Life after cancer requires a whole new education. I have to find my own teachers and write my own curriculum. The mind is incredibly important in the healing process. And cancer, like any life altering illness, is a wake-up call. I have struggled with how to frame the consequences of a disease that melts away the former self confident map, replacing it with a trackless expanse of unknown length and size. You can’t do things the way you always did. You don’t even want to. But to have no compass and no map is too strong a challenge for someone who has been through cancer and its unrelenting therapy. At least for me. Cancer ripped away my old structure. I got this idea about homeschooling from a radio story. I found myself smiling, picturing this way of learning. And that, I thought, is exactly what I am doing!
My first class is my foundation: Nature
Persephone, eager and dressed in her yellow and pink robes, is racing across the damp soil into the ever- lengthening days. The drought-fueled urgency that caused us to imagine uncontrolled fires and emergency water measures was followed by the wettest winter on record. El Nino was forecasted to create a dry winter in Northwest. This will be a more common error, they say, as the old cycles no longer function in a dependable manner. No wonder it seems hard to plot a path through the tumble of days. The Earth itself is perplexed and showing signs of angst. Once again, I get the clear message that life never goes in a straight direction.
Second class: Journaling
I came back from Mexico bug bitten, sleep starved, hungry for fresh vegetables, and so completely satisfied. My feet were strong from daily beach walks. Yoga practice steadied every day. The first few days of our return were hard, a tumbling through interstellar space that is every traveler’s payment for leaving home. As it turns out, being home is every bit as challenging as travel. By the tail end of March, the lamb gentled the lion, I finally settled, and we entered into the astounding beauty of April.
I want to keep writing this blog. I wasn’t sure at first. Now that I am significantly symptom free, the high drama of the early intense and sketchy days feel like the memory of drought. During that time writing to you all out there was my lifeline. Now I am here, cancer-free, for how long I don’t know but then — no one does, do we? I feel like the Earth, stepping uncertainly into the new age of climate change, not sure what exactly to rely on.
Third Class: Reflection
I was cured, through some alchemy of modern medicine and generous family, wonderful friends and community. I find myself frequently musing on the other subtle factors: the spirituality, genetics, angels, stubbornness, escapism, and imagination. And remembrance: I was cured by memories of walking on these very islands, through magnificent old growth trees that fed my soul when I didn’t know what was coming, and by beaches and mountains that sang me to sleep at night, even in the city, when all I could hear was the freeway.
Anecdotally, I hear that people who come back from cancer and stem transplants are never quite “the same”. I have come to believe that we all change into different people incrementally, day by day. What I know for sure is that I am exploring the challenge of leading a cancer free life. When I was sick, two friends fought for their lives and lost. Their valiant husbands chronicled their every day…until, unexpected and yet anticipated, the narrative simply stopped. So, changed? You bet. I am changed.
Fourth Class: Health and Science
Keeping health together takes time. Two hours day, at a minimum. Time to thumb through the new ways of cooking. Time to do it. Learning what the word “Apoptosis” means. You know that cancer is uncontrolled cell growth. But learning that apoptosis or programmed cell death is a way to fight cancer is a whole new level of knowing that. Suddenly you look at your diet and you might just be slightly horrified. Learning to implement these foods consciously everyday maybe goes under “Home Economics” in my homeschooling day.
This link to William Li’s Ted talk will get you started.
Here is Dr. Li’s list of foods to starve cancer
Now, I am trying to incorporate at least one of these foods in every meal. Here are two great books to start to base your life on.
It’s kind of exciting. A whole new journey.
Fifth Class: Recess
What an important class! And remember when it was your favorite point of the day? I am encouraging the childhood pleasures of wandering and playing. I want to be amazed by beauty and pouring gratitude back to the Earth that sustains me. You never know when the narrative will stop.
Read this article.
It says that most people stay sedentary after treatment! I know this from watching others and from fighting it. Fatigue still lingers around the edges. Worse, the manner of being a couch potato makes its sneaky way into your muscle memory. And where to start? Recess was play but now we know we need aerobics, flexibility, balance and strength training! No wonder I am stumped when people ask me what I am doing now. Staying healthy could be my new career.
This article tells us the research shows that “the sweet spot for exercise benefits, however, came among those who tripled the recommended level of exercise, working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised. Like medicine, exercise is known to reduce risks for many diseases and premature death.”
They found that, unsurprisingly, the people who did not exercise at all were at the highest risk of early death. And we didn’t fight for our lives to die because we found being stationary too comfortable.
Sixth Class: Spirituality
I am going to church again. It is a very fine Presbyterian church, with beautiful music. When I was a kid, I asked my dad to drop me off at a church much like it (neither parent did it themselves). I have always loved going, even when I learned too much for it to be easy. When I told my friend Nancy, as Episcopalian minister ,about it, she commented “that’s a lot of God hunger”. It is. As a liberal, I often feel I have no place to stand in church. But I go anyway, and I find God in the silence and the prayers, and in the beauty of the music and also in the stories. I am fighting for the spirituality I long for to feel its way through the religious frameworks. I feel the enormous comfort of knowing that Jesus once walked the earth and I can’t quite put a whole picture on it yet. Maybe I never will. But neither will I deny it.
I have a grandchild coming into the world. That also changing me. At 65, I am trying to rise to the challenge of living a cancer-free life for as long as luck the fates and God have planned for me. I lean into the Earth’s own life, knowing that we are one. If I was saved, I say to myself, I must have purpose now.
I am here, in the place I was trying to get to, when I was so sick. Like a soldier who feels the tremendous loss and sadness of fallen comrades, I know I owe it to those that did depart to enjoy a beautiful spring day in the middle of the Salish Sea, 2016. For them, and for all who surrounded me with love, today and everyday, my first purpose is gratitude.
Seventh Class: Field Trip!