I Need To Get This Off My Chest
On October 12, 2010, I rang the bell at MD Anderson at the conclusion of my medical treatment for breast cancer. It’s hard to conceive that this event is five years behind me. Yesterday, I had the chance to share my personal testimony with a room full of woman at my mom’s bible study. It was a very vulnerable moment for me but a very important step as I continue to work on my spiritual memoir.
This step in sharing my account helped me to get something off my chest. I have been dealing with the challenge of writer’s block for the better part of a year now. I allowed myself to be stalled by fear. The “little voice” in my head was convincing me that I am not worthy to share my sacred journey. It took an invitation to share my story, my boldness to say yes, and the love and support of this group of women to get that fear off my chest.
And so while I am still feeling this fresh boldness for getting things off my chest, I stand before you to say that I don’t believe in the “fight” against breast cancer. There I am out with it and even during the month of breast cancer awareness – scandalous! I understand the idea that we have this enemy within us that needs to be taken down and banished. It is a very powerful analogy. Admittedly, as a newly diagnosed patient, I found it easy to slip into the galvanization of women, family, friends, and community fighting for our lives. It rallied me. My explanation to my son on how chemotherapy worked was done through using a Star War’s interpretation where there were storm troopers going in to my body and taking down the bad cells. It’s the good guys against the bad guys. I thrived on the empowering feeling of being a warrior, conquering and defeating anything that threatened to take away my life.
As I set out on my wellness journey I realized that I can’t keep fighting. At some point,I have to make peace. Cancer cells are our own cells. Simply, they are our cells that undergo a mutation that affects the way a cell grows and divides, proliferating unchecked. Often, we point to environmental factors and genetic factors as the blame for these mutations. There is a third leg of the stool that we are less inclined to mention yet equally as important. That third leg is our emotional well-being factor.
Through the power of God showing up in people, books and other information that flowed my way, I began to realize that not only did I need to seek the support of best medical treatment available to me but also I need to fundamentally change the way I was thinking about me. I feel that the anxiety and stress from my self-hate helped create an environment that allowed my body to turn on me. I didn’t invite cancer in to my life. As a matter of fact, I was fearful I would get cancer even though there was no genetic pre-disposition or clear environmental threat. I was doing everything I needed to do to avoid cancer: healthy eating, regular breast check-ups, consistent exercise and so on. The one thing I failed miserably to do was practice self-love. At the time I became sick, I was a self-loathing, self-hating woman. My breast cancer, to me, is a symptom of my lack of self-worthiness.
All these years, rather than move through fear, set boundaries, and choose to take care of me, I had chosen to stuff down my needs and desires because I was convinced that I wasn’t worthy of taking care of me. I put everyone in front of me. This isn’t particularly revolutionary thinking. It has been labeled the “mom syndrome” or the “care-takers” syndrome in which we are inclined to put every one else’s needs before our own. Then, I realized that putting off my own needs was a fight against my own self-worthiness. I became sick because I was constantly fighting me, I had put myself dead last and kept pushing myself back to the end of the line until I was at the point of dying!
Life is a beautiful gift. However in the depths of self-hate, I could not enjoy all the beautiful gifts that came my way. Though I was living a very full life, I was lacking the joy that comes from knowing that I was already enough, whole and complete. I gave away this joy to everyone but myself. It took a crisis for me to finally allow God to show me the way. I remember during a meditative prayer, I saw the face of Jesus. He was smiling at me with this look love that was so amazing – I can only imagine it must be the way a new-born baby feels when her adoring mother holds her in her arms for the first time. Though overwhelming at first, I said yes to this unconditional love that radiated to me.
Rather than the “kick cancer’s ass” approach, I decided to give the “love my ass” approach a shot. I have accepted that I am unconditionally loved. I don’t have to earn it. I don’t have to prove it. I don’t have to fight for it. It’s already mine no matter what. Though, I do have to practice to remember this daily. I now make time each morning to sit in the presence of God and to allow this love from above fill me up. This unconditional love heals me time and time again. It is from here, a place of love, that I am armed to meet and move through the curtain of fear and shame to be in a place of peace. It is from a place of unconditional love that I am my most powerful.
Love yourself completely and unconditionally. Love the beautiful parts of you. Love the broken parts of you. Love your very existence. And when you can’t, sit quietly and let God show you the way. Shine on!