My Third Eye: One Woman's Vision of the Great Mystery

Via the Paths of Creativity, Cancer, Folly & a Wild LOVE OF LIFE

Jane Underwood

Jane Underwood
San Francisco, California, USA
October 08
The Writing Salon
I'm a mother, writer, photographer (amateur), and owner of The Writing Salon, a school of creative writing for adults, in San Francisco. I'm also a woman living with breast cancer (since Aug. 2005), working to heal myself (and to understand just what that means, REALLY). Since I'm beginning this blog six years after my breast cancer journey began, the first post is a flashback to that fateful day. The rest of this blog will be, I suspect, a kaleidoscopic mix of past and present, as I refer to the first six years of living with breast cancer... but also focus on the present. And the present contains a whole lot more than just breast cancer. So be forewarned: I will frequently digress.


OCTOBER 11, 2011 4:15PM

Lenore Wants to Be Mad at Her Breast Cancer But...Really?

Rate: 8 Flag
Rain Painting


    Lenore turned her back for all of three seconds, and Olivia stole one of the carrots off the kitchen counter then raced with it, deliriously happy, out to the yard. This made Lenore smile. She could never stay mad at that dog. Who could she be mad at, then? She felt determined to be mad at someone as she bit into her toast.

    Post-toast, she pulled a disposable syringe out of the kitchen drawer and prepared to inject the clear liquid herbal extract into her abdomen. She unwrapped the syringe packet, snapped the top off the elixir-filled vial, stuck the needle into the vial, filled the syringe, pushed the needle through her skin, injected the immune-boosting medicine, and pulled the needle out.

    Next she swigged down the last inch of French roast coffee, and then, out of nowhere, a new mood swept over her, provoked, she supposed, by a particular memory of green that brought tears to her eyes. This was followed by a stream of piano-riffy brain ripples mixed with the patter of rain hitting the skylight.


    When Paul sauntered in through her wide open third-eye chakra, she felt no surprise, ran a bath, and immersed herself in a time when time had stopped, when the woodcutter held his ax suspended in midair while bees hovered halfway between nectar and hive, and she —– Paul's queen — had verged on a state of bliss.

    One-by-one, a stream of magnificently inappropriate ex-lovers arrived to cast their spells. Inflamed, on edge, and tempted, Lenore absorbed their familiar voices, gestures, smells. She had no choice but to take them all in.

    "Just receive me," Paul had whispered, cupping both her cheeks in his hands. "That's right, Lenore. Open yourself up and let me in.”


    After her bath, she went back to the kitchen to stuff her mouth with cinnamon donuts, one after another, washed down with gulps of ice cold milk. She had to find a way to recapture all that sugar in her past, the thrill of carbs, warm, just out of the oven, soft, melt-in-your-mouth bites of heaven -- infinitely wrong and infinitely desirable. She had to get some wildness back, and she had to be mad at something she could touch or punch.

    Maybe she could be mad at Jack! Sweet Jack. Maybe that would work. Oh what a despicable thought. Thank goodness he wasn't home. Thank goodness he had gone to see a man about a truck.

    She brushed her teeth, leaned over the bathroom sink to spit out toothpaste and blood, and that was when she remembered that yesterday she'd forgotten to check her breasts for more lumps, new lumps. Always the threat of recurrence. She'd also forgotten to take her pills, pills that were meant to keep the prowling wolf at bay. She'd forgotten because too many people had been making demands, causing her adrenalin to flash in gaudy neon. Clients and co-workers ached inside her neck. Her arms itched. Her chin tingled with a bursting, angry garden of tiny black maverick hairs. Where were the tweezers? Finally she got dressed in the lime green Capri pants that were woven into the texture of leaves.


     Her eyelids felt heavy from too little sleep. Birds thundered by outside the window. Last night she had dreamed she was flying while sitting on a straight back chair, cruising along at an altitude of approximately fifteen feet above the Valencia Street shopping corridor. She had known where she was going and why. But when she woke up, gravity resumed its hold.

    Sometimes she spent whole nights listening to mysterious creaks and groans, or wandering lost and un-enrolled on college campuses, or running from humongous tidal waves. At the crack of every dawn she struggled to swim up from the murky depths, to get herself back into the light of morning coffee and pastries. Who had the answers? Death and disease had the whole world stumped.

    Her breast continued to twinkle with migratory twinges and aches, unidentifiable prickles, stinging sensations that randomly came and went. On top of that, the joints in her ankles and knees were killing her, and all this stress had jammed itself inside the soles of her feet. What did these symptoms signify? Were they merely side effects from one of the medications? Or a sign of her imminent demise? She had no idea.

    Too many conflicting opinions re diagnosis and treatment equaled chaos. She wished for some kind of holiness to heal her clueless body (her dear old befuddled friend, her sacred vessel, container of her divine life force). She wished for her body to be anointed with the strength it had once enjoyed, the strength of no rusty bones, no moldy flesh, no dead-end brain cul de sacs.


    Once upon a time she'd boasted waist-length hair that had tumbled down to an hourglass waist. Male heads had turned when she swayed sweetly down the street, shy but hot, afraid yet bold. One admirer had called her "an incongruous collage of cool blue sky and fertile soil."

    Now the orthotics from the drugstore made her hobble, every uphill walk provoked a stream of invisible tears. She clawed at the air as she dragged her feet home to the adorable house where she now lived complete with a lawn, a sprinkling system, a dog and a man who bestowed upon her many sweet pecky kisses per day.

    On top of their toilet tank sat one predictable philodendron. Last week they had gone to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy a swirly green shower curtain. Their refrigerator contained homemade chicken soup. There were bananas and grapefruits and apples painting the kitchen backsplash with yellows, reds and greens.


    A flock of inflammatory memories flew in a sudden burst out of Lenore's reverie, wings flapping wildly. They circled above her head, coming to roost in the eaves of her discontent. Her forehead began to vibrate and buzz until at last the buzz was muffled by the thumping of her own and her neighbors' heartbeats.

    She wanted to smack the face of this faceless foe, but instead she turned on the TV that waited impatiently on the kitchen counter between the olive oil and the Vita-Mix blender. This was where she lived too much of her life these days, here in a world that had once smelled of steamy sex and drama but now reeked of Dr. Phil and Oprah, syringes and twinges and pills.

    Outside the window, red rain-soaked leaves sank into the wet asphalt. Found art. She stared at it until the graveled black street became a gorgeous chatoyant blur.

    Who or what could she be mad at? Who or what could she yell and scream at? It was nobody's fault. It was the luck of the human draw. No need to be mad. 

    So then what the hell did she want, really? Realistically? A vacation? A poem by Emily Dickenson? No. She needed more, a hammer or a flood or an out-of-control fire. . . or a bolt of lightning to blaze down and strike the soul of her mystical pineal gland. Or maybe she needed to lure the thundering birds out of the sky, make them all fall down down down until they slammed (or fluttered or drifted or sank ever so gently) into their final epiphanies.

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For me, it isn't --"why me?"-- it's "why not me?" Being mad doesn't solve much, and we're are all vulnerable to life's unexplained challenges.
This was an interesting slice of life about your friend. I could feel the moment.
What Lea said. Why not me. And likewise, why not me nine years later, still alive? There is sweet heaven there in Lenore's kitchen, with the dog and the blender and the man who bestows kisses. Lenore might know how to rage, but she also knows how to suck the juice out a moment.
Wow. I love your writing. Something so lyrically passionate about it. Lines like this make you a great writer, "This was where she lived too much of her life these days, here in a world that had once smelled of steamy sex and drama but now reeked of Dr. Phil and Oprah, syringes and twinges and pills." You speak a universal language here and I thank you for your good writing and vulnerability.
Nobody's fault, no need to be mad.

Yet, "She needed more, a hammer or a flood or an out-of-control fire. . . or a bolt of lightning to blaze down and strike the soul of her mystical pineal gland."

Who wouldn't want to lash out like a furious god.
Aw, the writing here knocks me out. "piano-riffy." This is what I mean by transformative writing. BTW, I had a similar dark night reckoning of the soul in a bathtub when I was getting treatment for Hep C. Thanks, Jane.
Or maybe write it down and get it right, or as close to right as she can get it at least for now. I should probly butt out now, being the only rooster in the room. Gripping, grabbing...OK OK, adios.
I missed this one earlier...just catching up. Forceful. Engrossing. There's a wild energy here...needs to be short stories or a novel, yes?