Thursday, May 23, 2013

Living With Cancer, Without Fear

This week, I'm sharing an email from a student who is a breast cancer survivor; she wrote this as a response to the New York Times op-ed piece of Angelina Jolie's that describes her double mastectomy, a course of action the actress chose to take to reduce her risks of getting breast cancer (she currently does not have breast cancer).

Please read this, even if you don't have cancer, even if you don't have breasts, because her underlying theme is universal: intention matters.

"Caving into our fears and living a life in their shadows, feeling afraid, alone and powerless is the festering wound that all women are asked to heal. How we do that, is different for every one of us. For some of us it may mean letting go of our breasts, for others it may mean keeping our breasts and talking to them every day, or employing an infinite number of alternative healing practices.

There really is no salvation in following one approach over the other.

There is no guarantee in any particular choice. As always, it is what we do with it that makes the difference. 

If we cut off a piece of our bodies, bargaining to be somehow made less vulnerable, to be 'in control', to not ever need to fear anymore, we miss the mark. But if we make the same choice with the intent of facing our fear, and coming out of the shadows that have been haunting us, maybe for years, if we use the same surgery to confront our mortality, with the intent to die TO the fear (instead of from it), the same choice can be an incredibly self-empowering marking and initiation.

The same is true for other, more alternative choices. We can diet and exercise all we want, as long as we do it out of fear of developing cancer or having a recurrence,

we are still acting out of the same fear, and suffering. 

(Mis)using any healing tools to try to separate and insulate us from our fear, simply won't do. Fear is a fierce force and unless it is met at a deeper level of ourselves, it won't budge and we will continue to worry and obsess - whether it is about the cookie we ate or the day we missed our run…. And needless to say, fear, and stress (and worry about being stressed!) only keep the wheel of our suffering spinning.

The bottom line is, whatever choices we make, on any given day,

the healing lies in facing our fear AND surrendering at the same time. 

We may think we would feel better if we could only get rid of our fear, cut it off, squish it down, tie it up, box it up, control it, if only we could be safe from it. And yet, paradoxically, all these attempts only do what wind does to the flames. Truly, our salvation lies in turning toward it, in facing our fear, not fighting it, not even fixing it, but surrendering it.

It has been said, that true courage only comes in the face of great fear. So let us USE the fear we all share, the BIG fear of our untimely dying (is it ever timely?), that for many women comes in the face of breast cancer, to FIND our courage, to die to all that hurts or hinders our healing and wholeness, to let go of all that no longer serves and step into the uniquely precious life that has been waiting for each one of us since before we can remember.

Life is vulnerable.
Life in this body is terminal.
Everything is impermanent.
Don't waste another day (or hour or breath) in the shadows of your fears. 

Instead, use whatever tools are calling out to you, to step into meeting your fear and finding the COURAGE that is your birthright. Step out into the bright light of your daring, as the heroine that you are, bold and empowered by responding TO and not from your fears, and held and supported by the community of our brave hearts beating, honoring those that have come and gone before us and inspiring those that will follow in our footsteps to live this one precious, wild life with courage, compassion and grace."