Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No turning back, no turning back

On Sunday afternoon as I sat on the floor in my bedroom stretching, I pointed the remote at the television and did my usual channel surfing thing. I found "Super Soul Sunday" on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). I know, I know - she puts herself on the cover of every month of her magazine. She named a television channel after herself. It's all about her. Still, I adore her for her boldness, for how she has laid hold to her own life, her beliefs, her power and used it to change the lives of millions of people around the world. If I had the money and power and influence she has, I hope I would use it to touch others and not just serve myself.

Anyway - the episode I landed on involved Mark Nepo and Kris Carr. They are both powerful, courageous, articulate, encouraging examples of people who have faced the horror of kanswer and emerged from it transformed. I grabbed my journal and began to take notes on what they said. (I confess up front that my notes are not word-for-word what they said but they are what I heard and took away from their accounts. If you click on the Super Soul Sunday link above, you can find Mark and Kris' segments.)

I had only read of Mark Nepo in emails I received from Kris Carr in which she talked about appearing on the OWN show. I didn't know anything about his kanswer journeys, his two bouts with that dreaded life changer. Unexpectedly, in the hour I watched him on Sunday, Mark helped me to alter my opinion on the "dreaded" part of kanswer and invited me to see it as the door-opening, life-opening experience that it was and that it remains for him, for Kris Carr, for me and for countless others - if we let it.

He said that once that door is opened, that kanswer door, there is no going back to the life we lived before. Once we hear that word, receive that diagnosis, everything changes forever. He said that kanswer isn't the only door that opens us to the life we must live, but it is a big one. Death. Other illnesses. Betrayal. Natural disasters. Divorce. Loss is another life-opening door. Oprah said, accurately, that "kanswer is a great loss - the loss of the life you thought you would live."

We cannot and we should not minimize the challenges that these losses, these diagnoses, these terrible moments are for ourselves or others. I do not know the horror of losing a child or the sorrow of divorce or the shock of losing my home to a fire or earthquake or the indiscrimate bombing of my hometown. But I believe, I hope, I pray that it is possible to experience those life-shattering moments, feel the sorrow of them, the loss of them, the pain of them - and then be open to the lessons each one was sent to teach us. Whenever and however they arrive.

I discovered Kris Carr soon after my own diagnosis through the book and documentary called, Crazy Sexy Kanswer (she spells that last word with a "c," but I continue to refuse to spell it that way.) She lives with stage 4 incurable kanswer in several organs in her body. During Sunday's show, at the end of nearly every segment of the interview between Mark and Oprah, Kris Carr would share some of the wisdom she gleaned from her ongoing journey with kanswer. One of the things she said that I wrote in my journal was this: "I was asleep before kanswer shook me awake."

Kanswer sure woke me up. Woke me up to pain, to fear, to shock, to sadness, to baldness, to the very real possibility of my own death, but also to love, to goodness, to kindness, to courage, to hope, to determination, to strength, and to the presence of friends and Spirit. Kanswer woke me up to the need to cherish the flavor and aroma of every meal, to rejoice after every night through which I can sleep deeply, and to appreciate the extraordinary, simple beauty and miracle of being able to do the laundry, wash dishes, go to the supermarket and take showers.

Mark Nepo said that in our darkest hours, we must find a way to embrace hope. Kris Carr said that joy is not something we should look for in the future. We shouldn't wait to embrace hope or live a joyful life. We can and ought to live in hope and joy right now.

I remember sitting in that chemo treatment room with the tube attached to my port pumping poison into my body. I remember that during each of those six sessions, I sat with a friend who had driven a minimum of forty-five minutes to be with me. One had driven three hours. Another had flown down here from Connecticut. Plus all those weeks between chemo treatments, when I underwent herceptin treatments, friends either drove or flew here for nearly all of those fifteen sessions as well. The person in my life who MOST hates to fly flew down here on the day before my surgery and spent four days with me. Then she flew back home - in an airplane - words cannot adequately describe how much she hates to fly. Through those amazing women, with those amazing women, bathed in the prayers and the love of those who couldn't be with me, I was able to embrace hope and laugh and experience joy. Even in those dark days, those tasteless days, those days of numbness in my fingers and toes, I tasted the richness and felt the tenderness of unspeakable joy and inexplicable hope.

As I submitted to kanswer treatment, I had no idea what the future would hold for me. I still don't. But I knew then and I still know that this moment, this ordinary, extraordinary, perfect, dreadful, painful, sad, present moment is the only one I have. This is the day, this is the hour, this is the moment, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. I remember weeping and thinking and praying and crying out to God and begging my husband to promise me that all would be well - and filling my journal with statements like these - "Kanswer sucks. Chemo sucks. Pain sucks. But I am alive. I am fighting. I am still here. I will yet praise God. I will still rejoice." It felt crazy to write those words down and to speak them between tears, but it is what I felt. It is what I knew to be true and right and the way of my life journey.

Kris Carr, who recently changed the name of her website to Home of the Crazy, Sexy Wellness Revolution, said that she has come to embrace and accept "this beautiful body of mine." She said she has released the need for remission. She has chosen instead to give her body space to heal and grow and be what it needs to be. After all, "Would you yell at a tree because its leaves were turning red? Would you yell at the grass for turning yellow and not being a perfect lawn?" So why should she yell at or be angry at her body? She added, "I'm not broken. I am perfect as I am. I may never be healthy on paper, but I am well." Also this, "Life is a terminal condition. We're all gonna die. How will we live? That is the question."

How beautiful and powerful is that?!?

Not long ago, Kristiana asked me if I ever miss my breasts. Great question. I thought about it for a moment or two and then told her that I don't miss them. I don't miss my locs either. What I miss is the carefree, kanswer-free life I lived back then. I miss not worrying about every sip and every morsel I put into my mouth. I miss not having to wonder if a pain in my back in a recurrence in the form of bone kanswer. I miss not having to wonder if kanswer cells are lurking in hidden places. I miss not having to explain that remission is not a word that applies to the kind of kanswer I had - besides there is no way to know for sure that there is no kanswer anywhere in my body. I miss not going to the doctor every new months and hoping he doesn't find something. I miss the kanswer-free innocence of the first 45 years of my life. But there is no going back to that life.

In its place, I have a new life. A more powerful life. A more grateful life.
A more alert life. A more compassionate life. A more urgent life. A more honest life.
A less competitive life. A less critical life. I less perfection-seeking life.

I have a bra-free life. I have a mammogram-free life.
I have a life in which I will never get my period again.
I have a life in which I will never have to deal with the heaviness or the heat of long hair again.
I have a life in which every meal and every drink matters.
I have a life in which every long walk, every yoga session, every weight lifted makes me thank my body for its faithfulness and strength.
I have a life in which I can laugh and cry with other people dealing with kanswer.
I have a life in which I am willing to tell my story more openly and shamelessly.
I have a life in which I am far less afraid to try new things, to be creative, to ask for what I need and what I want, and to refuse to do the things I neither want nor need to do.
I have a life for which I am grateful for every single moment, even the dark and scary ones.
I have a life during which I will never again be able to check "No" on forms that ask if I've ever had kanswer or if I'm taking any medication.
However, I now have a life during which I will always choose to say, "I am well."
No turning back. No turning back.

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