Playing Chess with Cancer

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, J.B. shared her breast cancer story with us. Now read her recollection of meeting her surgeon and a piece she wrote that was inspired by the Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit”.


My Surgeon

The first time I met my surgeon after two mammograms, a breast biopsy and ultrasound, it was his blue eyes that I remember. He talked cancer-talk, about lumpectomies and radiation probes, and chemo therapies, but all I saw were his blue eyes that shimmered above his surgical mask. I wasn't as interested in his words at that time. I was assessing something more important. His eyes called out to me, an opening into his soul.

My black cloth and his white surgical mask left only our eyes. Sitting a few feet apart, the unsaid reality of a global pandemic out of control did not keep us from connecting. News reports of New Mexico hospitals overflowing with hundreds of new cases daily. Morgues filled to capacity now relying on refrigerator trucks to house dead bodies. Healthcare workers exhausted, and some contracting Covid.  Economic despair, lines of cars with families waiting for their Thanksgiving turkey and enough food to get them through another day. Children out of school trying to learn remotely.  

My surgeon looked tired. His eyes wanted to close but he kept his gaze as he discussed possible treatment options. The more he spoke, the deeper I navigated those pools of blue. I would see him again after I'd met with the oncology team to decide a treatment plan, but I was more focused on what had happened when our eyes met. I realized we had a special connection. I would consent to put my life in his hands. My surgeon and I were on a sacred journey together. He has been on this journey before with so many other souls whose lives hung in the balance.

I wondered when his eyes did close if he saw angels dancing on the head of a pin. Or water flowing along smooth river rocks, or two-dimensional worlds where primary colors painted landscapes so brightly that even iridescent jellyfish glowed neon. I know I see those things when I close my eyes. It is all a matter of perspective. Dimensionality is a gift for soul-seekers who let themselves experience the full human condition. During liminal times, when we are between thresholds, when a global pandemic shakes our very foundation, we see opportunity.

I hope my surgeon has dreams that rock him to sleep each night and that he realizes he is one of those angels dancing on the head of many pins where multi-dimensionality serves to navigate through murky waters that cry out for clarity.



Playing Chess with Cancer (inspired by the Netflix film, The Queen’s Gambit)

My strategy is sound. I know how to navigate my chess board. It doesn't take a high level of critical thinking or a photographic memory, or a compulsion to win. I can break through the logistics and use my intuition. As a child I was too young to understand, but everyone needs to wake up eventually. Not seeing helps avoid the pain of being awake. We bob back and forth in an ocean of chaos until we let the gentle rocking motion lull us into surrender. Suddenly our perspective shifts and we glide on beams of light that weave geometric patterns that will eventually bring us out of chaos. It's all a matter of perspective.

My chess board doesn't need symmetry or balance. My chess board is fluid, like a starburst of light that shimmers and shifts in aurora borealis patterns that ebb and flow in night sky. I remember by age ten I would transport into dream-worlds where adversity tucked me in at night and cradled me to sleep, where fear became a lost soul waiting to be soothed, and where scary thoughts floated in red balloons that would pop when moving too close to the sun.

My chess board has every flavor of the human condition there for my pleasure where even bitterness has its own delights. I navigate anyway I choose. I make diagonal moves that should be vertical. I knock pieces off my board when they no longer serve me. I stare my opponent in the eye with a fixed gaze that signals confidence. My strategy is sound. My cancer has a worthy opponent that will be remembered. Maybe I will attain the level of chess master someday where the trophy will be the privilege of teaching someone else how to navigate a skewed game of chess.