Monday, June 16, 2008
The Cancer Conversation
I believe I have found a clear and concise way to articulate my current relationship to cancer:
My commitment is to transform our current cultural conversation about cancer from one of fear and dread to a conversation that leaves all involved empowered to live our lives to our full potential and love the life that we have right now!
My life did not stop the day I was diagnosed with cancer. I simply woke up to what matters most to me and I came that much more alive.
At this moment I am looking at the couch I laid on the morning after I received my diagnosis. Daniela had gone to work. I told her I was okay to be alone and said it would probably do me some good. After she left, I found myself laying on that couch. I looked up at the ceiling and I screamed, "WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY??????????" Tears ran down my face. My body ached from head to toe. I was filled with sadness and fear. In that moment, coming alive was painful. I felt like I had been cracked wide open and what was now exposed, hurt from being exposed to the air.
I went for a long walk with our dogs. It was a beautiful wind filled sunny day. I had my cell phone with me and called my friend Carlos who had helped his mother heal from the "sickness" that resulted from her cancer treatment. I knew I needed to talk to him and as it turned out, our conversation was at the perfect time. He assured me there was more than one way to treat cancer. He provided me a greater understanding of the power of food - its healing effects as well as its toxic effects. Then I went to my hair appointment with my friend Michelle and the two of us talked and hugged one another and cried a whole lot.
I'm so grateful that I am able to cry. As I have said before, there was a point in my life that I was not able to cry. I was so deeply rooted in the myth that strong men don't cry, that I couldn't cry if my life depended on it. I had no problem being sad, but I genuinely couldn't figure out how to let it out. I had to train myself. The best I can describe what learning to cry was like, is comparing it to learning how to whistle. Granted there's a whole lot more to crying than just making a sound. But if you don't even know how to make the sound itself or put another way, how to open that emotional door and allow for some vulnerability to seep in, all that emotion just stays trapped inside you and i don't think that's too healthy. Nowadays, I'm so tuned into my heart, crying is no different than laughing. It's no monumental moment. It's just another form of self-expression. The way I see it, it's just as it should be.
So, as I spoke with Michelle, I told her that I did not fear death, but then I stopped speaking. I couldn't figure out what was missing. She looked at me and said, "Yes Bert. But you want to live." That's when the flood gates fell and a whole lot of tears began to flow or should I say pour. Her partner Sue came in and put her arms around me and we cried a little more. Michelle only trimmed my sideburns that day. We had used all of my time talking and...did I mention crying?
Having the space to let it all out and express whatever is there regardless of how rational it is has provided me so much freedom since Day 1. Freedom from fear and freedom to be okay with however I am in any given moment. Kris Karr, who is now somewhat of a cancer celebrity (like Randy Pausch) has what is referred to as an incurable Stage IV cancer diagnosis. I find her to be tremendously inspiring because she is incredibly committed to transforming cancer treatment and our relationship to it as something empowering and fulfilling. And she is willing to be vulnerable and share from her heart. She is clear that her self-expression is key in her healing process.
And with all that being said, I must confess, I sometimes fear what I will do should I receive a phone call from a loved one telling me they have cancer. It's so odd. I am committed to transforming the current "cancer conversation" and yet at this moment I do not want to have it with anyone new. I want all of you to live to a ripe old age of whatever suites you without any worries. And, I know myself better than that. I have already had people in my life receive a cancer diagnosis or their family member received it and I was on the phone with them in no time. Worrying about how a conversation will turn out is always far more painful in our minds then it is once we take that step forward and actually have the conversation. I know I will be just fine.