Hello, beloved friends and followers,
I have been remiss in writing of late. Writing for me means looking deeply, and I just haven’t wanted to look at much of anything head-on. Doing so means becoming more intimate with this thing called cancer when I’d rather see it to the door in no uncertain terms. But alas, it seems we must coexist for a while, if not in my body then at least in my mind.
There is no way to know if the medicinal steps I’ve taken have actually crushed the disease; only time will tell me that. For now, I live every day with the threat that the cancer will reappear, perhaps stronger and more menacing, or in some other part of my body. This fear is exacerbated by the results of my Oncotype DX test, which showed a high risk of distant recurrence, and a more recent blood test that shows “activity” related to either cancer or a virus. (I will learn more about the blood test tomorrow when I meet with my holistic doctor.)
What a contrast to a year ago when this journey began. Then, I was convinced I could triumph over the disease with healthy habits and determination. Now I am humbled by a tiny tumor, one-third of an inch in size, and hold deep respect for the damage it can cause. I can only remain vigilant and hopeful that any new developments are checked by my treatments and wholesome habits, but there are no guarantees.
I recently read a study stating that even before a tumor has the opportunity to form, one or a few cancerous cells can move undetected into the bloodstream or lymph system, take up lodging somewhere and multiply, wreaking havoc two or five or 10 years down the road. Medicine does its best to eradicate all traces of cancer from the body, but even the toxic onslaught of radiation (which I just completed) and chemotherapy (which is not currently in my treatment plan) can offer no assurance of success.
One of my doctors remarked with amazement about the strong drive to survive. On the part of cancer or the body? I asked. Both, he said. The immune system is a mighty foe against anything that would do the body harm, and does a miraculous job of fighting both internal and external threats to the body’s health. But cancer wants to survive, too, and has devious ways of hiding from the immune system so that it can spread undeterred.
Every living thing on this earth wants to survive.
I want to survive, too. Or, perhaps more realistically I should I say that I want to live a long life. I want the privilege of becoming a senior, of growing wise and wizened, and welcoming my time to depart this earth because of advanced age, not because some disease has taken me down before my time.
Cancer is forcing me to confront the reality of my own impermanence. I met this same reality a year and a half ago when my father died. It is not comfortable, but nor is it terrible. In Buddhist thought, impermanence is considered to be a core characteristic of existence. We don’t need to look far to realize that everything without exception rises and passes away. Invariably, we too will die. This is a truth to be contemplated—and a potential source of liberation.
It’s funny, because I remember telling my Buddhist meditation group a few years ago that our study of impermanence wasn’t registering with me in a personal way. Some deeply embedded mechanism of denial was probably preventing me from accepting the horror of my someday demise at that time. Now I can no longer avoid that truth, and by letting it into my heart and mind—even in the small doses I’m able to manage—life becomes eminently more precious and meaningful. We don’t take anything for granted. Every moment becomes a gift.
This is my opportunity now—the flip side of the fear and uncertainty that is endemic for all women with breast cancer. “There’s gold in them thar hills,” the leader of a seminar I once attended said, if only we have the fortitude to mine the depths of our experience. I’ve made a lifelong practice of doing exactly that; now is not the time to quit. Now is the time to up the ante.
So I’m back. I’m writing here again, and I’ve resumed daily meditation after a one-month hiatus. I know that for me, there’s no way around this terrible disease but through. Who knows, maybe I’ll come out on the other side unscathed and wiser. May it be so.
To be continued. 🙂