Delightful 53 Year Old
March 7th, 2021
I’ve been writing a lot. I wrote the below a few days ago. This week feels different to me. Harder and sadder with more anxiety than last week. I’ll share some of this week’s writing soon. Surgery is scheduled for Monday, March 15th.
I think you should know that my oncologist called me delightful in his report. “A 53-year-old delightful woman.” Maybe I’m not the worst patient ever? I know of this wording because my doctor sent me the report. I love my doctor. She views her job as an educator and advocate in all things health related. And she is good at it. I really appreciated reading the report. It provided more clarity and understanding for me. Why the hell don’t all doctors follow up with their written reports? Because we aren’t generally smart enough to read them? Would they cause too many questions? Too much stress? I’m curious about why systems are the way they are. Jeez, our healthcare system could use an upgrade or 1700 of them.
As I said recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about being a cancer patient. Or maybe just a person who has cancer. I really haven’t let myself be that person except for the few months I was in treatment. And, I’m guessing, for a while when moving through the trauma of chemo and radiation. (Cuz that shit is traumatizing.) Even that felt short-lived. Remember, we can’t trust my memory for anything so who really knows, but it feels like I haven’t identified as a cancer patient for a very long time. Many people have thought I’d get the Covid vaccine early because of my past cancer. That never once occurred to me. I am strong and healthy and don’t feel remotely compromised.
For the two years after Ted’s cancer, it was really hard for me to live outside of the trauma and fear caused by “our” cancer identity. I only got there because of the intensive coach training I went through (for years and years and years and years). I remember one time, I was working with a client who had a significant loss and I said to one of my mentors, “it’s like they crawled in the coffin too”, my mentor looked at me and said, “ and how have you done exactly that with Ted’s cancer?”. (Remember asking that, Kathy?) Whew! I’ll never forget that question. Or the realizations I instantaneously had. I had been walking around waiting for death to happen. I really was. Now Ted’s doctor gave me plenty of reason to believe things weren’t going to work out so well, so there was that, and of course, I had to prepare for that possible reality. But, to be clear, it’s also because I look for what’s not working or what’s about to not work. Where is the next bad thing? I can, and often do, point to it before most people. No, really, no thanks are necessary. You’re SO welcome! I know that’s SO helpful to hear all the freaking time. (You know how sometimes you have relationships that end unexpectantly and you have no idea why? (maybe that’s just me?) Then, after spending a couple more years with yourself you think, “ohhhh… now I get it”. This superpower of mine, seeing all the grief and problems in the world, that’s probably not so necessary for all y’all to hear all the freaking time. )
So, thanks to my divine mentor, I really took on the work to climb out of said grave I was living in. And I’ve worked hard to not let cancer define our lives. I didn’t want it to be our identity. I didn’t want to base my business on it. (And I could have.) So, I’ve been successful in changing my thinking and really living differently but maybe I have too much? Not to deny it, though that’d be nice. I’ve always talked about it and normalized it to some extent. Cancer is and has been part of our lives for a long time and for all of my kid’s lives. I talk about it more like a fact of what we live with. I didn’t want it to be taboo, or anything to be secretive about, or in denial about, or entitled by. I was sure to integrate it for reality’s sake, but never in a “this is who we are” way. I certainly don’t think this is the right way to approach living with cancer. It’s just the way I did it. But now I’m wondering if maybe it’d be better if I did identify as a body that gets cancer. Maybe I’d make healthier decisions, like eating an anti-inflammatory diet for the most part. Or spending extra money on organic food. Or getting enough sleep (I do) and limiting stress (MY GOD PEOPLE. DO something today to lower your stress. Quit that thing. Say “no”. Take a damn nap. Play a game. Laugh at something. I’m telling you. Whatever it is, it’s not worth it.) Or maybe I’d be more attentive to the actual care my body needs. And bodies do require a lot of attention. And discipline. And some serious adult/uncomfortable decisions. I know this is true for my body. Just like it’s true for your body.
I actually do a pretty good job of the above compared to most Americans. But the other day I attended a webinar by some very smart people who were talking to us about how to be healthy and live a long time. There wasn’t a lot of new information but Oh. My. Gosh. What a reminder it was.
Allow me to start by sharing the things in my life that do not cause cancer:
1. My cats. Except for the one that goes outside and lays in the dirt. Dirt is toxic.
2. Those chairs I want to replace? They don’t cause cancer because they are 21 years old, so their toxicity has probably off-gassed. Any new furniture I buy will give us cancer.
That’s it. And it took me a while to write that list.
I’m being dramatic but also not really.
After the webinar, I went downstairs and ate one pound of peanut m-n-m’s just to kick off the anti-inflammatory diet the right way.
Then, after feeling thoroughly sick and defeated, I thought, well I could start with one small change. There’s an idea. So I am. It’s a very small change but it already lead to bigger changes. And I’m remembering some things I ate before I started living off peanut m-n-ms and pbj’s. So that’s all good. And it’s not that hard.
I know I’ve mentioned the “benefits” of cancer. I suppose there are benefits to everything if you practice seeing them. I spent a lot of time and money and effort to shift my thinking in that direction so, yes, I see benefits. But I don’t mean benefits like “it’s worth it” benefits. (get your damn colonoscopy and put the m-n-ms down.) I mean benefits like, “well you are having this really horrible experience, what can it offer you?” kind of benefits. It’s not a long list but it can feel like a profound list. Here’s one that I’ve mentioned before: the fact that life is way, super-duper shorter than you think it is. Cuz it is. It’s really, terribly brief and that’s when it’s as long as it can get. When my mother was dying, she said, “it’s just such an adventure. I’d like to keep going.” I mean, who the hell says that at 91 years old while they are dying? I was not born with the same zest my mother had for life. I am more, “what the hell is the point of all this life” but I have tried to become more like my mother.
I think cancer can also force the choice of what is meaningful to us. A truly unique and different perspective. Do I stay in this career? Is such and such really fulfilling? How do I want to spend my time? Who do I want to spend time with? Do I buy or invest in a new something or other? (It will be cancer-causing.) You get the drift. It can bring a lot of life to the forefront. The idea that there’s a smaller chance of me being alive in five years than the average person could push me, if I allow it, to live a more fun, joyous filled life. Or one with more meaning. Or…maybe, if I allow it, cancer will remind me to step into connection instead of away from it. And I step away from connection a lot. This cancer is making that awareness very stark. I don’t know why I step away. I really, really don’t. I do like to be alone. Maybe it’s as simple as that? But that seems like a cop-out to me.
Last Saturday I began a 9-month long training course on White Supremacy in the physical body. I’ve been studying race, racism, and white supremacy intently for the past eight years. 30 years ago I began trying to uncover my internalized racism thanks to my brother who once said, when I was about 20, “I think to be a white middle-class American is to be racist”. Man, that confused me. We were raised to see everyone as equal and work towards equality for everyone. But I deeply trust my brother(s) and knew I had to figure out what that meant. There are a million and eight reasons why it took me forever to find the answers but none as pronounced or true as the fact that I didn’t have to. So… anyway, I’ve been studying it and I have found white supremacy deep inside me. It’s literally the foundation of nearly every single thing I’ve been taught, consciously or subconsciously, to believe. It’s in all my cells. And I’ve done one ton of work on those thoughts and beliefs that I didn’t know I had. I have cried and been so, so angry at white supremacy, the patriarchy, and capitalism. I have learned so very much. And I know that white supremacy is in my body. So, I started that work. And… I felt nothing. Not one thing. I’d like to think it’s because I’ve done so much work that I’m advanced, ahead of the average. But that’s highly doubtful and it’s more WS thinking. I think it’s simple, I’m one closed-off white person.
So… cancer… another opportunity to work on being in connection. To release the ills inside me. And to live a truly meaningful life. whatever the hell that means.
Love you each everyone.
Thank you for sticking with me through all this. That means you are already living a meaningful life.