Sword of Damocles

Caution: This is a morbid yet strangely happy post. It’s a weird post for me. It’s for all of you who are fogged out in the stressed-out  “just getting by” zone, and for those of you who are just depressed as all hell. I have words about this. Read on.

I just got my second clear MRI. No cancer.

MRIs suck. It’s not the needle in your arm, the cold medicine injected up your veins, the tight white sterile tube you’re sucked in, or the grinding, deafening  sounds that rip through your body. That’s all fine.

It’s the wondering what they see. And that you have to wait. And that those pains I have might go unexplained, which is better than if they DO get explained . . . as cancer.

I rose up high in relief for an evening after my doctor emailed me that they saw nothing. Year 3. You got more time, Sum.

My peyote healing

We sit in a teepee.

It’s moist and chilly. I had to drive down the mountain from the coast at 4 a.m. this morning so I could meet the elders as they broke for their morning fast.

At 5 a.m., they opened the teepee flap and Native Americans emerged. They all wore jeans and t-shirts (mostly). I felt my preconceptions crack.

I’m at my aunt’s house sipping badly flavored vanilla coffee before dawn and I’ve just been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer a few days before, and I’m watching a bunch of Indians groggily exit a two-story-tall teepee on the edge of her property. Sur. Real.

It’s only been a week since my doctor called with those words you never want to hear: It’s cancer.

No, really, stop, I’m only 43. This isn’t supposed to happen for another 30 years. I’m right in the middle of shit. I have two kids in grade school. You can’t be serious.

And now, the sun has just woken and I’m entering a tent overfull with men, women, and kids who’ve all been awake all night – healing, connecting, and doing something I can’t put my finger on. Frankly, I’m too aware of myself to see what’s really going on. I’m a foreign intruder with my old aunt, mom, and uncle in tow, all entering someone else’s sacred circle because we own their land. How can it get worse? Which means in my heart, I’m feeling it’s still all about me, although soon it will be all about them and I will just have to catch up to that.

My aunt bought her house on what she discovered was Native American land – traditional land for celebrating and connecting. Years ago, some tribespeople approached her and asked if they could still celebrate on her land. Of course, yes (embarrassed that I own your land). So every month or two, a big teepee and picnic tables and Porta Potties appear, and an all-night ritual commences to connect us to the stars.

My aunt was blessed, right?

She called the tribe when she learned I was diagnosed. They said yes we’ll take your niece. Come before dawn.

 

Heal from trauma or illness. Create a new relationship with your body. Allow it to remember how healthy it knows how to be. Get the Heal My Body (Feel Better Now) Playlist.

Will I live five more years or fifty?

You know that feeling when you haven’t talked to someone in a long time, and each time you try . . . you think about how awful you’ve been that you haven’t talked to them in so long?

And so your fingers stick on the keyboard, and the phone remains untouched in your purse or pocket. You just don’t know what to say. How do you begin?

That’s how I feel now.

I left you all somewhere in the middle of December, after my last chemo, bald and floppy and utterly wiped out. And then ”¦ silence. Nine months of it. Holy cow. Where have I been? Where did my life go? Where has yours gone?

Here a brief catching up: I’m in remission from Stage 2 breast cancer. I had six months of chemo, two months of daily radiation, three months of lymphedema therapy, and three surgeries in just about one year. Add on heapings of the alternative therapies and healings (herbs, qi gong, acupuncture, Reiki, rebounding, juicing, shamanic journeying, and emotional cleansing) and you can see how busy I’ve been.

Being sick and getting well can really take up your life.

Right now, it’s a gorgeous Sunday morning. My orange and pink roses are firing off blooms in front of my window, my family are all still asleep, and I feel like I’m just waking up.

I mean, really waking up.

Waking back into life.

I’ve leaned a hella lot about cancer this year. And I’ve learned even more about the way we think, feel, and anticipate (or brace for) life. My own personal life goals jumped tracks and landed in all new territory.

“Go with the Flow” has a much richer, deeper meaning.

The concept of manifesting is much more nuanced and interesting.

One thing I learned is that cancer, or any illness that can come back, plays with your head. Is it gone or isn’t it? Am I safe or am I still in danger? Will my body cooperate, or is it going to kill me?

I jokingly refer to this dynamic, and the uncertainty that’s always bubbling below the surface, as the 5-year and 50-year plan. (My husband hates it when I talk about this, because it’s ”¦ you know ”¦ talking about death.)

You’ve all blown my mind

You’ve blown my mind. Over 200 of you replied to my last blog, “No More Pretty,” or emailed me personally with love.

Wow, has this been a big a lesson for me.

First of all, I wrote that newsletter (about my new bald life) to give you permission to let go of any hidden need to come across to the world a certain way.

I wanted you to share in my liberation by finding one of your own hidden needs to release.

So I asked you to post your personal liberation, or revelation, whatever that may be.

You know what you all told me instead? That I’m pretty no matter what. Holy heck that was sweet.

Even my hairdresser texted me that I rocked the fake Mohawk in my photo (and good god she sure hasn’t seen me for awhile!).

And it overwhelmed me. All of it.

Because of course it gave rise to another thought: I’m not a loner or a solo flyer anymore. I can drop that belief now.

So there I was thinking about this as I was zipping up the freeway to Long Beach for my next cancer treatment. My mother was driving and as usual we were getting lost and chatting about work, life, kids, and yeah, chemo.

The whole time, my phone was beeping and buzzing with your comments pouring in.

And I’m wondering: “All these people really care. Why?!”

No more pretty

I’m standing in a juice bar stocking up on fresh juice for my 3-day cleanse. Not only am I wearing my baggy house clothes, but I’m bald. And I’m a woman. And I look pretty bad.

There are three other people in the tiny shop, all waiting on their juice orders. I suddenly realize that they are in the position I’ve been in so many times before: The “Oh gosh, that poor person. Look at them. They must have cancer. Or some horrible disease. No wait, don’t stare.”

I grin at them. They look awkwardly away.

I’m surprised at myself. For one thing, I’ve realized for the first time in my life that not worrying about being pretty is awesomely liberating. I realize I don’t give a rat’s ass how I look.

It’s a funny feeling having no way to hide. I could wear a wig, but I just don’t care enough. It’s hot, I’m tired, and chemo is kicking my butt.

Everything is fully exposed: forehead wrinkles, saggy neck, heck even the shape of my skull.

Here I’ve spent 30 years with my long blonde flowing hair and pretty makeup, fully invested in how I show myself to the world. Now I look 10 years older, bald, pale, and parched.

My ability to control how I look to others has largely been taken away from me. I can’t shape how people see me to the degree I used to.

The next day, I get a text from my mom about some new bald photos of me that have made it onto Facebook. She assures me I don’t look that bad in person and that I must really be getting a big test having to do with stripping away all my ego.

I whimper in response, “So you think I really look that bad?”

I hesitate. I could untag myself in Facebook. Or I could suck it up and get over myself. And that’s exactly what I decide to do. I leave the awful photos up.

By the way, this email is not about vanity, or feeling good about yourself. It’s about control and identity: Who we are and what we expect life to give us as a result of how we control how others see us. Identity is our deeper layer. Think vanity on the outside, and identity on the inside.

Vanity is fueled by lack-thinking.

Self-worth is fueled by feeling good about yourself.

And identity is fueled by many things, including your comfort with yourself at the deepest level, your ability to shift and flow with your changing identity, and by letting go of your need to control others’ perceptions of you.

I discover that I’m tired of trying to control everyone’s perceptions of me and my identity. I don’t need to look any certain way to do my work, so why did I ever think I had to?