My body, the battlefield

In 2005, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While the treatment was difficult and the time was trying for both me and my then-husband (and our families & friends), the scars and the side effects were all internal. To the naked eye, one would have thought I was fine–that I never had cancer. That I had it all together. To the naked eye, most would have thought my marriage was fine and that we had just weathered a storm. Perhaps a hurricane. While I had lost my ability to bear children and I suffered from an immense amount of scar tissue buildup inside my most precious female organs, I simply looked like a woman who had gained a bit of weight. While I suffered from crippling depression and anxiety, most people thought it was just a side effect from my troubling past, from previously existing traumas.

I carried around the semblance of normalcy until 2015, when I was again diagnosed with cervical cancer. This time, though, I was not as lucky as before. I needed more treatment, invasive and exhausting treatment, that caused visible symptoms. I lost 40 pounds. I lost my hair, everywhere. I gained a skin condition that permanently discolored my body. I lost a labia, and then a surgeon crafted a new one. Medication provided after treatment ended bloated me, giving me a “muffin top”. Vaginal reconstruction weakened my core. My teeth eroded from chemotherapy. My groin dotted with tattoos I needed for radiation.

My body, and my relationship with it, has changed in so many ways. Some days, I look in the mirror and remember that woman I once was, seeing her in my eyes or in my crooked smile. Others, I try to think that this moment, where my body feels and looks weathered, is when I am bursting from my cocoon. Messy but necessary to get to my final destination–a butterfly. But most of the time, I sit with angst, in despair about what others think when they see me. About what I think when I see me. To what expectations people compare the reality in front of them. Many days, I just see the cancer, even after it’s moved on to ravage someone else. My body, the battlefield.

I have a sordid history with my vagina. Much of my past trauma comes from unwanted sexual advances, assaults, and the aftermath those experiences caused. I have been trying to determine what a healthy relationship would look like with that part of my body for as long as I can remember–I never did have a healthy sexual experience before having unhealthy ones. I have sought the assistance of counselors, trauma therapists, sex therapists, and body workers to help connect me with The Sacred Feminine. I work to connect to Her on a regular basis.

But things just aren’t that easy.

In some ways, I find my post-cancer approach to my body to be more respectful than it once was. In college and after my divorce, I often gave my body freely to anyone willing to give theirs to me, without giving a second thought to who should have rite to entry. I did so soberly and consensually. Even after several sexual assaults in adulthood, I attempted to “stay normal” by continuing this practice, like nothing had happened. Like it didn’t matter that I had been violated. If I just kept up appearances, then maybe, just maybe, those violations would matter less. Now, after undergoing vaginal and labial reconstruction, I am more careful about whom I grant entry. It’s not that I don’t condone these practices–they’re great!–but I was never doing them for the right reasons. I was never a free spirit. I wanted control over the past–and I never gained it. Now, I am discerning. I respect this body that weathered the storms life threw its way. I expect that people touching or enjoying it also respect it. Because it IS The Sacred Feminine. And it is mine. I have a lot less sex (with others), but the quality is much higher. And, most of the time, I don’t shrink with shame afterwards.

Some days, especially when the body shame and self-doubt creeps in, when I’m meeting someone new from whom I’d like physical adoration, I gaze longingly over my shoulder. I compare myself to the “cool girls” and free spirits, and I wonder why I have become the prude. But it only takes a moment for me to run my fingers along the scars lining my edges to remember that, in place of someone trendy, stands a warrior for truth. Stands a woman reclaiming her leg hair and body hair. Learning to receive pleasure from herself, to give clear boundaries to others. Stands the captain of her destiny and a dreamer of dreams.

A survivor stands where a girl once did.



I spent all evening

With someone

Who reminded me of you.

First, the face, the hair, the height

then, the accent, the snarky comments

the playful, professional flirting.

It was like looking at you,

hearing you,

Watching you hear me.

I wonder,

Without all the red tape,

What could it all have been?

I remember the night we finally kissed.

Electric, heart-pounding


I thought you were a cocky suit

With a fancy title and a fancy job

And raging insecurity.

I was right.

The night you came over

You melted in my arms,

Took off the armor,

And cried in my room.

In that moment, I loved you.

Not the tough exterior, the pomp,

But the jelly inside.

The kind, doubtful, sad soul

With the sad eyes.

I saw those same sad eyes tonight

And I loved them just the same.

If we’d met in another place,

At another time,

Would you still be curled up

Talking about fantasy novels

About administrative law

In my room,

Your head on my chest?

Would you be grieving with me?

Could I have made those sad eyes smile?

I spent all evening

With a man who looked like you,

Felt like you,

And, beside him, someone who knows you.

Find your way.

Take off the suit.

Remove your armor.

I’ve seen you without,

beautiful, vulnerable, deeply personal.

You matter.

Matter more.


19 years ago today, I watched dirt pile over my best friend’s casket. I watched as what was left of her was lowered into the ground, inch by inch, the physical space between us mounting. I loved her, I did. 

Since that time, I’ve visited her grave often. I talk to her. I smile at her. I cry with her. I’ve moved away and still I sit with her when I’m home. Sometimes, people ask me if I still have friends or family in my hometown, and I want to say that’s she’s there. I want to raise her from the dead, keep her going. 

Last year, for the first time, I heard her whispering to me. I felt her presence. I experienced the games she still played on me. Now, you may not believe any of these experiences, you may think that dead is dead, but I know it in my core. I know she’s always around, wreaking havoc. Kokopelli girl. 

Today, as I was sitting in the sun at her grave, and I saw 2 blue dragonflies fly around us, finally landing on her headstone. Dragonflies are the sign of my spirit animal, my patronus. They mean I’m on the right track, where I need to be. That I’m doing the right thing. I had my angel sitting on the headstone at the same time, and I felt watched, guarded, protected, loved. I looked at her headstone and said, “i release you.” And she was no longer lingering, but the love and protection were still there. Peaceful girl. 

And always, I carry her heart. I carry it in my heart.


Path of Totality

I looked up at the sky today, in the path of totality, and I thought of you. I saw the way the moon fit perfectly inside the sun and I thought of you. I felt the shivering cold on my bare arms, and I thought of you. 

You called me star and we used to call our future children moons, those moons fitting perfectly inside of me. We were a supernova. 

I remember you once told me that if you got a tattoo, it’d be a nebula. I remember loving listening to you talk sci-fi to me. I remember your love for Starcraft and Star Trek and Star Wars. Being another star in your galaxy made me feel at home. Now, we’re interstellar, that nebula between us.

I remember watching the moonrise with you at night as we walked around the neighborhood, when we were connecting over difficult things, when we argued. I remember watching the sunset with you looking out at the valley from your parents’ place. Watching the sunrise when we’d stayed up all night giggling and kissing and talking. 
Standing there, looking up, feeling the goosebumps and the time stop and the wind calm, I thought of you. I lingered on the warmth coming from your skin when your arms hovered around me, enveloping me with your abundance. I squinted, dreaming of the radiance of your smile and eyes when you shined your love down on me. Mesmerized by the brilliance of our union. 

I looked up at the sky today, as the embrace between Star and Moon began to unravel, and I thought of you. I thought of the growth, the beautiful flora and fauna around my feet and thought of your selfless manner. For a moment, you gave me perfect totality. You allowed the world to see the dream of a moon inside a star, to drink in the possibility of a miracle, if only for a moment. 

I long for our paths to cross again. I’d travel anywhere to see it happen. The fit—perfection.


Reality Hurts… Sometimes

A few months ago, I wrote an email into a podcast I listen to quite regularly. It was a desperate plea to know if I should wait for the man I thought was once the love of my life. I have exhaustive, expansive love for said man–so much that I’m still finding new poems to write, recalling more memories I loved, reflecting on the ways he improved my character. It has been several years, more years than we were together, and I’m still unpacking the bursting adoration and exhilaration (and adjectives!) coarsing through my veins. 

I received the answer today in their most recent podcast. If I’m honest with myself, I knew the answer while I was writing the email in the first place. He didn’t want to be with me or he would have stayed. It was about me. And no matter how long he goes on searching for what’s missing, it’s unlikely he’ll turn around and once again grab my hand. He’s moved on, with or without a new partner, and somewhere along the way, I just stopped to wait for something that isn’t going to come. 

To add insult to injury, or just an additional dose of reality, I turned on the television this afternoon to see He’s Just Not That Into You, one of my favorite movies because it’s so blunt. Girlfriends always seem to say the exception to a rule–that there was that one time a couple broke up and then got back together years later. But that rarely happens. People change, people sometimes don’t have a good reason for breaking up except that it just doesn’t feel right anymore. Sometimes people change and don’t realize it until later. 

It hurts, it does. It hurts because I still have this deep chasm of love overflowing for the person who put me onto the path I am today. For the person who was able to show me what I’m truly capable of. For the person I want to share it all with now that I’m here.

I want to flow all of that love into a container, opening that deep chasm wide for a new person with current possibilities. For someone who chooses me every day. Good, bad, happy, sad. Someone who wants to figure out their life in parallel to mine and doesn’t run from the possibility. 

Too often we talk about flowing out negative feelings, channeling grief or anger or sorrow into music and poetry. Journaling difficult emotions. Exercising out our anger. Scream therapy. Facing our fears. But what happens when the feelings we have appear positive but still get in the way? Loving someone to exhaustion can also block the heart to new options. Remembering the good times too often can hurt our necks as we crane to keep the past in our sights. 

Reality can hurt sometimes, but it can also open us to new and soul-stretching possibilities. So, what’s in it for you?



Today, in the budding, cold, drizzling spring, I was out wandering in the woods. When coming back to the cabins where I’m staying, I stumbled upon a small grey bird (i’m not a bird fanatic and could not identify readily) doing its best to shield whatever was in the nest it was covering. I stopped and marveled a while. At the resilience of this bird, at its diligence in protection. Then, while I slowly disengaged, I saw my reflection, clearly, in a mirrored object that sat inside a room, through a clear window. I saw myself in a mirror, through a window. And this hit me:


What was it?

A large, glassy, reflective

Mirror-like substance

That revealed those

Fragile, now broken views

Of your pain with your dad?

Was I just the conduit?
Was I too like the one

You’ve come to distrust?

Where you were skeptical already?

Were the structures not mine to break?

But, rather, the stone, or raindrop

Rippling the reflection,

Reminding you of its pull?
We are alike. Were alike.

I recall him less over time.

Cancer survivor.

Rags to riches.

Instigator, rabble rouser, hippie tree hugger.

Lover of music, gestalt, experience.

Tactical, technical, spiritual.

Angry. Impatient. Stoic.

Withholding of affections.

And then, like magic,

The light switches on, and…


Well traveled but humble.

Always pushing the edges.


Yes, so alike.
If only I could cover that puddle,

Keep a placid surface,

Unruffle your ruffled feathers,

Shield you from the uncertainty,

Give you a nest in which to roost.

If only I could be more

Than the mere reflection

The force and not the imprint,

Even just a quiet one.
But that’s not me.

That’s not my role with you.

Letting it all play out

Grows my patience, and tries it, too.
One day may it be you

Who stares back.