I received a flyer in October 2009 for a subscription to New Yorker magazine - a magazine I had wanted to subscribe to for quite a long time. The rates were particularly attractive for the three year subscription option. At first, the bargain hunter in me was all over that little return card and postage paid envelope. I had some bills to mail as well, and took it with me when I was heading to run some errands. I never mailed that envelope; instead, I tossed it. The thought in my head was - Who knows if I’ll survive three years? In fact, even the two year, not-as-great-a-rate-but-still-a-pretty-good-deal check box was, I thought, too much of a stretch given my 15 days of survival post stage four cancer treatment. My dominant emotion in those days was fear; my dominant mood, dark and depressed. I was living tentatively, as if the next news broadcast on my life channel was certainly going to be bad… and it could come in the next few hours. Try as I might to put on an front of gratitude for surviving the treatment process, I felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually depleted.
Today (October 15, 2012), I am three years cancer free. Shoot…that label “cancer-free” is one I still sometimes have trouble with…the voice in my head still wants to say - “as far as I know” I am cancer free. However, today I can look three years further down the road and actually see myself still hanging around. It is remarkable to me that three years later, I often think of my cancer experience as one of the great blessings of my life. No…really, seriously…. not just cause it sounds right to say that. It’s like my own personal Beatitude…“Blessed are you, Steven, who has endured cancer, for you shall find a deeper reality.” It’s this feeling of being blessed, not just for surviving, but for the living in the whole of it as well. It was without a doubt the most frightening, painful, terrifying months (well, maybe more like a year) of my life. I have no doubt I had a year or so of PTSD and post cancer clinical depression. (After all, I am a psychologist, and I KNOW all the symptoms.) I am not sure exactly when the despair over cancer ended and my perception of being “blessed” began, but I think it has been present for several months now. I am really feeling like I am back now. I think for a while, I had doubts about being “back” that I didn’t want to acknowledge. But it is feeling genuine again. My life is back. I’ve never been a bubbly, “I freakin’ love life so let’s go celebrate” kind of person. But, generally speaking, I am in a pretty good place. I have days when my energy is poor, and my mojo just doesn’t feel right, but they are becoming less and less frequent.
I still love October mornings and a big breakfast and a solitary walk. More than ever I appreciate these things. Three weeks ago, I found myself sharing a meal at a Benedictine monastery with a Monk and talking about God. How cool is that? I’ve traveled a long distance in my life . And this blog business… I’ve been touched and inspired by several people who have dealt honestly with their cancer journey and have dared write about it. I was brought face to face with the fragility of life when an internet “friend” and blogger Diane died of Leukemia exactly one year to the day after I finished treatment. It was through stumbling across her blog that led me to write about my own journey. Looking back, the writing about it was hands down the most therapeutic activity I engaged in. I think it saved my life, at least emotionally. Recently, I’ve been touched and inspired by a blog writer named Ellie, who also is a stage four throat cancer survivor and has just celebrated one year of being cancer free and is sharing her journey of recovery on her blog at www.onecraftymother.com. Such an inspiration to me… Reading her posts have been like reading back my own experiences, expressed in such a transparent and eloquent way.
So, about that New Yorker subscription. I should have checked the three year box with reckless abandon. I would today. Was I afraid of dying, or afraid of living? I think both. There is no point in being tentative with one’s life. Fear is such a thief. One of my many favorite scripture passages is “Perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18) Yes, indeed, it does. It’s mysterious but I believe I experience God’s love indwelling in my spirit at the deepest core of my being. To be honest, there’s plenty ’o fear still ready to rear up, but a lot of it’s power has been broken.
This morning, I was doing 50 minutes (four miles) on the elliptical at my local gym. (There you go - how healthy am I - and I‘ve only gained back 20 of the 30 pounds I lost three years ago - I weigh a perfect (for me)150 pounds!) I was listening to a podcast from NPR (Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show). The guest was being interviewed about a film he made on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He stated this quote and I think it hit the nail on the head for how I am feeling today. Shortly before he was executed by the Nazis for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote: “I discovered… and am still discovering… that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint or a converted sinner…. By this worldliness, I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own suffering, but those of God in the world.” Thanks for reading this. I’ll be back again. In my own quiet way, I’ve come to freakin’ love my life!