Opening to Bravery
Posted on September 09 2012
I was diagnosed with Beginning Stage 3 Mixed Cellularity Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the beginning of 2011. I went through radiation treatment for 8 weeks, and was able to keep working. I told myself how strong I was, throughout. Everyone working with me would watch me drag in and get sick at work… and they would tell me how strong I was, coming to work so visibly sick… That felt very brave… But it wasn’t. That was incredibly safe. It was allowing myself to go into survival mode, and not process anything.At this point, I feel like the bravest thing that I did was NOT pushing through and working + going to treatment every day after work. The bravest part of my journey, and the most scary part, was facing how painful and traumatic the experience was. In November of 2011, I had finished radiation treatment, but was still feeling very run down from treatment. My radiation burns (externally) were healed, but I still had internal burning and scarring and I was still having to sleep a lot and feeling a loss of energy. I began to take depression medications, which didn’t fix the my energy problems and sadness (bc the exhaustion was from recovery and not from depression). I went for a checkup in November, in which my doctor told me that he thought my Hodgkin’s had appeared to have been in remission, but had moved to my bone marrow. For the next two weeks I was poked and prodded and scanned… and then I had to wait for bone marrow biopsy result. I decided to drive down from Chicago (where I currently live) to Alabama (home) to spend the time with my family. I was told that I would have to go through chemo and a bone marrow transplant (most likely) if my Hodgkin’s had moved to my marrow. At that point, I would have to go on extended leave from work, and would not be able to take care of myself. I felt like I was being told that I, essentially, was strong… but not strong enough… On the long drive to Alabama, I realized that all the power was being taken from me. It wasn’t about strength or will or anything… It was about me being a vulnerable human being, like all other people on the planet, and about the fact that everyone dies… I decided that IF I even potentially just had a couple of week, until I would undergo ridiculous amounts of treatment… If there was a possibility that I only had a few more weeks of energy in my life, I wanted to really live it up and love the people who I could. I wanted to be as present and loving with my family and friends, while I still could. I didn’t want to waste the last few weeks of feeling healthy.So I went home, and just began to do crazy and fun stuff with the people I love. I got a redneck tattoo, I rollerskated through McDonald’s drive thru, I provided free counseling services (with crazy love) to every person I loved at home… I stayed up late, and meditated my tush off… and I began to open myself to all the pain and disappointment that comes with having cancer… But that allowed me to open myself to all the love that people had for me. I began to share the emotional pain, and was as transparent as possible with the people who wanted to be a part of my world. Unconditional love was offered, to the extreme, and I began to heal. Being tough doesn’t heal you, it puts you in survival mode. Opening yourself heals… Being gentle to yourself. Ultimately, I began a long process of apologizing to my body and myself, for working through pain and sickness. I found out that I was in remission, and that my cancer had not spread. I was able to start healing when I was able to start opening myself. I began to accept that I was a 28 year old cancer survivor, that I had potentially lost my fertility, that I felt like my body had been attacked, that I felt (overall) that life had been unfair. I watched women, men and children from my support center (Gilda’s Club) go through hell, and some have lost their battles at this point… And I felt guilty for saying the word unfair… But every time I saw the gobs of people who were 50+ smokers, with sedentary lifestyles, eating burgers and fries all day… I got a little pissed off… I had to let myself feel that (and other things) without feeling guilty about that. I had to say to myself… “THIS is your experience… Don’t feel bad about it!” And slowly and gently and miraculously, I was able to have a much healthier relationship with my cancer. I was able to even, dare I say, appreciate what it had done for my sense of self.In December and January of 2011/12, I took 2 weeks of vacation and drove west, without plan… I drove west to places I had never been before. I camped and meditated and rollerskated all along the way. It was an amazing vacation of accepting myself as I was. Cancer changes people, and I needed time to myself (without the voices of others) to look inside at what cancer had done to me. I came back as a person who understood and loved myself all the more.2012 has been a year where I’ve felt much more empowered than ever before, because I’ve begun to know myself and respect my WHOLE self MUCH more. That’s the strength that I’m most proud of. The bravest thing I ever did was to be honest with my self and my whole experience.