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  • taylortashjian17

Hold On, Sweet Girl

Onboard every naval ship is a brass bell used for a variety of purposes, from keeping time or signaling nearby ships, to announcing the presence of an important visitor or officer. Twenty nine years ago, MD Anderson in Pennsylvania decided to post a brass bell in the halls of their oncology unit that would be rung by patients after completing the last round of their chemotherapy cycle, adopting the navy’s tradition signifying a job done well. Beneath the bell is a short poem to be read either aloud or privately by the patient:

“Ring this bell three times well, it’s toll to clearly say, my treatment’s done, this course is run, and I am on my way.”

One year ago, surrounded by friends, family, and a handful of oncology nurses and support staff, I rang the brass bell. It felt celebratory and emotional, just as I had imagined, and for the first time probably since my active treatment had begun, allowed me to reflect on what I had just been tasked with doing. It was a job well done.


Every moment of my treatment was planned, a roadmap to coming out on the other side. No one ever promised coming out unscathed, in fact it was quite the opposite, with an immense amount of preparation in the form of medication, PowerPoints, and staff to support any and all things that can and often do go wrong. For every task that was being presented there was an actual human whose job it was to see that I made it to the finish line, all I had to do was put my head down and keep moving. And before I knew it, the job was done. MRI, CT and bone scans: done. Oncology, surgical oncology, and plastic surgeon consults: done. Two weeks of four self-injections a day, bloodwork, and ultrasounds in order to freeze my eggs: done. Total mastectomy with drain and expander placement: done. Surgery for port placement: done. Four rounds of chemotherapy: done (cue the brass bell). Expander to implant exchange surgery with port removal and abdominal fat grafting: done. Third surgical revision: done.


Done, done, done.


They had prepared me for the fight but no one prepared me for the surviving. The undone. The unraveling. The getting back on your feet just to realize you are in a new body and in completely uncharted territory. My head was down for so long that when I finally looked up, nothing looked even vaguely familiar, and yet I was attempting and expecting to merge back into the world that continued to spin while mine didn’t. Make no mistake, my world wasn’t frozen, it’s not a Christmas town in the middle of a delicate snow globe filled with children playing, with a brass handle that twists to play a beautiful chime. My world was paralyzed, and it had been since the moment I got a cancer diagnosis, alone on a Friday afternoon, across the country, at twenty five years old. A part of me is paralyzed in that moment still too, physically sitting in the corner of a mammography room, mentally wondering what the future looks like without me. I wish I could walk back into the room, not now but then. I wish I could be an outside spirit in room that I am stuck in. I’d walk up to that version of myself

and look at her gently, soak in her beauty and her sadness and whisper that I’ll carry it with her. I’d hold her face in between my hands and cry with her while reminding her to keep going.  ‘Keep going’ feels like a curious contrast from the other image that often flashes through my mind, a younger version of myself, maybe nine or ten. She’s running around with laughter and innocence and I find her only to wrap my arms around her and whisper in her ear: “You have no idea what’s coming, sweet joyful girl.”


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Throughout treatment I did what I knew and I mapped out my “after” plan that would propel me back to things I loved, places that were on my list, events I had missed out on, and what I thought would be the highest peak of happiness. If I was gonna do it, I was gonna fucking do it. By January I was packing my car back up (this time with my cancer dog, Parker) and before I knew it we were feet down across the country in Los Angeles. The plan was here, I had reached my goal. A job well done, I was ringing the bell. But I quickly found that the plan was just that, a plan, arbitrary. The high lasted about a month. By February I was sinking into a deep homesickness for both people and place, wondering why I felt I needed to come so far. Who was I trying to prove myself to? By March I was questioning why joy didn’t seem to exist much in my world anymore. I had done it all, met my goals, and after listening to Anderson Cooper’s recent podcast I couldn’t help but feel a similar theme: is this really all there is? Can you save your own life just to return to the world for it to feel this… empty?


I started this blog in the spirit of transparency at a time when I knew I may not be able to find the spoken words. I knew writing would bring me solace, or at least a platform to communicate my thoughts openly and to avoid having to repeat the same sad stories out loud, to avoid reliving something I was trying to just move through as a visitor. What I’ve realized the last few months is that convincing myself I’m just a visitor here has done more damage than the truth could have. Cancer is a backpack of stuff that I thought I could take off and put down while re-navigating life, but the truth is that the backpack doesn’t go anywhere — it cannot go anywhere — it is mine now. In it is all of my work and sadness, grief and weight, memories and what-if’s and fears. The work is in making it light enough to carry, or as I’ve learned the hard way, letting others carry it a few miles for you. I have been so desperate to do it on my own that I’ve pushed away people who have offered even to sit in the darkness of it all. Facing that truth feels like an impossibly daunting reality, as if I was capable of fighting for my life but don’t know how to live it without constantly asking for help.


Every part of my life currently is controlled by a thought that I don’t want to be having, in therapy they call this intrusive. It my world it became baseline. The last two months have been an out of body experience watching myself turn into someone I barely recognize, a shell of me who has been so deeply devastated by the unfairness of this world. I moved through moments absently, I shut off and shut down and set aside my character. I flailed. I moved fast, I filled my days with tasks and goals and errands and thought that the next thing would be what brought back happiness. I wanted so badly to believe that I had conquered it all, that the backpack was gone. But the raw truth is I recently hit rock bottom. And two months ago I wouldn’t have had the guts to say that, probably out of fear that it made my accomplishments insignificant. Or that I’d be asked to talk more about the story that makes me heartbreakingly sad. Rock bottom has provided me this perspective. Rock bottom has brought days of tears and not wanting to get out of bed, re-establishment of therapy and difficult phone calls to my parents asking for help. Rock bottom has also provided me this thought: when you’re doing/saying things out of character and you tell yourself “This is not who I am,” then one of the following must be true. Option A is that you are wrong, this is who you are now despite your beliefs, you morphed and you have indeed become that version of yourself. Or, if option A is untrue, if we stand by this deep-rooted belief that we are truly good, with good souls, then inevitably option B must be true: something is wrong, and it's time to ask for help.


So if you’re reading this and you’re feeling confused because of the image of positivity (see picture below) I’ve promoted to the world throughout this process, me too. If you’re feeling concerned, don’t be. Or do be? Do be for the millions of people who are silently working their way to rock bottom and panicking on the way down. But don’t be for me. Those who should be, are. My support system has not wavered. Instead they are standing around me as I ring the bell once again — this time for help, for self-accountability and for forgiveness. The bell is ringing because the numb visitor is leaving the ship, it’s just us now — the joyful little girl, the shell of a human stuck in a doctor’s office, and me — with a lot of work to do. Hand in hand we are walking, not forwards but backwards down the path to piece together what just happened, the hurdles we leaped, and the mess we left. And if you were in the path of our destruction, we are so deeply sorry. Please have faith in us.


Please show us grace.


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4 Comments


tracyjamesrossi
May 25, 2023

You continue to amaze me, through every up and down. I’m sorry that you are struggling or feel at rock bottom. I cannot begin to know all of the weight you carry on a daily basis, but I am here for you to lean on and ask for help. Asking for support and help makes you strong and REAL! It shows the world what authenticity looks like. You make those who love you proud and in awe. I can’t wait to hug you and catch up at some point this summer, either East or West coast. ❤️😘❤


Love you! Tracy Rossi

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Freyja Bergthorson
Freyja Bergthorson
May 24, 2023

Taylor, you have an amazing ability to describe the indescribable and share the depth of human experience in ways that shine light on things that are difficult to understand. I have loved reading your posts about your journey and am so glad that you are thriving and able to reach out for help when needed. Your voice is a beautiful testament to all you have experienced and learned on your journey thus far. I feel deeply blessed that you continue to pursue your dreams and share your life, wisdom, fears, and joys. I am grateful that you are willing to share and love reading your voice in all that you write. Sending many blessings from an old teacher. :)

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batteninteriors
May 24, 2023

Taylor, you continue to amaze me with your strength and transparency! I’m not sure where you are living these days , but if you make it to va bch this summer, you know i’d love to see you and give you a huge hug ! know you are loved and are making a difference in this world by sharing your story!! stay the course “ sweet joyful girl “ 💜💛💜

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sue.b
May 22, 2023

You've been through so much and your self reflection and this self awareness is what makes you the strong woman that you are. Admitting that you need help, accepting help will make you even stronger. Hugs from us and if you need a break or a quite house to hide in, we're happy to have you. :) We're cheering for you and wishing you all the best.

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