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 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 the prevention of future injustice. We are a collection of broken individuals. And though we need not aspire to some perfect unscathed form, the way in which we handle our brokenness is magnified and projected 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 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 a superstition that if I draw attention to it, cancer will continue to grow in my body. 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, I either can choose to ignore it or accept it 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 goals in spite of it, for which I am super grateful. I am lucky to know a handful of people living full and awesome lives despite their chronic illnesses. I am lucky to have witnessed many people thriving while surviving. This information is invaluable. It contributes so much to how I’m able to cope positively with my particular predicament.
I have a daily practice where I tell myself that I’m healthy – 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.” This is what I am creating every moment. I find it amusing that I’ve convinced myself this is true. I don’t identify with cancer. I 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 mere 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
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 for my health. When Ben was 4-months old, I chose not to have brain surgery and chemo-radiation. I also rejected a clinical trial that offered an oral medication that could possibly prevent tumor growth, but the trial required another brain 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. The unconventional therapies I ended up pursuing have allowed me to feel more holistically healthy. 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 prepared my body for the clinical trial that I ended up rejected. My experience in the hospital was riddled with human error and a lack of compassion. It was so traumatizing that I turned away from Western medicine as my primary option for treatment.
This was not an easy choice to make and it’s still not easy dealing with 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 feels discouraging and 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 what would be feasible for me to do while also mothering my son. I used to think it would be so much nicer if I felt more in control of my future. But this year something shifted in my mindset. I am more at peace with uncertainty – in part because our nation and our world are 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 of 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 of which lead 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.