March 8, 2010
In the path of every person there are barriers large and small that we come upon unexpectedly. How do you handle your stumbling blocks? Learn how I approached my possible cancer diagnosis.
Visual Viewpoint: Where is My Ship Taking Me?
In this picture of the paddle-steamer HSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown, New Zealand, I knew where I was heading; to a sheep ranch across the lake. Now I’m on a boat, metaphorically speaking, and my landing point is unknown. In fact, as far as my body is concerned, it will be at least a few days before I’ll know in what direction I am sailing.
I was very much aware of such uncertainty for people who are in the process of getting a diagnosis for cancer when, about twenty-five years ago, I co-founded The Wellness Community—Foothills in Pasadena, California, which is part of an international support program for cancer patients and their families. During my approximately fifteen years with the organization, I served on the board and gave many workshops. Later I co-founded the nonprofit CancerOnline website (no longer active) where I wrote thousands of words offering encouragement and information.
What I said time and again was that it is important to have hope and to participate in treatment decisions. I gave lots of advice that seemed, to an observer of the experience of others, to make sense. People seemed to like what I said.
However, if you’ve been following the blog, you will know that now I get to see whether all that advice applies to me as well. A couple weeks ago I said that life is what happens when you’re making other plans. I made the comment when I was called back for a diagnostic mammogram because I had had an “anomoly” in my first exam. So last Thursday I went in truly expecting it would be a false positive.
For those who don’t know what that means, it’s when a test looks as though the results aren’t good, but they are. I’d told hundreds of women that there are many false positives. I had only had an “anomoly.” That sounded much more favorable than if the original mammogram had indicated a large mass, or if I could actually feel a lump. So I went into the exam last week taking my advice that it was probably just fine. Only an anomoly.
Now, because of that exam, I have learned that I have a suspicious mass in my breast. That sounds so ominous, doesn’t it, a “suspicious mass”? I watched as they did a sonogram and it didn’t look terribly big to me. It’s strangely shaped and less than an inch. But that’s still awfully big if it’s malignant and I’d rather not have it hanging around if it’s going to keep growing, even if it’s caught early. So I expect, if it is cancer, that in the end I will be fine. However, I’ve been around the cancer scene too long not to be aware of the potential for uncomfortable treatment, hair falling out, and all that stuff that no one wants to have to go through.
Now I have scheduled a biopsy for this Thursday and I will get the results this Friday. The answer will help determine what direction my ship is sailing this year.
When friends ask how I’m doing, I report that it’s an interesting experience to notice whether all those thousands of words I’ve written for others might now apply to me. I’ve discovered that they do. Not only do I know that diagnosing cancer early means a far greater chance of cure and survival, but there is always the possibility that the biopsy will show that it won’t be malignant. I’ll just have to wait.
However, there is an additional thing I want to share. If you have seen the video called “Heal Your Relationships by Strengthening Your True Self,” on the homepage of Support4Change, you will know that the true self is able to observe what happens to the body without being attached to it. It doesn’t identify itself based on whether the body feels well or looks good.
I can honestly say that I am reacting to this intrusion in my life with greater acceptance than I would have been able to pull off twenty years ago. Guess that means I’ve made progress, though I admit that my ego still has greater control over me than I’d like. In fact, the more I recognize my ego in operation, the more I become aware of how it wants to run my life, like claiming that I should be immune to the vicissitudes of life — such as needing to deal with the bother of cancer. However, the first step in getting rid of the ego is recognizing when it’s active so that the true self can make decisions and take actions the ego may not like.
This evening I was talking with a colleague of mine who has had cancer and who became blind a few years ago. She has a much harder time accepting the blindness than she did accepting the cancer diagnosis. Our discussion led to the observation that we all have stumbling blocks along whatever path our journeys take us. Some are there because of challenges placed in our paths by illness and loss. Others we place there ourselves when our ego says, such things may happen to others, but they shouldn’t happen to us. Our true self accepts them as the reality of what lies in our path, and then proceeds to deal with them to the best of our ability.
I’d love to hear from you about how you have dealt with stumbling blocks in your own life.