Spirit Quest Journeys

Growing up, I experienced several people I loved getting cancer and dying within a short time later from the effects of the disease and the "cures." So whenever I hear of someone being diagnosed with cancer, it brings up a lot of negative emotions ranging from fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, depression, and the list goes on...
My son has a dance/theatre teacher who was diagnosed about a year ago with cancer. She's about my age with 4 kids and a husband and hundreds of dance kids who love her dearly. Both my kids have taken class from her and they both loved every minute of it. So when we received an email today that stated the cancer had progressed and was growing more aggressively despite treatment, it broke my heart to have to tell my son she's not coming back to class. It broke my heart for her, her husband, her kids, my kids, and all who know and love her. She has faced this with grace...smiling, laughing, dancing, and generally uplifting everyone she comes into contact with.
But along with this sadness for her, it also caused a tidal wave of emotions for me and my experiences with cancer and other life threatening illnesses with my family and friends.
My daughter made the statement that she didn't know anyone who had been diagnosed with cancer that got better for any significant length of time. I then asked, "what about me?" This made her stop. You see, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a little over 12 years ago. I was being divinely protected because they were able to just remove the small tumor, along with my whole thyroid and lymph nodes in my neck to be considered "cured." In fact, the process was so easy, that I do not consider myself a "cancer survivor" and many people who know me, don't know this part of my life. I (read: my ego) keep it hidden. I'm the one that got away...and I don't want to give it time or energy just in case it finds me again.

Truth is, I didn't want to face that diagnosis because it made me face my fears and grief from childhood. When I was 13, my grandmother and cousin who was the same age as me were both diagnosed with cancer within a week of each other. Within 18 months, both had succumbed to the cancer 5 months apart from each other. Add on my grandfather dying of emphysema within the next year, and that was a traumatic time in my life. I also had a friend who was a couple years older than me from the church I grew up in die from leukemia at that same time. I came out of this time with a healthy respect, but unhealthy fear of cancer because it had taken some of the people I loved the most away from me.

So if I follow the teachings to find joy in every moment, a lesson in every pain, gratitude in every situation, how do I reconcile that with the very real grief that threatens to overwhelm and overtake me? How do I tap into that joy and gratitude? And the truth is, I deal with it better in one moment than I do in the next, and it comes in waves. But, I keep returning to the gratitude in being able to love and experience receiving love from these beautiful souls. I am joyful that I can look back at my experiences growing up together and laugh at some of my happiest moments of my entire life...a feeling of pure bliss and happiness, just loving life and having fun. Even at the darkest and saddest moments, we were able to love and laugh and support each other in and through our pain.

To illustrate this, here's the story of my cousin's funeral. All of the cousins were sitting in the front row at the church because we acted as his pallbearers. This was a rough service, because, although he had been sick, he had just received an all clear scan and had completed his last chemotherapy treatment. Then suddenly, he woke up with an excruciating headache, disoriented, and he told his dad and stepmom that he was dead. They rushed him to the hospital and within the day, he was gone from this earthly plane. So the cousins were all sitting together crying. I had tears pouring and I went to wipe them away when I inadvertently flung one that landed on my sister's arm who wasn't crying at that exact moment. The confusion and look on her face as she was trying to figure out where this wayward tear had come from completely made me lose it and start laughing. Pretty soon, our pew of cousins were doing all we could just to not burst out in belly rolling laughter. But what this showed me, besides my cousin was, indeed, a mischievous imp who definitely played a part in the whole thing, was that laughter is therapeutic. It helps heal. It helps shift the energy even when you are the saddest you've ever been.

To circle back to my daughter, she was very young when I had my surgery to remove the tumor. We made sure her life remained stable and calm while never hiding the fact that I was going through some surgeries. I guess we did a good job in that aspect in that I think she truly forgot that I had had cancer. So while I grieve the losses again of all the people in my life I have lost from my earthly plane, I celebrate life. I choose to live in joy, gratitude, and love. I renew my commitment to allow my grief, sadness, and anger at the unfairness that my ego perceives in this situation to have a voice and to be heard.

But...I also renew my commitment to look for the lessons, to live from a place of heart-centered consciousness and love, to find gratitude in EVERY moment for the situation and all the participants in that situation whether I'm judging it as positive or negative. I choose to let go of the self-judgment and holding myself to a higher standard that I hold others. And I choose to love myself as much as I love others. Because, if we only live from a place of fear, we have never lived at all...

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