When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt bewilderment and disbelief. Certainly, I felt fear at times - who wouldn’t? But, mostly, I felt like a failure. Hadn’t I been in control? Hadn’t I done all the right things? Yes, and that was the problem. The universe forced me to stop, because doing wasn’t the answer.
Without that painful confrontation with my mortality, I was going to miss the point: the opportunity to be something more and to let my purpose reveal itself. I found a doctor who listened, and I was able to let go of control. I will share just this about Roger: when I ended up back in his care a few years later, I called him and said, “I don’t want to go to the hospital tomorrow,” and he said, “You don’t have to. This is your decision. I don’t want you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
The choice was mine, and I made it; I went limp in the maelstrom and was carried by the winds.
When I got the hospital that first night, I didn’t feel fear. I felt relief. I was surrendering. I was asking someone else to carry some of this. When I chose to trust the doctors, I let go of control over my treatment and took responsibility for my healing.
This was the task, as it is always: to believe, with the full force of faith, that this path is a divine gift, a magical koan, and that I will be complete and whole and fully well on the other side.
I anchored myself in that truth and sank backwards into the vast sea of suffering and revelation.
I had never really wanted to fix it myself. What I wanted was a guru who could promise me a magical cure without walking the terrifying path of conventional cancer treatment. And, if I’m honest with myself, I also wanted to prove that I was special; I could be one of those people of whom others say, “she’s Amazing. She cured her cancer Naturally!” I might not have known that then, but when it came time to reckon with the angst and self-reproach after treatment, I realized that it wasn’t just my body, but my ego, that was battered.
And when I went on the internet, there were a hundred arm-chair advisors ready to tell me what I had to do if I wanted to get well. There’s this one story about a Chinese man who cured his AML with Traditional Chinese Medicine. In China. Etc.
Of course no one else would have my answer; I wasn’t honest with the question.
Is it possible that some of those methods might work? Absolutely. Do people have miraculous stories? Yes. But in order to heal, we have to experience the depth of the truth of our healing, and we don’t muscle into that with either protocols or brain power. As Douglas Adams tells us, we fly by falling and missing the ground.
And to do this, we must recognize the medicine of our people; this is the healing we will accept. Then, and only then, can we believe in the process in that place beyond our thoughts; much can be moved by force on the material plane, but that is not the whole of remembering what it is to be well.
Our spiritual, emotional, and physical planes all require resources and contribute to the process, and we cannot coerce these things into alignment exclusively through our conscious intention; I have sat across from many sick people who are miserable because, in addition to their pain, they believe that they are failures for not being able to think themselves into health and wealth. They are not. Being sick is not a failure. It is a responsibility and an opportunity, but it is not your fault. Where you are and what you’ve done is your path; your job now is to recognize where you are being invited to place your feet.
In my hospital gown before they started the drips of Daunarubicin and Cytarabine, (substances so toxic that they would destroy my veins if administered by iv and therefore had to be delivered via a line directly into my heart), I nursed my infant son for the last time. I didn’t know it then, but he would never breastfeed again; of all the trials of that time the one that brought me to my knees was that loss; the withholding of my poisoned breast until he embraced the solace of a bottle.
His first two words were “guitar” and “bottle,” because my husband would wear him in a sling and feed him and then play guitar until he fell asleep - even when I was out of the hospital it was John, and not me, whom he trusted the most. I was not even able to pump- I tried but I was too depleted to produce much milk, and most of it had to be thrown away because of the drugs. And so I gave it up.
My one job would be my only job: to believe in my healing.
I lost my hair. The fullness of my breasts. My muscle tone. I lost and lost and lost. I entered the hospital a young, fertile woman; I left bent and aged and unfamiliar to myself, weighing 92 pounds. Within a few years I would go through medically-induced menopause in treatment, at 37, so that I wouldn’t bleed to death during my period if my blood refused to clot.
The chemo for AML requires an in-patient stay, so I had to continue to return to the hospital for the remainder of the fall. The apples dropped, and then the leaves, and I matched their senescence to my own, cloistered in my cell as the air turned golden and then gray.
But I got better. Marvelously, miraculously better.
And then I forgot, when I tried to control everything again; I came to associate my recovery will my will rather than my willingness. And so, almost exactly three years later, I was diagnosed with a relapse, and told that the only option was a bone marrow transplant. I called all the alternative clinics, determined to do it “right” this time, to know better.
None of them would accept my case.
So I went back, back to chemo, and then through a bone marrow transplant. I had to do it all again, to die slowly and recover repeatedly, without knowing if it was all necessary. I had to trust, trust the poison and the needles, trust until my teeth rattled, knuckles white on the rails of my reality. When my first donor was injured and the second disqualified, when I had to do extra chemo during the wait, when I was finally driven to Boston and admitted to the sealed transplant unit and brought to the very brink of death and prayer, when I was scheduled to be discharged and then my liver stopped functioning, I had to trust.
I am a chimera - I have two DNA profiles. I had to swallow the egg of the dragon and then let it crack open and rend my flesh with poison fire and hope that my vital force could re-member what had been sundered. What I realized, much later, when I sifted through the ashes of the fallout field, is that the oncologist was part of the medicine of my people at that time.
Then I had to recognize where that work ended and other work began. With gratitude in my heart, I left the transplant world behind and sought out the people who could be conduits to the real healing; to the deeper work under the work of this time I had needed to buy so desperately that I was willing to pay with my body, my pride, and very nearly, with my life.
But as I entered this new phase, I had to trust again. Because this, too, is the medicine of my people, and it will brook no resistance to surrender.
To be two, split and re-united; THAT was my medicine.
If you ask and agree to receive, if you submit to the depth of that letting go of control, if you tame the tyranny of your mind as it overflows the banks of its domain, you will feel lost and afraid at times. You will resist.
But when you see, out of the corner of your eye, that shimmering flicker of possibility that someone can help you open the portal and hold the light as you pass through, will you choose to do so?
Will you shed your armor and lie down at the entrance to the dragon’s lair?
Thus Ends Part 2 of 3.