to what you wrote. Clever you. Keep up with high spirit, we need you.

  4. Barb Stauff
    August 27, 2012 at 8:57 am

    loved this post as well. I think for me, the recovery and now just beginning treatment for local recurrence, is harder than the first time. everything happened so fast and it seems a blur when I look back on it. But now things go painfully slow. I too suffer from lymphedema and nerve damage and each day is all about controlling the pain and reducing the swelling. My right arm is dead. I cannot move my fingers, nor lift my arm, so basically I have lost that limb in order to stay alive. Would I have done things differently? I don’t know but it would have been nice to have had some warning.

  5. Sucer
    August 30, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    I recently met a woman who is 7 years cancer free. Pretty good, given her doctors at the time gave her 4 years, tops. We talked about how there was almost an expectation that she would climb a mountain or something. But the desire to maximimse her survival didn’t really trump her regular life. She pretty much continued, sans heroic climbing feats. And didn’t even feel guilty. Imagine that. Treatment gave her more life given the alternative, and for that she’s grateful. But she has her regular life back, peppered with a healthy dose of recurrence fear. And all the other encumbent dilemmas: divorce, aging, insert major life event here. Nobody promised you a rose garden, sister.

  6. September 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    What a story you’ve shared about the girl and the seven ravens. I’d never read that before, but it’s certainly a sacrifice to cut off a finger. People do incredible things when there’s little available choice. Your experience, and many others, are a testament to that bizarre strength (despite desperation) that seems to come from nowhere. Personally, I find my comfort in hope; no matter how hard or dark or tiring the situation might get, hope keeps things going.


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