The Wisdom That Is Cancer
Updated: Jun 6
The devil whispered in my ear "You are not strong enough to withstand the storm. And I whispered in the devils ear "I am the storm".
It's May 9th 2016. The day after Mothers Day in fact. I'm all drugged up after my colonoscopy, and laying in the recovery room. Dr Petersen informs me I have stage 4 bowel cancer. He delivers the news in a matter-of-fact , no frills manner - the way you might tell a friend they have parsley in their teeth. "Prognosis?" I ask, matching his monotone. "Two-three years. May-be four with chemo." he offers. It's a rare bowel cancer. Mucinous Adenocarcinoma."
Perhaps I'm still dazed from the drugs, but I meet the news with the same stoic resilience that I've approached my entire life. Every part of me knows, without doubt, that it is simply not my time to go. Now, I must convince my love ones, who will inevitably not receive the news as well. Going forward, I shall need them to stay positive, to match my enthusiasm for life, to stay "up" with me, lest I leave them behind. From the Beginning of My Diagnosis
There’s only two things we can be certain about in life. The first is that we were born. The second is that we will die. Do I feel blessed? Absolutely! Albeit the greatest challenge I’ve faced, my cancer diagnosis catapulted me towards the deepest levels of personal growth. I had already travelled some part of the way towards a greater inward growth after my marriage breakdown 2 years earlier, but there's nothing like a cancer diagnosis to bring home the truth that we simply can’t know what lay ahead. My ex husband was diagnosed with cancer 1 year after me, and sadly he passed away 5weeks after. The threat of death, divorce, pandemics, reminds us of the unpredictable fragility of our lives, and the fact that 'control' is an illusion. Facing death, I came to realise how much time I wasted on guilt, which leaves us living in the past. Or time wasted living with fear, which places us always somewhere in the future. Fear of taking risks, fear of not being good enough, fear of abandonment..... and on and on... and on. Cancer bought me fully into living in the present. Since my diagnosis, I'm determined to make the most of every day now, by becoming a more authentic version of myself, and truly finally living....... before I die.
Purpose For those of you beginning your search for meaning after a cancer diagnosis, it’s natural to start questioning everything. What was the purpose of my life? Where am I going after I die? Is there a God? What now? Why me? Feeling so healthy before being diagnosed with cancer, I’ll admit being initially stumped by the prognosis. To be honest, I was a little angry at first, and drafted a lengthy letter to God asking her to ‘please explain”. That moment of self-pity lasted all of 20 minutes, then I was back to calm resolve. Why me? Well, frankly, why not me? From years of service as a counsellor, I knew the best way forward was to take a big girl breath and state " Like it or not, this is my situation.... so what will I do about?". It's the difference between understanding what I have control over, and what is beyond my control. I don't have control over the fact that I have cancer, however I can control how I choose to live each day going forward...... on all levels.... spiritually, emotionally, physically. Resistance is a funny thing. It's certainly not productive. As long as you're saying '....." I don't want this.....", you're keeping yourself stuck and not giving yourself a chance to take a more positive stance. I'm a firm advocate for blessings being found in the worst of situations. Accepting where you're at is not about 'giving in' to the prognosis, rather, it's the start of you feeling like you have choices regarding how you proceed. Don't get me wrong here... you will still need to grieve. You will have days when you feel very sorry for yourself. When this happens, the most loving thing you can do is give yourself permission to cry, scream, curse. Spend a whole day in bed if that's what you need. And then pick yourself up and again say, "what now". Buddhists like to say "this too shall pass", and indeed it will. When first diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in May of 2016, many thought my positive attitude was a product of being in denial. They questioned “was I ‘fighting’ this?" The answer? … Well… no…. and yes. Let me explain it this way. There’s a quote I love by Mother Teresa –
“I prefer to walk for peace rather than march against war.”
These sentiments are seeking the same outcome. Yet there’s a significant but subtle difference in the energy behind them. That’s how I feel about working through my cancer healing journey. To fight against my cancer simply sounds like a struggle. It's the kind of thought process that goes hand-in-hand with needing to control your life. I’m in no doubt that it was my internal struggling during my 30year marriage that lead to my cancer in the first place. Why would I want to struggle further? So, I’ve been walking peacefully and calmly towards doing what is necessary to heal, whatever that might be. So far, so good. An Opportunity to Be a Truer Version of Me If anything, cancer highlighted how much of my life I'd wasted on silly insecurities. How much time I wasted not living my truth, and not sharing my gifts with the world because I feared what I had to offer wasn’t significant. On a deeper level, I feared success – not failure! I feared the judgments of others. There’s a determination now to be everything I am meant to be. Truly everything. “No” is not an option!
My goal now is speaking to others about self-love, gratitude, forgiveness. In embracing my new-found fearlessness, I published an article, and was guest on an ABC Radio program. I adopted the attitude that there was no such thing as "getting it wrong". I had a a desire to inspire others, to spread hope and positivity through a shared experience. Finally I believed in myself!
Cancer created a need in me to only fill my life with what was important. What made me happy. I cut toxic people from my life, and it opened the door to wonderful fulfilling supportive friendships. The expression "Less is more" was never truer.
I cleared my home of ‘stuff’ that was taking up physical space in closets, thus making the energy around me clear and uncluttered. Again, it was symbolic of how I wanted my life to be. Being clear about what I wanted made life flow, not just for me, but for everyone around me, because nobody was playing games any more. I started saying ‘NO’ to what was not aligned with my values, and setting firm boundaries regarding what I wanted, expected, from others. Most importantly, family relationships become more important than ever before. Eliminating all stress from my life has become paramount. Some old guy said "Don't Sweat the small stuff. And believe me.... it's ALL SMALL STUFF!". Why did it take cancer to finally make me realise this? Having been fiercely independent all my life, it was joyous to allow people in. It meant taking a risk and allowing myself to be vulnerable. Oh the joy of that! Spiritually Speaking I often wonder if I will truly feel at peace when my time comes. After all, it’s easy to preach something when you have no real experience with it. In 2017, my ex husband Andrew passed over - 5 weeks after his diagnosis with lung cancer. Certainly, I’m a little more reluctant to leave my children orphaned now that their father is gone. Grasping...... It just never stops! They’re young adults now, and I believe that on a soul level, whatever happens, they have chosen these experiences, just as I have - just as we all have. I'm choosing to create happy memories with them, for them, instead of wasting time worrying about what will happen after I've gone. Remember, it's about knowing and accepting what we have control over, and what we don't. Spiritually speaking, I believe our time of death is pre-determined before birth. So my ultimate time of death is in the no-control zone. When its your time – it’s your time. Simple as that. A moment from the movie Angels springs to mind..... Meg, a surgeon, says, “You know, we fight to save lives, but sometimes I wonder who we’re fighting with.” Bingo. That doesn’t mean you should be reckless with your life. While you might not have control over when you’re going to die, you do have control over the quality of life you experience while you’re here. Don’t waste it. Continue to eat healthy food, exercise, and live with love, gratitude and forgiveness. Every day. Live with self-worth! A Buddhist nun once told me that no matter what your spiritual belief, it’s important to believe in it fully. Truly fully. Whatever form your ‘god’ takes, there’s a great deal of peace and comfort that comes at the end of life if you firmly believe that something greater, more powerful, and beautiful is waiting for you. Emotional Health Buddhists also believe that it’s important for us to be at peace emotionally, spiritually, and physically, at the point of death. On that basis, I have determined to live a life centred around self-love, daily gratitude, and being at peace within my self. By extension, these things lead to feeling greater love for your fellowman, and a sense of feeling grounded. You'd be surprised how much the practice of Gratitude can make your life feel so full, so abundant, even with a cancer diagnosis! I urge you to read my Gratitude Blog if you're keen to start your own practice on a deep level. I never miss an opportunity to say "I love you" to my kids and my family members before I hang up the phone. I try to remember to let people know that I see and appreciate their efforts, big or small. It's not surprising that people want to put in more effort when they feel appreciated. And it brings me joy, truely, to know that perhaps I made a positive difference in someone else's day, for that moment in time. Of course, I'm also still impatient, and intolerant and down-right rude sometimes.... being perfect wasn't my goal. Being mindful was. The secret is to continually learn and grow. The more mindful you become about your own behaviour, thoughts, feelings, the better will be the quality of your life and your level of happiness and satisfaction. You might still have cancer, but you can decide how you want to spend the time you have. Coping with Negative Emotions.
A bad day is a bad day. On the odd occasion during chemo, when I was feeling sorry for myself, I moved into my feelings to give the unhealed, unheard parts of me a voice. This practice allows me to let it go, and I quickly return to a place of inner calm. What does it mean to give it a voice? Be open and honest about how you're feeling - angry, sad, scared, disappointed.... You may already have guessed that family and friends can't cope with your cancer, so don't be surprised if you feel alone during this time. You'll be depending on these methods to vent:
writing in your journal,
screaming into a pillow
hitting pillows or
going to the top of a mountain to yell at god - don't be shy about this - it feels great!
spending the day in bed
calling a help-line
finding a support group - Facebook has support groups for all types of cancer and some people find this incredibly useful for comfort from people who really understand whats happening for you, as well as being able to offer advice on physical aspects of your cancer
What about hMeditation? To be frank, I was a daily meditator before my cancer. For some reason I simply couldn't get into the zen zone by sitting any more. Other spiritually minded friends have reported the same phenomena while they ere undergoing treatment for cancer. So I found other ways to move into the zen zone....... During my first 6 months of chemo, I spent a small amount of time each day writing on a giant mandala. I wrote prayers, positive affirmations about my body being a temple, affirmations about healing, love, forgiveness. I made 3 of them. One for each of my children to have after I'm gone. Thoughts are so very powerful in the creation of energy, so these 3 mandalas now sit proudly centre stage in my home, and they produce the most loving healing energy.
Healing the Past Love heals. Forgiveness heals. I had a great deal of forgiveness still to do around my marriage breakdown. After my husband died, I finally began to do some really deep healing through writing. I used my blogs, writing about our life together, to really dig deep and understand our life together. I learnt a great deal about myself in the process. Honesty and raw vulnerability moved me out of feeling like a victim and empowered me with wisdom and self awareness. I not only forgave the past, I forgave myself, and an enormous weight lifted. I have found the peace I needed in my heart to finally let him go. To let the anger and resentment go. But it took the longest of times and a great deal of inner reflection and inner dialogue to get to that place. A huge part of me believes that I caused my cancer because of the toxic anger I carried for so long during my marriage. After being operated on a second time in 2018, the surgeons were surprised that 5 of the 7 new tumors turned out to be non-malignant. I'm not surprised though. I'd done so much emotional healing since my original diagnosis, and even more since my husbands death. A determination to keep cancer away has kept me holding steadfastly to living my truth every day. Would I have gone on this inner journey without getting cancer? Maybe. However, I would likely only have scratched the surface. I'll never know for sure, but again, I iterate, I'm certain the whole charade is part of a bigger plot that has been written even before I was born. All anyone need do to stay on track is to keep remembering these simple words…. “I love you. I forgive you. I’m sorry. Thank you”. Say them to yourself, then think about who else in your life needs to hear this from you. Write letters of love and gratitude to everyone, and tell people "I love you" often. We think it, and yet we forget to say the words to the people who matter. In a recent emotional healing exercise, I had a dialogue with the cancer. I wept openly for the first time. My grief? It took cancer to finally make me step into my power as a healer, as a woman. It took cancer for me to finally start really living. To embrace a feeling of being worthy of joy, love, abundance in my life. What if......... just what if ........ B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Let go.... control. Another big girl breath..... and I remember that I'm doing it now. I remain grateful for the blessing that has been cancer, for the tap on the shoulder that woke me up to living more fully. As always, I remain positive about the future. Big Hugs to you and your loved ones on your journey..... whatever and wherever that may be. Having a psychology degree, I'm now using my years of experience as a counsellor , a trance healer, and my personal journey through cancer to help you and your loved ones to deal with your diagnosis. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss a private counselling session.
UPDATE June 2020 - happy to say I've exceeded my "4yr" time line - or as I like to say... I've passed my 'use by' date! Clearly cancer has messed with the wrong person! I'm fitter and healthier than ever before - on all levels.
UPDATE August 2021 - following my annual PET scan, a tumor has appeared again on the sigmoid colon. Again I am scheduled for a second round of HIPEC surgery. Prior to surgery, I was to have 2 rounds of Chemo in tablet form. Two weeks of tablets taken twice daily, one week break, followed by another two weeks of tablets taken twice daily. Unfortunately, tablets were ceased after the first round as I ended up in hospital - my potassium had dropped to dangerous levels which could have lead to paralysis and heart failure.
Original Diagnosis and Procedures: Hysterectomy reveals metastasis on ovaries May 2016: Hysterectomy reveals metastasis on ovaries May 2016 : Diagnosis Stage IV Colon (bowel) Cancer - transverse and Right Hemi colorectomy . Prognosis : 2-3yrs, maybe 4 with chemo. June - Nov 2016 : Folfox Chemo 12 rounds Feb 2018 - 5 new Tumors found March-May 2018: Folfox + Avastin Chemo June 2018: HIPEC surgery (liquid chemo poured into stomach) with Omentectomy, Cholescystectomy, Peritonectomy, excision Ligamentum Teres December 2021 - 2nd round HIPEC surgery