REFLECTIONS ON A HEALING JOURNEY
By Robbie Uniack- O'Toole
When paddling in the relative calm sea of hope that is the love in a relationship, how often does one pause to ask: What if my partner gets sick, and look into the possibility of what that scenario might bring?
I now know the limits of my creative imagination would not have encompassed what experience – that greater teacher – has brought forward.
Following a diagnosis, be it cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart attack, accident, it’s like the partners in relationships are tossed up with in the winds of change. Some will survive; some will not. But at the very least they will change.
Looking Into their Eyes
“I have breast cancer.” I looked at my husband’s face for a brief moment before he hugged me and I cried on his shoulder inside the front door. This was the first moment I recall of many, frozen in time, that I saw the disbelief, hurt, concern, anger, fear, helplessness, weariness, that those around a person with health challenges will see. Alternating with those emotions are hope, the light of some signs of progress, encouragement, loving. I’m not sure at times what is the more difficult role, caregiver or recipient. The diagnosis of the latter provides specific support whereas the caregiver has to find his/her own support system.
Tell Me What to Do
That was my first reaction – a plea to the doctors, my husband, family, friends. I wasn’t really a “taking charge” kind of girl in a situation so overwhelming as cancer.
The mainstream medical profession had its answers at the ready – chemotherapy, surgery, radiation. Yep, that oughta do it. Some in my personal circle concurred, others reacted to the word chemotherapy like a cattle prod – no, never, don’t… A part of me was paralyzed in fear. One practitioner provided a bridge – “Do both. I’ll suggest supplements to mitigate the effects of chemo and radiation.” Sold! I was on my way, quite convinced this was just something to walk through in faith, doing what I was told – my family in support.
It wasn’t a pretty picture and I would see pain reflected in the eyes of those around me. The subtle dynamics of relationship changed. People often didn’t know how to be around me. The familiar pattern of interaction had been interrupted. The cancer card trumped headache, daily disappointments – the stuff of everyday life. I could see the “oh, but yours is so much worse than mine,” thought which made it difficult for them to share their lives. If it hurts, it hurts – was my attitude – no matter what the cause.
I struggled to look bright and positive to alleviate others’ concern, downplaying my fear, my anger, and other authentic expressions of emotion I was experiencing. Not, in hindsight, the wisest decision – but I had a lot to learn. I didn’t know how to “be” in this situation.
One day before a chemo treatment, feeling like shit, resistance to doing any more, a small voice inside prompted me to write an email to my spiritual teachers. I said, I can’t do this. I asked for help. I swear I had no sooner hit “send” than a great resolve seemed to awaken inside. “Right,” I said, “I’m a spiritual warrior, I can do this.” I tied my scarf around my balding head, put on my makeup (a vital part of this spiritual warrior’s wardrobe) and marched out the door. I’d learned a valuable lesson in asking for help.
Looking at One’s Life In a Different Scale
If the scope of my life used to be in the scale of gardening in Central Park – think Bonsai. That was the new scale – smaller, yet still perfect. This was a concept that came to me one day as I walked slowly around the house, looking at what “needed” to be done relative to my energy levels. I looked at the consequences of pushing myself beyond my limits, ignoring the voice inside to slow down, rest, STOP! It felt like being stripped bare. The more I ignored the voices, the less energy I had.
As I could do less, my world compressed. I didn’t always accede gracefully to the loss of doing things I loved, but in a way it became more manageable as less was expected of me and I expected less of myself in the outer world. I saw myself becoming freer to concentrate on small things, small joys and accomplishments – new ways of giving and receiving. With fewer balls to juggle it was easier to balance.
I experienced my house in new ways – walking down the hall at a snail’s pace one day, hands touching the walls left and right for stability, I noticed the texture of the paint and how my feet felt on the wood floors. In over 10 years of being in the house I’d never had that experience – my usual pace didn’t allow for it.
I decided to love my garden just the way it is – weedy, ragged, in need of work. I called it wild, a work in progress that could be loved in all of its stages. It would grow with me. We could be a mirror for each other.
For those who serve, being served is difficult. I don’t give in the way I did, who am I? It can become a crisis of internal definition. I came to understand and experience what I called the “ministry of receptivity” – I could minister to others by being open to their assisting me. I had to ask for help, admit I couldn’t do it all. I realized I wasn’t a burden, God was obviously overseeing the giving and receiving – I wasn’t.
It was reflected to me that I was doing the “server’ of exampleship. Others saw how they too had found server the “easier option” and had difficulty asking for assistance? I was glad to oblige!
I can’t change another’s mood, beliefs, expectations – it’s not my responsibility. I used to try, thinking I should or could. It was a revelation when I accepted it was not mine to do. Observing my attitude and handling that was enough on my plate. If I felt a little jagged around the edges (I did – a lot) I had to work with myself. Sitting in my misery did not help the healing process.
In a scaled-down world of fewer activities I found less to distract or divert my attention. I kept coming up against myself more and more with questions like: What do I want to do with whatever time remained – be it months, years? The recurring theme was joy. That was the quality I wanted to experience moment to moment. It was my responsibility to follow that joy. Easier said than done!
Someone asked me recently if I wanted to live. “Yes,” I replied unequivocally.
“What is it that you want to do?”
“I want to write.”
Coming to this point had been a journey. The initial cancer diagnosis, as I have mentioned, left me feeling “I just need to walk through this.” After chemo, surgery, radiation, seeming remission, the discovery of malignant cancer cells in fluid around my left lung was made. I didn’t think I could handle this with the faith with which I had handled the last one.
“What would you suggest?” I asked the oncologist.
“No. I can’t.”
That night in a hospital bed I was visited by the face of God in a nurse’s smock. Her name was Rose and she listened as I shared the diagnosis. She hugged me as I cried and she asked if I had faith in God. Our beliefs may have diverged at some points but at the core – trusting in the Lord – we were one. She shared her reaction to the recent diagnosis of a progressive illness that her daughter had. She spoke of the tears she’d shed until she was reminded to surrender and trust in God. The blessings that followed kept her strong. Her smile invited me to accept and cooperate. No matter what decision I made, she assured me I’d be guided by God if I placed my trust in Him. Rose watched over me throughout the night – a blessing extended to me from the Beloved.
The three words – no, I can’t – shot me in an entirely new trajectory. I was rejecting the mainstream medical model and I felt like I was twisting in the wind, having to make my own choices, making it up as we went along. Practitioners, supplements not covered by insurance required another level of trust, faith, intuition – call it what you will. Pain and discomfort levels increased. I was afraid, angry, despairing – was I making the “right” choices? But the blessings followed. Angels’ wings stirred the darkness and I began to see the possibilities, and participate.
Writing has been a theme in my life from childhood – mostly, until a few years ago, associated with frustration and desire unfulfilled. I began to understand why. I was not writing with God as my partner. I had been given a gift in this lifetime but I thought it was something I had to do alone. No wonder I wasn’t too successful, gave up, judged my creations, left pieces unfinished. I had access to an unlimited source of creativity and inspiration and I wasn’t using it.
Not being one for doing things by half measures, I wrote a novel. It gave me the experience of writing with God but I wasn’t sure that the novel form was where I wanted to stay.
One day I was inspired to write a “future life story.” If I wanted to live – to say in this life – I figured I could write myself into a new script. I looked at what my life might look like in the next 12 months or so. It was personal. It was setting an intention, planting a seed, claiming what was possible, and outlined in many concrete ways what I wanted to create.
The cohesive themes were joy and creativity, partnership, gratitude, forgiveness, trust. The words were alive on the pages as I wrote them and I was having fun. It felt like coming home.
Talking to Myself
I’d read about the power of intention and experienced some success with this. One day I was looking at an intention I had written about- “radiant health” – it caught my eye. Did I really know what radiant health would look like? It was a concept that needed grounding I felt. So I made a list of what I thought constituted radiant health that I might recognize if they manifested in my life. For example – increased energy, saying yes to life, a balance of activity and rest, good hydration, a balanced mind and emotions, optimistic/trusting, the ability to breathe deeply. The list seemed practical, doable. The “radiant health” concept was no longer a nebulous concept, but a goal that had identifiable measures. I could say “god job” as I recognized them. And I could check other intentions to see if they could be similarly understood
I also started to honor my body as having an intelligence that would be interested in information regarding the supplements and medications it was being fed. So I began explaining what everything was supposed to do. I realized I’d been referring to the painkillers as “pain pills.” If taken literally this was not an accurate description – they were pills to mitigate pain. Another supplement AHCC was to “increase natural killer cell activity.” Each time I took the supplements I explained what they were for, as I understood it.
I’d also been having difficulty keeping food and supplements down so I figured that my body’s intelligence could come into a greater alignment of purpose with what I was giving it if the purpose was explained. Perhaps throwing up was trying to tell me something! I knew I had to observe and listen. Rather like talking to a child who keeps asking “Why?” – I was educating the child. It seemed to help.
Judgment Showed In Unexpected Places
The usual judgments reared their ugly heads – no surprises – but new ones popped up to keep me on my toes. I was dealing with an increasing list of supplements to take as well as those for pain and nausea. It meant my day was divided into supplements to take before, with and after food. Difficult, especially as I didn’t feel like eating. I couldn’t keep up with the pills. That didn’t make me feel good. I had to reel myself back to a place where I could tell myself I was doing the best I could, however few I took, and could keep down. I wanted them to be a support not a burden.
Getting Out of the Way
I see my “job” as getting out of the way so Spirit can do Its work. I can do this by practicing gratitude and forgiveness, staying aware of judgments and clearing them; being loving; looking for the joy – things that I know to do on the physical level and can get better at with practice. While I’m entertaining myself with this, Spirit can really do Its work on levels of deep healing.
Parts One & Two
I look at my two diagnoses as parts 1 & 2. It’s all really on a continuum but I see that we’re working at a deeper cut. I feel I’m being asked: If you REALLY want to live, what are you prepared to surrender?
I believe I am required to say “no” to people and things that don’t serve at a greater degree; to love and serve myself in ways I would not have dreamed of before; to cleanse the body as a temple of Spirit by replacing old habits and structures that no longer serve, thereby strengthening its foundations on which to build the future; to bring in more light and beauty, eliminate rigid conditions; to become more flexible and responsive to what life brings in the way of challenges; to keep relationships clearer with authentic loving expression; to take time for myself and take in the beauty and majesty of God’s creation and participate as a co-creator. It is a continuing affirmation that I deserve to live.