Wednesday, March 20, 2013


There was a goddess in ancient Mesopotamia named Inanna.  I first came into contact with the mythology of Inanna when I was working in the field of domestic violence.   I remember hearing the story - but at the time, it didn't have much resonance with me.  I was young and although I was working with a lot of trauma, I felt very much an outsider to her story.

When diagnosed with breast cancer, her name came to me in a dream.  I decided it was time to read her story once more.  There is one particular story that stood out.  It was the story of her descent into the underworld.

It is not always agreed upon as to why Inanna had to descend into the underworld- but many feel she had to go to see her sister.  One thing that is known about descending, is that one never returns.  Inanna dressed up for the journey, many feel as a way to protect herself.   As I read her story, I couldn't help but think about my own descent into disease.  I read her story looking for ways to protect myself.  Inanna dressed for her descent in a lapis lazuli necklace, turbans on her head, and in her finest clothes.   I decided that I needed to find a lapis necklace.  I purchased one on e-bay and wore it to every chemotherapy appointment that I had.  I also dressed up for each of my appointments.  It was my way of preparing for battle.

Through Inanna's descent, she is faced with seven gates.  At each gate, she had to give up something of herself in order to continue on her path.  With each loss came increased vulnerability until she had been stripped of all that had once defined her.  I thought about my own journey.  I marked the seven things I gave up along the way.   (I included links where I talk about these losses in other blog posts)
  1. My feelings of immortality - for the first time I was faced with the notion that I might not live to be the old lady I always dreamed I would be.
  2. My frenetic lifestyle - I went from a constant state of overwork to complete disability.  I had to learn to be still.
  3. My relationships- those who couldn't take the journey with me for one reason or another.  I had to take time to mourn the sadness that isolation brings. 
  4. My energy
  5. My hair 
  6. My fertility
  7. My breasts
Inanna is broken and near death, but she is able to ascend from the underworld with support - and once she does, she is more powerful than she ever was before.  In some ways there is truth in the notion that the person who descends can not return. Just after being diagnosed with cancer, I decorated my room with images of those things that make me happy.   I figured chemo would make me sick and I would spend a lot of time in my room, so I wanted it to be a healing and positive place.  

One of the pictures is of a trip to the zoo and I am laughing and holding my son.  The picture continues to make me happy, but I can't help but feel so changed from that woman in the picture.  That woman has been replaced with this new version of myself.  And although I may from time to time mourn the loss, I am also extremely proud of who I am becoming.  I am becoming more aware of my values.  I am aware of who I am supposed to be and who I am not. I am realizing that those times spent at the zoo laughing with my children are the truly important times.

Joseph Campbell interprets the myth of Inanna as the realization of an individual's strength through an episode of seeming powerlessness.  That feels pretty accurate.  I do not feel like I did anything that created my cancer- I know that each day I am battling it and getting stronger.  This is my heroes journey.  Some  days (like today) are full of pain and tragedy- and others are full of triumph, hope, and light.

Others have felt that Inanna's myth is connected to the seasons, with her descent occurring in the Fall and her return occurring on the Spring Equinox.  I was diagnosed in September and tomorrow will be the first day of Spring.  Of course, I still have more to endure on this journey,  but I can't help but look at the white popcorn blossoms growing in my front yard (as well as the short hairs sprouting all over my head) and feel hopeful.


  1. This is so beautiful. As are you. You are no longer the woman you are becoming the woman you were always meant to be. So much strength in your voice and I hear it becoming stronger yet. xo

    1. Thanks Sherry:-) It is so wonderful to hear the voice of another survivor who is already on the other side. It gives me hope.

  2. Words from the soul. Your eyes show the pain, but they also show the strength that you have. Sending you ::healing prayers::