The intake person at the hospital was looking down at the sheet of paper with my statistics on it, including my age.

Without looking up, she asked,” What prescription meds are you taking?” Her pencil was poised above the blank lines, ready to record my answer.

“None,” I responded.

Perhaps thinking I hadn’t heard her, she looked up at me and spoke more slowly and distinctly, “What prescription meds are you taking?”

I repeated, “None.”

After a moment’s pause, no doubt taken aback because most people my age are on various prescription drugs, she continued down her list of “intake to-do’s.”

Since I have read food labels since the 1970’s, keeping my sugar intake to a minimum, don’t do caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs—indeed drugs of any kind—have all the water in my condo filtered, walk regularly for exercise, practice the Alexander Technique for ease and freedom of movement. . . since, in short, my lifestyle is all for health, why, then, did I get cancer?

My holistic physician offered the suggestion that was given to him by a wise man: it must be karma. And that karma can be collective, personal, or even the carrying of karma for a loved one.

Karma could be colloquially termed as “what goes around comes around.” More biblically, we reap what we sow.

If that sowing contains the seeds of wrath and judgment, then that’s what comes back to us. However, if that sowing contains seeds of love, joy, and peace, then those come back to us.

Once I was over the shock of being diagnosed with cancer after all my precautions taken to avoid just such a diagnosis, I began to learn more about this dreadful disease that afflicts so many of us. Even after about 50 years of the “war against cancer,” mostly what we do is cut, burn, and poison with greater effectiveness. Even the latest genetic research is pointed toward a physical reason for the disease. My genetic markers came out clean. What then?

Cancer cells don’t know when to stop replicating like healthy cells do. The genetic research I read about is trying to find out what causes the gene that stops the improper replication to malfunction. Again, a worthy but physically based source of the cancer.

But what if the wise man was right: we need to look further than the physical?

I thought of our society—the collective karma, if you will. As a society we certainly don’t know how to stop. We don’t know what is “enough,” and constantly seek more of everything: more money, more power, more travel, more material possessions—the list is endless. Are we not, then, a collective example of the cancer?

If that is true, even though I have tried my best not to participate in the more, more, more culture, I can’t escape it because I am connected to it.

I think of my home city of Nashville which has suffered a decade of unrestrained growth. I say “suffered,” because there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the way developers are going about tearing down old buildings and putting up new ones, many of which have dubious quality. Greed seems to be the only consideration. Housing—particularly the “tall, skinnies” with their narrow width and 3 floors to keep the footprint small so that more units can be built on the same area—sprout up in the least likely places. Many of them are perched precariously on steep hillsides with equally steep roads leading up to them. With the icy weather we just had, there must have been difficulties galore finding ways to get up the hills on foot, let alone trying to park a car.

And that is but one example.

I think of the “gazillionaires,” as Forrest Gump called them—people with more money than I can even imagine. How much money does one person or family really need? Not a gazillion, that’s for sure. So then it must be the power that comes with the money.

And we see this greed for power everywhere in our culture. Recently, we are also seeing the “power-less,” the marginalized, in a new light. But decades of greed cannot be undone in a short time.

So it may be said that my cancer is a mirror of the cancer of the collective, despite my attempts as one person not to participate in that culture. In the thought-system of the wise man my physician knew, I am suffering the effects of the way people around me act in the world. As humans, it cannot be otherwise.

However, the good news, is that in conquering the cancer, I am also “burning up a bit of that collective karma.”

Now it’s up to me to address my personal karma. But that will be done privately.