When I wrote about ‘Going Dark’ last year, I did not have any way to measure how dark it was going to get. Reeling it all into perspective – as soon as I sit down to write an essay about my great fortune and good health, I get a text telling me that another friend has cancer. Terminal cancer.
I know how very lucky I am.
It’s an epidemic. I’m hard pressed to say how many survivors I know, and how many who are still struggling with this as a daily difficulty. I’ve had six months post surgery, 100% cancer free to celebrate. I have discovered a level of gratitude I did not even suspect existed.
Colon cancer runs on both sides of my family, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. I had a few weeks between diagnosis and surgery to contemplate my life, make my will, and write a farewell letter to my daughters. My medical people assured me that this would be very simple (but very major) surgery, and they did not expect any complications. But isn’t that why they are called complications? Because we don’t expect them?
I had a very early diagnosis. Barely even stage one, I had surgery that took out about a third of my digestive tract, and removed eighteen lymph nodes, all of which tested negative for cancer, meaning that it had not spread beyond the original location. So, I’m good.
After working with a number of cancer patients as a part of my yoga practice, I learned a lot from their experiences. But the things I learned from my own experience are so rich and so deep, they are barely translatable into words.
The quality of time is priceless. The quantity is the unknown you cannot solve for, so work with what you know. Every day is an irreplaceable gift. People that love you are there for you. People who don’t love you are not. Allowing that to hurt your feelings is optional. If the family members or friends you thought would be there aren’t, go back to ‘the quality of time is priceless’ – how much time you spend feeling sad or angry is a choice. How much time you spend feeling grateful adds considerable value to the priceless quality of time.
I have not, in my yoga practice or personal experience, seen any evidence of “Why Me?” Cancer is everywhere. No one is shocked. Scared, yes, overwhelmed, but not shocked.
I was not afraid of death; I’m very clear that this body is address, and I have had other addresses in the past and will have others in the future. But I was wild with grief over the fear of leaving my children so young, and I was furious with myself over all the writing left unfinished.
After the surgery, the healing, when physical effort comes easily once again, it’s all too simple to get swept back into the daily whirlwind and forget that my days are numbered. But when someone else’s number is called, and I’m reminded, instantly and intensely, not take any of it for granted.
For my wonderful G, my heart is with you as you cross over, for my lovely J, who is fighting it every hour, for K and W and N who celebrate their anniversaries of survival, I’m grateful to my bones for all of you.
I have always agreed with Jorge Luis Borges, who noted that
“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that
whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”
And adding to that list – our frailties, our relief, our mortality.
Today is already a really beautiful day.