The Year That Changed Everthing
Janee Pennington | Oct 1, 2015, 9:30 p.m.
Some women collect pillows. Others charms, antiques, or shoes. I, however, collect lingerie. Or at least, I used to.
I loved feeling pretty underneath my clothes and I appreciated the beautiful detailing of an intricate design. When my husband and I traveled, I would seek out the best shops and walk miles to see the finest wares which, in my mind, were pieces of fine art.
Then my doctor informed me I had breast cancer.
I thought I would be able to get away with a lumpectomy, but nine months later, the aggressive tumor decided to return.
Within days, my breasts were sent to the chopping block, and I suddenly felt like an animal headed to the slaughterhouse. I felt robbed of my femininity.
My surgeon had suggested I wait to be reconstructed due to my situation. “Life over cleavage” is how I deemed it at the time.
After dealing with the drains from surgery, I had to focus my attention on getting well.
This didn’t mean just physically: I needed to redefine my purpose, my mind and my outlook on life.
I was fitted with prosthetics. At first, it was odd wearing them. I had to have pockets inserted in over-sized bras (the type my mother wore and, may I add, not the most elegant) to accommodate them.
This helped with my body image, but I quickly realized the work on my psyche had just begun. I cried. I cried a lot.
And then one day, when I finally had no more tears to shed, everything changed. It was like someone had flipped a switch. I realized I hadn’t lost my life, my family or my friends. I was alive, and I still had work to do.
Before my breast cancer, I had been taking care of my elderly mother, who was suffering from dementia, amongst other ailments. I was also writing a book, which was nowhere near finished. And in my mind, I couldn’t just leave my amazing husband; he counted on me to be here. I needed to be here. I had so much life I still needed to live!
I no longer collect lingerie, although I can certainly still appreciate it. My husband has since made some changes of his own. He used to buy me jewelry, beautiful pieces that would take my breath away. But now, he buys me hiking boots. You see, being in nature, hiking spectacular landscapes, seeing the sunset from the top of a mountain… that’s more meaningful now than any piece of jewelry. These are the experiences we now enjoy sharing together and with our loved ones.
In this process, I have learned many life lessons. Breast cancer was not my enemy; it was a blessing in disguise to a life of deeper and greater love, filled with an abundance of gratitude every day. Sometimes life does give us life-altering challenges, learning lessons or obstacles. The choice is up to you on how you take them on.
Seattle-based entrepreneur-turned-author Janee Pennington wrote her debut novel “Meeting Eve” based on her 20 years in the hospitality industry. She is also executive director of two films, the short “Chlorine” and a documentary now in pre-production about the first American woman to sail solo around the world. She lives with Colin, her husband of almost 15 years, in Seattle where they enjoy cycling, traveling, riding ATVs and, in her passion for health, juicing. She’s now at work on her second novel, which will follow further adventures of the intrepid Eve.