I recently celebrated 11 years of being cancer-free. Last year my oncologist told me he didn’t need to see me again, so I’ve passed some pretty wonderful mileposts. When I was diagnosed, it was a very scary time, and pulled me up so short I nearly fell flat on my face – well, I did fall completely when I had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Since I was sensitive to medications, it felt like trying to stay astride a very upset bucking bronco. Once the ride ended, I felt as if I’d been thrown off and trampled. It took many years to fully recuperate – even then, it seems the Grave’s Disease I had later may have been triggered by what I went through.
But, you know, there’s nothing like facing the possibility of your own death to force a new look at life. It may sound silly – though if you’ve gone through the same or similar experience, you may understand – but one of the first of many big shocks to shake my old world view was losing my long braid that I’d worn most of my life. It was as if snipping off that thick lock of hair ended life as I knew it.
All the energy I had previously was given to the life I’d chosen in a monastery, with its increasing responsibilities. Now that energy was focused on two things only: 1. Get through this and live, and 2. Get myself in order so that I live better now (or die trying to).
There was one very important discovery (among many!) that I made during this time of reflection: I had totally neglected my creative side, the side that enabled me to see fantastic possibilities, that allowed me a way to express myself and my feelings about life. I’d stopped playing music, stopped painting and drawing, stopped gardening – all the very things that fed me and permitted me to be myself. As awful as this period was, it became one of the best times of my life because I became alive to myself. It was really ironic, since it seemed like my body was dying in front of my eyes.
Once I had healed and gotten back to my old life, it was never the same for me. I fought very hard to retain that urgency to see things in truth and with new eyes, but the atmosphere to which I returned was unhealthy, unsupportive where it should have been supportive, and increasingly antagonistic, despite my efforts to live in a new way. It was as if a much-worn coat no longer fit and was, in fact, becoming a straitjacket.
Only when I left this old life could I begin to express my creative side again. Although the old urgency I felt about living differently is more muted than those desperate days of struggling to physically survive, the lesson I gained about being true to myself has not faded. Thank goodness I can paint again – but no more drastic means, please!