The Anchor


In the quiet kitchen, I write while my two most worthy and stalwart caregivers, Steve and daughter Elena nap. Their brief rest is so richly deserved, I hardly want to make a sound to disturb them.

Sleep for me comes and goes throughout the day, moments of fatigue when I can hardly hold my head up are coupled with long nights of tight muscles and restlessness.

Last night, during those time-stretched hours, I finally started to wake up emotionally. I started being aware that I had something like PTSD or acute stress disorder a few days ago. It is something you can “get” in many ways… basically anything that threatens your well being in a major way will do it. And that includes a diagnosis of a life threatening illness. When I finally looked up the symptoms of either, I fit as many of them as I did leukemia. The feeling of being “flat”, and outside of the normal reality is a major marker. I noticed that my eyes wouldn’t hang on to the outside world. My focus narrowed. I cried regularly when reading notes but the rest of the time, I just felt numb. Basically, I just wanted to curl up in a ball.


Slowly, so slowly, my own awareness swam through unnavigated seas to some shore with the rope in her teeth, found an anchor and stopped the endless drifting.  I never would have guessed that the anchor was grief. But when I felt it, I knew its strength and the numbness flowed out through the tears. It birthed the first healing that must take place before the body can be cured: first the soul must allow the deepest levels of anguish that it has been holding.

Since my boat ran into this rock, I have just been bailing and not looking up to see what the extent of the damage or how far from shore I was. And last night, I realized, I just don’t know the answers, and actually, no one does, and so bailing is all I (we) can do. Today was the day we had planned to be in Peru, on our way to Machu Picchu. Less than a month ago, I was packing, planning our travels in Ecuador, finding the very best shoes for the Inca Trail. There was a vague fatigue at the edges, but I had not yet begun to relinquish the trip. Now that seems like some fantasy, along with a freewheeling energy that loved to roam over hill and dale.

Grief will help me keep from having some kind of hardened PTSD. I welcome it. My life has changed, so have the lives of my husband and daughters, even the life of our big black dog, who just a month ago was our constant companion. Our lives changed. Dramatically. Abruptly. Powerfully. I think it is okay, even necessary, to mourn that change for all of us. In every way, it brings me closer to the suffering of the world, and to the ways that this happens to people and animals all the time, everywhere. I feel a huge compassion opening deep inside the edges of my own story.

Okay. Enough. I just learned today that I will be admitted back into the hospital on Saturday for 8 more days of intense chemo, Round B. Now that I have allowed grief to enter my numbness, I feel a chance at least of holding some sacred space inside myself; not armed, not intellectual and or necessarily optimistic, but simply open hearted and mindful.

12 comments on “The Anchor

  1. Dear Shann, I ache for you and your family and yet I cannot get over your incredible insight and beautiful writing. I think about you so often….I am stunned by what you are going through and in complete awe of your self knowledge. Many, many hugs to all of you……..Love, Cathy

  2. Bless your heart, Shann. Thank you for sharing and being so transparent with those of us who love you. I am rooting for you!! What an ordeal. I love the photos today – my first skunk cabbage! A sure sign of the start of Spring on Wednesday. Love to all of you.

  3. …not armed, not intellectual…but simply open hearted and mindful. To me there it is. Of all the years of searching for what I needed to do, it came down to how close I could come to those last words. Release and be. I feel you will pull through, and a benefit of having drilled down to the core of where it’s at. maybe a slight variation to the last word, become unmindful. It’s the Zen archer in a lightless room…

  4. Shann — I have on occasion, through the years since my illness and stem cell transplant and with only a very few closest loved ones, talked about the grief I experienced related to my experience. Mine didn’t emerge for several years and when it did I was confused. Still, I wanted to express it but felt like no one would understand. Now you share your grief so beautifully, so eloquently, and I know that someone does understand. Thank you.

    Thinking of you every day and will be especially so on Saturday.



    • For both Shannon and Erin, thank you. The description of your awakening to grief, and of Erin’s, to the sense of loss, past and future is so simple but elusive when we need it most?! Who knows or cares why but, you got there….. for you and for us all. I have a memory of trying to do that once but didn’t have time. Thank goodness you do. Much love to you all.

  5. By “bailing,” you are being true to your deepest feelings, Shann, tapping into your core, and doing exactly what you need to do to hold onto the hope that you will one day live life in a meaningful, zestful way. As Larry LeShan puts it in “Cancer as a Turning Point,” you are “singing your own song in life and relating, being, creating in the way most meaningful for you.” This helps you boost the disease-fighting mechanism in your immune system.

    One day at a time. Sending positive thoughts to you for personal inner strength.

  6. WOW! What a JOURNEY !! And how aware of you to find that grief amongst the
    rubble and start with the acceptance and open heartedness necessary to heal. We
    wish you the best of everything around you especially in the nature you surround
    yourself with. I’m so glad Mariya is back in Tahoe to be renewed and loved on by
    Scarlet and other faithful friends. That is so very necessary too. I sent them a gift today from our recent trip to Mexico.
    Luv from Idaho, Julie

  7. I just heard of this today, Shann. You have such a wonderful support holding you up during this time. I’m so sorry that you aren’t going to Peru, but you will sometime and it will wait for you. I love that you have such a wonderful soul! Please accept our love and best thoughts. Sue and Ken

  8. Dear Shannon, I just now heard about this journey you are on. I want to send you a huge big loving hug from Ken and me and the boys. You have a powerful soul and a beautiful spirit and wonderful family that will all help you through this. Grand Canyon and Machu Pichu will be there waiting for you to send your echoes of joy when you are ready for them. Love love Sue and Ken

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