This week we are on a much needed vacation. It's become strange for me to travel and it not be related to treatments or appointments. We booked a week long stay at a resort in St. Lucia called The Body Holiday. They offer organic foods and wines, a large range of physical activities and relaxation experiences and include daily spa treatments for your stay. The idea is that vacation should be about restoring yourself to health not only by taking a break but by focusing on your body and mind in an active way that allows it to hit the reset button. We are looking forward to this journey and healing is such a beautiful place.
That I'm on a "cancer journey" feels like a tired and cliche thing to say. However, I considered at length a more appropriate descriptor of the experience and there doesn't seem to be a much more accurate depiction. A journey is a experience with both movement and stillness; it may or may not have a intended destination; you can find yourself alone in a clearing or blinded by a surrounding of weeds and friends.
Sometimes a journey has no clear starting point, or at least none that you were aware of at the time. My experience with cancer started in just such a way. After my son was born I spent most of my day at home with him and my once academically engaged mind was left somewhat idle. For many, the birth of another human evokes wonder- at life, and how it progresses and ends. Getting to watch a new being grow and learn and embody life itself seems to me the greatest gift anyone could be given. After the initial frenzy of caring for a new life became more routine, my now hungry mind clung to these themes and dwelt there with fervor. I remember a night where I woke with a start at 4am and was brought to tears as I felt the weight of my mortality more heavily than ever before; my 'death grip' on life began then- when my parental responsibility to care for my son was compounded with the inexplicable joy of watching him grow. The stitches of the seam I had so carefully placed, to hold back these thoughts that first haunted me as a teenager, were exposed for the frailty of the trivialities it was comprised of and ripped wide open. We are so fragile. We are not guaranteed tomorrow or the next moment or even the past. After this night, I moved through the world in awe, relishing each moment with fierce adoration. Each night as I closed my eyes I prayed to wake up the next day.
When we prepared to move to Tennessee and my mind once again became busy with tasks and information about looking for a home, moving our things and exploring a new town these thoughts were stuffed back down into the old seam they had burst from. Stitched once again with business. Then, on January 28th I was sitting in our Tennessee living room and had just put my son down for a nap. Things were quiet in the house and I was resting- perhaps for the first time in weeks. For some reason, at that moment, I recalled the time period in Kentucky when my thoughts were ever on the 'big questions.' I remember reflecting on it with nostalgic fondness- it was difficult and dark but a beautiful gift to move through the world as if at any moment it could all slip through your fingers. I had this exact thought: "I wonder what it would take to get me back to that place again." That very afternoon I was told my biopsy was positive for melanoma.
No one in my family has ever had cancer. Not in my immediate family or extended family. I had no reason to believe my symptoms and health problems were at all related to cancer. To me, the biopsy was a formality to be before I could have the 'cyst' removed. Of the first questions we asked the doctors after I was diagnosed was "when?" While no one has given me a clear answer, I was generally told that it developed "not long" before I first noticed the 'lump.' Perhaps a few months. But I know when. My body knew when.
The brain is an amazing thing, and is constantly interacting with our body. Surprisingly, the vast majority of this action is beneath our conscious awareness. It has many things to tell us but doesn't always do so very clearly. Listening to it, when the traditional evidence isn't there, is a difficult thing. It can be difficult to notice or decipher what we are being told. Once you do receive a message, it can take great courage and strength to follow through on what we find. To trust that 'little voice' that can so easily be written off based on how we view things like "intuition" and "gut feelings," particularly if our analytical thoughts are opposing. Or perhaps believing that such a thing can exist is the challenge. Or you may believe that these messages are always external to us. The truth is that they are there. Be still and listen.