There are many things, of course, that disrupt our lives and create situations of suffering: accidents, relationship troubles, losses of all kinds—work, income, a sense of safety, deaths of people close to us or even of strangers whom we hear about on the news. Most recently it has been the pandemic, which has disrupted the whole world.
Of the more common disrupters, one of the biggest is cancer. This has been my great disrupter.
Oh, I had heard people who had cancer talk of how it changed their lives. Many even seemed assured it was for the better, after all was said and done. But I had no idea what they were talking about. No matter how much improved their lives were afterwards, could not the same improvement have happened without having to go through cancer?
I thought it could, so I set about “making it so.” (Star Trek: Jean Luc Picard) I followed the best nutritional and lifestyle guidelines that I could find that weren’t faddish or simply a way to get people to buy some product. I did my “inner work,” too, with years of psychotherapy, with a decade of participation in the deep mysteries of how art making could reveal my innermost and hidden life, with a deeply spiritual approach and study of the Christian religion of which I am a part.
And it worked. Now a septuagenarian, I had no prescription drugs nor the need for them. The most medication I had in the house was a small bottle of Advil in case I ran a fever. My teaching and practice of the Alexander Technique meant that much of the musculoskeletal pain others have suffered passed me by. I ate sensibly and organic when it was available, I didn’t do recreational drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or even caffeine. I studied to help others by becoming versed in the ways of energy healing.
In short, I was doing everything “right.”
Then came the pandemic at a time of what I felt was the political madness on the national scene in particular, where truth was “hared to come by.” (John Denver) My university teaching was disrupted, I had to learn how to teach a hands-on, in-person modality online, and like everyone else, I struggled to find some sense of security and even hope.
Then came the diagnosis of ovarian cancer in late October 2020.
To say I was astounded is to put it mildly. How could this have happened?
I have written elsewhere in this blog about my ides of how karma and cancer are related, so I won’t repeat them here. What I’m most concerned about in this post is how utterly devastating the cancer journey has been.
Perhaps for others of less stubbornness or arrogance, the diagnosis could be simply accept4ed as what has come to be expected after a certain age in life, and even sometimes even before “that age,” whatever it is. I don’t have statistics to back this up, but the “war on cancer” was declared in 1971 by then-president Richard Nixon. That’s 50 years ago, and while we have found better ways to treat it and even to cure it at times, try impression is that the rate of incidence has not only not dropped in those 50 years; it has increased.
The medical community attributes that to better screening. I’m sure that is a factor. But why is cancer now the expected outcome at some point in one’s life instead of something that only occurs rarely, as it was in my youth?
There are environmental factors, of course. We can’t keep poisoning the earth without suffering for it. There are some genetic predispositions, certainly. But the reason cancer cells lose their ability to stop replicating as a healthy cell would is only now being investigated. And I believe the genetic reason is still only one part of the equation, as exciting as that research is.
But I digress. . .back to how cancer disrupted my life so completely. . .
I had been living, as I said, a life of health and vitality. I suppose one could say that my connection to my youthful self was keeping me “young at heart,” as my friends would say. With the diagnosis and subsequent treatment, however, that lifeline to my youthful self seems to have been severed. I can’t even imagine her and all she could do and be.
My cancer-survivor friends say this is temporary, the result of the five months of treatment including the six rounds of chemo just finished. Perhaps that is so. I certainly hope so. But the depletion of my energy and stamina is a terrible burden and feels “permanent.”
Do I sound like a whiner? You might say that. After all, my prognosis is excellent for a cure, not just remission. Shouldn’t I be so grateful that a negative thought doesn’t cross my mind?
That would be someone who is in denial, in my opinion. I have learned in my study of emotions that they are messages, and if ignored, they can fester into something much worse, even into physical pain and suffering. So I don’t deny that I am angry; rather, I embrace it. Once I can release the energy of the anger safely, it will move on to another emotion, and so it goes.
So I hold both gratitude for my cure and anger at the situation that created the need for a cure in the first place, whatever that is.
The disrupting of my connection to my life in the past worries me more. I recognize that I have been spared for something useful and somewhat different from my pre-cancer life. I eagerly embrace that on the deepest level. I will do my best to figure out what that new purpose or modality is and embrace it. but meanwhile, who am I??