Despite growing up in a liberal little town known for tree-hugging out large corporations like Sony to save a spotted owl, I’m not a marcher, protestor or radical voice for change.
I might’ve weaved a few daisy-chains in the 70s, if so it was more likely child-like naiveté than in support of peace.
Lately, I feel like weaving one around the whole world.
Our country has been politically divided, ground under the boot-heel of a global pandemic and now we find ourselves at the rising curtain of a tired play concocted by ignorance and hate.
I don’t have tolerance for injustice or evil and it wrenches my soul that others would capitalize on a bad situation for their own agenda, whether it’s proclaiming their rights or through looting and destruction.
This is the crisis that precedes transformation but the part of me that would gladly live in naiveté weaving daisy chains can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way.
Probably not. Not yet.
I’ve become intimately familiar with crisis and transformation on a personal level since receiving a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis in February and I’ll tell you what —
Transformation is not easy, pretty or fun.
Painful and dramatic, it’s deep soul work that rips into the core of your being, unearthing those troubling questions that have a way of creeping into your consciousness at 3:am.
You know the ones I’m talking about — The ones you don’t want to acknowledge let alone answer.
For me, I’d like to say the question was, “Why me?” At first.
But I was quickly right-sized when I saw St. Jude commercials for childhood cancer.
Better me than a child.
I know it doesn’t work that way. My getting cancer doesn’t prevent a child from this trauma but it shifted my perception — FAST.
Why not me?
I was fully aware that when it came to self-care, I was seriously lacking. I had no idea how to rest when I was tired or eat when I was hungry.
For a long time, eating brought abdominal pain so I stayed in one of the main food groups that didn’t hurt — Sugar. And caffeine
In fact, one of my friends termed my diet, “The hummingbird diet.”
I guess now I know why food wasn’t my friend. According to my GI, it looks like a wildcat sharpened its claws on the inside of my colon.
When you’re diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it puts everything in perspective.
It also brings sweet freedoms most people don’t allow themselves.
When I asked my Cedars-Sinai doc about whether it was safe for me to surf (given the nastiness that pollutes our beloved ocean), he answered:
“Does it bring you joy? If so, do it.”
Ahhhh… How many people ask themselves that question?
I ask myself all the time now:
Does this bring me joy?
Do I enjoy spending time with this person?
Is this how I want to spend my time?
If the answer is “No,” my darling it’s No. I don’t waste time talking myself into or out of it.
With this comes letting go of all the “shoulds” that used to gunk up my mind like cobwebs.
Should this… Should that… I should be (blank)… Gah! Fuck that.
It’s incredibly freeing to live in line with who you are, not who you think you’re supposed to be. That person doesn’t exist.
This is the other side of being diagnosed with cancer and the changes it brings.
Unfortunate it took cancer to bring me to this self-awareness and enormous appreciation for life — I wish I could bottle it and give it to you.
You’re going to have to go rip out the floorboards of your own life.
It’s been 6 months since my ER visit where the easter egg was discovered behind my stomach and 4 months since I started chemotherapy. I’ve had countless tests, scans, surgeries, procedures and doctors, doctors, doctors.
When all this started, I was terrified. To not only be diagnosed with cancer but stage 4 that had metastasized to my lymph nodes and lungs, the fear was so great I felt like I was choking on it.
I stayed in the minutes and the hours and the one day I knew I had– Today.
Even so, there’s more than one memory of sinking to my knees and burying my face in my hands, tears leaking between my fingers as I rocked back and forth with the only words I could form, Please God…
I don’t want to die.
See, there’s so many things I haven’t accomplished. So many things I haven’t experienced. Elusive and melodramatic, the murky unknown of a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis crept around the edges of my mind haunting me with:
You haven’t (blank) yet.
For me, the grieving process was complicated and intimate, reaching like fingers back through decades and gathering up ideas and dreams long faded on old notebook paper.
I gathered those up like treasured toys from childhood, curled up on the floor and sifted through them.
The big ones leaped out.
My husband showed up on my doorstep later in life and by then I’d accepted that I wouldn’t have children. Still, I found myself grieving that I’d never have the experience of carrying a child in my body, not in this lifetime.
A heartfelt dream of slinging bare legs over the back of a horse and galloping down our dirt driveway to collect the mail re-emerged with a vengeance.
My husband and I even went to look at horse property in Fallbrook, a small village claiming the title of “Avocado Capital of the World” just 20 minutes east of Oceanside, a location allowing us to balance country living with our beloved beach lifestyle.
Then we came home. I walked out on our deck, took in the view and the sea air and felt heartsick at the thought of leaving home.
I approached my husband again. Maybe a parrot to ride my shoulder through the day like Madison, the Green Conure I’d found in a Seattle park and had to give up because I was gone from home too much as a flight attendant.
“Geez-us honey, those birds live for 100 years…” Glenn said.
I know I don’t have 100 years. Honestly, I don’t know how much time I have and neither do you.
Are you wasting your time doing things that don’t matter with people you don’t care for?
To date, over 500,000 people have passed from Coronavirus world-wide. Yesterday I learned a younger cousin died, suspect of a drug overdose.
None of them got a warning shot like I did and I have to wonder–
Did they love their lives or live by default, making do with what showed up?
For most, I guess the latter. Because letting go of what you know and standing in the unknown is scary shit.
For me, I would go through everything I have the past 6 months to be where I am today.
I know you don’t believe that but it’s true: Cancer has been a gift.
I’ve gone through the crisis and on the other side, as the pain dissipates and my body begins to heal (yes, it is!) I find all I have left is deep gratitude for my life.
This is the beauty of transformation.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I reached out to a friend of mine named Patrick who also happens to be a writer. He’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer; unlike me, he’d been given a timeline: Months.
He said to me, “Are you doing what you love, Valerie? Are you falling in love with as many things as you can? All that matters, is love and time. Everything else is bullshit.”
Sadly, Patrick passed only a month after this conversation. I hold onto it like a mantra, grateful that his words have become a part of me.
So when you get caught up in the crisis in the world today or the crisis in your own life, remember transformation waits on the other side IF you have the courage to let go of what is and step into the unknown.
And in the meantime, don’t get caught up in the pettiness of which or whose lives matter. All lives are sacred. Including yours.
In the picture below is a manifest I received on a flight long ago, before everything went digital. It meant enough that I kept it all these years and to me, it’s the definitive word on this topic.
How someone chooses to live their life, well, that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?
Now go fall in love with yours.
Note: For those who are interested in more details of my cancer prognosis and progress, please visit: https://gf.me/u/x5r775