“You know you have “c”ancer, and now this will be the serious conversation” he said. He began….and then he was done. Warning! This isn’t polished, it’s just raw memories of my navigation on a couple of beautiful real days. I share with the hope that there is something in it for anyone who’s navigational compass has been a little derailed. This is long.
I’m not sure if it’s the same for everyone, in fact I’m pretty sure it’s not–but the first thing that crossed my mind was nothing. Instead there was a long uncomfortable nothingness that left me unable to speak or generate a thought. I felt chilled down deep in my core, goose bumped from head to toe. It felt like my forearms were shrinking against the bone. Like I was falling in the wake of that moment.
As I spiraled, my mind began to wander to places that I had thought about before but had dismissed, because this would never happen. But before the feeling of falling, the kind you get when you dream you are falling, there was that cold numbing wave of full body nothingness that showed up first. So jolting, yet so subtle, that time stood still. Words hung suspended. Somewhere between my brain and those words there was disbelief, an inability to connect them to me, like they couldn’t be meant for me. Except they were….the words and silence crashed hard, they became etched in memory. Color drained from faces. Hearts crumbled, tears streamed, and all of it, every fucking piece of it now belonged to my world.
I now understand why people quietly leave oncologist’s offices and hospitals to go home and stay in their warm safe beds. It all feels like too much and it is– some days. It’s a lot of guilt, a lot of pressure to save your own life and a lot of hard work– way too much if you let the thought of it all consume you. In the first few days after that appointment I felt a deep sense of guilt for having “c”ancer, like I had let this happen, that I must have missed something, and most of all for ruining the lives of everyone who loves me. I felt betrayed by my healthy lifestyle, by everything I knew to be true. Eventually those thoughts were revealed as the big lies they were. Right now, I feel betrayed by my paternal genes [we have confirmed it now], all that important information that never got relayed.
Writing about all of this has not come easy, but it won’t let me be. Some things demand to be written. Although I have no interest in becoming the human condition on parade, I fear I will forget these valuable moments especially when chemo brain kicks in, as I am told it will. So, I have broken my rule of not publicly writing about something while I am going through it. Words and sometimes tears trickle onto the page at the most unexpected times.
This week the tears showed up at 7 in the morning while waiting in the lab. Just me and a stream of geriatrics including a cranky ass man [over 70 by my estimation] who rudely pointed everyone to the number counter as they walked in. All I wanted to do was give him the finger and tell him to fuck off. The voice in my head screamed that I didn’t belong there– as the radio played Ed Sheeran [Thinking Out Loud] I put my sunglasses on to hide the tears that had spontaneously erupted. By the time I was standing in line for wheatgrass at Booster Juice, I was in the full on ugly cry. My spirit says these tacit moments remind me to welcome vulnerability. My head tells me to get my shit together–note to self.
I think the biggest problem for me in all this so far is that [most] people believe that “c”ancer and immient death always walk hand-in-hand. Some have wagered guesses on that already. I can see it in their eyes. I hear it in their words. I’ve caught myself thinking the same thing in weak fleeting moments, except I don’t really believe it, even when I wonder if I’m being naïve. It’s not what my heart and soul truly believe. I don’t believe that because a doctor says something that it makes it true, I’ve proven them wrong before. I am not a statistic based on people who are not me. I believe that the human spirit and body are unpredictable and miraculous self-healers. I believe resilience is life sustaining.
A friend who’s been there [those are the only people I am taking advice from] told me “things will get really fucking clear.” They have. Clarity swept in like a quiet snowfall in the night. Unlike anything I have ever experienced. Every trivial thing has fallen away in some divine order; like a motherfucking Marie Kondo instruction manual for the soul. You can’t buy this kind of focus, no one can help you dig it up or talk you into this kind of clarity. Fair warning, save your money my beloved entrepreneurs–a latent benefit of being up against it, I guess.
Not having one damn thing to lose is a great catalyst.
I don’t know much about how to navigate this past each day, except to keep moving forward. That I know about. I know about how to get back up every time. I know how to focus on wellness. I am sure of everything and everyone that represents love in my life, and what “really” matters most. There are no rules for this gig called life, there’s no right or wrong, it’s all grey, not one person has the answers and I have no damn idea what I am doing. Some days I feel like the little ball in a pin ball machine, as I bounce around the medical information maze with no time to absorb anything. I’m just living by feel at the moment. So, chemotherapy will happen, a hard decision for me because it’s like believing in Santa when I was a kid. I didn’t really believe wholeheartedly there was a Santa, but I was afraid not to just in case he was the real deal. I realize I need a re-frame on this one. Or not.
Three things are in my sights–things always come to me in 3’s. LOVE, FORGIVENESS and SURVIVAL. I believe survival needs love and forgiveness to thrive. I’m focused on only what I can control, my attitude, my health habits, my spirituality and my surroundings. I have surrounded myself with only the best people–on my terms because I get to do that. My running team as a friend calls it, my small precise posse. I am blessed with my amazing family and friends, two brilliant medical teams, a naturopathic team, amazing spiritual healers, and one kick ass hairdresser. Yes! It takes a country to keep me.
Here’s the beautiful real in this so far. Death hasn’t come any closer for me in the last month [it’s been a month] than anyone else who has aged right along with me. Paulo Coelho believes death is a beautiful woman who sits beside us daily. So this little “c” thing is happening right along with all the other things life brings.
My bigger message IS always Get Back Up, even if you have to lean on something or someone, because everyone of us have encountered a tragedy, loss, or some life altering event that has cut us off at the knees.
From here it’s one foot ahead of the other. Falter, fall, cry, get back up, laugh [lots of laughing] keep moving, strengthen, and get pushed back down even when you think you’re already there. Get Back Up.
I am keeping the memory of that first gut wrenching free fall close– because it reminds me that I know how to come back to the place where my strength outweighs my weakness and my courage outweighs my fear. It’s my reminder of what love and survival feels like.
Here’s your reminder too, just for today.