"Permission to Heal" By Wendy Fish

A friend of mine said “you know Wendy, you should really go check out this art therapy class,” it’s incredible the healing that people find through art. So, after discussing how much I lack any artistic abilities and his insistence on me trying it out, I decided to do it.

I went in to the class and the project for the day was to draw an outline of your hand, on one side of the paper you would draw the top of your hand, this side would represent how you felt the world perceived you. The other side of the paper you would draw the bottom of your hand, this side would represent how you felt on the inside. It was a crazy project for me because, you know, you don’t ever really think about that stuff, at least I didn’t.

I proceeded to outline my hand, on the top I drew this perfectly manicured hand, smooth skin, beautifully painted nails, my sparkling wedding ring. Then on the bottom I drew this very weathered, cracked, bruised and callused hand. This represented how I felt on the inside; guilt, shame, anger and resentment. You know all the things that are there, but you just push them down. That was a very powerful realization for me. On the outside you look like you have it all together, but on the inside… wow, you’re a hot mess girl!

By the time I was 20 years old I had suffered abuse, neglect, abandonment, foster care and group homes and poverty. I dropped out of school, got a divorce, and became a single Mom and a stripper to support me and my baby girl. Needless to say, I felt like damaged goods.

The next 20 years I spent trying to recover, doing everything I could to make it right. I married a wonderful man, went back to school, worked full time, and raised our children the way I wish I had been raised. I helped my Dad, Mom and brother. Literally, I woke up every day juggling all day long just to get it all done. I made a good life for myself, but inside I was not happy and I was wore out!

Fast forward to May 17, 2016. I got off work early and was running from one thing to the next as usual, I had to take my Dad to a Doctors apt and then go to one of my own. My father had been ill, and his apt went longer than expected. As we were speeding across town, I remember thinking; here I go again, always taking care of everyone else, and not myself.

The apt I was running late for was for a routine mammogram. I pulled into the parking lot 15 minutes late and ran in to the apt. I just knew they were going to tell me they couldn’t see me. If so, it would probably be months before I made the time to reschedule. I was already a year overdue for that apt! Thankfully they let me in.

A few days later I got the news… I had breast cancer. I was 42 years old, successful in my career, married to an amazing man and had 3 beautiful children. I was in complete shock and disbelief. How could I have cancer? I was healthy and fit, and doing everything the way I was supposed to! I drank protein shakes and did CrossFit 5-6 days a week for God’s sake!

Immediately after I shared my diagnosis, I began receiving words of encouragement and messages like; you’ve got this, Kick Cancers Ass, Fight like a girl, Fuck Cancer! I felt supported, but inside I was tired, I had been struggling and fighting my whole life! I just didn’t want to fight any more. I was ready to heal.

Though my cancer journey hasn’t been easy, it has never been about battling for me. Cancer gave me permission to focus on myself. It was a wakeup call to really look at the way I was living and make changes that helped me to learn to love myself and take care of myself , but most of all how to be true to myself. I started making time for meditation, cooking, massages and doing the things that made me happy, like reading. I had stopped reading for so long. I now have a pile of books next to my bed!

I wouldn’t wish a cancer diagnosis on anyone, but for me, this journey has been life changing. It has been difficult to say the least, but it has also been a journey of self-discovery and healing not only from cancer, but also my past wounds. I no longer feel weathered, cracked, bruised and callused. Through loving myself, I can heal!

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