The good, the bad, and the ugly

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“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.

Facebook Envy, Part 2

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When the going gets tough, the tough needs something to make things a little less… Well, tough. I recently found myself scrolling through an old friend’s (really an acquaintance) Facebook page, and I quickly realized that I was breaking my cardinal rule: Don’t scroll through old friends Facebook pages. Or anybody’s, really. I came up with this rule after I started fertility treatments and all I ever was looking at were pictures of babies that seemed to be easily conceived; really, no good can come of it. Let’s face it, (and you may remember my feelings on Facebook from my long-ago post entitled “Facebook Envy”) people only post the good, and very often the good is an exaggeration or a persona that they want other people to believe exists (or it’s not, and somebody else has something that you want. What’s that commandment? Do not covet thy neighbor? Oops). Nobody posts “I had a miscarriage” or “I have cancer” on their walls. Mostly its pictures of their adorable kids (never their kids having temper tantrums or refusing to go to bed or vomiting all over their new shoes), or their adorable husbands (and not their adorable husbands pile of dirty socks in the corner of the bedroom!), or their new “business” that they can do from home in between their pilates classes (i.e. they needed a “hobby”). So I make it a habit not to really look at the news feed or other people’s pages, except for the occasional good friend or relative. But I was sitting at my desk eating lunch and got curious about somebody and boom! All of a sudden I was in a pit of despair, feeling bad about myself because how do they get their hair so damn shiny? And why is their kid so damn cute? And how come they don’t have to work for a living, and it’s always sunny where they live? (The list could go on and on). I knew at that moment that what I should do was turn my attention to gratitude: The wonderful things in life that I do have (hey, I have an adorable husband too!), but the truth was, it was hard to pull myself out of that looking-at-Facebook-equals-torturing-myself-moment. We’ve all been there, yes?

I feel as though I need an anchor; something that I know will keep me grounded in times of anxiety or self-doubt. Usually that anchor is Kris Carr, and I’ll go to her Facebook page or her Blog for a dose of what I like to call “Cancer Care.” It may seem crazy, but she’s my anchor (or at least one of them). Sure, there are lots of people out there who have cancer, and who have written books and who are in the public eye, but she is young and married, and also has an incurable cancer. She “gets it.” She’s defied the odds. She’s created a happy life for herself, even with cancer. But on this particular day, after I was done perusing her daily dose of wisdom, it’s as if all of my common sense went right out of the window, and there I was on Facebook.

I’m sure that even people without cancer and those with adorable kids still sometimes feel a little bit of envy or self-doubt when they too log onto the website. I’ve never been a completely envy-free person, but these things have also probably never bothered me quite as much as they do now. I see people who have things that I always thought I would have, and now I’m just not sure. And having to work for health insurance while what you really want to be doing is having leisurely time to write, nap, take a yoga class at a decent hour (not having to either wake up at 6am or go after an exhausting day of work), and then have the energy to make Kris Carr’s healing recipes can sometimes just add to the list of wishing for things that I don’t have. (So logging onto Facebook and seeing somebody who doesn’t have to work and who is doing these things all in good health is just sometimes too much to handle). And yes I envy during the day yoga classes, shiny hair, and seeing little ones go off to kindergarten, but what I mostly envy are those who do not have to live with cancer.

And then I find myself feeling envious of those who never seem to have had a jealous day in their life (either they’re really secure, or they’re one of those shiny-haired people who have nothing to be jealous of! Or is that the same thing?). I know I am human, but it’s not an easy thing to admit. And yet, I don’t want to take up my precious time thinking about what others seem to have! (I find comfort in remembering just how many articles and meditations there are out there about this kind of thing, so clearly I can’t be the only one who feels this way. And aside from the cancer, do others wish that they had some of the things that I have? I wonder). So I try to put the focus back on myself, and my life. I continue to meditate on gratitude, and good health. Because it’s up to me to change the thoughts that make me feel less than stellar about myself, and it is worth the practice, this I know. And when my heart reflects on gratitude for all the glorious things that I do have, and doesn’t sit entrenched on what I may not have, things begin to feel brighter. The days when I can accept myself (and my life) for who I am and where I am are days that I value. Does Kris Carr ever feel this way too? Just another question to put aside for some day when she and I sit down for a long cup of coffee and (hopefully) some answers.