I just came upon this amazing woman Shira’s blog about the four year journey she’s been on since discovering that she had rectal cancer literally days after she gave birth to her second son, on her 39th birthday. After years of trying so many treatments and modalities, she describes in one post how she’d done a visualization where she traveled deep inside her body to ask why she was still ill. “Down down down,” Shira describes herself going. To the dark interior, to the underworld. There, “in the circle of lowest depth,” she sees a figure who she thinks might be the grandmother who guides her often. But no.
It’s herself. Face to face, she asks:
“Am I ready to leave cancer?”
“Not yet,” her self replies.
“The answer unsettles,” Shira writes, “But I recognize its truth: I know there’s more to learn. More to release. More to come to terms with. Why is there always more?”
Down, down, down. It strikes me, about the cancer journey, that it is an undertaking down and in, to the gut spots and the forgotten places. It orients you toward this line of inquiry. Like Shira describes, down the “corkscrew spirals” to the dark interior.
Here I am, ten, almost eleven years post ovarian cancer, and I am still learning from it. I start to think it no longer has an impact on my life, but no, there it is again. Feeling the particular sear of this woman’s story and feeling called up in me all the fears I have about something secretly being wrong with me all the time. All the paranoias that a little symptom is indicative of a much larger epidemic raging quietly inside.
The idea that you can be sick and not know.
The idea that you can be better– and still not know.
After reading her post, I go to brush my teeth before getting in bed, and look in the mirror for a long moment. There is my tired face, my worried face, thinking about all the doom and gloom present in my life. The fresh breakup, how my heart’s hurting over that. Thinking about my family, with its potent yet tragic potential, so many misunderstandings and missed opportunities and derailed hopes. Thinking of my brother, captured in an angelic bubble and cast of characters that only speak to him. I think of the uncertain financial future. Of everything I’m sure will be my responsibility when my parents die. And on top of that, how this woman I don’t even know but whose words I just read– how this woman is so amazing and how she has been going through such a rough time. I think about all these things and the temptation is to say, “FUCK!” unceasingly. Fuck, the fuck of it all. Fuck it. Fuck.
But no. This same woman whose gorgeous words both break and heal my heart– something about her story gets to me. Because she has no doubt cursed it all, and asked why, but she has also said ‘Yes’ to life, and to engaging with the mysteries it demands she live her way through. And she has shared that.
I did not go through being sick as long or as seriously as she has. But her story spoke to me. Asked me a question. As I’m sitting looking at myself in the mirror– the tensions, the worries, the unanswerable question of it all, of whether truly I or anyone will really survive. Then I realize that there is an answer: bullshit aside, worries aside, whatever aside– I am alive.
For now, we are ALIVE.
This feels huge, like everything. Ten years ago I denied the possibility that I could be so sick that there was any question that I wouldn’t be– alive, that is. My left ovary was a “self-contained tumor” the doctor said, they had gotten most of it. It was washings around the area that showed cancer cells, that indicated to them that it was necessary to do chemo, just in case. Yet even with this good prognosis, throughout all the months in treatment, I felt like shit, angry and wanting to scream all the time. Not hungry for anything other than McDonald’s cheeseburgers because they were the only things that tasted good. My doctors and the medical community assured me that a few months in treatment wasn’t a big deal. As though sitting at the hospital for 9 hours straight getting toxins pumped into your arm isn’t a big deal– it was a big deal. It was a fucking big deal. It felt like a death process. To lose your hair and your hold on what you thought could veritably be expected to happen in your life. It felt like a weird deathly kind of living.
I was scared.
So now, ten, almost eleven years out, I gotta stop a moment and call myself on my own bullshit. My worries and my feelings of hopelessness that I’m broke and don’t have the perfect job and can’t get enough time to write and never know what to eat and that my room’s always messy and I haven’t found the dream partner yet. Well, ya, so fucking what. So fucking what, I have to say. Because this, all these worries and these problems, they are the worries of an overthinking person. Of a person who has time to think because she thinks she has time to live. Time to waste. Because she may think time is running out for her to be “enough” but time is not moving as quickly as it could have been.
Because time is an unclear commodity and the hands on the clock are held by some force outside, yet simultaneously inside, oneself. And those hands can start speeding up at any moment.
The hands of the clock are still there, yes, as they always are for everyone. Time keeps moving. But it is not moving in the same way as it could have been for me ten years ago. And for that I am grateful.
UPDATE: I’m sorry to write that on February 23, 2014, two weeks after writing this, Shira Shaiman passed away. It’s hard to believe she’s gone. I never got to meet her but in a way I feel like I got to share some of her experience through her writing, which was so very deep and alive.
The world has lost a very special person.
Shira, sister*goddess*wisewoman*weaver of words and light and golden spiral staircases and DNA rewritten and initiations of fire and water and bones and death– thank you for sharing your life and your story with us. Thank you for existing.
Blessings on your journey dear sister.