You know the old saying “ the only thing guaranteed in life is death and taxes?” Well, I’m not so sure about taxes because it seems that if you’re rich enough you can get out of those, but there is no escaping death. We all know that, and yet we’re always surprised when it happens. My own Grandma talked about her death for years before it happened. At the end of every visit, she’d let us know that she probably wouldn’t be around much longer and wouldn’t likely see us again, to the point where it was kind of a family joke. When she did die at almost one hundred we were all shocked that she’d actually done it.
I felt that same shock when I found out that I had cancer, and even more surprised when it came back a second time and was told that my chances of survival were slim to none. But it was something that I had to get used to, had to cozy up to the idea of my mortality before I could move ahead.
During my first pregnancy, I told myself over and over again that billions of women have given birth and lived to tell the tale, so you'll be ok too. If you put a bunch of women in a room together we’re eventually going to talk about our labour and delivery stories, trying to one-up each other as to whose was the most horrifying. Especially if we’re at a baby shower with the poor mom-to-be listening in. But the fact remains, no matter how bad it was, we’re still here to talk about it.
The problem with dying is that no one comes back from that to tell the rest of us what it’s like because THEY’RE DEAD. Period, end of story. And that's kinda scary.
Thanks to both of my mushroom trips I was able to get past the fear. The first one took away my fear of dying and helped me unload some of the trauma and grief, and the second one reassured me that when the time came it was as easy as stepping off the curb and walking across the street.
When I tell people I had to get ok with dying they're either shocked or offended. How can you be ok with dying? Shouldn’t you be fighting? You’re not dealing with reality!
Well, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a battle with cancer. I want to be able to live and enjoy my life, spending time with my family and friends. That’s what I decided to do, and that’s when I started getting better.
It wasn’t easy. It’s a decision that I still have to make every day, sometimes more than once a day. Because I’m human and still feel fear and uncertainty sometimes. But it is a choice that I’m going to keep making.
I also had to make peace with all of the changes to my body. It was almost three years before I was able to look at some of those changes. I guess that’s one nice thing about colon cancer - the nastiest scars are literally behind you, and you don’t have to see them if you don’t want to. But in order to accept the changes I had to look at them. My sister-in-law gave me some good advice when I told her I was gearing up to take a look: don’t do it if you don’t think you can love your body afterwards. A few days after she said that to me my hair fell out, which was a lot to deal with all by itself, so I took that as a sign that the time wasn't right. Why torture myself? It took another year or so to finally get the courage to do it. Let me tell you - it’s a mess. Some serious shit went on down there, but I’m ok. More than ok. I’m thankful for the body I have, that it’s endured so much pain and suffering and yet is still standing strong. Do I wish things were different though? Yup.
Eventually, I realized that my body and how it looks have nothing to do with my value as a human being. My body is not me, it’s just the container, the vehicle that gets me around. I need to take care of it and treat it with respect, but who I am is inside.
That was a tough one. My whole life I’ve been complimented on my looks, to the point where I wondered if anyone ever noticed anything else about me. It feels arrogant and gross to say that, but to me, it’s just the same face that I’ve always seen in the mirror, so I’ve never thought that way about myself. It wasn’t until I was bald and covered in ugly scars that I realized how much I had relied on my looks to either gain acceptance or as a weapon to intimidate others. It was really hard to get past all of that and be comfortable in who I am, not how I look.
I had to learn to trust myself as well. I have the wisdom and enough experience with cancer now to be able to make decisions regarding my care. When I was trying to decide whether to go through surgery a third time my surgeon told me that I was the expert, not him, and he was right. I knew that I didn’t want to do it again, but fear was keeping me from making the decision. I know what I don’t want to do, and I’m learning to trust my intuition.
One thing that has helped me in all of this is to go outside and be in nature. I look at the trees, the flowers, the water and the blue sky. I breathe in the fresh, clean air and listen to the birds chirping and remember that the universe has provided everything that they need to live, grow and thrive. It’s a reminder to myself that if the universe has everything they need, then it has everything I need too. I feel safe and secure in that knowledge, and it gives me hope.
Just like Louis Armstrong sang: “What a wonderful world”. It’s a mess, for sure. We humans have really done a number on a multitude of fronts. But look at the beauty around you. I’m sitting on our deck as I write this, looking at the birds and trees around me and listening to the neighbour’s cat meowing as I write this. I can hear a little kid laughing somewhere off in the distance. Everything I need is right here, and I’m grateful and totally at peace.
What a great life.