There’s Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

We’re all just walking each other home.
— Ram Dass

Some of you are aware, and many are not, that in April of 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In June, I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, followed four weeks later by a fabulous 3-week trip to visit my daughter in New Zealand.

In late August, I started the first of 33 radiation treatments. I am grateful that with my Stage Two cancer I did not have to go through chemo.

Since then, I’ve been working with my oncologist to try to find a medication that doesn’t come with unpleasant side effects (so far unsuccessfully), as well as working with a naturopath to try to boost my immune system. Statistically, without medication I have about a 20% chance of recurrence. Which means I have an 80% chance of having beat this thing! (I'll take those odds!) I have also recently undergone more reconstructive surgery to repair damage caused by the radiation. Needless to say, my life changed pretty dramatically in 2015.

Sounds pretty awful, huh? But here’s the thing. Except for the surgery and recovery, and a bit of temporary radiation fatigue, I have not felt sick. I have continued to work and to exercise and I’m trying to eat healthy meals (not always easy because I love chips and chocolate) and meditate on a regular basis. Nonessential administrative tasks have taken a backseat as I’ve focused on staying as healthy as possible. 

Fortunately, my work as a coach and spiritual director is not physically taxing. In fact, it brings me so much joy it's actually healing for me!

I’m noticing, though, that I’ve had a block about talking about my illness except with an intimate few or when absolutely necessary. I have avoided blogging because on some level I felt I needed to share this news but just couldn’t find it within myself to do so. Now I think the time has come to remove the blocks.

So what was blocking me in the first place? I’m not sure, but here are a few guesses. Maybe this will help others who struggle in a similar way.

  • When people see me, I want them to see ME, not my cancer. But the truth is I have no control over how other people see me, whether I have cancer or not.

  • I’m a bit of an introvert and I value my privacy. But sometimes transparency and authenticity trump privacy, especially in nurturing relationships.

  • Empathy is great. Sympathy, not so much. I don’t like to be pitied. I think this is true for most of us. But I can empathize with myself as well as with whatever is coming up for the one who feels sorry for me. After all, it's just their way of showing that they care.

  • And here’s the kicker: I value my autonomy and inner strength and it’s really hard for me to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to receive help from others. It is so much easier to simply minimize my needs. Yikes! And I’m in a “helping” profession! What if everyone felt the same way I do? I’d be out of a job!

Thankfully, over the years I have allowed myself to benefit from the services of skilled therapists, coaches, and spiritual directors. But the need for at least an illusion of control is never too far beneath the surface, especially when it's my own body that seems out of control. This blog is an attempt at letting go.

There are probably many other reasons for my reluctance to share something so personal in such a public way. I hope if you have experienced some of this yourself, you will share your own blocks in the comments section below, or with a trusted friend.

The main point I’m trying to make is that though this feels very personal, on another level it’s not personal at all. Each of us will experience difficulties in life. And each of us responds to crisis (illness, death, divorce, job loss, etc.) in a way that makes sense to us and helps us get through. It's important to honor our differences. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge our commonality as human beings. After all, “We’re all just walking each other home.”