Remembering Our Most Essential Self: Re-Shaping the Story of Cancer

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The mythos of cancer certainly presents like a picture book dark tale:  A hostile take over of unwholesome, mutated, out of control cell growth that is quite literally aiming to kill us.  Talk about a chilling image!  Posing as an infamous evil force, cancer evokes all sorts of dark allegories for any of us receiving the dreaded three word verdict: “You have cancer”.

The attitudes and choices in how we each deal with cancer vary enormously, depending on age, gender, severity of diagnosis and so many more personal factors.  But regardless of the medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adopt a story about our cancer: why we got it, how we live with it or through it, and what it means to us in the greater context of our lives.

Stories are essential for us.  Human psyche is hard-wired to make meaning, to myth itself, if you will.   Unbeknownst to us, throughout our lives it tries to connect the seemingly random events that mark and shape the map of our living, to trace the greater story behind it all.  Trying to reveal the mysterious and illusive design of what I will call our becomingness, for lack of a better word.  A sort of constant movement toward a greater wholeness that our soul is aching for by nature.  The mythic story that we seem born to incorporate.  The mysterious, precious and unique expression of life that is entrusted each of us.  Maybe the very reason why we are here.

The Hopi believed that in order for the sun to rise, they had to climb up to the roof of their kivas before dawn to coax it across the horizon. They actively partook in their creation story every morning by helping the sun rise into the sky with song and prayer.  Today, many of us assume that we are separate from nature and that it works independently of our actions.  No doubt, different stories result in different actions and distinctly different relationships.

The stories we carry have indeed great power.   They can make us or break us.  They can make the difference between intolerable suffering or amazing grace.  They can be medicine or poison.  Some stories of lineage and ancestry we are born into and have absorbed without ever hearing them being spoken.  Yet they live deep within our bones and inform our every move.  The stories that we don’t even know we are telling ourselves.  Those can indeed be the most dangerous ones.

But there are also healing stories, stories that inspire and transform us, empower and renew us, restore and liberate us.  Apart from stirring our deepest, darkest fears of obliteration, is it possible that cancer also offers us a healing story?  A story that frees us to heal our lives and shed old, unhealthy beliefs?   I dare to believe so.

For me, cancer struck at a time when I was in economic and emotional survival mode and my story was one of continued endurance.  As a single mom, I felt stuck at a stressful and unfulfilling job, struggling to put bread on the table and pay the rent.  I had known for a while that the life I lived was not sustainable in the long run and that things needed to change.  But try as I might I wasn’t able to get out from underneath the daily demands.  The day that I heard I had cancer, I remember, as the typical first reaction waves of terror, shock, and incredulousness were washing over me, one small voice rising from some place deep inside me, simply and quietly stating:  “Oh, so I wasn’t only imagining it.  This life is actually killing me”.

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As broad and unscientific a description, it does seem that stress is a core player in the story of cancer.  Science has now confirmed that long-term stress compromises the immune system and increases the chances of cancer.  And this seems to be true for all kinds of stress, physical, emotional, or environmental, if they are endured over a long period of time.  Short term, fight, flight and freeze responses are great life savers to meet a specific crisis, challenge or need.  The problem is, when we begin living for any length of time in what nature designed solely as a short-term crisis management.  Long term stress overloads our circuits and eventually erodes our wellbeing.

To no surprise there is mounting evidence today for a correlation between cancer and the chronic frenzy of modern life that promotes constant achievement oriented busyness.  Living in a global, and computer wired economy, life’s pace is ever relentlessly increasing.  Most of us no longer have the luxury of ‘down time’.   We are always ‘on’.  We work from anywhere, at any time.  We make phone calls while driving, and send job applications while watching our kids at the park.  In the hamster wheel of our times, things seem to constantly speed up and for many of us, feeling stressed has become a way of life.

A week after diagnosis, I saw a genetic counselor.  He described the process of cancer not so much as the premeditated destructiveness that I imagined it to be, but more as a process of forgetting one’s diversification, one’s place in the whole.  You see, cancer cells get graded by the degree of their deformation and how much they deviate from healthy cells.   The lowest grade of cancer cells is only slightly altered from its original specifics, the next level is moderately altered and so on.  Interestingly, the more deteriorated the cancer cells become, the more unspecified and rudimentary they mutate to be, the more aggressive and lethal they are.

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Hearing this, I found myself feeling some compassion for my cancer, unbeknownst to myself.  Maybe it wasn’t the bad guy it was made out to be.  Maybe those cells that had mutated in my right breast were simply breaking down under the pressure of working in survival mode for too long.  I could relate to that. Like a brewery horse, I had been leaning forward into my work load for too long, taking every day like a steep hill, with the whip always dancing over my head.  There were many times I could feel myself almost buckling under the weight, but I kept stoically putting one foot in front of another.  I didn’t feel like I had any other choice.  All I could see were the immediate and short-term needs of my children.  My worry for them overrode everything else.  Had I not also, just like those cancer cells, forgotten my place in the wholeness, in the magic and health of this amazing, much bigger life system?  Had I not atrophied myself, under the constant stress of single parenthood?  Had I not indeed become short-sided and rudimentary, having lost trust in life, and forcing myself to uphold a 24/7 production mode that only reinforced the fear cycle of worry about what would happen if I didn’t ‘function’ anymore, or needed rest, or simply snapped under the weight of it all?

If cancer was indeed telling a story of forgetting myself, and my place in the wholeness of creation, what did it mean for me to remember myself?

I never returned to my desk on the fateful day that I was diagnosed.  Instead, sick leave kicked in and I entered what would turn out to be nine months of treatment: first surgery, then chemo, and then radiation.  It was a hard time.  A really hard time.  But it was also an amazing time.  Realizing that the best I could do for my children now was to lean into my healing fully and wholeheartedly was puzzling, and juxtaposition to the self-neglect of many years.  My world was literally standing on its head.  Paradoxically being diagnosed with cancer allowed me time out, for the first time in many years.  Time to take inventory, to think things over.  Time to reevaluate and step back to see the bigger picture.  It allowed me, and also demanded of me, in the uncertainty that was ahead, to give up control, to trust that if I was only present here now, willing to be still, willing to listen to the small voice of my heart, I would find my way.

Through the various cancer treatments that followed, it was my internal inquiry, and the focus on remembering myself, that kept me going.  Where and when exactly had I fallen out of trust, had I lost faith in life and my place in the whole?  When did I begin to feel all alone in the world and without any support?  When did my existential fears reduce my outlook on life to a narrow tunnel version of survival?

Was it the divorce?  The death of the dream that I could be loved and seen for who I really was? That my children would grow up in the blessedness of a healthy family hearth?  Was it the pain of the grieving years that followed and the fear of being obliterated by the man whom I now referred to as my ex-husband?  Or was it set in motion much earlier, by the karmic formations that brought us together, or even before, by fundamental experiences in my childhood?

During the long months of treatment, debilitating as they were, I began to reconnect with my being rather than identify with my doing.   I bubbled in the cauldron of change.  Everything was up for grabs.  Not just my work but my entire life.  Accepting help was a first for me, and to this day plays a big part in my healing journey.  Realizing that ultimately I was not alone transformed the landscape of my living.  Becoming aware of and turning into my fears rather then acting from them became a new core practice.  Letting go and letting be replaced the knee jerk impulse to try to control at all cost.  Surrendering, aka dying to all that was not in alignment with my healing (instead of dying from it!) became my new mantra and has been both blessing and haunting me every day since, continuously asking me to turn into my truth and live it forward.

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Amazingly, it is the very ability of surrender, of yielding, and being willing to die for the greater good of the whole that differentiates a healthy cell from a cancer cell.  Science calls this capacity aptosis, a programmed cell death that occurs in multicellular organisms to protect the integrity of the whole.  Healthy cells seem to identify on a broader level with the larger organism they are serving, and this connectedness and belongingness mysteriously enables them to turn into their dying when they are somehow compromised and no longer benefit the whole.  Cancer cells seem to no longer recognize, trust or feel part of the bigger life system around them, and in this isolation they atrophy into a kind of reptilian survival mode that no longer supports the very organism they were designed to serve.

Is it possible then that in order to heal our life we also need to also mend our relationship with death?  To allow it to be part of the landscape of our human experience, in much the same way that healthy cells carry aptosis as one of many tools on their belt?

Yes!  Healing our relationship with death and even befriending it, learning how to die well, is essential in learning how to live well.   Turning into our dying, is just as important for us internally, figuratively, and psychologically, as it is vital for our bodies on a cellular level.  Dying practice is indeed essential for our living.

We live in a modern-day culture of denial when it comes to death, in a time of ‘great forgetting’, where we simply pretend, for as long as we can, that death doesn’t exist.  Death is not only misunderstood, but clearly unwelcome in our culture.  We are addicted to unbridled, and infinite expansion, a one way road that leads us to a dangerous amount of overconsumption on many levels, individually as well as collectively or globally.  But death is not the enemy.  It is simply the out-breath that partners the in-breath of birth.  It is the withdrawing that allows us to come forward again, the waning that enables the next waxing.  Death restores, transforms and draws us back to the source from which we are born, if only we let it.  When did we forget that?

With chemo raging through my body like a bushfire, confronting myself with death was not an abstract concept.  I got, in my bones, that life in this body is temporary.  That I didn’t own my life and was not in control of it.  It felt like something inside me died in the heat of that cauldron, and with it the fears, and formations of my old life, fierce guardians of habit and pattern, fell away as well, giving birth to a new way of inhabiting this body and mind.

When we brush up against death, through whatever life circumstances, there is a gift offered alongside the painful edge of realizing our own finiteness, a dropping away, a cracking open, and a freedom from all preconceived ideas.  A new connection is forged to our core, our essence, to that which rests in ‘no coming, no going’, ‘no birth, no death’, the mysterious, blessed, eternal, being-ness that we are.

Trust in the greater good is vital for the health at the core of our being.  Truly meeting and healing cancer seems to ask nothing less of us then to heal any trauma that is underlying the assumption that life is a hostile environment.

During treatment, I became very aware that many of my internal patterns were about survival, at any cost, fueled by the fear of death, of impermanence, of failure, loss of control and the lurking dread of a ‘bad ending’.  Looking back now, these patterns played a major part in me ending up in the dead-end road that cancer found me on.  Some of these formations had been created way back, when I was a young child.  Whether it was the undigested trauma of my parents, both small children in Germany during the 2nd world war, or the abusive relationship with my brother, there was not a single layer of my life that wasn’t touched on in one form or another on this journey.

Make no mistake.  The healing that is set in motion when we die to our old stories is like a domino effect that will go on perpetually, affecting every single area of our lives, every layer of our complex personalities and carefully constructed identities, every memory, every perception of who we think ourselves to be; all to reveal a deeper truth that frees us to remember the unique expression of life that we each are at the source of our being.

So what happened to me after treatment?  Nine months after I was diagnosed I returned to my old office, bald and weak from treatment but with clear eyes set on new horizons, and only to clean out personal belongings from my old desk.  Lo and behold, new opportunities emerged out of the open empty space, meeting my fledgling attempt to find a new way of being in the world.  Because death inevitably gives birth to life….

To no surprise I don’t resonate much with the word ‘Survivor’.  In my heart, healing from cancer feels more like recovering from a survival mechanism gone rogue.  And as someone in recovery, I feel especially committed to partner my instinctual fear of death, with a deliberate practice of trust in the Greater.

Restoring death to its rightful place within my universe is an essential part of that healing.  Risking failure, letting go of judgment, living light and lean, allowing myself to make mistakes, letting my heart guide me rather than my rational mind, listening to the river, opening to mystery and magic, practicing defeat, living with and into the unknown are all wonderful allies and great trainers for the one fine day when it’s my turn to cross the threshold into my physical death, and dissolve into the rich broth of some new making.

Cancer, and the confrontation with death, can shift our conversation of survival to an inquiry of arriving in the grace of our living.  This shift is vital in our healing process and carries a message back into the cellular level of our beings that allows us to live from love rather then from fear.  And living from love is really what it’s all about.  It is indeed the story of our most essential self.

Yes, I’m writing!

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Wow!  Summer has just come and gone and here we are now in November!  It’s been a full few months for me, with back to back Lost Borders programs, the Washington Guides Gathering in the Eastern Cascades, and travel to my family in Germany.

My last blog post was back in June!  Writing has had to take the back seat for too long and I’ve been craving to make time for it.  So much so, that I decided to take my laptop along, to the last wilderness program of the year that I just returned from a little while ago.  With nightfall so early this time of year, I hauled up in the passenger seat of the truck at night, to sit and write (and to take a nice break from the relentless cold wind).

What began to form during my time in the Eureka Valley, is an exploration of the stories, the archetypical myths, that cancer evokes in us.  While there are many other threatening and terminal diseases, cancer elicits the confrontation with death in a particularly edgy way.  The mythos of a hostile take over of unwholesome, mutated, out of control cell growth aiming to kill us is unequivocally dark.  But that’s only one story.  An old story, and perhaps one in need of a fresh set of eyes…

But equally fascinating, if not more, are the stories that emerge in response to cancer.  Because regardless of what medical treatments we decide on, we also choose to adapt a story about our cancer: why we got it, how we live with it or through it, and how it integrates into the greater story of our lives.

The piece has given me a run for my money!  I was hoping to return from my time out with an article ready to post on this blog, but far from it.  Instead, it has stirred a deeper inquiry in me and I know it will need some more time to reveal itself.  So this is just a teaser note, to say “Yes, I’m writing (again)!” But it may take a little while before this piece finds its way into the light of day…

In the meantime, I want to share a 40-minute radio interview that I did in September, with Rev.  Kristin Powell on Cancer as a Rite of Passage.  A bit daunting because it made me realize how much I have yet to learn about public speaking🙂 But in the spirit of beginner’s mind, here it is:

 

And here are a few short clips from it, on the topics listed below:

Diagnosis (3:37 minutes): 

Treatment (5:02 minutes): 

Survivorship (3:04 minutes):

As we are traveling into the oncoming darkness of days growing shorter, may we be able to make space for some quiet time, in the midst of this crazy human holiday business, to restore and resource ourselves.  It is so essential to allow time in the fertile cauldron of this season, where memories are stirred, seasoned and simmered into the rich broth that will feed us anew on the other side, come spring.

May we continue to risk ourselves for what we love.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

With all my love,

Petra

Harvest

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Pulling out a bunch of multi-colored carrots from the small corner patch planted late last spring, in our garden in the Owen’s Valley, something hits me.  It’s a golden mid-October morning, the kind of day that opens your soul to the beauty of all that is exquisitely alive and heart-wrenchingly impermanent – so basically everything….

Delighting in the orange, white and red carrots in my hand, some long and slender, some thick and stubby, some tiny and some very sizable, and the lush tangle of green leafy stems that grew them, I am struck by the paradoxical nature of this moment :  that I can only harvest these carrots by taking their life.  That I can only steep in the simple miracle of their beauty and sweetness after having pulled them out of the ground.  Maybe death is always like that, for all of us.  Maybe death is just the moment when we get harvested.  Each of us in our own time.  Some of us well after our prime and others prematurely.  Who knows why?   What if death is simply harvest time? And while we cling to the soil of our living like the next plant, it is our destiny to come out into the light of a fine day that we will not know until we get there.

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Something in me is softening.  Thinking of death as a harvest I feel my breath deepen and my body relax.  All is well.  In life and in death.  I needed to remember that.  No matter how many ways I have already known it, no matter how many more times it will reveal itself to me.  I need to remember it over and over again.  Because I always forget.

Truth is, the privilege of a life ‘on the edge of my seat’ (as I call my new life post-cancer-treatment) is not always as glorious as I’d like it to be.  I often say cancer saved my life and in many ways this is very true.  It allowed me to take an in-depth inventory of my life before it was my time to leave this world.   An early death lodge if you will.  It granted me the opportunity to make radical changes in areas of my life that begged for alignment.  It gave me the courage to quit a job that was killing me (quite literally, as it turned out!) and expand and transform my limited notion of what it means to be a fiercely loving, responsible and committed parent.  Ultimately, it gifted me with the freedom, and the need, to heal this one precious life forward, whatever that meant for me.

At the time, I was flabbergasted.  I had made it through the maze.  No more medical interventions, no more surgeries, poisoning or radiating.  No more doctors visits for a while.  My new life was extending before me in brand-new colors.  I wouldn’t have wanted to return to my old life if I could have!  I felt blessed living on the edge, with all the unknown that recovery from cancer holds.  I knew that it would be this very edge that would help me turn into my new life wholeheartedly.  I knew it would help me let go of old knee jerks, and worn out patterns which were not supporting a healing life.  It would set me free to take risk and stay true and current in my relationship to myself, my family and my work in the world, keenly aware that all I had was the present moment.  Actually, I felt quite blessed for no longer being able to take my life for granted.  Instead, I got to steward it forward for what it really was (and is): one wild and precious opportunity to come ever fully alive.

And yet.  And yet.  Some days, living at the edge of my seat feels overrated.  It is many things but the one thing it is not is comfortable.  I’m two and a half years into it now and the truth is, it isn’t getting any easier.  The same special rawness of this life, that calls me out and into my truth, day after day, is simultaneously wearing me down.  The healing movement that was born in response to cancer continues to spiral out into more and more areas of my life, asking me to become more and more aware and present on so many levels.  This is a good thing.  But in reality it’s not so easy.  Like in any true healing, a surprising amount of suffering comes forward in the process, wanting to be held, seen and witnessed in order to be released.  Core childhood fears, rudimentary survival responses  and post traumatic anxieties surface unannounced and at random times and they are not easy dance partners.  That’s the part I don’t share as readily with others, the shadow of my journey.  But, if you will, it is also the part that makes it real.

In many ways the realization of our impermanence is what countless spiritual practices work so hard to attain.  As people touched by cancer, we get a life long free pass.  A perk, by all means!  The only hitch is that we can’t get off the ride when we’re dizzy or nauseous or simply feel we’ve had enough.  Unlike other people who commit to a regular meditation practice, we can’t get up from our pillow or decide to skip a day of practice.  Having lost the ability to negate our own death we are in this for life – in the advanced course of living AND dying.

While the gift of having lost my ‘insulation’ for good is an amazing opportunity for me to live an awakened life, it is also one of the biggest blows for my ego.  There isn’t a day that it isn’t fighting this truth, one way or another, to the bone and back.  To the bone and back.  To the bone – and back.

The illusion of control and the sense of ownership of our life is no longer available after having encountered cancer.  It’s just not on the menu.  We know better.  And in case we forget, invariably, we have close friends from old support groups doing well for many years only to then die suddenly and unexpectedly of recurrences.  We buddy and coach newly diagnosed comrades through the highs and lows of their treatments, with varying outcome.  We have prayer lists for those with terminal diagnosis.  We are ALWAYS the first ones to call and consult if anyone in our family, or community gets cancer.  Or one of our 466 Facebook friends.  Sometimes it feels like the whole world has cancer.  Like it or not, death is always on our watch list.

Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing and transcendent moments in this new, light and lean life, and when they happen I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.  Just the other day, doing yoga outside, in midst of the luminous colors of a crisp fall morning in the Owen’s Valley, I was graced with one of them.  I fell into a sense of connectedness with the beauty all around, a sense of presence, beauty and blessed awe that words will only fail to convey.  Lets simply say that I realized that all is well.  That sounds so little compared to how it felt.  ALL is WELL! Nothing excluded.  ALL is well.  Just now.  Just here.  Nothing to run from and nothing to run to.  Just this breeze that rustles the leaves.  For a brief moment, only presence, a precious, timeless presence, humming in the middle of my chest, and gently radiating outward.

In presence fear falls away.  Separation falls away.  Sickness falls away.  And birth and death are simply swinging doors.  In presence we are connected to our true being, our essence, the awakened and connected one that lives deep within each of us.  We sense what some call ‘the great beauty’, or the ‘divine design’ and our belonging to it.  We realize that everything but love is just a misunderstanding.

And yet.  And yet.  What do we do when the nights are dark, when something hurts, when recurrence hits?  When a friend dies from chemo induced treatment resistant leukemia years into their so called survivorship?  Where do we turn when fear rises from deep within our gut?  When our mind goes around and around in circles in the middle of the night, adding up frightening, and, we are sure, pretty conclusive symptoms of one kind or another, already calculating percentages and likelihoods of conditions yet to be diagnosed?

Most of us rally during treatment.  Faced with the unthinkable, we turn into our becoming with amazing resolve and unparalleled courage.  Each in our own way, we find our warrior stance.  But how to turn into what hasn’t happened yet but we are afraid might happen is another story.  Although I hate to admit it, anxiety, and post traumatic stress are real factors in my life now.  “Is this the way life is going to be for me now?”, I hear myself despair at times, when my neurons misfire, triggered by some random event, rendering me into a nervous wreck for weeks or months at a time.  And I have to remind myself softly to lean into what is as best I can in the present moment, and trust healing to reach for me, even here.

Resistance to what is, is futile, so much I know.  Surrender, on the other hand, is gold.  Gold!  In health and in sickness, when we surrender all that hurts or hinders our healing, we are free.  I call it the big ’S’.  Surrender is like dying for beginners.  Every time we let go we practice for that one fine day of our crossing, when we can’t take anything with us but the healing that we have brought home during our lives.  It is letting things be, just as they are, and holding them with love, without exceptions.  Used in this way, surrender is the gateway into a happiness that is both our original birthright and our natural state.   The place where all is well.  Even that which isn’t well, if that makes any sense.

Cancer is a rite of passage.  And as any rite of passage guide would tell you, what turns out to be the hardest part of the ceremony is not the actual time out on the mountain, when you’re in the middle of the ordeal, hungry, tired and weary from the wind, but when you’re coming back to the world and to your community, having been irrevocably changed.  The mono myth of the ‘hero’s journey’ is widely used in the cancer community today, but just like in the old hollywood movies we fancy the illusion of an ongoing ’happy ending’ after all is said and done.  Truth is, there is no ending.  Yes, there is happiness, and many of us experience a particular sense of acute aliveness that affords us to live a little looser in our skins, grateful for the small and big gifts in our everyday living and prone to focus on what really matters to our heart.  But there is also darkness, right alongside with the gift.  There is the continual relentless call to confront, reconcile, and make good with our worst fears and deepest grief.  Life with or after cancer is more intense both ways, lighter and more amazing and darker and more challenging.

I could tell you what I do when the going gets tough.  I have my bag of tricks.  We all do.  Practices, mantras, medications, meditations and more.  And maybe I will, another time.  But today I just want to say that I don’t have the answer.  That there is no quick fix and no failsafe cure.  The simple truth is, that sometimes it’s just damn hard.  Sometimes the best we can do is hunker down, hold on and let the storm blow over.  No matter how bad, eventually the weather will change.  Night will give way to dawn.  Yes, this too shall pass.  But to muster the courage to be here now.  Simply being present where we are.  Right in the heart of the pain.  Letting go into it.  Surrendering to what is.  Turning into the skid.  One breath at a time.  Again and again.  Trusting the heart of the darkness, to peel off another layer of our suffering, before returning us to the light.  It always does.  Because suffering has no other purpose then to lead to healing.

I heard that when Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold.  They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.  If this is so, then may we too shine golden through our cracked open selves, less perfect but more beautiful; courageous, edgy, and wildly alive.  Until that one fine day of our harvest.  And on that day, may we bring a big old smile to creation’s face when she is inspecting us with loving curiosity, size, shape, scars and all, before tasting the sweetness of what we have done with our lives.

The Writing Grant

screenshotSitting in front of the blank page for the third morning. In front of the writing program that my lover gifted me during cancer treatment. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, in the summer of 2011, words would flow out of me from nowhere and land on whatever was in front of me at the time, whether it’d be journal pages, notes on my computer or emails. Needless to say, if I wanted to look at something later on, I could never find it again. Memory issues during chemo didn’t help either. But a writing program? “No pressure to do anything with it” he said when he caught the ambivalent look on my face, “this is just so you have one place to put all your pieces”. Did I mention I live with the most amazing man in the world?

Writing had not been new to me before cancer. In fact, I wrote feverishly for most of my young adult years, and those handwritten journals make up the bulk of the few possessions I still keep at my parents house back in Germany. But by the time I came to the US, in my late-twenties, I had given it up for the most part, making a point of choosing to immerse myself in direct and uncensored life experience.  Truth is, I needed to strip myself from the constant commentator inside, who was analyzing, criticizing, comparing, measuring, and trying to frame my every move. Giving up writing did not rid me of my inner self critic, of course, but forgoing the urge to document my inner process led me on a journey of continually letting go of the story I was telling myself about myself while it was happening. Not writing became a pointer and a guide for me. And although it peeked out at the world through the occasional colorful metaphor in letters to friends or emails, for the most part, my writing voice was quiet inside me for many years.

Until I was diagnosed. Medical leave from my job kicked in immediately and I entered nine months of treatment, and a seemingly obscene amount of spaciousness. Confronted with surgery, followed by chemo therapy and radiation, my physical strength declined more and more as treatment went on. Eventually, I needed help even with simple life chores like picking my son up from school or preparing dinner for the family. Paradoxically, at the same time, the presence in my being-ness seemed to grow only stronger. Stripped of the many logistical responsibilities and details that single moms juggle on a daily basis, my psyche dove deep into the kaleidoscope of my soul. Life became more contemplative than it had been in years. The inevitable confrontation with impermanence that cancer presents, the grief about the ongoing losses of look and use of body and mind, the physical progression of pain and debilitation, all only guided me more firmly towards deeper and deeper levels of surrender and letting go. The tougher things got, the more I would soften. To partner the pain all I could do was find my heart, over and over again, and practicing compassion, blow after blow.

It was from this place that I started writing again. From the soft, cracked open side of myself. Here, in the dark depth of my being, I found a wise and loving voice dwelling, that would take my scared little ego by the hand, and speak to me and through me, partnering the existential angst and fear that were evoked in the scathing process of cancer therapy with epiphanies about life and death, and blessed moments of inexplicable grace, so profoundly soothing that in time I came to realize that this journey through the underworld had given me more then all that was taken from me on the way there. Words poured into emails to friends, before every new chemo round. Poems, prose and voice memos formed spontaneously and for the first time in many years I began to journal again, my pen sometimes barely keeping up with the flow of what wanted to incarnate on the page in front of me.

I don’t recall the exact day it happened but returning home from one of my many “mini-me” medicine walks I heard that I was to write a book on Cancer as a Rite of Passage. It came in as a lean, matter of fact sentence, and completely out of the blue. The kind of guidance one cannot but trust. The kind that doesn’t require ’doing’ anything, but to listen, to note, and be open to let things unfold, to say yes into the unknown of the how, and the when, the shape, the form, or the venue.

Regardless of when and how, what matters most is the intent that was born on that day: to share with the world, and in particular those going through treatment, and their loved ones, that the journey with cancer, while exposing the raw truth of our mortality, is also offering a birth, a rite of passage, and, should we choose to accept it, an invitation to live into the new territory of an initiated life. To share what I have learned in partnering this journey as a wilderness rite of passage guide and a women going through cancer. To offer the road map that helped me find my way. And to witness the naturally arising movement into healing and wholeness in response to cancer.

Three years have gone by since then. My writing program is bulging at its virtual seams, with lose bits and pieces, notes, drafts, articles, blog posts, voice memo transcripts, quotes and inspirations. Continually asked to surrender my own expectations of any particular outcome, my intent has only grown stronger during this time. This blog came into being, and with it the commitment to post a new article every one or two months, and to keep risking my heart with words.

I would be lying to you if I said that my writer’s voice was fully healed. Writing is still difficult business for me. It humbles me to admit how the edge of having an imagined audience plays havoc on my psyche. And yet, there is a knowing inside me that writing is now simply part of my healing. Although it isn’t any less cursed then it ever was. And yes, the inner self-critic still shows up at times, unannounced and harsh as ever. But something in me is able to partner it differently now. I feel more available to be with what hurts, and find my conversation with it. Instead of just experiencing the pain of my inability to form a sentence, I now feel fortunate to notice how desperately my ego tries to be something or someone special. How much I want to be right. Or cool. Or intense. Witty. Smart. Expressive. You name it… And by some small miracle I can somehow cradle myself right there, kind of going ‘there, there’ to myself. And then move ahead and put some words on the page anyway and simply risk myself. With all of it. With the fear of being dull or dumb or arrogant. Moment by moment giving up expectations. Willing to be with what is true for me. To let myself flow, to let myself go into the page, naked, awkward, and insecure – and to let myself be loved right there.

When I turned into healing in response to cancer, little did I know that it would not only touch, and transform every aspect of my life at the time, but that it would do so in ever widening circles, and, I have come to suspect, for the rest of my life. And so it is with writing. Of course it can’t just be ABOUT healing. The process itself has to be healing at the same time.  A tall order indeed.  But miraculously, in the last few months, courting my dark angel in various ways, dappling in writing some shorter pieces for my blog, and a few articles, some invisible threshold has been crossed. Writing has become precious to me. It is a sacred struggle now and, as I’ve come to realize, an important part of reclaiming my indigenous nature.

Ultimately, for me writing always points toward healing with love. Not surprising because it is what my life is now dedicated to. And this greater intent helps me risk more and be less self concerned. As a portal or tool for healing with love, I have to be willing, like any artist’s pencil or brush, to put my best foot forward, knowing that I will be sharpened and erased at times. I will inevitably mess up. Blotch and on occasion even bleed all over the page. It also means giving up thinking I knew where the sketch was going, but instead softening into the hand that is guiding me across the page. Knowing that I am not the one writing. Not the one to praise, or blame. Not the one who picks the colors, or the type of canvas or even what will appear on it. As a writer, I am simply the one that listens to the story that wants to be told, making room within myself to let it emerge, shaping it with all the skill I can muster, and trusting that, for all my faults, by some mysterious happenstance, I am the right medium to birth it. Because we don’t pick our stories. Our stories pick us.

One day last fall, while attending an international Wilderness Guides Conference in South Africa, I found myself an animated conversation with a German woman talking about Cancer as a Rite of Passage. Angelika loved my blog but really urged me to realize my dream of writing a book. I found myself back paddling that night, adding up all the reasons that held me back. I had no time. Working in the administration of two small non-profits and being a wilderness guide took all I had. I had no money. Even if I could, by some miracle, carve out the time for a project of this size, I couldn’t afford a chunk of unpaid time of this magnitude. As I was adding up all the reasons why this book wouldn’t get written in the foreseeable future, I felt more and more defensive, and then simply sad. I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. Was it really impossible? And if so, was time to let go of the idea altogether? More sadness. After two and a half years out of treatment what did I have to show for it? A few blogposts. A couple of articles. A bulging draft folder.

Were there ways that I hadn’t considered yet? I remembered one young writer friend, who I supported in her crowd fundraising efforts to gather a few thousand dollars so she could take off to South America for six months where she wrote a book about the tragic death of her lover. With a boy in high school, in one of the highest rent districts in California, that wasn’t really an option for me. Still, I loved the very real community support that crowd funding offered, not just the financial part but the emotional aspect of it as well. One way to know whether this book really wanted to be written. Whether it was more then just my idea. When I finally went to sleep that night, I felt softer and more open. Not that anything had changed, really, but the walls around it all had come down a bit and I felt more open to possibility, however unknown.

The very next day I got an email from Kabir, founder and director of Lawyers for Natural Justice, a good man and a new ally in our lives. He had just assisted us the week before leading an introductory rite of passage program for a group of select lawyers just north of Cape Town. In his email he explained that, as an alumni of a South African Grant Giving Fellowship, once a year he could suggest a worthy candidate for what they call a ‘flash grant’, a smaller one time amount, to support individuals with a unique cause. And that he had decided to endorse me. How in the world? Turns out he checked out my blog. And chose to nominate me.

$5,000!  He said it was ‘easy money’, no long application process and pretty much guaranteed to come through. I should hear from them within a month or so. It sounded too good to be true. But sure enough, about a month later, I got the email from the Shuttleworth Foundation, asking me for my financial banking information. It was an easy process indeed. All they asked of me, was to “live out loud” and “tell the world” what I had done with the funds within six months of the grant. And to put their ‘funded by Shuttleworth’ sticker on my blog. Easy.

What wasn’t so easy was making this grant truly support my being, not just my doing. I felt responsible to use the funds in the way they would make the most impact for Cancer as a Rite of Passage. Was writing a book truly serving? It took time to work out my doubts, and it was reading their mission statement that helped me find my way back to my heart. They make a point of investing in people versus concepts, and supporting individuals to create the spaciousness necessary to birth their ideas. What an amazing concept! If I can truly let that in, it sets me free.

Like I said, I am not in control of what appears on the page. What I can say yes to is to use the money to create space for the inquiry into Cancer as a Rite of Passage. To take the time to face the empty page, to reread old notes, to edit, add and subtract, to ruminate, to follow the flow of my heart through my pen, aka keyboard. What I can do is remember not turn this opportunity into a product driven burden. A book still sounds daunting. A booklet? I feel my shoulders coming down. Truth is, I don’t know yet. And maybe I don’t need to know. What I know now is that as of March 1, the first hour of my day belongs to writing. One hour a day. Not much at all, but it is what is sustainable in my life right now. Just enough light to take the next step. Paying myself $10 an hour, and transferring my ‘pay’ from the savings passbook that holds my grant money to my checking account at the end of the month. And trusting into this opening.

March 15. 3,000 words later. If I thought it’d be hard to have enough discipline to sit down every morning I couldn’t have been more wrong. What turns out to be the real challenge is stopping when the hour is up. I find myself prying away from the page, my psyche begging for “just one  more sentence, just 5 more minutes”. Writing for an hour only I end up percolating with it all day.  Giving it space to breathe and move around in me, rather then trying to ‘get it done’ or ‘get it right’ helps me focus on the process rather then the product, on the practice rather then the accomplishment and on the inquiry instead of the epiphany.

Too many times before I have sat to the point of exhaustion for fear that if I don’t stick with it, the elusive essence of what I feel inside may never take shape, and what was begging to incarnate through my writing would never be born. Now I find that my practice is playing at it all.  And surprisingly, in risking the edge of loosing my muse, I find it pursuing me instead. Teasing her like a lover at foreplay, only to then, at the end of the hour, once all the juices are flowing, say: “Sorry, time to go. I’ll be back tomorrow.” And all day long, feeling the energy humming inside me, literally turned on. And allowing myself to stay with that creative tension. To ruminate as little as possible about the “perfect” sentences that I hear emerge while cooking dinner or trying to go to sleep. To let them come and go, trusting that the next words that need to appear will be there when I sit down to write the next day. And the next day. Because if I seriously commit to writing, I have to make it sustainable for myself and train my muse to come visit me in the daily doses that my life allows. To help her pace herself so she doesn’t burn out like a shooting star. Because we’re in it for the long haul now.

I still don’t know exactly what territory we’ll travel. Will my writing transpire into more blogposts or will I do more writing offline? Will I create an outline or just follow the meandering flow of my heart? Will I try to create a chapter or two of a possible book to submit to a publishing house? Just enough light to take the next step. What I know is that I have entered a committed relationship with writing to share my inquiry into Cancer as a Rite of Passage with the world. To partner this very real life initiation with the age old road maps that rite of passage ceremonies have offered our indigenous ancestors around the earth for thousands of years. I have recently heard someone say on the journey with cancer there’s a pot of gold. May my words, and my story, no matter what shape they take, help find that treasure.

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Cracked open: The Nature of Grief, Loss and Illness

Death and dying are hard topics to bring up in modern day life. Society prefers to navigate around the truth of our impermanence with an unspoken yet powerful “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude, leaving those confronted directly with death and dying feeling isolated, singled out and without a place in the so called ‘normal’ workings of everyday life. So where do we turn when life has delivered us a blow from which we fear we may never recover?

Last August the School of Lost Borders, a small but well known rite of passage organization, located on the edge of the Eastern Sierras in the Owen’s Valley, hosted an offering called Grief, Loss and Illness: Journeys into Healing. For the first time added to the ‘Practice of Living and Dying’ curriculum of the school in 2013, the seven-day course is specifically designed for people whose lives are changed by a personal brush with death.

Some of the participants had encountered a life threatening trauma or illness. Some of them had met death’s irrevocable repercussions through the loss of a loved one. All of them were cracked open in some way that changed their lives so profoundly, that they could no longer return to the person they once were.

The changes that take place when we experience a trauma that changes the story of who we are, always ask of us to grow into a deeper, fuller version of our humanness. In earlier indigenous cultures such events may have been viewed as initiations and people struck by trauma not as victims but as initiates. According to anthropologists, rite of passage ceremonies arose out of direct experience with the initiatory patterns in nature. Change that was precipitated by an ordeal had the potential to be an initiation into a greater wholeness, or deeper wisdom that, if successfully navigated, the initiate was able to offer back to the community for the good of the tribe.

Floods, droughts, forest fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, while potentially devastating, and sometimes altering the landscape permanently, at the same time create fertile soil for new life forms to come. Nature is our blue print for how to adapt, how to be with change, how to die to what was and birth into what will be, over and over again, form after impermanent form. Since the early days of human kind, initiatory ceremonies have helped us mark major life changes and enabled our psyche to track its journey around the wheel of an ever-evolving becoming-ness.

Although forms of ritual vary greatly all over the world, most rite of passage ceremonies recognize 3 classis phases, severance, threshold and re-incorporation, to formally navigate major archetypical phases of change. The healing journey carries many of the same characteristics by different names, such as diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. It makes us aware, that in a very real way, life itself is initiating us all the time.

As humans have become more disconnected from nature, these rites have slowly become lost. With most of this knowledge absent in modern day culture, a major healing modality has gone missing. One that has the potential, not to medicate, fix or suppress, but instead to validate and partner the journey through grief, loss, or life-changing illness. Tapping into the power of an initiatory experience in the natural world, old grief can find release and a new life phase or stage can be consciously marked.

Holding the death of lovers, children, and parents as well as life threatening illnesses in the Grief Program, the intimacy and mutual support within the group becomes palpable within a very short time. For some participants, the grief that brought them is raw and fresh. Others mark poignant life changes or losses that occurred a long time ago, and have been held in the deep tissues of their living for many years. For seven days we alternate nature walks and solo time on the land with story council and time in circle, culminating in an optional 24-hour solo in the high desert expanse of the Inyo Mountains, a place sacred to the Paiutes who call it the “dwelling place of a great spirit”.

Participants go out on various nature assignments with the freedom to explore the territory of their grief witnessed and held by the ancient presence of the wild alone. During their time on the land, each person is inevitably met and mirrored by nature’s uncanny wisdom in form of unexpected encounters or meaningful symbols stumbled upon, evoking the very conversation that is waiting to happen. It might be the sudden buzz of a hummingbird swopping in, to hover just inches away from our face. It might be the heart-opening sight of an exquisite wildflower at a special moment in time. Or the shape of a gnarled juniper tree, chosen spontaneously for a nice rest in its shade, triggers an important memory. Nature meets, mirrors and witnesses us every step of the way.

 

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Ceremonial time on the earth has met, held and partnered humans for eons. Deep in our bones, we know this way. In the natural world, even the unbearable somehow finds a place to just be. For the earth, no feeling is ‘too much’, not the flood of seemingly endless tears or the overwhelming grief cry that longs to be set free. Nature has no need to recoil from the density of pain and grief. Here, death is simply a part of life, as much as birth is. Unexpected, exquisite beauty may emerge right next to intense suffering. It doesn’t have to make sense. No matter how lost we may feel, when we are out on the earth, we are always found. When we immerse ourselves in nature, we can’t help but remember our own nature. In the quiet and spaciousness of the wild, we naturally turn into a deeper listening, to the tender voice of our heart, to the truth at the center of our being, where a vision, a new insight, a new way of being in the world may be born.

What does it mean to come fully alive in the face of death and dying? For the young woman, who’s lover and soul mate drowned during a river rafting trip, it is spending her first night alone after the accident, beneath the thin veils of her tent, under the vast desert sky, rekindling her tender connection to life. For a cancer survivor it is baring his surgery scar as he steps across the threshold, claiming a new life, in the midst of medical uncertainty, with the deep knowing that all is well with him, no matter the outcome of his next screening. For a mother grieving the tragic loss of her precious toddler son it is connecting with an ancient bristlecone tree, marked with the blackened lightening scar from many years past, and finding she is given the deep roots needed for what this new life is asking of her now.

There are stories of beauty born when turning into the grief of our living. Being able to simply be with what is in the ceremonial container of the natural world can provide a touchstone from which to turn into a healing process that we live forward for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t mean that it gets any easier or that it hurts any less. Sometimes it may hurt more, as we are able to feel more. And paradoxically, as we acknowledge and admit our pain, and as we continue to turn into the raw truth of this wild dance with impermanence lightness, humor, joy and compassion are born right alongside our anguish. The pain never goes away. The fears never go away. It is our resistance to our feelings and losses that changes, our relationship with them. More than ’letting it go’, which is implying that we somehow could get out of the suffering we’re in, it is about letting things be and finding the heart to live them into wholeness. There is no way for any of us to ever go back to ‘normal’ but there is something different: the potential for an awakened and initiated life that we can hone for the rest of our lives.

Note: Grief, Loss and Illness: Journeys into Healing will be offered again July 17 – 24, 2015 and August 14 – 21, 2016. For more information email petra@lostborders.org or go to www.schooloflostborders.org.

Coming Back

Radiation is a weird animal.  Easier, by far, then chemo.  Mysterious and invisible, the x-rays penetrate my right breast quadrant every day, while I lay very still and with my arm above my head to ensure correct line up as the precision machine is moving around me, carefully avoiding, so we hope, exposure and damage to any of my vital organs.

With the business of Monday through Friday treatment, and tagging on restorative Yoga, Qi Gong and Pilates classes, my life once again has a bit of a regular schedule.  Outwardly, things feel like they are beginning to resemble a somewhat “normal” rhythm.  Even if the majority of my daily appointments and chores are medical, there is once again a distinction between weekdays and weekends.

My hair takes its sweet time to cover my head once again, regardless of how ready I am for it.  Every day my hand goes over my bald head, longing for signs of stubble, or growth.  Will it really come back?  It reminds me of the end of winter,  when you know that spring is in the air,  but the land still looks barren and desolate all the same.  Until that special day, when the seeds finally push through the surface and into the light of day, for all to see.  Plain and clear:  life is coming back.  And so it is with my hair.  One fine morning a hue of gray on the sides of my head is reflected back to me from my bathroom mirror.  So slight, the difference, I wonder if the morning light is just playing tricks on me.  But slowly and surely, over the next few weeks, hair begins indeed to once again populate the various areas of my head, growing in all sorts of different tones and oddly shaped patches, soft like the first grass to cover the gray hillsides after the snow melt.  It takes quite a bit of time until the first half inch length covers most of my head.

And for how long I have waited and hoped for it, it takes me by surprise when I decide to shave it off once more.  I buzz it down to a bare sand paper stubble and love it! There is something magical about feeling the prickliness of my scalp – as supposed to the soft baldness under the chemo.   It feels powerful to choose my own bareness now, instead of being simply subject to it, as I was during the chemo.  It is my decision now, to go without, to carry my nakedness proudly, to stay honest and open at this time of great vulnerability for the many blessings that this surrender has called forth.  To walk from here on out,  into this new life that is just beginning.

Choosing to stay visible as a cancer initiate, many up close and personal encounters  with other human beings and their stories of love, healing and dying find their way to me.  Wherever I go now, in my nakedness I am invited to look under the skirt of our shared humanness, into the heart of the true nature of our interconnectedness.  And I find myself continuously amazed at the willingness of those touched by cancer to share their story, reach out and connect across race, age or class barriers, with an intimacy that is unthinkable in the ’normal’ world.

Everything is personal now.  Before my eyes, a world that has so often felt cold and un-relational has opened up to me now to share its deepest secrets, simply because I belong to this special “cancer club” that none of us wanted to belong to in the first place.  Like the woman rounding the corner in the Safeway aisle, who breaks out in this wide smile when she sees me,  and calls out:  “Good for you!  You wear your head high!  I never wore any of them damn wigs either, God they itch like crazy!”  Survivor of 17 years.  Wow!  Make my day.  May I get to pay it forward one fine day and make someone else laugh, some 17 years down the road…  Or the cashier at Trader Joe’s who tells me his mom just started treatment, and he’s afraid how she’s going to cope because she lives alone and he’s not close.  Or the fine old man who stops me at a department store, between the checkout stand and the special sales counter, putting his hand lightly on my shoulder and gently saying “I wish you well”.  His eyes full of tears, it turns out that his wife of 50 years has passed away only a few weeks earlier after a long battle with breast cancer and now his youngest daughter had just been diagnosed.  Damn!  And there we are, in a long, intimate and tearful hug, two complete strangers, in the middle of Target, in a territory that words just can’t reach, somehow managing to celebrate the blessing of love, even if it opens us up to the worst losses possible.

In my better moments, I feel such lightness, grace and gratitude for this new life.  By truly claiming my belonging in this threshold life, between birth and death, my life has become an offering for all beings.  For now, cropping my hair close to the scalp helps me keep remembering.  It keeps me honest.  I am sure that this too will shift one day.  The only constant is change.  There is nothing to hang on to.  All I know is that for now, it’s too early to go back to looking ‘normal’.  Instead, I am taking the liberty to turn into what is truly true for me, moment by moment, edgy and outrageous as that may be.  Normal is overrated anyway.

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Originally written in March, 2012, edited in Nov 2014

The Yard Sale


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One Saturday morning, about 10 days after the last chemo treatment, my lover found a yard sale that advertised lots of women’s clothes my size.  Floundering about yard sales and serendipitously finding things and (sometimes people) that relate to our lives in interesting ways is something we both love.  In addition, I was in the process of  starting  a whole new wardrobe from scratch.  Most of my favorite pre-surgery tops made me sad, looking lost on my much smaller post-op frame and though I was feeling dizzy and weak I was determined not to miss this chance.

By the time we made it there, the woman who had the sale had sold many of her items already and the first wave of yard sale customers had come and gone.  As we checked out what was left, we got to talking to her and it turned out that, like me, she was from Germany.  Her clothes and shoe size was very close to mine and I tried on several of her outfits in her garage.  She kept complementing me on how tiny I was and that she too once had the same figure.  Eventually, I shared with her the reason for my recent change in body fat.  :) She said:  “Oh, you probably don’t want to hear this, but my mother died of breast cancer when she was 41”.  Honestly, no, I didn’t!  But here it was again, the ever present reminder of how close cancer is to all of us.  So many are touched by it, if not within themselves then within their family or community.  Turns out Iris was 18 when her mother died, but her younger sister was only 5 years old at the time.  “My mother actually found the cancer early.  She was nursing my sister at the time and went to see the doctor about a lump in her breast.  But the doctor dismissed it as nothing and it was not until 3 years later that the cancer was found.  By then it was too late…..”

There are so many stories that I have heard since I have been diagnosed.  In some way it doesn’t surprise me anymore.  In some other ways it still does.  Being visible as a cancer patient in the outside world, marks me as vulnerable and mortal.  It also reminds people that life really is precious and impermanent.  Not everyone exactly likes to know that.  Even though life has a 100% mortality rate, most people prefer to ignore their basic human condition and take their lives for granted – literally, not receiving it as a gift, but as a given.  This sense of owning our lives actually creates a false sense of security.  Of course, life is never in our control.   A lot of human suffering is directed toward supporting the illusion of control over our lives to foster a sense of safety.  Ultimately, all attempts to assure our minds that we are in charge are futile.  Deep within our human DNA we know that life is ever fluid and changing, unbeknownst to our interpretations and subject to change at any minute of any day.

After I picked out some clothes that look like good additions to my wardrobe, I pay Iris and thank her for her very reasonable pricing.  She says: “I wish you good luck!  I do hope things work out for you.” , smiling awkwardly.  I am taken aback.  There is this funny feeling left in the air, some kind of a unspoken but distinct separation between us.  I am the one in need of luck.  She has seen cancer kill her mother.  She is (presumably) healthy and I am in unknown territory.  I want to say to her that my prognosis is very good.  That I will be fine.  That we are ALL mortal, not just me….!!!  For a moment I feel sorry for myself.  I want to be back in the “healthy people club”, the ones that have it “all together”, that can afford to wish sick people “good luck”.  I want to be back with the normal people, with the ignorant people, because it is so much easier than being so vulnerable, so on the edge of my living, so stripped down and with nothing but the commitment to live into the truth of my healing in every moment, without control in outcome and trusting into the unknown.

And yet, as we are pulling away from the curb, I realize that this is my gift now:  that I am willing to be that vulnerable  and naked, awakened by the journey through the fire.  Truth is, I could use all the luck I could get.  Life would never be the same for me after cancer, and actually I didn’t want it to.  I was grateful for the opportunity to wake up.  Along with a lot of pain and hardship, it had also brought incredible freedom into my life.  For better or for worse, I would never be able to go back to what once was.  Yes, in some bizarre way, the Damocles sword of recurrence would continue to set me free as much as it would keep me on my toes, asking me to open into moment after moment of this precious life, without being able to ‘count’ on any future but really being present NOW and NOW and NOW.  Because it is all we ever have to bring ourselves truly alive.

I realized how deeply I was committed to this path, and this practice now.  So what if I got tossed into the “sick corner” by some.  I would gladly stand in for our human condition as vulnerable stewards of this life we are taking care of.  Nothing wrong with that.  Smiling to myself I finally responded silently in my heart to Iris’s “good luck” with “I kindly thank you”, feeling peace and blessedness fill my heart while my lover turns toward me, from the driver seat, his eyes tender.  ‘”You okay?” he asks.  ” Yes”, I respond, “never better”.