Cancer, Set Me Free

by Michelle Karl

Michelle connected to SaraBella through a colleague of her husband, and a dear friend of April. When April met Michelle, she was inspired by her story, by her authentic battle with breast cancer, and by Michelle’s adventures ahead. We will share Michelle’s journey on our website and social media – through fishing, reflecting, exploring, and discovering. Her family will float various rivers in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia. We’re all cheering for health, fun, and for cancer to set her free.

This is a special Mother’s Day.

I am asking for an unusual gift, I am asking for my own peace.

I am an overachiever, a perfectionist and a caretaker.  I am also a therapist so I know that my tendencies are rooted in a fear of not being good enough… a fear that the people I love will see my faults and leave.

Over a year ago I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer.  Today, I have completed: a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, nineteen radiation treatments, 16 rounds of Herceptin, and one reconstructive surgery.  This last year has shaken me.

In hindsight, I can see that my body braced itself for the assault.  I lived my life, I performed in my roles as a wife, a mother, a friend.  I had low expectations for myself during treatment.  I bowed down to cancer and embraced my vulnerability, asked for help, thanked God for my good and bad days, and survived.  This week I was talking with my daughter and she expressed that although the year had challenges, cancer had also brought blessings to our family.  I can see that as well.

Greg and Michelle’s daughter…and their boat

Despite all that we endured last year, enveloped in a loving community of friends and family I was able to remain positive, for the most part.  However, it is now, that I have found myself to be more pessimistic and critical, especially of my physical  body.  I have gained weight, my jeans are too tight, I do not like my hair, I have scars, the list goes on.

When I look at my physical self I see myself falling short.  I often do not see someone who is accomplished or strong, maybe even lovable.  I have tried to run away from these messages all my life by doing more. Preforming at work, preforming athletically, preforming in the care for my children, my home and my marriage.  Using my body as the shell that orchestrates it all.  Looking at the surface of what my body was showing to others as a reflection of what I was worth underneath.

Michelle’s daughter

There is no more shell. There cannot be.  It is only me.  It has deeply saddened me that I have not been able to accept the power that my body has shown this year.  How can I possible berate this physical body?  This body that, not only survived this year but has been able to show strength and courage and grace and vulnerability.

How can I not be thankful to this body that allowed me to wake up everyday and somehow go for a walk?  The body that allowed me to laugh and love in the midst of a crisis.

Intellectually, I know I should feel differently.  But when will I believe?   My body wants to be acknowledged for all it needs and all its strength, for the reality of all it does.  I am just starting to understand this.  My body wants its voice to be heard.  To stop the performance. To stop running and accept the nurturance that I can give it by listening in the quiet.

Michelle on the boat they built

This week my husband and I had the opportunity to meet with April, the founder of SaraBella Fishing.  We talked about being out in nature and the healing that can happen there, in the quiet. We talked about breast cancer, about empowering women and gaining self awareness and strength.  She told me about an organization that teaches women diagnosed with breast cancer how to fly fish, I am a novice.  We talked about my families three week, summer fly fishing and camping trip and the opportunity to use that time that time to heal.

I am looking for peace. Cancer has certainly impacted my life.  Yet I know the cancer did not get me  The cancer may be what sets me free.

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