I haven’t written about my health or shared many videos from my cancer journey since the beginning of this year. To be honest, I’ve been avoiding it. With everything that’s happening in our world today – our pandemic, our tyrannical leader, our dismantling of unsustainable societal structures, our acknowledgement of the massive trauma and abuse we’ve imposed on BIPOC and marginalized communities… it seemed selfish and irrelevant to devote any attention to my personal troubles. I still struggle with this.
SELF-HEALING CONTRIBUTES TO COLLECTIVE HEALING
We are a collection of broken individuals.
I also see that things needn’t be so disjointed. There’s room in my psyche, and others’ as well, to make space for self-healing in conjunction with the healing that is so necessary in our world. In fact, as I’ve learned more about historical and inherited trauma this is a necessary step towards collective healing and prevention of future injustice. We are a collection of broken individuals. And although we need not aspire to some perfect unscathed form, the way in which we handle our brokenness gets magnified, projecting onto the collective. So if we (and by “we” I mean “I”) act out of fear, anger, and overwhelm – that is the energy I contribute to the collective and can provoke in others. But if we (again “I”) act out of love, honesty, and vulnerability – that energy can potentially contribute to mass healing.
I also stopped writing about my cancer journey because I didn’t want to perpetuate an identity of illness. I carried this superstition that if I continued to draw attention to it, cancer would continue to grow in my body and remain a part of my life. Obviously, this is unwelcome, but I now see the naivete of that logic (if you could call it that). I cannot will cancer to stop growing. It is forever a part of my story. And since I technically still have cancer, it’s something that I can choose to ignore, or accept as a part of me. A funky little part that I will likely need to manage for the rest of my life.
THRIVING WHILE SURVIVING
I am healthy. I am grateful. I will live to see my son graduate from college and I will dance like a fool at his wedding.
I have a few points of comparison for my health status and life aspirations in spite of that status, for which I am super grateful. I’m lucky to know a handful of people living full and awesome lives in spite of their chronic illness. I’ve witnessed many examples of people thriving while surviving. The exposure I have in my work and personal life to different examples on the health spectrum is invaluable. This contributes so much to how I’m able to cope with my particular predicament.
I have a daily practice where I tell myself that I’m healthy – where I command my body to be so. “I am healthy. I am grateful. I will live to see my son graduate from college and I will dance like a fool at his wedding.” My life goals. This is what I am creating every moment. I find it amusing and surprising that I’ve successfully convinced myself this is true. I don’t identify with cancer at all, I never have. If anything, I only share my diagnosis with others as a way to connect. As a way to create space for their pain and invite them to share their burdens – health-wise or not. And to let them know: I get it. I get what ails you and you are not alone. I try not to stress about what my oncologist tells me and what my MRIs say. To me those are merely opinions and my opinion is the only one that matters. This cancer-thing may continue to live in my body, but I am healthy AF.
ACCEPTING MY LIMITS
Of course, I am human. There are times when I feel the limits of my health status and fear the future. I sometimes ruminate and question myself, wondering if I’m making the best decisions regarding my care. When Ben was 4-months old, I chose to not pursue brain surgery and chemo-radiation. I also rejected participation in a clinical trial that offered an oral medication that could possibly prevent tumor growth but that also required surgery. I chose to treat the cancer with alternative and traditional Chinese medicine combined with lifestyle changes. I don’t regret making that decision. I did it for Ben. The risks associated with a repeat brain procedure were too great and would have jeopardized his well being. And the unconventional therapies I ended up pursuing have allowed me to feel more holistically healthy – physically, mentally, and spiritually. But sometimes I do wonder if I’ll need surgery in the future, or if it will ever be safe for me to conceive again, or how old I’ll be when Death comes to get me (I’m thinking… 91?).
EMBRACING UNCERTAINTY LEADS TO LOVE & GRATITUDE
It’s been two years since my last heart surgery – a surgery that was meant to prepare my body for the clinical trial I had initially selected as treatment but was was riddled with human error and lacking in compassion. The experience was so traumatizing it turned me away from Western medicine as my primary option for treating the cancer.
It wasn’t an easy choice to make, and it’s not easy holding onto so much uncertainty about my future. There are so many things I want to do in my life and to feel limited by my body is discouraging and sometimes disempowering. This uncertainty used to overwhelm me with anxiety. I used to spend my free time researching alternative healing modalities on the internet, calling practitioners around the country to assess together what would be feasible for me to do while also mothering my son. It would be so much nicer if I felt more in control of my future. But this year, something has shifted in my mindset. I am more at peace with uncertainty, in part because our nation and our world is also managing uncertainty and a myriad of seemingly random and incessant calamities. I feel less alone in the struggle to figure Life out. We’re all doing that right now. And I’ve also come to adopt a new tenet: embracing uncertainty gives way to embracing the present moment. My present moment is always Love and Gratitude.
THE PERPETUAL PRESENT
It is a miracle that I can write these words today.
I have a giant keloid scar resting on my left shoulder. It serves as a reminder for the reasons I chose this unconventional route. The scar often stings beckoning me to massage it. In these moments, the scar reminds me of how I used to perceive my body: deficient, broken, incapable. One scar, many meanings. All leading me to the perpetual present. It is a miracle that I can write these words today. That I can sit here, think these thoughts, breathe this air, hold this child.