It may sound trite, but it took a diagnosis of breast cancer to bring me back to my own inner wisdom, to startle my soul into asking what it means to live an authentic life.
At the time, I was forty-five years old, and completely unaware of how physically and emotionally weary I was from helping raise two of my husband’s children for the past ten years. I was beginning to feel dissatisfied with my low-paying job, and was hearing faint murmurings of inner parts of myself who wanted time to write, to create art, to do something special with my life.
With my breast surgeon’s help, I decided to have a lumpectomy (which turned out to be two surgeries instead of one), a lymph node dissection, four rounds of chemotherapy, and seven weeks of radiation treatments. After this decision, I inhabited a few days of anguish, fear, and unmitigated anger. But then I came to a place where I realized that I had a choice. I could choose to continue to live in this terror and resentment, or I could choose another way.
I chose another way.
I distinctly remember the moment when I chose. I was at work, watching the sunset through the window by my desk where I was mindlessly entering data into the computer. Thoughts had been scurrying around in my mind all afternoon. Thoughts that ranged from “I’m too young to die” to “My doctors say that breast cancer caught this early is very, very treatable,” and everything in between.
As the sun scalded the sky with deep pinks and golds, I chose something deeper than those tormenting thoughts which raced around and around with nowhere to go. “I’m not going to die from this,” I said quietly to myself, and to all those rushing thoughts. “Breast cancer is not going to kill me; it’s just going to be one more interesting thing about me.”
That is when my real inner journey began, when I chose to live, and to live on the bright side of the road.
Because of that decision, I chose to take the next five months off from work. I was blessed that my husband was working and able to support me, and that I was able to take that time to focus on my healing. I spent many days lying in bed napping or watching television, completely exhausted from the surgeries, then the chemo treatments, and later on from the radiation. But there were days when I was able to read, write, and create art to my heart’s content. There were days when I felt well enough to take a walk by the ocean, to have lunch with a friend, to sit on our front porch and enjoy the fresh air of spring.
During those months of healing, I began having monthly massages and biweekly manicures, something I’d always wanted to do but didn’t think I had time for. I began asking myself what I really wanted to do with my life. I dug out my old writing files and made friends again with the long-neglected writer inside of me. I sat at my art table and collaged greeting cards for family and friends. I sat on the sofa for hours on end with my sweet cat Sasha on my lap, her purring and love a direct source of comfort and peace.
Now it is six years later. I am no longer at that job (although it took me a few years to be able to leave). I am working for myself, teaching SoulCollage®, creating and nurturing a Web site, and giving myself time for the things that really matter: my writing, my art, my relationship with my Self, with Spirit, and with my husband and family.
I will forever be grateful for my cancer diagnosis because it stunned me into an inner space, which was broad and open and wild and free. I had not known until then how loved I was, how worthy I was of being loved. I had not known until then how worthy I was of asking myself the question, “What do I want and how can I give that to myself today?”