Part Two of my longer blog continues. There is a new age fallacy that is not supported by any traditional or ancient wisdom that somehow we can create all disease through our “bad thinking”. I just watched Kris Carr’s excellent Crazy Sexy Cancer and she talks a lot about this. Trying to go back through every possible bad “juju” you may have committed is literally crazy making. And standing beside you are all the people who done worse who are perfectly healthy. I have a disease more commonly seen in kids. Did the 2,4,6-year old attract their leukemia? Do people attract Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s Disease? No. The truth is that sickness is part of life. Some you attract, for sure, with bad habits: too much terrible food, too much drink, not enough exercise, stress and guilt can cause illness. But I think there is an injury to life-giving quality of compassion for yourself and others that comes from too much of this judgment and self analysis of all the mis-steps you might have taken. Some things just happen. Injury—and sickness—can come out of the blue. And despite how much Americans, especially, would love to outrun the possibility of sickness or injury or death, it still happens.
I am not going to go over my life to see how I created leukemia (which has no known medical causes other than intense radiation). My life is a song of gratitude. I have grieved for the world deeply and I will not turn away from that. But I have also received so many innumerable blessings and been bathed in so much beauty and grace that this has healed every wound.
When I walk the hospital halls, I see so much activity supporting some very sick people. And the more I can see it, really see it, the less lonely I feel in my own journey. I am part of existence there, the part we don’t see very often, the nitty gritty reality, strength, pain and beauty of people who fight for life. I am using the meditations and dharma talks of Tara Brach to help me stay mindful and in my heart. One of the things she reminds us is that fear shrinks our world. Wrapped in panic, you end up walking through the world as a small tight self, sure that your own little drama is separate from everyone else’s. You can’t order the terror to go away. But you can enlarge your sense of self and connection. And so, using her meditations, I breathe into the fear and the unknown, recognizing it, accepting it. Then I breathe out into the Ocean of Presence, into the spacious heart of the Creator and the mystery and miracle of Love.
In closing, I found this piece of writing in a little booklet called Voices of Hope and Healing: essays written by transplant survivors. This piece of writing spoke to me so I am just going to quote it. I think she fearlessly says what this time of life really feels like beyond all the drugs and hospital and doctor visits.
“I clung to life and became friends with death as I reframed my life as to be fully prepared to live and fully prepared to die.” This woman loved sewing; it was her lifelong passion. During the long waits of her treatment, she made a series of narrative quilts. Again, to quote her: “In my own hand I had stitched the story of how life changes in an instant, that this is a journey with a perfect ending whichever it goes, and that in the end ‘all will be well’ . . . I think that when faced with the real possibility of death and fighting fiercely for life, everything came into sharp focus and took me to places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise . . . Now, eight years post- transplant, I have the luxury of survivo rship and value time, telling myself, “Look! Listen! Pay attention! There is beauty all around, and you may never pass this way again.”
If I have a story to tell in eight years, I would like it to be like hers. I pray for a good donor, my brother to match, or an unrelated stranger or a cord blood from a newborn baby. Some of you have been wiling to donate stem cells right away, and I cannot thank you enough. We have to find out if this is something that can even work in the complicated world of blood typing and genetics. More on this week.
Your poems, wisdom, notes, love and support are carried deep in my heart. I read them everyday, and they sustain me deeply. Even when I don’t answer—I am sorry to be so slow. Just that busy cancer life . . . chemo brain and overwhelm. But right now, I am saying thank you to each and every one of you who have touched my world.