The devil whispered in my ear "You are not strong enough to withstand the storm. And I whispered in the devils’ ear "I am the storm".
May 9th, 2016. The day after Mothers’ Day in fact. I'm all drugged up after my colonoscopy and laying in the recovery room. Dr Petersen informs me I have stage 4 bowel cancer. He delivers the news in a matter-of-fact, no frills manner - the way you might tell a friend they have parsley in their teeth.
"Prognosis?" I ask, matching his monotone.
"Two-three years. May-be four with chemo." he offers. It's a rare bowel cancer. Mucinous Adenocarcinoma."
Every part of me knows, without doubt, it’s simply not my time to go.
From the Beginning of My Diagnosis
There are only two things we can be certain about in life. The first is that we were born. The second is that we will die. Do I feel blessed? Absolutely! Albeit the greatest challenge I’ve faced, the cancer diagnosis catapulted me towards the deepest levels of personal growth. Facing death, I came to realise how much time I wasted on guilt, which leaves us living in the past. Or time I’d wasted living with fear, which places us always somewhere in the future. Fear of taking risks, fear of not being good enough, fear of abandonment.... and on and on... and on. Cancer bought me fully into living in the present. Since my diagnosis, I'm determined to make the most of every day now, by becoming a more authentic version of myself, and truly finally living....... before I die. I recently heard someone say “We have 2 lives. The second one begins when we realise we only have one!” Never a truer word spoken.
For those of you beginning your search for meaning after a cancer diagnosis, it’s natural to start questioning everything. What was the purpose of my life? Where am I going after I die? Is there a God? What now? Why me? Feeling so healthy before being diagnosed with cancer, I’ll admit being initially stumped by the prognosis. To be honest, I was a little angry at first, and drafted a lengthy letter to God asking her to ‘please explain”. Why me? Well, frankly, why not me?
From years of service as a counsellor, I knew the best way forward was to take a big girl breath and state " Like it or not, this is my situation.... so what will I do about it?". It's the difference between understanding what I have control over, and what is beyond my control.
I don't have control over the fact that I have cancer, I can control how I choose to live each day going forward...... on all levels.... spiritually, emotionally, physically. As long as you're saying '...." I don't want this....", you're keeping yourself stuck and not giving yourself a chance to make choices that will help you going forward. Accepting where you're at is not about 'giving in' to the prognosis, rather, it's the start of you feeling like you have choices regarding how you proceed. Don't get me wrong here... you will still need to grieve. You will have days when you feel very sorry for yourself. When this happens, the most loving thing you can do is give yourself permission to cry, scream, curse. Spend a whole day in bed if that's what you need. And then… pick yourself up and again say, "what now".
When I was first diagnosed, many thought my positive attitude was about being in denial. They questioned “was I ‘fighting’ this?"
The answer? … Well… no…. and yes. Let me explain it this way.
There’s a quote I love by Mother Teresa – “I prefer to walk for peace rather than march against war.” These sentiments are seeking the same outcome, yet there’s a significant but subtle difference in the energy behind them. That’s how I feel about working through my cancer healing journey. To fight against the cancer simply sounds like a struggle. It's the kind of thought process that goes hand-in-hand with needing to control your life. I’m in no doubt that it was my internal struggling during my 30year marriage that led to my cancer in the first place. Why would I want to struggle further? So, I determined to walk peacefully and calmly towards doing what was necessary to heal, whatever that might be. So far, so good.
An Opportunity to Be a Truer Version of Me
If anything, cancer highlighted how much of my life I'd wasted on silly insecurities. There’s a determination now to be everything I am meant to be. Cancer created a need in me to only fill my life with what was important and made me happy. I cut toxic people from my life, and it opened the door to wonderful fulfilling supportive friendships. The expression "less is more" was never truer. I started saying ‘NO’ to what was not aligned with my values, and setting firm boundaries regarding what I wanted, expected, from others. Eliminating all stress from my life has become paramount. Having been fiercely independent all my life, I let my guard down and welcomed the loving support of friends and family. It was joyous to allow people in. It meant taking a risk and allowing myself to be vulnerable. Oh the joy of that!
Spiritually speaking, I believe our time of death is pre-determined before birth. That would place my time of death is in the no-control zone. When it’s your time – it’s your time. Simple as that. But that doesn’t mean you should be reckless with your life. While you might not have control over when you’re going to die, you do have control over the quality of life you experience while you’re here. Don’t waste it. Continue to eat healthy food, exercise, and live with love, gratitude and forgiveness. Every day.
A Buddhist nun once told me that no matter what your spiritual belief, it’s important to believe in it fully. Truly fully. Whatever form your ‘god’ takes, there’s a great deal of peace and comfort that comes at the end of life if you firmly believe that something greater, more powerful, and beautiful is waiting for you.
Buddhists also believe that it’s important for us to be at peace emotionally, spiritually, and physically, at the point of death. On that basis, I have determined to live a life centred around self-love, daily gratitude, and being at peace within myself. By extension, these things lead to feeling greater love for your fellowman, and a sense of feeling grounded. You'd be surprised how much the practice of Gratitude can make your life feel so full, so abundant, even with a cancer diagnosis! I never miss an opportunity to say "I love you" to my kids and my family members before I hang up the phone. I try to remember to let people know that I see and appreciate their efforts, big or small. It's not surprising that people want to put in more effort when they feel appreciated. And it brings me joy, truly, to know that perhaps I made a positive difference in someone else's day.
Of course, having cancer didn’t turn me into a saint... I'm also still impatient, and intolerant and down-right rude sometimes.... but being perfect wasn't my goal. Being mindful was. The more mindful you become about your own behaviour, thoughts, feelings, the better will be the quality of your life and your level of happiness and satisfaction. You might still have cancer, but you can decide how you want to spend the time you have.
Coping with Negative Emotions.
A bad day is a bad day. On the odd occasion during chemo, when I was feeling sorry for myself, I moved into my feelings to give the unhealed, unheard parts of me a voice. This practice allows me to let it go, and I quickly return to a place of inner calm. What does it mean to give it a voice? It’s about being open and honest regarding how you're feeling - angry, sad, scared, disappointed.... You may already have guessed that family and friends can't cope with your cancer, so don't be surprised if you feel alone during this time. You'll be depending on these methods to vent:
- writing in your journal,
- screaming into a pillow or hitting pillows
- going to the top of a mountain to yell at god - don't be shy about this - it feels great!
- spending the day in bed
- calling a help-line
- finding a support group - Facebook has support groups for all types of cancer and some people find this incredibly useful for comfort from people who really understand what’s happening for you, as well as being able to offer advice on physical aspects of your cancer
Meditation? To be frank, I was a daily meditator before my cancer. For some reason I simply couldn't get into the Zen-zone by sitting for this practice during treatment. Other spiritually minded friends have reported the same phenomena. So I found other ways to move into the zone. During my first 6 months of chemo, I spent a small amount of time each day writing on a giant mandala. I wrote prayers, positive affirmations about my body being a temple. Affirmations about healing, love, forgiveness. I made 3 of them. One for each of my children to have after I'm gone. Thoughts are so very powerful in the creation of energy, so these 3 mandalas now sit proudly centre stage in my home, and they produce the most loving healing energy.
Healing the Past
Love heals. Forgiveness heals. I had a great deal of forgiveness still to do around my marriage breakdown. After my husband died, I finally began to do some really deep healing through writing. I used my blogs, writing about our life together, to really dig deep and understand our life together. I learnt a great deal about myself in the process and have now penned my first memoir!
Honesty and raw vulnerability moved me out of feeling like a victim and empowered me with wisdom and self-awareness. I not only forgave the past, I also forgave myself for hanging onto toxic anger for so long that I believe I created this dis-ease in my own body. I have found the peace I needed in my heart to finally let him go. To let the anger and resentment go.
After being operated on a second time in 2018, the surgeons were surprised that 5 of the 7 new tumours were non-malignant. I'm not surprised though. I'd done so much emotional healing since my original diagnosis, and even more since my husbands’ death. A determination to keep cancer away has kept me holding steadfastly to living my truth every day. Would I have gone on this inner journey without getting cancer? Maybe. However, I would likely only have scratched the surface. I'll never know for sure, but again, I iterate, I'm certain the whole charade is part of a bigger plot that has been written even before I was born.
All anyone need do to stay on track is to keep remembering these simple words….
“I love you. I forgive you. I’m sorry. Thank you”.
Say them to yourself, then think about who else in your life needs to hear this from you. Write letters of love and gratitude to everyone and as often as you can say "I love you".
It took cancer for me to finally start really living. To embrace a feeling of being worthy of joy, love, abundance in my life. I remain grateful for the blessing that has been cancer, for the tap on the shoulder that woke me up to living more fully. Now, 2021, I have already exceeded my original prognosis. The oncologist and bowel surgeon are scratching their heads. But I know… it’s simply not my time.
Ros McMaster (BachBehSc-Psychology)
Spiritual Life Coach and Psychic Medium.
You’ll find many useful blogs, podcasts and workshop details on her website https://www.rosmcmaster.com/
- Ros McMaster