Meditations for Queer Femmes – Doing it Right

Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer this spring, I’ve had the nagging feeling that I’m not doing it right. Every day, I wake up and think of smart, caring things I plan to do for myself, and then, at the end of the day, I fall asleep thinking how I did none of those things but instead ate indifferently rather than antioxidantly and watched, “I Am Mother” on netflix (a movie that, although it resoundingly passed the Bechdel test, continues to trouble me). Once again, I didn’t research the kind of cancer I have or the drugs and supplements I’m taking; I didn’t call an Al-Anon friend; I still haven’t touched base with my therapist; I’m having trouble exercising, going out in public, keeping friends and family in the loop, and don’t get me started on the dearth of thank you notes I’m generating.

On good days, I can counter my “I didn’ts” with some “I dids”, like how one day last week I talked with the social worker at the oncology clinic, managed to eat some vegetables, and even called a friend. But in general, I keep feeling like I’m coming up somewhere very far from roses.

I’m not sure why exactly I feel there’s a right way to do this. An ego thing, maybe: I’m intelligent and hard working, so shouldn’t I be able to figure this out? What am I supposed to figure out, though? Surely with something like this it’s not in the details but in the strength and willingness to get through.

Which leads me to wonder if maybe all this fretting about how I should or shouldn’t be COMBATTING CANCER is a distraction or even denial, something to keep from looking in the face the incredibly difficult challenge of living with grief and hope and not overbalancing into either. Life writ large, in other words. And if there’s one thing to know about life, there are many, many ways to live it. Sadly, for me and all other literal perfectionists – and even for the rest of you, too – there is no one best way. There is no way of knowing what the future may hold and the present moment is all we’ve got.

The social worker at the oncology clinic has been gently urging me to re-check the tumor to see if it’s shrunk. I’ve been way too squeamish to do it but two days ago, yelling, “JUST TOUCH YOUR BOOB!!!” in my head, I finally managed.

There is nothing left of the tumor that I can find. Nothing. My breast feels perfectly and wonderfully like it always has.

That has nothing to do with me. That’s not something I did. Or rather, I said yes to chemo and immunotherapy drugs, and those powerful medications went to town on my tumor. I asked for help. I needed help, because this is not something I can do on my own, and maybe asking for help and then getting along as best I can is ok. It’s not perfect. But it’s ok, and seriously, how many times do I have to hear “Nothing’s perfect!” before I believe it?

Almost every day, Tex tells me I’m doing great, that I’m doing just exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t think she’s lying. I know I’m working hard to heal, even if I don’t line up against some kind of “This is the Correct Method” checklist. If someone else with breast cancer told me about their day, even if it included eating potato chips and watching whatever on the TV, I would give them props and love for doing what they needed to get through. But when I do it??

If I can drift into a self-blaming, castigating place around dealing with a life-threatening disease crisis, think how ingrained that means this habit is. And I am quite sure I am not the only queer femme who drifts. Trying to heal from all of our own personal hurts, big and small, and trying to live in joy when we are bombarded with messages that joy is in short supply (all lies): this is not an easy, linear path. Instead, it is nuanced, layered, filled with irritating detours that are sometimes exactly what we need and where we are offered exactly the opportunities that will allow us to access untried and marvelous parts of ourselves. I’m not saying I’m glad I got cancer, but given that I did, and that it’s really scary, I’d like to take as much pressure off myself as possible, be as kind to myself as possible.

Darlings, my femme sweetnesses, today cut yourselves a break. Imagine that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what all that is lovely and right wants you to do. Allow your queer femme dazzle, pluck, determination, insight, and grit to cradle and benefit you for once, turn it onto yourself and bask in that persistent light.

Crank up the soundtrack.

Femmes doing it right.

Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was fabulous, kind, and wise and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”)