November 9, 2011

The Many Gifts of Cancer (What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You).

We all receive different gifts, you just may not know yet what yours will be.

Recently, my uncle took me aside at a family gathering. He is a survivor of prostate and testicular cancer. He just had his second go round with the chemo, radiation and other treatments at age sixty. His first time was thirty years ago. He said, “you know, we all get gifts from going through cancer. Cancer is different from other illnesses.” He explained to me how he was significantly “smarter,” and more intelligent. Basically, he felt he had achieved much more in his career over the past thirty years because of having gone through treatment for cancer. He has a totally different outlook and his personality is different now. Lou said to me, “we all receive different gifts, you just may not know what yours will be yet.”

My surgeon, a Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor, diagnosed her first year in medical school, related a similar story to me. She said her personality was different and the cancer journey had changed it. She said I would get gifts too, and explained that it might sound odd, but that I would.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs also alluded to gifts he received from his cancer journey, and during his Stanford speech, related:

“Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

Steve Jobs’ gifts were many and hard to count. His global and human impact, immeasurable. His perspective on life, death, living, working and creating were so profoundly impacted by his journey with cancer; these words are precious from someone who has walked into the space of acknowledging death, discomfort, and cancer.

Some might even argue that his three greatest and most innovative contributions occurred after his diagnosis — the iPad, iPhone and the MacBook Air.


And for myself, I always saw the cancer as a teacher; a teacher that you ask to leave your body, but a teacher nonetheless. I was married in October 2010, and diagnosed in January 2011. I certainly learned very quickly that I married the right partner with whom to journey through cancer and treatment. I didn’t step into a supermarket for four months, because Chris, my husband, completed every single errand on my list for me. He did it joyfully, and at the end, climbed into bed with me and did Reiki on my belly. I never would have grasped his true nature and seen this part of him without this experience in both of our lives. Our relationship has deepened dramatically.
There were others who magically appeared as if on divine appointment to assist me with essential components of my life affairs and healing. Their presence was simply healing and cathartic. I also learned how to let go. And when I needed to let certain folks, or issues go from my life, they simply fell away. I lost over forty-five pounds since I was diagnosed. I let food go.I would sit in my body while it felt weak, debilitated, and in total pain, knowing that it was just a part of the journey, just as feeling great and strong is part of the journey. As an athlete, body worker, yogi and Kapha, my endurance was high level. I rarely was injured, and usually recovered rapidly.
Physical challenges this year during treatment: Getting winded walking up a flight of stairs (side effects of chemo drugs), losing my appetite, struggling with neuropathy, all physical challenges that my surgeon likened to a type of endurance training akin to that of a high performance athlete, but slightly different. I concur. Emotional stressors remains another chapter. The challenge remains meditating on your physical pain and be present with that while it is going on.
And many people around you may not be able to handle your “constant” pain or understand that you are just not able to relate with them while you are in such a state. However, as long as you have one, two, or three special people who are able to hold that space with you, their compassion could be likened to a precious nectar of life. Every little drop keeps you going. After my fourth chemo, I began to head into what I call “no man’s land,” a place where you feel the junction in the road – one side leads to health and life, the other to death and decay. It’s a scary place to be. The only thing you can tell yourself when you are at this junction is: here’s what I’m going to do when I’m ready to get out of this damn bed; imagine all the trips I will take, all the beautiful places I will visit and all the dreams I will accomplish when I are no longer sitting in the grips of cancer. Let the frustration, anger, disappointment and possible fear, motivate you to kick some serious a** when you are ready to begin taking baby steps toward some of your new goals.
Chemo and cancer changed my personality by deepening my level of intention and integrity in life, defining my discipline, emphasizing my perseverance. My time is precious, and I want to make the most of every minute. Goodbye laziness, good bye complacency, See you later excuses. Hello commitment, passion, desire for achievement, focus, perception, consciousness and compassion (that’s a big one). Goodbye fear.When you’re stuck in a bed with pain and exhaustion, and you really, really want to write to that friend you’ve been thinking about but have no energy to type, or think, compassion is a word that comes to mind. How many times have you gotten frustrated at someone else for not doing something — maybe realizing that there are some deep factors going on for other people that hold them back from doing certain things (physical or emotional) and welcome compassion.

Many don’t understand when you’re in “no man’s land,” and your finger nails are falling off (literally), that there is something very pivotal happening with the way your perception is being bent, twisted, shaped, challenged and opened to grasp essentials. Discard anything but what you need to be a streamlined machine of love and compassion with a mission. No more resentment, no more bitterness, no more discouragement, no more anger.

In my journey, it’s clear that letting go of these lower vibration components must occur because they are the manure to grow the karmic seeds of “dis”-ease.Could I say I’m smarter now? Definitely. Wiser in the human sense? Absolutely. Wiser about disease process and healing? Yes. Lying in bed gives you a lot of time to reflect on what parts of yourself you could adapt to burn old karma. My fear of death, so much diminished now after the chemo and radiation (and surgery). I took a journey where I tipped my hat to death.
Now I’m much less afraid of loss and of my own transitions. I trust that my traveller will introduce themselves when I am ready.For now, I’m ready for two lifetimes worth of work in one lifetime. You will find me in a swirl of energy and creation, wanting to contribute, and give something that matters. I have gained a new gift/skill I did not have before: I am able to tell others to nicely fuck-off when I have no interest in partaking in their drama.

The gifts of cancer are many, and uncovered to me on a daily basis. These gifts facilitate a more profound and precious consciousness state than I could have ever imagined on my journey. Cancer and cancer treatment are just states of being in the context of other forms of Buddhist dialogue and theory regarding states.

One can find and make treasures in any state of this human existence.How beautiful and liberating to always have a choice, even if that choice is — what will I drink or eat today, or telling someone that you love them.

Excuses, go away. Welcome, Enlightenment.
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