Thursday, December 14, 2006

Actually, It's December 21st when I posted this entry!

Edited to add: This is such a rambling incoherent mess. Not a reflection of my mind or how I feel, I just can't express my thoughts well. I started this entry on the 14th and saved it as a draft but didn't finish until I made myself tonight (21st). Been soooo busy! Fun busy though.

The other day, as I told a story in my cancer support group, I was reminded that I have been meaning to tell this story in my blog for ages, lest I forget, but really, how could I ever forget this, even with my atrocious memory?

In early September 2004 I got out of the shower one morning and found a golfball sized lump in my armpit. The weather was warm and I was shaving the area frequently (unlike in the winter when I become a sasquatch). I didn't think much of it as I had no idea it could be such an ominous sign of serious disease, I attributed it to a "swollen gland" due to a terrible cold. When it didn't go away for a few days, they started me on antibiotics. When that didn't work, a long two weeks of back and forths between my GP and emerge started, trying to figure out what this thing was. No one ever mentioned the C word, I was blissfully unaware, I thought at worst it was a cyst. Anyway, that's not the story, just the background and if you've been reading my blog you already know that.

So one day while I was still in the dark as to what this lump was, I was sitting on the toilet, minding my own business (while doing my business!) when probably the most surreal, unexplicable thing happened. As clear as can possibly be, a voice said to me:

"Hopes and dreams are just an illusion, all we have is the present."

I'm sure it was a male voice, a voice that entranced me. It was in my head, or in my ear, but it wasn't from me, if that makes sense. I knew that someone was speaking to me, I knew that this was a message that I had to remember, but I didn't know what the hell it meant. When I finished my business I wrote the sentence in a notebook which I still have because I knew I wouldn't remember but somehow knew this was something so important, I had to remember.

Soon, it became so clear. And this message is what I have referred back to over and over through this journey with cancer. When I got the final verdict by phone, "The cells are highly suspicious for malignant melanoma. I'm sorry, sometimes bad things happen to good people", and processed what I had been told over the next few days, or maybe weeks, the message made sense to me.

Everything we hope for, every dream or goal, that vision in our heads of how we think and therefore expect our life will be (give or take a few setbacks) is an illusion. Suffering occurs when our dreams for the future are crushed, but these dreams were never real and never guaranteed anyway so mourning their loss and suffering over it is really really...silly.

This is a Buddhist teaching I believe, but at the time, I don't know that I was familiar with any Buddhist material really. Maybe I had read something to that effect and it was bubbling up sub-consciously but I don't think that exact phrasing is from any text. Correct me if I'm wrong. And even if this did bubble up from my unconsious mind, the timing was bizarre, and I didn't even "get" it at the time so what was my unconscious point?

When you get cancer with a bad prognosis, or any disease or life altering tradgedy strikes, the real suffering is in mourning the loss of what you believed your life would be. For me, that was the job and course I was taking, the house I wanted to buy, the kids I wanted to have, the travelling, the gray hair, the grandkids. Typical stuff. But I could see it all so clearly, and even though I knew there would be bumps in the road and life would challenge me and offer up unexpected paths, I just knew that everything would be ok. I've had some terrible things happen in my life and I knew that bad things did happen to good people. But because I so clearly understood that my job was to mother and I could visualize my life through the decades as if they already existed, I was pretty much convinced that I would live a long life, more or less how I thought it would be.

I was also just beginning to realize at the time that I was living for the future. I was somewhat stuck in the "Everything will be good when X happens", but then X would lead to Y and Y would lead to Z and so on. Not that I wasn't happy, but I was always looking towards the future (do! do! do!), when things would be better instead of truly embracing the present and living. And what I've discovered is that living isn't doing, living is being.

I've said many times since this cancer journey began that I've done more living in the past two years than I have in my entire life. This isn't because I've all the sudden had a lifetime of experiences, but because I've experienced and interpreted life in a different way, allowing me to take more of it in. I know, it sounds so cliche. But it is so true. I'm not going to ramble about what life feels like or looks likes now because I wouldn't know how to explain it. It is just richer now, I see and feel things all the time now that I only got glimses of before. I hate gettting all "spiritual", not because I'm not, but because "spirituality" has almost become a cheesy commodity in recent years and I don't want to be perceived as a total flake. My spirituality is deeply personal and I would feel almost violated if I shared that part of myself with strangers.

All I will say is that something spoke to me that day. I don't know who and I don't care who, but it was nice of them. I don't believe I was suppose to "learn a lesson", I believe I was being comforted and reminded that life is now so I better not waste it wallowing in the "if onlys" and "why me's". Sure, I'm human and I do go there now and again, I especially did in the beginning of this disease, but when I go there, I have that phrase to remember, to shake me out of the self-pity. Hopes and dreams are just an illusion. I don't want to DO, I want to BE. That is living in the present. Being ok with being instead of doing doing doing. All we have is the present.

Cancer update: A few days after my last surgery (Dec 5th) I found a pea size lump in my right breast. In October one of the lumps I had removed was from my breast so I knew the melanoma had already spread there but I wasn't planning on finding more so soon. I guess I wasn't as thorough on my lump check pre-surgery as I thought I was, I think I totally ignored the boobs! I see my onc on January 8th for a follow-up and knew there was no way he'called the offid roll me into surgery so soon after my last one to take one sub-q out so I'm just waiting. If it comes out, my bet is is late January to February. I don't think about it besides that in the past couple days I feel a little pressure in the area because it is growing and now probably the size of a large grape. It grows so fast! It's amazing how when I found this lump, I didn't even react. My heart didn't flutter, my stomach didn't jump. It was more just like, ok, been there, done that, whatever. I can't be bothered to get worked up over these tumours all the sudden. They aren't specifically life-threatening and while I would like a break forever, it ain't happening at the moment so I've got to march forward and march through. Life will go on despite these little fuckers in my tissue. I guess because the sky hasn't dropped, my experience with these tumours has been ok, despite their overall significance and ominous meaning.

Thank you to everyone who introduced themselves. It was so nice to "meet" you. Your energy and spirits have and will help me get through this. It is so touching to know that so many people care. Having this place to vent is truly therapeutic. I kind of feel like I am giving away some of my worries, letting others carry some of the weight by sharing myself with virtual others in this way. Kinda cool.


At 10:36 AM, Blogger Shaghayegh said...

Hi Sarah
This post is very touching.
I really admire you and wish you the best. One thing that I want you to know is that, "Filure is not an option".

At 11:52 AM, Blogger mrbunsrocks said...

Hi Sarah,

So nice to hear from you! Despite all that's going on, I hope you can have a great Christmas with your hubby. As always, I get so much out of what you write and what you say - you really have a gift for sharing your throughts and experiences and I'm so thankful that you share it with us.

Take care!!!!


At 4:27 PM, Blogger Carver said...

Hi Sarah,

Your "voice" is wiser than mine. I had a similar "voice" prior to having my MM lesion removed. Mine said, it doesn't matter if it's "nothing" get the damn thing off so your underpants will stop getting caught on it. Seriously, I did have voice that wasn't mine say that to me prior to my dx but I think yours was far more profound. No matter how long we have, the present is in the final analysis a good thing to focus on. I don't mean to be Polyanna but I am hoping you have a very long present that will stretch beyond imagination. My best wishes, Carver

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Heather said...


Life is what happens while you were busy making plans.

I understand completely.

You know... when I was laying in the ER and the doctor told me they'd found brain mets, my first thought was, "well, I've had news like this before..."

No panic, no... nothing. Just this... acceptance... of the status quo.

Jim was arguing with the doctor that they'd told me this before and been wrong, but I knew that this time it was right. I think I knew it when I went in. You just have to roll with the punches sometimes, you know (God, that sounds glib even though it's true).

I'm so very sorry that the punches keep on coming for you, I wish it wasn't so.

Hang tough, sweetie, I'm pulling for you over the water here! You know where to find me.

Love, Heather


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