The Cancer Chronicles

Geneen's Cancer Chronicles are published twice a week -- Tuesdays and Fridays. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram to read the latest posts.

PART 7: And then there’s this: everyone has something they are challenged by. For those of us with cancer, it’s cancer. A friend has a brain tumor. Another friend has prostate cancer. Two other friends have breast cancer. Another has advanced Lyme disease. Then there is the friend with advanced Parkinson’s disease. Still another friend has a serious heart condition. All this and COVID, too. Many friends have lost their jobs, don’t know how they will support their families. I keep reminding myself that this is earth school. That I am here to remember who I am beyond my conditioning, our self-images, and the ways I believe I got the short end of the stick, that I am a victim in an unfair world.

For years I believed that if I had been born to a different family, had different parenting, felt welcomed and beloved and listened to by my family, I’d be able to trust easier, feel relaxed, not be convinced that I had to prove myself, earn my existence. And maybe some of that is true. Matt, for instance, felt adored by his mother. He wakes up in a good mood. He always believes that everything will be okay. Sometimes I resent him, but only the tiniest bit and always nicely. And yet, his first love died of ovarian cancer. We lost our money. His wife—that’s moi—had breast cancer.

The challenges don’t stop. So I remember, and sometimes it takes remembering many times a day, that the challenges aren’t supposed to stop, that’s not the deal here. That “this too, this too” is the deal and it’s my job, no matter what it is, to be with it. To allow it. To not try to fix, change, improve either it or myself but to keep questioning my beliefs about it. “It shouldn’t have happened.” “It’s going to be this way forever.” “If only I hadn’t eaten sugar for 28 years, I wouldn’t have gotten cancer.” I sure can drum up that kind of insanity. Why is it insane? Because it already happened and because either messing around in the past or projecting now onto the future is a ticket to a hell realm. Better that I look, see, feel, meet, welcome, understand, question, be curious—which always leads to a kind of peace, openness, sanity, ease.

PART 8: After the surgery, a friend said, “I bet you’re worried about recurrence now.” I hadn’t thought about it, but after she mentioned it, I noticed the fear creeping in. And when it did, it did what fear always does: tightens the belly, contracts the heart, makes it difficult to take any kind of action.

Over the weeks, particularly as COVID has been surging again here in California and three friends were afraid they had it, I kept noticing the corrosive effects of fear. Being a catastrophizer from way back, I can really get into the whirlwind of fear. Is that pain in my breast a sign that the cancer is recurring? Did my doctor just tell me that if it recurs, I’ll need a mastectomy? What if that person I just passed breathed too hard through her mask and the aerosols (which now, it seems can project sixteen feet) reached me through my mask as I walked by? Is the scratchy throat I woke up with a sign of the virus or just a scratchy throat because I’m tired—and is this the kind of tired that is the virus kind of tired?

Oh, the mind, the mind. It can drive this person mad. And so the only thing I know to do is to keep coming back, keep returning to my feet on the floor, or, if it’s the middle of the night, the inky silence, the softness of the sheets, the comfort of the dark. What is here now. Because when I come back to what is here now, there isn’t a problem. There is nothing to be afraid of. If the cancer recurs, it recurs, and I’ll deal with it. I will know what to do. I’ll act to the best of my ability. But in the meantime, I don’t want to miss one second of this life (or one sunset) by getting tangled up in fear which always warns me that the sky is falling, the sky is falling instead of asking me to look up and notice that the very same sky is putting on a pink and orange spectacle like the one outside my window as I write these words.

PART 9: Yesterday when I walked out the front door, the air was filled with smoke. I couldn’t see the trees, the hills, the grass. The day before, there was a fire around the bend. And so I reached for my N-95 mask, the kind I bought during the round of California wildfires, last year.

I used to (actually, still do, but I’m not wearing them) have quite a collection of boots. My favorite black motorcycle boots with the boot belt look at me, perky and upright, whenever I enter my closet for the next pair of clean sweat pants. Now, I have quite an array of masks: the ones I wear to the store, the ones I wear to the doctor, the ones I wear to be able to breathe when there is smoke in the air. The ones I wear when the person shows up to deal with the rats—oh my God—in the house, who are eating the peaches.

This is a time of the great unwinding, a time when everything I/we counted on is unraveling. And yesterday, when I talked to a doctor about the searing pain in my breast since the radiation, she said, “getting radiation was good, but getting radiation is like having an other worldly energy entering your body, and it will take time to process that—on all the levels: physical, emotional, energetic.” Smart doctor. I’ve been feeling that there is an alien energy coursing through my body, affecting my thoughts, feelings, moods, and it was helpful to have that normalized, spoken, named.

When I saw and smelled the smoke yesterday, I thought, “No, not this too,” but the truth is that it is “Yes, and this too.” All of it. The great unwinding. The loss of control. The feeling that an alien is inhabiting my body. The need to wear masks to go anywhere. The sense that this staggering time in me, in us, in the country keeps pressing and pressing for me, us, to show up. Move beyond the no, I can’t take this to: Yes. And this too.

The Cancer Chronicles are published twice weekly. To read more in the Cancer Chronicles, click here.

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