“Above all, cancer is a spiritual practice that teaches me about faith and resilience.” ~ Kris Carr.
It’s mystifying to me how some can say that they live a happier life with cancer. Kris Carr says that cancer is her teacher. Being happy with cancer seems like some kind of a magical, mysterious quest. Sometimes in the stillness of my meditations I wonder if I can connect with how my life could feel happier now that I know that I have cancer. Yet even as I write the sentence, it seems somehow absurd to think that I could have a more joyful life living with a disease. What I do know is that I am re-evaluating my life every day, and striving towards the happiest, healthiest version of myself doesn’t sound so bad, cancer or no cancer.
I’ve always been a pretty grateful, open person. Undoubtedly there have been times when I have overlooked just how lucky I am, or focused solely on the negativity of a bad day, or perhaps even walked around with some anger in my heart at something or someone. But for the most part, especially after being diagnosed with ocular melanoma back in 2005, I did my best to remember that the joy, love, and good health in my life was something to be thankful for, and treasured.
Now, though there are certainly still on occasion a day here or there when I forget about gratitude, feel hurt with somebody, or get upset at a work situation or a traffic jam (I am human after all!), I more than ever see the world in the “little things” that are really huge nuggets of joy that I hope are only guiding me to lead a happier and healthier life. You hear the words “in-the-moment” so often that you probably start humming the theme song to Friends in your mind when somebody starts preaching to you about how living that way can increase happiness. But I am here to tell you that there is some truth to it: The more I put my energy and focus toward enjoying whatever it is that I’m doing (or enjoying the company of whoever I’m with at the time), the more the anxiety decreases, the gratitude swells, and the laughter abounds. When you’re in the moment, you have very little time to worry about the future. So while I’m constantly practicing how to be more in the moment (sometimes it’s so hard! I may be having a great time with Sean or a friend and then all of a sudden my mind will wander and I’ll think, “Holy shit! I have cancer!”), I am also aware that perhaps Kris Carr has a point: While I would never in a million years ask for this to be my teacher, cancer has taught me that every moment that feels good is a moment to relish, not just pass by while waiting for the next one. In this way, we can really connect to others or experiences instead of being on to the “next best thing.”
The difference now between life B.C. (Before Cancer) and W.C. (With Cancer)? It motivates me to go after what I want now, instead of waiting for more money or more time (common reasons I think why people put off things that they’d love to do). For me, there is no time like the present to go on that trip, play hooky from work to go mini-golfing with my husband (plans for this spring, shhh, don’t tell my boss!), or finish that piece that I’ve been wanting to have published. Never before in my life have I made happiness such a priority (why not?!), and that includes figuring out how to tap into the internal happiness, and not just rely on external pleasures for fulfillment (When I go on vacation, when I buy a car, when I get that promotion, fill in the blank, “then I’ll be happy.” Sound familiar? We all do it). And when I meditate and focus on the wisdom within, I feel connected to something much greater than me, something deeper with a driving force that even I don’t quite understand yet, although it’s inside of me. Of this I feel sure.
And though I’ve always been a very emotional person (heck, I’m a social worker!), with the diagnosis of cancer, it seems that these emotions are much more on the surface than they ever have been. Sometimes when I meditate I cry. For the first time in my life, I think I am unearthing some pieces of myself that I’ve never really known existed. I dust them off, inspect them, touch them, and try not to judge; instead I practice curiosity about the new stuff. And so I find inspiration and almost comfort in the fact that I am getting to know myself better and better each and every day. Though there are still some days when I don’t want to sit quietly because I know that the fear will envelop me and I just can’t seem to let myself go there, I also know that I need to release those feelings (the good, the bad, and the ugly), in order to keep myself healthy. I know that I’ll have to continue to get in touch with the pain, anger, and fear, in order to continue my journey towards as authentic a life as possible. The thing about meditation, I find, is that I sometimes come very near to terror through the stillness. In something that I feel I gain so much from, I also struggle with how close it can take me to the edge of the cliff as well. Mostly though, it is when I meditate that I feel Deepak Chopra’s powerful words resonate through me: “While you can believe the diagnosis, you need not believe the prognosis.” Amen Deepak. Amen.