i’m packing for india, frantically trying to find my rehydration salts and other tonics to keep me healthy, squeezing in a lot of work assignments and a quick trip to NYC, and crying. i lost another friend to breast cancer yesterday, sweet sweet Sarah. The last email we exchanged was about a dream where she was featured prominently, dancing. her email said: “I can’t wait til I can dress up and dance my butt off again!! Something to look forward to!” heart. broken. husband, 2 babies, too soon.
amidst the chaos at work yesterday, I looked over on my desk and bam, here was Gandhi staring back at me, tucked in between my tchotchkes, stuffed animals, business cards and other sundry desk items. how long has he been staring at me, waiting for me to notice? believe me, Gandhi, you have my attention now.
i’ll be spending my days with cancer survivors via the foundation for a fresh chapter and then teaching underadvantaged children through this nonprofit vidya. and i’m sure my heart will continue to be broken…but ultimately, what is and will be coming in and going out through these cracks and fissures is love.
i may write from india. or i may just save the stories until i can process them without the colorful cacophonous fire hose for the senses country that is mother india.
i wanted to share a piece i wrote after the True North Treks trip for now; they are using it for some grants applications in 2015, and i was happy to contribute my reflections. i imagine i’ll have a similar feelings again soon. thank you for all that you’ve done to help me get there. see you on the other side -xoxom
: the act of getting things from different places and bringing them together.
: a group of interesting or beautiful objects brought together.
Coming into the True North Treks week on Utah’s Green River, that’s what we were—a collection of cancer types from different places brought together. Blood, breast, salivary gland, testicle, brain, colon.
The week on the river created a different kind of collection though, something interesting and beautiful. The collection of what we are—canoers, campers, hikers, paddlers, .
As a young adult going through cancer, my aloneness has, at times, been deafening. I watch my friends move forward with the progression of their lives. They have children and success in their careers. They laugh with a lightness. They go to the gym. They think about life and the opportunities unfolding for them. Whereas me…I sit in an infusion room, getting my 100th blood draw. I wonder if my chemotherapy will leave me infertile. I question if I’ll be able to get another job given my health history. I get fatigued walking around the block. I walk with a heavy mind, thinking about death and the “what ifs” of my evolving cancer story.
Before cancer, I identified myself as a healthy, able-bodied young adult with no health challenges. Then with my cancer diagnosis, that view was turned upside down. And with it, so did others’ views of me. I was the bald one. The pallid one. I evoked pity, sad eyes peering down at me. And I felt it—the “thank God it’s not me.” And even the judgment, like I must have done something to get cancer, eaten/drank/lazy-ed my way into the diagnosis.
Back to the river though. There was none of that. Instead, there was recognition that I am not my disease. It doesn’t define me or consume me. And with each paddle stroke, those cobwebs of my diagnosis drifted away. Paddle. Daily pills. Paddle. Chemo brain. Paddle. Monthly shots. Paddle. Fear of metastasis. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. Canoers, campers, paddlers, hikers.
On the Trek during our mindfulness exercises, we reflected on the many parallels between the river and our lives. We have no ultimate control of where we’re going, we can only orient ourselves in the direction we want to go and keep paddling. We carve new paths, sometimes bursting our banks in tangled ways and other times with the least resistance. We widen. We deepen. We can dry up, becoming a parched remnant of our former selves, waiting for a fresh storm to reawaken and rejuvenate us. We eddy out when we need to. But mostly, we keep moving forward. We’re never the same, and we’re never still. There are obstacles. They might leave scars, both visible and invisible. But usually around the bend, there are incredible views.
As Lynn Noel so aptly said: “The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.”
The True North Treks week on the Green River did just this. It reminded me who I’m not and, more importantly, got me back into the flow and on the path of who I am.