Tuesday, March 1, 2016
I'm feeling a bit worn out these days. February was a bit complicated, and all the gear shifting I did has left me feeling a bit numb, and unable to process it all.
I started the month in the peace and quiet of the Insight Meditation Society retreat center, focusing on my inner terrain in noble silence. I left the retreat feeling rejuvenated by the deep sense of calm and focus that I gained there. When I returned home I got the results of my PET scan, and found that while some of my tumors are still stable, the ones in my liver are very active, and there is a new one just outside of my spleen. This news was disturbing, but at this point in my cancer journey it caused a ripple, not a wave of emotion. More than anything it let me know that as hard as I am working at rebuilding my body, in order to stop it from making cancer, I have to try harder. Then my 84 year old father ended up in the hospital. He had pneumonia which turned into sepsis. He is home now, and seems to have made a full recovery - thankfully. But for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling like he needed me to take care of him.
So, here it is March first, and I'm trying to make sense of the past month. I'm not worried about my dad anymore, but his illness has altered our relationship. I feel like the experience has brought us closer together. Illness can do that. At least one that shoves your own (or a loved ones) mortality in your face.
I know that my own cancer has brought me closer to myself. It has shown me my strengths, and my weaknesses. It has put me in touch with my true feelings, and what I value most. It has not taken away the fear, or the anger, or the sadness that are all a part of life. I still deal with those. But it has taken some of the strength away from these emotions by giving me the courage to explore them more deeply, and to recognize when and if they are imprisoning my true self.
I also believe that my cancer has made it easier for me to understand my Dad at this point in our lives, since we are both quite possibly near death. For my Dad this is almost certain. As for myself, even though I feel I have the chance to live many more productive years, at 52 years of age, I know what it's like to live with death just a breath away.
I thought about death a lot during my meditation retreat. I thought about it in a straight forward manner, as just another experience in life. I thought about it in practical terms-burial arrangements, wills etc.. I thought about it with wonder. Would it be beautiful? peaceful? scary? All of this may sound morose, but all this thinking about death actually relieved me of any lingering fear I may have had of dying. It made me realize that when my time came, I could welcome this inevitable natural event. It also made me wonder if I could actually control the experience. If I didn't fear it, and it had no power over me, could I choose how I experience my own death? And could it be beautiful? I believe it could.
Thinking about death in this way has given me even more courage to face my cancer, and to take even more control in how I choose to live with cancer. When I found out the results of my PET scan, I knew I would have to go it alone from now on-no chemo, no oncologist. I would have to direct my own healing. I couldn't let myself be a cancer patient for the rest of my life. Whether I drove myself to a full recovery or my own funeral, it would be okay. I'd be driving myself to where I need to be.
It seems that instead of shifting gears as I called it at the beginning of this post, I have come full circle this month in accepting the inevitability of death- both my own and my fathers, whenever they may be.
May we both live and die without fear.