Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I threw out my "agenda" and what happens next

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. It’s not that things haven’t been happening. It’s that I’ve been in an in-between space about what and how to share here. 

The world revolves and big things happen. Some of them intensely personal. Some of them so much bigger, so much more insane feeling, than the events of my own life feel to me. 

What do we talk about in those moments? The big ones, where all of life is suddenly under the microscope? How do we use the miracle of technology to connect and honor and support one another in an authentic way? How do we give voice to the depths of our shared experience, our shared suffering? How do we come from our hearts, not our heads?

I see that there is this thing I do, a thing I think many of us do, when the events of the world feel big and incomprehensible and painful. I make myself small and insignificant and cut off from the rest. Which makes me feel helpless. Which in turn makes me either shut down, or communicate in broad generic terms, in the worst case, falling back on aphorisms, corporate-speak, and platitudes to try to find and share some hint of wholeness. But, there is little comfort to be found in these strategies.

Recognizing this got me thinking about unpredictability.

Over the last month and a half, after completing chemo, I had a short window of rest and recovery, followed up by a surgery and several check-in appointments. 

I wasn’t really expecting this to happen, but there it was.

I entered radiation, the final phase of my Western treatment, with a fresh, healing incision, three black dots tattooed around my torso to guide the technicians on where to zap me, and a soft coating of baby birdlike hair on my head. I’m both obscenely proud and occasionally horrified by all these new markings. They remind me that something huge happened in my life, something after which I will be forever changed. They are also tiny reminders to me of all life’s suffering, from which I would see all of us freed. They matter not at all, and somehow they contain everything that matters, all at once. 

I wasn’t expecting to feel any of this, but there it is.

Things are looking good. The old tumors are gone. The “suspicious lesions” the surgeon thought might be new tumors turned out to be benign radial scars. My body is accepting the radiation without too many complaints. 

And, nevertheless, I am keenly aware that life is unpredictable.

On the one hand, I feel confident the can’t-sir is gone. I’m buoyed by a deep internal knowing that all is well. I feel optimistic, and as my energy begins to return, even excited to get on with my life beyond triple negative. I talk with colleagues, friends, family and I am filled with love, compassion and hope for the future, inspired and engaged by their optimism. I am intensely grateful for all the support I’ve received and continue to receive. In fact, most every moment of every day, I find myself in a state of complete, mind-boggling awe for all that has transpired these last 6+ months. 

On the other hand, cancer doctors give few definitive answers and make no promises. Cancer is a game of comparisons. Of percentages and odds and generalities. When my husband asked the chemo oncologist about how we should think about the last four months of systemic treatment I’d received -- while acknowledging we weren’t looking for him to say, “She’s cured” -- the doctor smiled gently and shrugged. His answer was that he felt confident the chemo had worked on me because, “We know it works.” 

Which reminded me that if you can’t deal with ambiguity, can’t-sir is probably not your best dance partner for this snazzy little rumba called life.

To make any kind of sense of the land of can’t-sir, and to have any hope of explaining what’s happening with me to other people, I pretty much have to default to describing it in a linear fashion. To breaking it up into discreet phases of the healing journey. There’s a kind of rough structure that offers handholds: Diagnosis, Treatment (Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Holistic Therapies), Recovery, Remission, and hopefully, Vibrant Health. 

But, the truth is it isn’t a linear journey. Just like all of life. It’s not linear at all. It’s completely unpredictable. 

People don’t say much about the no man’s land between Treatment and Vibrant Health. The literature, the blogs, the coaching conversations. They’re filled with stories of this surgery, that drug reaction, this unexpected side effect. They’ve got tales of courage, stories of loss, and even the all-too-occasional happy ending. You can pull a billion and one of those stories off of Google. 

But, the stories I’m interested in, the stories of what happens after treatment, but before you figure out exactly who you are and what exactly to do next, those are much harder to find. In fact, I can’t tell that they exist at all.

Just like life. There’s no guidebook.

No one could have told me how can’t-sir would reshape me -- body, mind and spirit -- just as no one can tell me how or what to do with the whole of my life.

No one can tell me what the useful thing to say in any given moment is, to myself, my loved ones, my extended networks. Not about can’t-sir. Not about anything big at all.

No one can give me hope or love or happiness. It’s up to me to recognize the spark that exists in my soul already and allow it to flame.

At the root, it seems to me, success comes when we just go with our guts. When we go with what is right before us, letting go of our agendas, being present to all that is joyous and miserable and wondrous and strange. And, from that place, shine our light as bright as we possibly can, not minimizing ourselves, or what is true for us, or the contribution we are here to make, but rather, recognizing that our experience and our voice and what we are seeing in that moment has meaning and value. We each have something unique and irreplaceable to offer into this moment. 

Because, in fact, we are not separate at all -- no matter that it may feel that way. We are part of all that is. Our deeply personal experiences are soul-filled fragments of the collective experience we are all having. In sharing from our hearts, we create cohesion. We begin to glue the bits that have fallen apart back together. We show our love and our vulnerability. We hone our ability to be willing to allow our suffering to shape us but not to destroy us. We honor the moment and stay present to each moment and its teachings. 

I can’t tell you exactly what the next chapter of my life will look like. And that, actually, is precisely what fills me with hope. Because it means that the one thing I can say about the future is that it will be an extraordinary adventure, filled with opportunities to do good work, to help others, to create change, to do something innovative and creative -- in short, to make the contribution I came here to make. 

It means I've been gifted with one more precious minute above ground to do something useful with. And let me tell you, that alone feels fantastic in a way no blog post could ever express.