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Dear Cancer, Let's Talk About My Search For Enlightenment

September 14th, 2017 |

by Tinamm | Survivor: Breast Cancer    Connect

Dear Cancer: I want to talk to you about my search for enlightenment.

It started with a "You have breast cancer" in the fall of 2011. Too many of us have heard those words in stunned disbelief. I sat thinking "no." Not even with an exclamation mark behind it -- just a quiet little "no." As the days unfolded and the reality started to sink in, I had a glimpse of what cancer might look like: the surgery, the treatments, the drugs… What I was unaware of at the time were some of the deeper implications.

I am a voracious reader, so I did the only natural thing: I picked up all the books I could find on having cancer. I was determined to be the "good" patient. Unfortunately, along with all of the advice offered from various experts, there was a specific theme that arose frequently: finding enlightenment. It even echoed the well-meaning advice of people around me. Apparently, in-between throwing up, full-body spasms of pain and complete mental and physical exhaustion, I was supposed to use all the extra time and energy I had to find my true calling and become a much higher being. I am an overachiever, so of course I tried.

I tried to find it in meditation.

Every day I spent as much time as my body would allow on my yoga mat. I breathed. I contorted. I relaxed. One day I thought I finally caught a glimpse of it; I had the sense of being watched over. Then. I saw the shadow at the window and realized it was the neighbour's cat. Admittedly, she did look very zen. What did she know that I didn't? Although she also got that look on her face after I caught her digging in the flower bed.

I flirted briefly with the idea that I could find it in the kitchen.

Some people seemed to find peace and joy in cooking. Apparently there is a kind of meditative quality to creating nutritious meals from scratch. I almost made it into the room before I came to my senses and realized I haven't been in here for years and probably couldn't find a pot if my life depended on it. I am not even sure I own a pot. I must…

I searched for deeper meaning in the subtle messages around me.

You know the ones. On the billboards, sent to you through Facebook, pinned above customer service desks. Everything happens for a reason. Just let it go…Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Never wrestle with a pig -- you just get all dirty and the pig likes it (I kind of liked that one, to be honest.)

Surely one of these pithy sayings would resonate and the lights would go on. Or so I thought. One day while having a latte accompanied by a piece of chocolate, two things occurred to me:

  1. That a really good piece of chocolate might be as close to enlightenment as I ever come
  2. I remembered vowing to myself a few years ago I would stop taking life advice from the sides of take out coffee cups.

That's when I bought myself a to-go mug. I visualized white light, I visualized healing, I visualized myself right out of this predicament and onto a beach in Mexico. When I stopped visualizing, I was still in the middle of it. Maybe I was simply not strong enough? Maybe I was doomed to fail?

In a vision, it came to me: what I needed to do was stop putting so much pressure on myself to become something better than what I am. I am not perfect, but I am good enough for now. Maybe it is not cancer patients who need to seek enlightenment but the world around us who is made so uncomfortable by the glimpse into their own mortality. Let us be ourselves -- the same people you knew before. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes we are sad, sometimes we are angry. Sometimes we have flashes of enlightenment. But all the time, we are still just humans trying to get through a difficult thing called life.

Did you find something like enlightenment after your cancer diagnosis? Share your experience in the comments below

Photo courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo.

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Tinamm's picture
I was diagnosed in 2011 in my right breast Stage 11B. In 2015 "yay' I liked it so much that I decided to do it again: left breast Stage 1. I am now out of breasts so hoping for the best...