“I can't tell you this information over the phone, do you have family with you?"
Without telling me, the doctor just told me that I have breast cancer. It's grade three, fast growing and aggressive. I'll need surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I don't know what this means for me. I don't know what is ahead. I don't know how it will end.
I still don't know. The surgery took a few weeks of recovery. The chemotherapy is in progress. The radiation yet to be tackled. The reliable constant that I have is water.
The week after a dose of chemotherapy, all I manage is sliding down into our outdoor spa. The relief comes instantly. It's just a big enough space to lie back and float. I breathe in and feel my body rise up, and breathe out and lower further into the water. It's all I can manage. It eases the pain, it lessens the nausea.
After eight days I'm tired but I'm capable again. I meet with my swim group at our usual spot. I'm the only girl in a group of men with twenty five years more experience and wisdom than me. They don't care that my hair has fallen out. I fit right in. It's been four years of swimming all year round with these friends. I'm accepted here. We have a bond over our shared understanding of how a swim makes a difference.
Today it's raining. We wade into the river at the ocean mouth and swim over to the channel. Freestyle comes so simply. Comfortably. I feel like my normal self and look exactly the same in a swimming cap and goggles. The tide increases in pace and pulls us up towards the river bend. I'm stroking and kicking but it's effortless. The stingrays hover underneath me. The fish keep feeding not reacting when I pass by. I'm at home here.
I want to feel strong, so I turn around and start swimming back against the tide to our last swimmer. I can feel the power in my arms and the strength in my legs. The battle out of the water is forgotten while I focus on forging my way against the flow of the current. When I come in line with the last of our group, I flip over in a tumble turn and head back in the direction of the others. The water pushes me. Speeds me along. The seaweed tumbles along the bottom with me. There's no fight. I ease off my pace and am delivered to the small bay near the walking track that crosses over to the beach and the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
We gather together and walk south along the beach. The sand is soft, the breeze cool. There are blue bottles sprawled everywhere, we watch to avoid them. At the end of the spit we're back in line with where we started, with just the river to cross to get back to the car park. Again we dive under into the other world under the surface. The fish dart and the weed bursts with colours of red and purple. We've finished the loop. We're back to our starting point. I have to return to the challenges that present themselves in my days. But the water will be waiting for me. Ready to provide the reprieve that I need. Ready to give me normality. Ready to restore me and hand over strength to go on.
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