Life on the 28th March 2014 seems a million light years away from that on the 28th March 2013. Is it really a year already since “the area of concern” was identified? It seems like yesterday and yet it also seems like it was aeons ago. Apart from implant exchange surgery scheduled for May, the physical side of my treatment for breast cancer is now complete. Four surgeries, a major infection, 7 weeks of antibiotics, four months of chemotherapy and commencement of tamoxifen for the next 5 years and we’re all done. I’ve done everything I can to prevent that ugly beast from showing up again years down the track. It’s time to pick up the pieces and move on. I feel like my brain is struggling to catch up in the recovery process. I keep hearing, rumbling around in my head, “What happened!?”.
I am having to get to know the new me. Physically I feel like I’ve been broken and smashed and trampled and turned inside out. The new physical me will still take some getting used to and has a long way to go before I feel comfortable again in my own skin. The non-physical me feels like a lion that has been unleashed from its cage. There is a pent up energy that is waiting to go somewhere, although I’m not sure where yet. It might need to wait until the physical me catches up. In the meantime my qi or soul or the essence of me that is far bigger than my physical being has taken on a life form of its own. I’m learning how to nurture and harness this energy. At times I think maybe the chemo drugs have fried my brain or the tamoxifen has sent my hormones askew, but I feel so brave, like I can tackle anything. I feel so strong. And yet there is an inner peace and calm. I have no fear about my health and well-being nor what the future will hold. I have witnessed so many amazing things over the past year that I know I am cared for and nurtured and that all things work together for good. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll still be here in 10 years time, but it does mean my life has meaning and will be well-lived.
I am not grateful for having breast cancer. Cancer sucks. But I am so very grateful for the things I have learned over this past year. The authors I’ve read and the wise people I’ve come to know. How had I never read Ralph Waldo Emerson before? His essay on Nature and the beauty of his prose are so moving. Rachel Naomi Remen and Lissa Rankin are two amazing medical professionals, authors and guides. The fact that they paired up recently to run a 6-week teleclass of “Medicine for the Soul” is wonderful and something I didn’t want to end. My discovery of mindfulness and the difference this practice has made to my life is incredible. And then all of these things seemed to have come to a nexus in the past month with my learning about the Benedictine way of life.
Our Lenten studies this year have involved the reading and discussion of a book by Sister Joan Chittister called “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St Benedict”. The Benedictines are my kind of people! I had no idea.
Joan writes, “Balance, the [Benedictine] Rule says. Balance. And harmony. And awareness.” She goes on to say: “What are the signs of harmony and balance and awareness in our lives? People with a sense of Benedictine balance see that life is a medley of multiple dimensions, each of which must be developed…….They walk through life smelling the flowers. They need enough money, some play, good work, steady friends, spiritual growth, intellectual stimulation, and harmony with nature…….They make time for every facet of life. They live a rhythm of life that includes the natural, the spiritual, the social, the productive, the physical and the personal……..They live life well. They are, in fact, fully alive.”
Wow! These words have resonated deeply within me. And that is how I come to be, on the one-year anniversary of that traumatic day my tumour was discovered, a guest at the Benedictine Abbey in Camperdown, Victoria for a 24-hour retreat. I’m here with a small group from our Lenten Study group. From sundown until tomorrow morning is a period of silence. I’m not sure that blogging counts as maintaining silence, but it is healing to have time to reflect and introspect on all that has happened over the past year. I’m such a different person now. Things have a brightness and clarity that wasn’t there before. Love is overwhelming. I am still getting the balance right but I am making a conscious effort to walk through life smelling the flowers.