It’s so tempting when there is a diagnosis to look for a cause. And of course, being someone who is — how can I say this kindly — into believing that I can control things (events, illnesses, relationships, anything, everything), I did look for a cause. Here’s what I came up with: I worked too much. I didn’t work hard enough. I drove myself too hard. I didn’t drive myself hard enough. I traveled too much. Or not enough. I had an abusive childhood. I ate a diet of sugar for 28 years: Twinkies, Yodels, Ring Dings, donuts, Oreos, coffee ice cream. Oh yeah, and I shopped too much. Bought too many sweaters, boots, earrings. As I was mentally making up the list, I knew that it was fruitless. That for every situation, there are countless causes. That perhaps, as the doctor suggested, this cancer started developing 30 years ago, who knows?
One of the biggest benefits of believing I could have controlled the outcome is that I don’t have to feel the helplessness or the sheer impact of whatever the situation is. I get to believe that “If I had done ________, then I wouldn’t be feeling ___________.” Which is an incredibly seductive lie, as my years of believing that have revealed. It keeps me in judgment, shame, blame. So in my round up of “things I believed were cancer-causing,” I started asking myself instead what the invitation was now. What could this diagnosis offer me. Open for me. Because why not ask that question, since it was already here and I couldn’t magically disappear it? And what immediately came up was “Kindness.” Despite working with compulsive eating for decades and emphasizing kindness, there was and still is a lack of it in how I turn to myself. It’s gotten so much better over the years, but still. Still. The patterns of treating myself with shame and judgment are so inscribed in this nervous system. And the willingness to fall into the pattern of having blown it is strong. So when I asked myself what the cancer was offering me, the answer came back: look at the way you treat yourself. Then I added the word “sweetheart” so that the question itself didn’t trigger more blame.
To read more in the Cancer Chronicles, click here.