In February of 2015 I left my marriage of 30years. The next year, April 2016, the day after Mothers Day, at the age of 54, I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and told I had 2 to 3 years to live. Maybe 4 with chemo. Do I feel blessed? Absolutely! The cancer, and my marriage breakdown, have both catapulted me towards becoming a more authentic version of myself!
An unexpected diagnosis brings home the truth that we simply can’t know what lay ahead, so why do we spend so much time focusing our attention on a future in which we have no control? I am now simply at the next phase of my life here and now. The cancer has created so many blessings, and perhaps if I didn’t already have such strong spiritual conviction, I may have missed recognising these beautiful blessed gifts.
In searching for greater meaning after a cancer diagnosis, it’s natural to begin questioning everything about your life, and what lays beyond. What was the purpose of my life? Where am I going after I die? Is there a God? Why me? Given how healthy I was feeling prior to being diagnosed with cancer, I’ll admit being stumped by the prognosis. To be honest, I was a little angry at first, and drafted a lengthy letter to God asking her to ‘please explain”. That moment of self-pity lasted all of 20 minutes, then I was back to calm resolve. Why me? Well, frankly, why not me?
It’s now one year since that prognosis, and even after 6months of chemotherapy, I still feel as physically and emotionally healthy and happy with my life as I did prior to the diagnosis. I simply can’t feel attached to anything negative concerning the cancer. When first diagnosed, many thought I was in great denial. They questioned “Am I ‘fighting’ this?” The answer… Well… no…. and yes. Let me explain it this way……. There’s a quote I love by Mother Teresa –
“I prefer to walk for peace rather than march against war.”
Both are seeking the same end result, yet there’s a significant but subtle difference in the energy behind these two sentiments. And that’s how I feel about working through my cancer healing journey. To fight against my cancer simply sounds like a struggle. I’m in no doubt that it was my internal struggling during my marriage that lead to my cancer in the first place. Well, that and my extreme fear. Why would I want to struggle further? So, I’m walking peacefully and calmly towards doing what is necessary to heal, whatever that might be.
What I do know is, that in the 18 months after separating from my husband, I felt driven to fully trust in a higher power. Driven to let go of the illusion of control. I had been learning to be comfortable in a space of simply being by learning to love myself again. With certainty, I can say it’s partly what bought me to feeling at peace with my diagnosis, and ready for the work that would now be required to move through the healing process.
During chemotherapy, I was given the chance to do much emotional healing of the past with the help of my ex-husband. Healing on that level was incredibly cathartic. I’m no longer attached to the pain of the past, bringing me to this space of love and forgiveness. Nor am I attempting to control the future.
An Opportunity to Be a Truer Version of Me
If anything, the death sentence I’ve been given has highlighted how much of my life I have wasted on silly insecurities. How much time I wasted not living my dreams, and not sharing my gifts with the world because I feared what I had to offer wasn’t significant, or not being prepared to risk failure. I feared the judgements of others. There’s a determination now to be everything I am meant to be, and to hell with anyone who tries to stand in my way. Hang on a minute! …… The only person ever standing in my way was ME ! Cancer has been a blessing. An awakening which has opened me up to stepping into my true self.
Funny enough I thought many friends would ‘drop off’ once I had cancer, yet I have found that I have been the one who is more selective about who I surround myself with. I have willingly and lovingly let go of friendships which emulated the co-dependence of my marriage. Everything about my life now is taking on a feeling of being more real than it has been in the past. Previously I needed to be liked by everyone, and now there’s such a desire to only be surrounded by people who I love and with whom I feel a genuine connection, friends who resonate with the same vibration as myself. At the same time, I’m more respectful and non-judgemental about everyone I come into contact with. I’m honoring their journey as much as I’m honoring my own.
And while I was close to my family before, I now have been given the chance to form more meaningful relationships with them. How joyously rewarding that’s been, and it’s allowed my heart to open even further!
Throughout my life I have endeavoured to practice what I preach. Most assuredly, my peaceful approach to life and death now is a product of the spiritual work I have already done around death and dying. First through my Buddhist beliefs. Second through the workshops I facilitated on Coming to Terms With Death & Dying (and practicing what I teach in those workshops). And third, my spiritual beliefs regarding life after death, and the love that I know is waiting for me there on the other side. On some deeper level the soul yearns to return home to the source.
In relation to my Death & Dying workshops, I often wondered if I would truly feel at peace when my time came. Afterall, it’s easy to preach something when you have no real experience with it. Well, I can safely run my courses now knowing that I have credibility! See… there are blessings to be found in everything!
My Buddhist Perspective
Buddhists believe that its important for us to be at peace emotionally, spiritually, and physically, at the point of death. On that basis my Death & Dying workshops have centered around the practice of love, forgiveness, and gratitude as a preparation for the inevitability of our demise! Thus, I endeavour to live a life centered around love and forgiveness. On a daily basis I’m filled with a sense of gratitude! Mind you, I’m human, so I err sometimes, and it can get ugly. However, if it’s true that my time has come, well, quite honestly, I’m ready. I feel at peace in my heart, and grateful for all that life has sent my way.
Buddhists also say that we spend so much time trying to fight off death that we actually miss living in the present. The fact is, death is a part of life. It’s inevitable. When you fully acknowledge and accept the fact that death is a part of life, its amazing how completely content you feel. It becomes much easier to move into a state of presence.
I once attended a Spiritual Care for the Dying workshop at a Buddhist Hospice. We were told that no matter what your religious/spiritual belief, it’s important to believe in it fully. Truly fully. There’s a great deal of peace and comfort that comes at the end of life if you firmly believe that your “God” is waiting for you. Certainly, I had my own spiritual beliefs at the time of attending the course, however in such a setting I did for a moment question the strength of my faith. Not any more.
(If you’re hungry for a deeply powerful Buddhist perspective on dying and death, I highly recommend The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche. )
My Spiritual Perspective
I remember the movie Angels staring Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage. Meg, a surgeon, commented “You know, we fight to save lives, but sometimes I wonder who we’re fighting with“. Bingo. Spiritually speaking, I believe our time of death is already predetermined before we are born. No matter what you do, when its your time – it’s your time. That doesn’t mean you should be reckless with your life. While you might not have control over when you’re going to die, you do have control over the quality of life you experience while you’re here. Don’t waste it. Continue to eat healthy food, exercise, and live with love, gratitude and forgiveness. Every day.
Asking The Big Question… Why Am I Here Anyway?
The ultimate goal in all our lives is to be happy. To be our most authentic self. Learning to Love. Practicing forgiveness, saying sorry. Daily Gratitude. Serving humanity and the planet with the most genuine of intentions. That might seem like a big task. It actually starts with learning to love yourself and learning to experience joy, by doing what makes you happy. Doing that from a space of true loving intention, by default you naturally begin to radiate that love outwards to all those that cross your path. You quite naturally have a drive to serve humanity. It’s really not that complicated. However, it is by no means an easy task!
You can rest assured that no matter what the future holds, I’m moving forward. Always forward. Between you and me, I’m not planning on saying my goodbyes just yet – I don’t care to be considered a statistic!
I now feel as though my future of inspiring and assisting women on a deeper level is about to take shape and I’m finally on the way to fulfilling my souls purpose. What a wonderfully loving and empowering journey this is!
A Final Word on Support Networks During Cancer and Chemotherapy
An important factor in the journey through cancer and chemo is your support network. In fact, this is applicable in any situation. The most amazing support group made up of family, friends, neighbours, and community surrounds me at all times. Being a fairly solitary and private person, the attention being focused on me after my diagnosis was overwhelming at times to be honest. Having always been so self-sufficient, it’s been an interesting exercise in surrendering control and allowing others to care for me. It’s humbling let me tell you! Another blessing….
People from all manner of spiritual/religious faiths send me love, healing, and prayers on a daily basis. The intention behind all of it is LOVE. A most powerful healing energy if ever there was one.
Sadly, not everyone has a support team around them. If that’s you, I would suggest you avail yourself of local cancer networks, or start a group of your own in your local area. There’s no reason to take this journey on your own. Reach out. In fact, you can reach out to me. I’m here for you.
Much love on your journey… whatever and wherever that might be.