At 9:00 a.m. this morning, my cancer recovery begins. I started to write my cancer “journey” begins, but that is not true. It began on the 10th when I took myself to the ER and the grim reaper faces of the ER doc and nurse told me that the abdominal CAT scan showed concerning abnormalities that often meant a cancer diagnosis.
The next few days, I cocooned myself in my hospital room, rested, and wrapped my head around the diagnosis. While the doctors searched for the cells that would confirm their theories, my bloodwork and symptoms were enough to deduce the inevitable. I could either grab my son and do a whirlwind world tour or stay and fight. The “choice” seemed obvious.
My husband and son, my life, are worth fighting for.
I must confess that I don’t like this word “fight.” It doesn’t seem right somehow. It feels like more of a need to surrender, to the process, to the journey, to whatever this part of my life is that requires this experience. To fight feels more like to deny or resist the diagnosis and my body, this journey, to resist this life, not just the cancer.
I had determined back in December that I was going to focus on my health and well-being in 2016. Believe me, I am focused. RAZOR. SHARP. FOCUS.
Thankfully, I have been doing yoga many times each week, and it includes meditation and breath work. Repeatedly, my teachers have said, class after class, “Don’t fight the pain. Give in to it. Don’t resist. Breathe. You can endure this. It is temporary. You are choosing to stay in your body and experience this. It will pass. Sorrow, Joy. They pass. Hold on. Breathe. You can do this. It will be over before you know it.”
I hear the words in my head many times each day. I am learning to endure. To go through the hard. To harden. To strengthen. To know my strength.
It has been clear from the many messages of support , encouragement, and love that my friends and family view me as strong and my attitude as impressive. On some levels, I get that, yet on others, this doesn’t seem so strong or courageous to me. It seems obvious and simple: live or die. Endure or give up. There is no middle ground. Walk. Move forward. One step at at a time.
I can spin and dash and weave all I want, turn it over and over again in my mind, but there is no escape. No avoiding. I have no option but to put my foot on the path and keep going. Despite the doubts. Or fear. Or resistance. Or reluctance. Or self-pity. Or anger.
I must walk this path, whatever it holds. And, if I do it with a positive attitude, my likelihood of recovery and survival increase exponentially. Medicine has recognized this body mind connection. There certainly will be moments of anger and despair. And, I must be willing to go there when I must. But, I cannot allow myself to stay there.
A cancer diagnosis is incredibly clarifying. So often in my life I over analyze, unable to get comfortable with a decision, afraid of getting it wrong. I have not trusted myself. Now, I must. I must put myself on the path and believe I can endure. I can do this. There is no choice.
A cancer diagnosis is a command. Live!
Last night, as I lay in bed waiting for sleep, I was overcome with a wave of fear. I saw myself at the base of a mountain range, looking at the clearly defined trail marker up ahead. I felt panicked. It is one thing to contemplate the climb and another entirely to begin it.
I was terrified. What if I can’t do it? What if I am not strong enough? What if I can’t handle it? What if it is so bad I want to give up?
I tried to direct my thoughts elsewhere, but my mind was locked into the fear. So, instead of fighting, I decided to breathe. Not to resist but to float, to know that I could feel the fear and acknowledge it without letting it consume me.
I realize that I am not the first to walk this path, nor the last. And, I realize how fortunate I am that I don’t have to climb alone. Yes, it is my climb, and I must do the hard work and endure the physical challenges. I must keep putting one foot in front of the other even when it feels like it is too much.
However, most who trek a mountain range do it alone, with only occasional stops in distant, sporadic outposts along the way. They go through internal landscapes along the path, places that they would have never explored had they not put themselves to such an ultimate challenge. They must keep moving or perish.
Although I would never have actively chosen this path through cancer, I can’t help but think that I, too, will be forever changed because of this journey.
I just have to keep climbing. To endure.
And I choose to believe that while there will be bleak and desolate places along the path, there will also be vistas and beauty that can’t even be imagined from down here at the trail head.
So, as I sit preparing to begin this journey, I ask that you remind me when I forget.
It is very simple. Keep moving or give up. There is no time to linger in self-pity or doubt on the trail. Endure. This too shall pass. Look up. There is beauty here and now, and there is even more just beyond the next turn.