I’ll never forget the day someone told me that, “there will be a gift for you in all of this.” At the time, I was sutured and sore, and facing down a grueling 5 months of chemotherapy. I was simultaneously confounded and confused by that statement. But in the end she was right. There was a tremendous gift in being broken apart, in having my life dismantled by a breast cancer diagnosis in my mid-thirties.
I learned so much about myself in that difficult year, and the healing years that followed. In retrospect, I had been coasting along in quiet discontent in many places of my life. From the safe sidelines of a reliable but unfulfilling job; to the unconscious energy suck of a few unhealthy and less than nurturing relationships; to the old, old story I had harbored about my innate value -that feeling of sacrifice and exhaustion as a status symbol.
ALL of that had fallen apart as my world became so small and every drop of energy and focus had to go into my treatment plan and being a mommy to our little Julian, who was only 4 at the time. I remember feeling quite outside of myself, as if the pain of the experience had forced my spirit to the outer reaches of my energy field. After growing exhausted by the usual “Get into Action” default response to stress, I became a quiet observer to this experience. I had to surrender to what was happening, that the sense of control I had always harbored was really an illusion. As terrifying as that was, to feel a loss of control, there was also this deep peace that came with surrendering, like slipping under warm bath water and letting it contain me. I came to understand that saying, “Let Go and Let God.”
At first, upon diagnosis, God and I were not on speaking terms. But to be fair, our relationship had really been on and off again in the years leading up to this. At first I was enraged with God, the Universe, Spirit… and then I was sorry. I saw how I had been unconscious and ungrateful in many places in my life. I looked at my little boy, and worried about the future. I felt this deep prayer from every cell of my body, asking that I be allowed to live, to see my son grow up. It was a drum beat inside of me that grew louder and louder, and built up to a primal cry that screamed: MY WORK HERE IS NOT YET DONE!
When every little task is hard, exhausting and painful, the pace of living is so slow that you are compelled to notice and appreciate the tiny things in life, like the changing shades of green in the spring, how bark feels on your skin, fleeting kindnesses between strangers, the scratchy scruff of a father’s kiss, the glimmer of someones eye as they watch a toddler blow bubbles… I found myself recording every single detail like a starving person, filing it all away. Even the ordinary annoyances were somehow precious, like the misty rain that blows sideways into your face, traffic lights that paused too long, and corny radio DJ’s. How fascinating this human experience is! Had I been asleep, just numbed out and entitled to this front row seat for so long?
Where I couldn’t do for myself, I humbly and painfully had to ask for help. This was another hard “gift” to swallow. From wiping my own bottom to emptying surgical drains and changing bandages, to accepting financial assistance to pay the bills, I had to overcome my pride and shame, and so much harsh self-judgment around needing help. The blessing of being loved and supported, of feeling held by my family, friends and community was overwhelming. I knew for sure now that I had never been doing it on my own, as much as I valued being a strong, independent woman. In so many ways, my life was intersected with other people, and I experienced this fresh new look on receiving help. There was a gift for giver as well as me, the recipient. Love flowed both ways as I opened to the willingness to receive.
I learned the gift of saying No, or Maybe. Not now. I can’t commit. I was not wrong or bad for saying No. Instead of feeling stress and obligation, I began a campaign of saying Yes to myself, and my healing. I didn’t know how I would be feeling next Saturday, or on the third Tuesday of the month, so I never said Yes. It was a freeing revelation to be living in the moment, tuning into what was present and needed right then. Saying Yes to everything was so entangled in that old Good Girl story, having to people please and tend to other people’s feelings and happiness. What I did choose was fully my choice, made consciously in the moment. That is freedom.
In this cancer experience, I had to unpack the shadow side to all the newagy spiritualism and holistic health that I had been seeped in while living in Woodstock, NY. I had believed for so long that if I thought the right thoughts, said the right affirmations, ate the right food, did the right exercises, had the right spiritual practices, that I would be impervious to bad things happening to me. All that control and drive for perfectionism had created a stressful discord in me. What I know now is that I have this BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and there is this dance between genetic code and the relationship we have with ourselves and our environment. (The field of Epigenetics, how certain genes are expressed, or turned off and on is fascinating and worth looking into.)
Another incredible gift for me was finding my writing again. I started this blog, Melissa’s Healing Hope as a way to keep my family and friends in the loop while maintaining some distance and privacy as I healed. It turned out to be a lifeline to the outside world and a way to fully process what was happening to me. I have continued to write ever since, taking writing classes and I’m putting together a book!
The biggest blessing in all of this was falling deep in love with the art of life coaching and beginning my own business. Melissa Eppard Coaching, is now in it’s 4 year! My driving force and mission is to help ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone I meet. I want to inspire a proactive investment in every client’s fulfillment, purpose, passion and peace, so that this inner evolution does not have to be born out of some personal tragedy or trauma, but something they choose and create consciously. This work is like holding up a beacon of hope when the waters are choppy and storm clouds gather. If I can turn that light on and help someone shine a little brighter, then we illuminate the world around us. I found that thing I was made for. What a gift!