This past week is the one in which I choose to celebrate my two-year anniversary of being cancer free. It is a somewhat random designation – since I didn’t know that I HAD cancer, how can I tell that I don’t? But “they” tell me I am cancer free now, and two years ago was when they surgically removed what they found – quite by accident – along with my right breast.
In the past two years many things have changed, and many have not. I am an infinitely better and stronger person on this end of the timeline than I ever was and I have a deeper connection to Spirit and my loved ones than I had before. My issues with WHO I AM are much more rooted and I am settled in a place of deeper connection and fearlessness than I had ever been before. But I struggle still with body image issues, with trying so hard to be grateful for this life and with the constant seemingly endless opposition of meaningful work vs. paying the bills.
There are still deep valleys of sadness that find me crying myself to sleep or worse yet waking with a wet pillow as I cry in my dreams. There are days of such anger that I cannot stand the sight of my naked body in the mirror and don’t go into the bathroom with the lights on. Too often I push myself harder than I can take out of frustration at my new limitations and I dish out the punishment of doing more than I would have before.
Recently I gave a speech and a fellow survivor came to me asking, “Is the second year of survival easier than the first?” I felt as if I had been punched as she innocently asked a questioned that opened the door to many issues I had been exploring and I had to take a moment to answer. “It is, but I find many things harder – I am less kind to myself than I was” I said. “I thought I had given up on ‘should’ but it has come back in full force, and there is really no excuse for that.” I have forgotten how to put myself first, which is something I did from the first day that I was diagnosed.
I don’t know how to reconcile what I know to be true with how I have to live in this world now. I am working hard at merging the two but there are too many ways that are in direct opposition. I work for a company that I have challenged for their lack of integrity and on my break get a phone call for a volunteer request for support for a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient. I come home brain-dead from problem solving trivial materialistic issues all day and feel compelled to write about deep spiritual questions. I go to yoga in the morning and walk into chaos after my classes. Walking with a foot in both the spiritual and physical worlds in a skill that I always been working on, but since Cancer, I have less patience for the world that I have deemed less worthy. I am compelled to make more of my life than the path that may be immediately apparent.
I have always walked the path of Raven, the Native American shape-shifter who personified change and connecting both the practical and the spiritual. Raven remains a complicated mythological creature that is frequently seen in the negative light of the being the harbinger of change. And certainly the path of a cancer patient and survivor would match that of a creature known for bringing endless chaos into the world. The path of Raven is that of making the most of the situation in front of you, of never forgetting lessons learned and of collecting and saving the shiny little bits of happiness you have found. It is also about being the instigator of deep change, of making one’s way through chaos to shed new light and of being the warning that the world is about to shift positions – so prepare yourself!
I have a raven tattooed on my leg as a reminder of the beauty and the pain of such deep change – and of the necessity of not forgetting. These days, as I walk the path of Year 2 Cancer Survivor I do not forget the changes, but am less likely to see the way that what IS shape shifts and is never exactly as it seems. I claim family ties to Raven Clan, but I ask that the lessons I must learn come in a gentle way instead of the earth-shaking tumultuous changes that I have seen in the past. I try to hold onto the learning of treasuring the shiny bits, of not resisting the shifts in perception, and I do try to listen and remember with all my heart to the messages that come my way.
I hear that I am supposed to do something MORE than what I do, and I ask for a clear path – and clear information about what it is that the Universe wants from me. I ask for the clarity of vision and the lack of forgetfulness so that I will SEE and REMEMBER so that I can be effective. And I ask for gentleness – of lessons learned, of paths walked and of my treatment of myself.
I believe that each one of us is a part of a story much larger than the one we acknowledge and I believe that we all can ask for the courage to choose to see it and to possess the ability to act on what we are shown. I know that the road is rough and strewn with many rocks, and sharing our vision with each other helps make each step softer and more beautiful. Thank you to all that have walked the path with me and continue to hold me to the dream. Here’s to many more Anniversary’s!