Re: Releasing Cancer
for the last four weeks i have been responding to astounding emails from you in response to my letter “releasing cancer” – announcing that i went through cancer in 2011 and how i am coming out of it anew. it has gotten to the point where i simply must share some of these responses with you and tell you the magical things that are happening from being in touch with you. so here we go, let’s connect some degrees of separation between you and share your inspiring accounts of being human. what i find so amazing is though you each have been through your version of hardship i always hear a sense of love and grace in your writing. thank you for your enthusiasm in having me share your words with others:
“I was diagnosed with fourth stage bone cancer last December, 2010. After having lunch with a friend, I went ‘public’, he said ‘How can people who love you send positive prayers, wishes and healthy thoughts, if they don’t know you’re sick?’ So I began to share it. What a relief to let it go. There was a weight to holding it in and letting go to let God, made me feel lighter. Life has changed drastically. I no longer stress about finances, bad drivers, rude people, or matters I can’t change. More and more I just take things in stride.”
-a mean dancer
“I just want to thank you for having the courage to write this and share your truth with me. I don’t know what to say but it has helped me tremendously see my entire last year as a gift. I did not get cancer but did go through my own journey and was ashamed and felt that I needed to keep things to myself. I felt humiliated, embarassed, and with my choice had really screwed up my life. I am breathing and as long as I have life I can continue to start over and move forward. What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger, but I think the stronger part is really about the strength to be – what doesn’t kill you forces you to just be. I also intend to not hide what has happened to me and share it. Thank you for helping me to see my situation differently!”
-someone who loves unrelentingly
“Cancer! It has been in my life so intensely the past year. It does my heart good to read your email. My boyfriend Humberto is on a morphine drip in San Diego- dying of bone cancer. Your email is so timely even comforting as I rail at God.”
-someone who gives women with no voice a voice
“I had a somewhat similar experience with fertility issues – for some reason I felt ashamed that my body wasn’t doing what all my friends’ bodies seemed to do so easily. Like it was some kind of cosmic mark of inferiority or something – sounds silly as I write that but that’s what I found myself feeling. When I finally decided to open up about it I felt like a giant weight lifted from my whole being.”
-someone who teaches others how to make people laugh
“Reading your email brought up a lot of things for me… like how i wish i had reached out to you more, and how you always seemed so vibrant and healthy, and how cancer doesn’t happen to people like us, and how maybe i shouldn’t be mad at my husband so often, and how you never know who is dealing with what, or how long you’ll have them in your life for, and all of that. Thanks for the reality check and thanks for sharing your story.”
-someone invested in women’s fertility
“I also dealt with cancer this year. Easy peasy as surgery took care of it. And it was also a wake up call. Now I am taking care of myself and looking to be an inspiration to others as I “like an every day Joe” lose weight and get healthy. My motto is, ‘if Rachel can do it, then I can do it’.”
-someone who teaches others to inspire
“Thank you for writing down just a fraction of the powerful experiences that you have been battling in your heart, mind, and body. This means a lot for me and others to hear, Summer. Your email will always be a reminder to me. Sometimes I have a chip on my shoulder and forget how others are sometimes fighting a hard battle.”
-someone who loves, even when its easier not to
from your emails I see tragedy isn’t personal – it touches us all no matter how well be play our cards – i previously walked through life thinking if i took my vitamins, exercised, ate healthy and treated others as i’d like to be treated that i could avoid illness, injury or tragedy. in short, I thought if i was “good” that I’d be spared and die quietly in my sleep at the ripe age of 80-something. i didn’t realize i thought this – if I did i think it would have been easier to go through cancer – but it was a thought living somewhere in the recesses of my mind. In such cranial shadows, i thought most people were walking around untouched and it was the unlucky few that crashed into the wall of death or disease every so often. i was used to seeing so many looking fine walking down the street buttoned up and walking swiftly that I figured they must be doing GREAT! now having gone through the mud, and witnessing your responses, i see that life and death are endlessly married. there is this idea that we are doing life correctly if we are untouched by mistakes, heartbreak, sickness or pain – but i am seeing now that this is an impossible expectation to have. this is being human and pretending we’re not. there is no shame in making a choice that does not work out the way we thought it would, there is no shame in battling a disease, there is no shame in dying and there is no shame in living either. sometimes I can even see myself ashamed of having an amazing life that i don’t share what i love about it, how proud i am of myself or how grateful i am. by virtue of being here you deserve a congratulations.
i suppose the good news is that pain is no failure. hardship is not a “game-over”, not a sign that you suck at living or that you deserve it and are somehow being punished. it doesn’t mean any of that. in fact, it doesn’t mean anything really. the only thing it could mean is that you have a body that is not meant to last, surprise! the cool thing is that what comes out of it can mean a whole lot – for you and for the people around you.
sometimes perfectly healthy people get really sick and everyone is baffled, “why? why? why?” we look for meaning everywhere. we rail at god or a doctor or ourselves, but what about the way in which that person’s mortality snaps their loved ones into the present moment? what about that person’s sister who quits her job to do what she’s always wanted to do? what about that friend who slows down to really let his wife know how much he loves her? and what about all the new found gratitude that person feels for their dad for the first time in years? i am not saying it is easy or fun or good to experience pain, i wouldn’t even wish it on my enemies, but i do choose to be grateful for the gifts of the hardships past.
the flower that is sprouting out of this past challenge is realizing how much control I needed to have over my future and slowly releasing my grip. now, after a year of being down-for-the-count i’m just starting to lift my head above the debris to find i’m a little more okay with not being in control. yes, I can help steer the boat, but I can’t control the weather. it’s a daily practice still, but i’m finding that as I release control i’m compelled to share my heart. like opening up without knowing what will happen as a result. sending you the previous email revealing i had cancer, was just that. i was terrified of what you would say and what you wouldn’t say. Now, the weight that has lifted and your responses inspire me so – had I wanted to control my words to you, or not send the email, i wouldn’t have received the beautiful and honest responses or opportunities (i.e. i’ve just booked my ticket to go meditate in brazil for a month and a friend and colleague has invited me to come and speak about my experience in front of a congregation at a local synagogue in san francisco).
i am so honored to have this opportunity to share with a large group. i’m realizing that all i want to do it share, share, share…and then share some more. i must say, it’s not about me being a “cancer survivor”, i don’t identify as that and i don’t intend to speak from that perspective. i identify as a human being who has encountered her mortality at a young age and has been given an amazing opportunity to share the peace that can come from it. people who have lost their leg or lost their dream job each know an element of this and i want to speak to that, for it is all an aspect of being human. i’m interested in humanity and our ability to blossom under trying conditions. it’s our birthright to experience suffering and it’s our birthright to move closer to the light from it. thank you for sharing with me. I want you to know that you have catapulted me into a new found joy and courage to live out loud.
love and blessings on your journey,
this is not a private thing any more. It was when I wasn’t sharing with anyone, but now all i have shared and will share is entirely public. please feel free to send any words i’ve sent to anyone you feel compelled to send them to. if you wanna, subscribe to the blog to automatically receive my letters.