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Cancer isn’t just cancer

Cancer isn’t just cancer. I knew from the beginning that this was not going to kill me and the cancer itself would be relatively short-lived. Excellent and expected.results at the oncologist yesterday. Surgery will happen as soon as possible but the cancer is contained and no further treatment will be required.

But there’s so much more that gets imprinted on you in this process. There's been so much uncertainty in my life and every time I think I've reached a higher level of healing and peace something new comes along to test that and flex the muscle further.

Maybe I'm over dramatic. I've been accused of this on occasion. Maybe it's adhd. These big emotions are part of that and of course I never knew because we learn about everything in such siloed and truncated ways. I grieve how so much of the story I've told myself over the years has been about how broken I am when it's really so much more than that. Mindful self-compassion and storytelling are my best therapy.

When things are uncertain my manager part tries to keep anxiety away by getting angry about all of the things I didn't know I didn't know and how life would have been so much better for me and everyone if only we could know things before we learn them. So if I just learn everything there is to learn and tell everyone what I've learned it's both noble and helpful. This is not logical and more healed people see through it and I just end up feeling stupid and ashamed. But this is unhealthy too and it's all rooted in fear and the need for validation that I crave but feel deeply that I shouldn't need. I tell people all the time to stop "shouldng" all over themselves. We aren't always able to follow our own advice.

A lifetime of medical gaslighting and being labeled a "hypochondriac" in my early life made me assume the spot was nothing for a really long time and if I had just had it looked at sooner this probably wouldn’t be happening at all. Even writing this I am talking myself out of every thought because I still struggle with my own reality. I still struggle to trust my own feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations.

It’s realizing just how over committed I am and how little space I’ve created in my life for “what-if” scenarios. Some of that is about genuine passion and creative furvor and some of it is how I have been bobbing and weaving and hustling for so long I don’t know how to stop, slow-down, and just sit. I’m longing for more of nothing. But I worry about letting people down. And my logical part knows that I’m really not that important and I’m allowed to do whatever works best for me. And yet...

It’s how comfortable I am showing-up for other people and how excruciating it is for me to accept care from others,

It’s how much I need other people and how much shame I feel for having that need.

It’s being reminded that there are some people who can’t be trusted with my vulnerability.

It's coming to the realization that I have been hustling for so long and masking my confusion and discomfort that I don't actually know how to relate to people.

It's realizing that I am still afraid all the time and I just want to feel safe. There are two places I feel safe, connected, and rooted in my core self. When I'm with my partner and kids, and when I'm working with individuals or groups to help them heal their stories. In all other places I feel untethered, uncomfortable, afraid, and confused. Even when I'm with safe, loving, wonderful, caring people. I'm not tough. Even though I'm incredibly strong. I am like a person without skin. An exposed nerve. I've worked so hard to toughen up and while I've improved my skills around dealing with these things - it is simply the way it is.

Why? Control. Or at least the perception of it.

Cancer removes control. Sitting still removes control. Being in relationship removes control. Living with an open heart in this world removes control. Trusting that things will be ok removes control. Hoping, imagining, creating - removes control.

There is only a perception of control to begin with. There is almost nothing that I can actually control. In these instances all I'm really trying to do is control my own discomfort. I'm exhausting myself in the pursuit of a feeling that everything is going to be ok. That I am ok. That I am acceptable. That I am lovable. That I am allowed to exist - to be - without doing. Without having to earn it. It's the same fucking thing - it always comes back to this single point.

There's a scared little kid in me that feels so sad and so broken that she just desperately wants to be assured of her own okay-ness. She has been working so hard for so long to earn the right to feel safe. At this point I am the only one who can give it to her and I often don't know how. I gave it to my own children but struggle to do this for myself. I know some of this unsafety is her - my inner child's. I also know that I carry countless generations of fear, oppression, abuse, neglect, displacement, and masking imprinted in my DNA. Resilience yes. Also, pain.

Thich Nhat Hanh said "Relax, nothing is under control." I try to remember this and to move through life with the equanimity and nervous system regulation skills of a Buddhist monk and even with all of these skills and the effort I put into my own healing, I am still just a regular human. And cancer isn't just cancer.

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