Human Butterflies

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

Butterflies hold a magic that may only be felt by those lucky enough to spend a few fleeting moments with them. They are silent teachers.

They also are flying insects. So are flies, mosquitoes, and wasps. Ick. Unlike those insects, butterflies appeal to our sense of what is beautiful. They dance and float in the air. These delicate creatures visit us briefly and rarely let us get close before fluttering away. They have a purpose that goes beyond being beautiful. Butterflies are efficient pollinators of flowers and eat many weedy plants.

We associate butterflies with sunshine and flowers. They are an integral part of summer. Butterflies represent new beginnings and change. Their metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly is the reason why. I find them incredibly hopeful creatures, in part due to their transformation.

I feel warm and happy when I happen across one. They have always held a sense of fascination and awe for me. I happened across a book in my early years of teaching where the setting was an imagined world of wonder. A lone Whangdoodle ruled over this kingdom where he was still believed in. Golden rivers sang musical notes when flowing. Boats were fueled by laughter. Flowers smelled like freshly baked bread. And butterflies were over-sized and referred to as flutterbyes. Calling butterflies flutterbyes has stuck with me.

The monarch is by far my favorite butterfly. I always considered its impressive migration each fall to Mexico a major accomplishment. I assumed this incorrectly for years. The same butterfly that sets out is not the one that arrives. It’s likely the fourth generation that reaches the destination. That’s like our accomplishing something our great-grandparent started to give perspective. Each butterfly only lives 2 to 6 weeks. So short to represent a full life.

Another new fact for me is that butterflies can’t see their wings.

Caterpillars have never held the same awe for me that monarchs hold. Get this – I didn’t even know what a monarch caterpillar looked like. I incorrectly assumed they were the fuzzy wuzzies I typically see crawling along the ground. They in fact have black, yellow, and white alternating stripes.

Boy, do I have a lot to learn.

A caterpillar transforms into a monarch and becomes entirely another creature. It only takes a week or a few days more for the butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis. Humans take up to 40 weeks. We need all those weeks and still are born unable to survive on our own.

We all have had transformations in our lives. Think of all the physical changes that happen to our bodies throughout life. Think of all the developmental changes. Education and life experiences transform how we think about topics. Travel changes a person. Any time we learn something new can bring about change. We change when we set off on own as adults. Careers have changed. We’ve packed up our belongings and set up life in a new area or state. Some of us married. Divorced. Gave birth to children. Lost children. Good events in life can transform us just as hardships, grief, and loss can.

All this brings me to cancer.

Metastatic cancer has brought innumerable transformations to my life. The initial stage IV diagnosis changed the trajectory of my life. Treatments that coursed through my body changed how I felt, how I looked on the outside, and changed the cells on the inside. Good and bad cells were killed. These treatments altered how I was seen and how I saw myself. I became an instant warrior. Or some simply viewed me as sick.

Cancer definitely changed how I saw myself. It’s tough to put into words because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen myself in countless ways. I’ve seen myself as both strong and sick, extraordinary and not even rising to meet common. I’ve grown through what I’ve gone through, as we all do. I would have grown in other ways if I did not have cancer.

Changes in my appearance have been dependent on treatment side effects. They wiped out my hair causing me to shine with my smooth bald head, fashionable wraps, and wigs. Morphing from one look to another was physically easy, emotionally trying. Steroids encouraged my appetite and a hefty weight gain at first. I lost it and looked incredible, you could say healthy. I felt a bit like a floating and dancing butterfly. My weight inched mostly upward with changes in treatment. I became one big butterfly.

My mom’s death from metastatic breast cancer brought too many changes. The person who had always been there was gone forever. I experienced firsthand how daily devastating transformations ate away at how she looked, her abilities, and her life. There were cruel changes daily, even moment to moment as she worsened in bed at the care facility where she spent her final days. How does a person watch that and not change from witnessing that process? It’s not like someone makes a heartfelt speech, closes their eyes, and you see their soul disconnect from their physical form and happily drift upward. Her transition was not beautiful. Then again, I don’t know what happened after her last breath.

Some of the transformations I’ve experienced can be clumped together. The loss of my job, qualifying for disability, being forced onto social security disability, and finally Medicare took a thriving, contributing member of society and turned her into someone who doesn’t bring in much in terms of disability income. My sense of worth has been chipped away at bit by bit.

The list of changes brought about from cancer goes on and on. There have been changes in relationships in both friendships and family. A treasured few are true flowers in my garden of life. Others have turned to dust and blown away in the wind.

Going through a metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly has its brighter side. I have emerged a new creature each time I’ve become a butterfly. I’ve experienced a rebirth. New friends have come into my life. Old interests have been given new life like writing and photography. I spend more time in nature.

Medically, I know a lot more about cancer than before cancer. I understand quite a bit of medical speak and ask lots of questions. I trust my team, and I am part of my team, and I won’t just go along as a blind patient. I see being informed about my health as a positive.

There is a proverb that is especially fitting to finish my thoughts.

~ Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.

We humans will repeat this cycle, oscillating between caterpillar and butterfly until we emerge one final time as eternal butterflies.

Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm in Door County

Charlie’s Angels and Empowerment

Today I digress a bit from the usual topic of living with cancer and living well. I’m aiming for something more on the lighter side. As a child, I loved watching Charlie’s Angels on TV. I must have been about seven to ten years old. I thought Sabrina, Kelly, and Kris were all independent and gutsy.

Reruns were on over summer. It is also four decades later and I look back on the series with a slightly different lens. Here are some things I noticed:

  • The opening sequence begins, “Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy.” Apparently the notion of women in a police academy needed to be likened to that of a fairy tale. Back in the 1970s, it also apparently was just fine to refer to women as “little girls.”
  • The little girls were given “very hazardous duties” (crossing guard, telephone operator, etc.) and Charlie was able to take them away from these. Did Magnum P.I. need to be rescued from hazardous duties? He did not. He was smack dab in the middle of danger several times an episode.
  • Charlie always had scantily clad female company in his office, no matter if his companion was playing backgammon or doing his accounting. I have never done either of these activities in my swimwear. Maybe that’s one of my problems.
  • Sabrina, Kelly, and Kris wore very stylish clothing and heels that didn’t easily lend themselves to chasing the bad guys or physical confrontations. They often seemed unprepared for that possibility. They almost always managed to get themselves into scrapes because they went places alone. This was done on repeated episodes. It must have been a formula that worked for the writers that gave good ratings. Unfortunately, it also perpetuated a stereotype.
  • Episode topics usually dealt with crimes where there was some sort of attack on women where the woman was helpless. There was always a reminder of male dominance in a show meant to showcase independent females. The series did progress to smarter storylines in later years, but by then the series seemed to be on its way out.
  • Bosley was a perfectly nice man. He was not seemingly all that fit, he spoke with a bit of a lisp, and never once was shown in a speedo. Neither was Magnum to my recollection, but Magnum had short shorts that he simply had to wear because he lived in Hawaii.

How is any of this empowering? Sabrina seemed the smartest and quickest on her feet. She really acted as the glue in almost every episode. I guess empowerment at the time meant a show that provided images of independent women working in nontraditional roles. It portrayed women working together for a common cause where women supported one another. It also showed that women didn’t have to sacrifice their femininity to be successful. All good points.

I define empowered women today as women who are shown as intelligent, independent, and physically and emotionally strong. These are women who are competent and able to stand on their own to accomplish goals and see opportunities as growth when tougher choices are needed. They live what they believe and tell the truth. Charlie’s Angels paved the way for what continues to be an evolution for women’s empowerment. Empowerment involves dimension. We all have dimension with our interests, achievements, passions, and even our flaws. Flaws make us unique and add a lot of dimension. None of us are fallen or broken. We’re just growing our wings. Then we fly.