I read a Buddhist saying last night “The teacher appears when the student is ready.” In the learning of life, I believe I was ready when the cancer arrived.
I am sure you have heard cancer survivors say that they have learned a lot through this journey. Some even go to the extent that they would do it all over again and not change a thing. I wouldn’t say that – I would jump at first opportunity for medical science to say “You are cured.” Or even, “We are sorry, it was all a big mistake.” But if it has chosen me, I accept and embrace it.
I was reflecting on if and what I have learned. First and foremost, having cancer is like having knowing how to ride a bicycle, its something you never forget….perhaps have a few moments where it escapes consciousness but it always there. Being diagnosed with a potential life threatening illness carries many lessons. Certain lessons are deep and meaningful, certain shallow and practical like – how to take off the winter hat without dislodging your wig. How to adjust your prosthesis in Target without anyone noticing. Or, how to quickly glance in the mirror for disappearing eye brows and fill them in without other gals noticing. How to look good to feel good. How to style and wash wigs. How to apply fake eyelashes. I have learned that fuzzy socks are very comforting and that spray on lotion is a useful product. I have learned that life is as wonderful with one breast as with two. And that mastectomy swim suits are not all matronly. And that a newly shaved head itches a lot.
I have learned that kind words, spoken or written have magical healing powers. That when some people speak, they are merely exercising their glossal muscles and what comes out of larynx should be ignored as sound of working machinery. That gifts do convey a lot of love and thoughtfulness and that flowers are an awesome way to brighten someone’s day. I have learned that a sugar buzz can fix melancholia on certain days (donuts for breakfast are a new discovery for me), that beautiful fragrances can be uplifting even when food doesn’t taste good. I do carry in my chemo bag, two bottles of essential oils, lemon and peppermint. Smell of fresh citrus is life reaffirming and anti nausea. Every chemo morning I wear a sweet, floral fragrance to perk me up. But because smells also evoke memory, I know that I will no longer use that perfume after tomorrow.
I have also learned that wearing a thick eyeliner hides missing eyelashes well and two strokes of blush makes a world of difference in whether you look dead or alive and that without eye brows and lashes, my eyes look pretty reptilian. I have learned that a good nurse can make a world of difference and that people generally are inclined to help if they are able to.
I have learned the friends can fill your heart with joy and sometimes strangers can convey surprising warmth. I have learned that you don’t need much in life, the key is to appreciate what you have. However, on certain days a little shopping spree doesn’t hurt. I have learned that having a positive self esteem in the best asset to have and that believing in yourself is the best belief. However, on days that you are unsure, faith can fill in blanks very effectively. I have learned that love attracts love, compassion attracts compassion, and that life has to be dealt with on a daily basis. If each day, I can say honestly to myself , I did something useful, the count of months or years doesn’t matter. Making others happy is sometimes the only way to have a good day. I have learned that one can live with fear. That it is possible to not give fear power over your life, to not give disappointment value over hope and to look at the rainbow and ignore the clouds. It is possible to ignore pain in pretty much any body part given the right state of mind. That taking medication for sleep isn’t failure of my being. I understand the phrase “Time and tide waits for none.” I have seen hope, in its most advanced and rudimentary forms. And that if there isn’t a tomorrow, there is a later.
I have wondered what “kicking cancer’s butt ” really means, and I have learned that it means holding your head high and not being afraid of death. Living every day with grace, dignity and hope. That is what makes someone kick cancer’s butt; otherwise everyone is getting mostly the same treatment and care.
I do think however that it would be quite therapeutic if the cancer center had a bean bag labeled “cancer” that patients could kick with all their might at the end of treatment. Wouldn’t that be cool?