Cancer illuminated a path toward radical self acceptance
August 24, 2020, they told me I had breast cancer.
News you never ever ever want to hear.
Just after receiving that phone call, my initial felt senses were:
numbness, deep sadness, fear and surprisingly, acceptance
the realization of having to tell my children triggered a grief-overwhelm response so powerful as to cause an out of body, deeply animalistic expression of such intense emotion that in retrospect, feels parallel to the intensity of my 2 birthing experiences. The news was shocking and loaded with trauma, having witnessed my own mom’s difficult battle with aggressive breast cancer 3 years prior. And while Mom’s was a very different cancer to mine, the emotional scars were reopened with my news.
My dear Seth held me literally and figuratively during the intensity of that awful day, and continued to hold space so lovingly for me throughout. He wins the cancer doula t-shirt, badge and hat!
And so, after a few weeks of real tenderness toward myself, I was listening for what cancer was there to teach me. (I’m still listening btw, and still learning)
What showed up……
What showed up first was self compassion. And how tender and dear for this to be where I was able to land. It surprised me. That I could so naturally hold myself with self compassion, I owe to my years of spiritual practices and intentional personal work to become a better person to myself and those around me.
Heck, I remember a time when I didn’t even know what self compassion meant, and here I was embodying it.
I felt calm and I felt acceptance, altogether with the rest of the emotional smorgasbord.
Was there anger and disbelief? Sure was!
Was there shame? Yep!
How and Why ?! When you’re pretty clean livin’ and intentional about your overall health and wellbeing, what the hell business does cancer have showing up?! Isn’t my lifestyle the kind that prevents cancer?
The anger was there to be sure. It was quick and hot, and as fires that aren’t yet fully put out, anger kept flaming back up and just as quickly, I’d get the extinguisher out once I let that fire burn through me. But dang!
Anger about cancer choosing me, while less hot now, still burns, I won’t lie.
And holy shame train! I’m a wellness leader in my community, and I got breast cancer! What? Is! That?!
The shame of it stings. And just writing about it feels hot and prickly and makes me want to hide. But as Brene Brown’s taught us: “Shame breeds fear. It crushes our tolerance for vulnerability, thereby killing engagement, innovation, creativity, productivity and trust.”
And I needed engagement, trust, tolerance and the ability to be vulnerable.
And, like anger, shame’s a bugger that requires focused attention and intention when it shows up.
So gratefully, while I can acknowledge my shame story, I don’t need to give it fertile ground to take root. I notice when it lands and I kindly tell it to f*ck off.
The listening & learnings….
The deep listening started before diagnosis, when we were waiting on the biopsy results. You may be familiar with that excruciating Longest Week Ever wait.
My process was to tell no one until I had something or nothing to tell. I spent hours doing jigsaw puzzles because it brought me peace.
Seth’s process was different. He shared with some if his dear ones because in the waiting, he needed the support of our community to hold space for the anxious fear of the unknown.
But the moment he told me that Elise and Juli knew, I felt a magic happen.
A shift like nothing I can remember ever experiencing.
I felt what it meant to be held. Energetically, deeply held in unconditional love and support.
And I received it.
And so began the journey of listening to what else I needed to receive.
Learning how to receive in a way I had never understood or felt I needed or deserved.
And it kept showing up. In all manner of outpourings of love and support from friends and family near and far, I continued to receive. Unapologetically, I continued gathering all the warmth from the hearts of you all, so generously offered without needing anything in return. You cannot know how much this meant and will always mean to me. Truly. I’m ever grateful for your care. Thank you!
So, in the grand scheme of my particular cancer treatment, it was a medical blip on the radar. An inconvenience to be attacked with precision, removed, treated and complete in 4 months.
But that blip has echoes.
Cancer’s echo asks something entirely different be realized. For me and for every person who’s experienced breast cancer.
Cancer taught me to stop. Really stop. Stop all the doing and listen to what’s in the silence. Listen beyond the the statistics, the data, the doing, the fixing and simply BE with the weight of acknowledgement that this thing happened. And that it happened to me. And that it happens to millions of women. And sometimes women die.
I listen for the echo of women before me who didn’t survive for any number of reasons: decades before a cure, or discovered too late, or a lack of access to quality health care, underinsured, underserved, discriminated, ignored, or a lacking in basic resources to fight and survive.
It’s the echo of undeniable grief and still yet-to-be processed emotions.
Last winter, after surgery and radiation and after all the appointments, and fixing and doing were complete, it was time to heal.
As my physical body began healing, the emotions were catching up with the reality of it all, and that echo kept calling me further into myself.
Learning how to receive in a way I had never understood or felt I needed or deserved, has led me on a journey to a radical self acceptance of who and how I am.
Cancer has taught and continues to teach me to:
embody more being and let go of doing & productivity as a means for inner and outward validation
to stretch out that ‘being’ into something I embody and be in relationship with.
fully accept my body and wear a damn bikini for the first time ever
receive from others
receive self compassion
receive the crisp clarity of life
show up fully self-expressed and unapologetically
embrace going bra-less sometimes and never again wear underwire
embrace vulnerability so that the things I was afraid of cease to be scary and lose their power over me
love all the parts we got
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