I have always believed that if you go looking for trouble, you will find it. I have been conscious of wanting to choose another way, to WILL myself to good health, to think only Good, Healthy, Life Affirming thoughts. But like a child that learns about fire the hard way, I am still nursing my burns, still feeling the sting of a cancer diagnosis that came in spite of my good thinking and good behaviors.
I don’t have the luxury of ascribing to “magical thinking” any longer. While Louise Hay affirmations no longer make me cringe, I still feel a knee jerk urge to respond and defend whenever I see a comment made on social media, telling the afflicted that they would be healed of whatever ailment if only they changed their thoughts, if only they shifted their attention. While the advice giver is well intentioned, the end result is a blaming and shaming on the part of the person suffering, so that not only do they have these difficult physical symptoms, but now they are made to feel like there is some flaw in the core of their beingness, in the way they think and in what they feel too.
I have come to believe that part of this magical thinking, this mode of unhelpful and usually unsolicited advice serves as an invisible talisman for the advice giver. It is as if saying, “If I believe this at my core, I will ward off any pain or illness, I will be impervious to cancer and other diseases.” I can say this earnestly because I am a reformed magical thinker. I once believed this too.
The truth is that we just don’t know; when it comes down to it, there is very little that we can control absolutely. It is a hard truth to swallow and I can understand this urge to armor yourself with your beliefs against the inevitable vulnerabilities of living.
I have had some troubling symptoms, some persistent pain, some dubious ultrasounds. In a moment of desperation, I reached out to my therapist and told her that I waffle between thinking, “It’s nothing, I’m fine,” to, “Oh my god it’s cancer.” Back and forth like an unmedicated bipolar person, my internal compass broken. Her advice was to be mindful, to allow my feelings to come up, but not attach myself to them. To not cling to the outcome, but to be here right now, where for all I know I am cancer free.
What is this new place that I have arrived at? It is a mix of healthy skepticism and fledgling hope. I am mindful of my symptoms but not yet fretful. I am not going to bury my head in the sand, nor will I set my hair on fire. 2 years a cancer thriver, the best way I can go about it is to lovingly place myself in the third person. My 18 month post-chemo body is made up of newly regenerated cells. In this newness I am a toddler. I will pay attention to what this body is telling me, and I will respond like a responsible and concerned parent. I will stay curious; I will ask questions, I will be an informed advocate.
Maybe after the oophorectomy, after the painful cysts and their host ovaries are gone, the uncertainty will lessen. Then I will reach that 3 year mark, and that 5 year mark, and the what ifs of triple negative hereditary cancer will fade like old newspaper. I will stand inside my new skin, not impervious but more resilient, and always appreciative of how I have earned my health and my right to wake up each day anew. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Prayers did not save me, or did they? What is the harm in hope and positive thinking, and how can it serve me now? Thinking positively makes me feel good, but my thinking is flexible and allows for careful consideration for what I am feeling and experiencing in my body. There is honesty with this mindfulness. My mind does not lead my body like an absolute guru, demanding total acquiescence.
I think I have stumbled upon the soft spongy middle ground between science and spirituality, the place where they wed is called NOW. I am so grateful for now, grateful for this beautiful September day, for the playful banter of the branches illuminated in the waning summer sun.