livinginloveandlight

April 16, 2014

what cancer took from me ~ a thank you note

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 3:24 pm

Thank-You-1

I would like to spend some time talking about what cancer took from me. But before you assume that I am trying to evoke a pity party, please hear me out.  Yes, there are a few obvious and painful things that were taken from me during (or as a result of) my cancer experience: my hair, my job, my ability to have any more children, my ability to walk, my sense of control, my home, my cat, my car, my independence, my pride, my son, my plans, my boyfriend, 30% of my body weight, my appetite, my strength, my blood in its entirety… you get the point. What made those losses so painful was that I thought I needed all of those things or that they needed me. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how life could go on. Even now, after coming out of it, thinking about the loss of all of those things (whether temporarily or permanently) seems unfathomable, devastating, and unrecoverable. But thankfully, cancer knew what it was doing, even if I didn’t.

Cancer continued to take things from me (and here’s where it gets good).  Cancer took from me any questions I had about my capacity to love or be loved.   Cancer took away any of the unrealistic expectations I had for myself as a parent, daughter, friend and lover. I saw so clearly that the love of my friends and family was not dependent on the way that I was able to show up in their lives.  They loved me even when I could do nothing in return for them.  This also took away my need to please everyone around me.  I saw so clearly how I could never please everyone through my actions and through the giving of my time.  Just existing pleased everyone that truly loved me.  Cancer took away my illusion of control, forcing me to surrender absolutely and completely in every aspect of life. Because of this, cancer also took away any lack of faith I may have had.  After I surrendered, and only after I surrendered completely, I was able to see that everything unfolds exactly as it should. Just because it was out of my control didn’t mean it wasn’t under control. Cancer took away my pride and selfishness, replacing it with a level of compassion and empathy that I craved so deeply, but could never seem to find on my own.  Envisioning children the age of my son and younger going through this process, and seeing that no matter how bad my situation seemed, there was always always someone who was worse off than me. This really helped me to maintain a level of humility and gratitude that I was never able to embody in the past.  It also showed me the difference between being selfish and being self loving.  Trying to manipulate a situation to get what I wanted or to avoid pain, or closing myself off to protect myself, or not accepting help to save my pride…that was selfish, and stupid. But asking for help and doing what I needed to do to get better so that I could be there in the future for those I love, that is self love.  Also, allowing someone to have the joy of helping someone in need, that is also love.

Cancer also took away my ignorance about so many things: my ignorance about what it means to suffer, my ignorance about how amazing nurses are and how hard they work.  It took away my ignorance about the healthcare system, western medicine, drugs, the body, the immune system, cancer, rehabilitation, the number of things that could go wrong with any body, and the miracle therein when it doesn’t happen.

Cancer took away any confusion I had about who I am and what my purpose in life is.  It also showed me that I was going about figuring it out all wrong.  It took away the blurry, fuzzy nature of much of my existence and decision making (or lack thereof) by showing me clearly where I was on the right path and where I was heading in the wrong direction.

Cancer took away my job, allowing me to admit to myself that it wasn’t the right job for me in the first place. It wasn’t clear to me until it wasn’t my job any more, but now I see that I was supporting and tagging along on the road to someone else’s dream.  I didn’t believe that my own dreams for myself were valuable, solidified, reasonable, or attainable. The next best thing was to support other people’s dreams; at least their vision was clear and I believed it was valuable. Whether it is for a paycheck or not, we all deserve to be spending the majority of our time and energy in a way that is the most authentic and that utilizes and nurtures our highest selves. Most of us think this is a luxury we can’t afford which leads me to the next thing that cancer took from me.  Cancer took away the misunderstanding that I was trapped in my current situation.  By trapped I mean, I was quite convinced that my options were very limited, and by “my situation” I mean all of the things that made up my current life, whether I wanted them or not.  All the things that made up my “current situation” were taken away.   This showed me that I could have walked away, at any point, from any of the things that were not best for me.  Not carelessly, not rebelliously, but intentionally and consciously. Now that would insinuate that I knew what I should be walking away from, which I did not, but this is yet another area where cancer brought clarity. Only until they were all taken away from me could I see clearly which things I should consciously choose to add back into my “current situation”, and which things I should not.  I don’t know when we, as a society, decided that what we do for a living is more important than living itself.  I will be going back to work eventually, but ideally for myself mostly, focusing on my life coaching career and writing (shameless plug: http://www.istartnowwellness.com).

Although it wasn’t by choice, I quit my job, moved out of my house, stopped making the (barely managable) income I was making, broke up with my boyfriend, stopped driving, stop doing just about everything I had been doing, and life went on anyway.  Everything was ok without me.  It was a paradox, both arrogant and insecure, to believe things would not be ok without me.  I didn’t even realize that I was setting myself up to be needed because I didn’t trust that I was wanted.  At first, it was scary and disappointing to see that the whole world does just fine without me, but once my ego got over it, what followed was a huge sense of relief and peace. Relief that everyone would be fine without me whenever my time comes to leave this world, and peace because letting go of the ego allowed me to finally see that even though I wasn’t needed, I was wanted.

Cancer also took away my relationship with my son as I had known it to be.  But, this was a relationship that was far less enjoyable than it could have been, and I was entirely to blame. It is ironic, perhaps, that I considered myself to be in “survival mode” for most of my son’s life and that it took me actually being in literal survival mode to put it into perspective.  I think of all times I stressed about my lack of time, energy and money. I was a single parent trying to do it all, and never succeeding. I was sure that I didn’t want any more kids because I could barely make it with the one I already had.  All of the love and pleasure that comes from being a parent was shrouded by my exhaustion, stress, and worry.  I saw being a parent as something that was getting in the way of my other desires.  It (seemingly) forced me to stay in jobs that I didn’t want so I could pay the bills, it prevented me from feeling free to offer myself to a potential partner without the burden and responsibility of a child that wasn’t theirs.  It kept me from being able to pick up and move and explore, a trait that I assumed any future partner might want from me.  I never once regretted having my son, and never doubted that decision, but it felt like a cross to bare rather than as the honor that I knew it was.  As you can imagine, I had an incredible amount guilt because I loved him so much and didn’t understand why that didn’t translate into enjoying him as much as I wanted to. The only thing I knew I wanted to be eversince I was a little girl was a mother. I knew it wasn’t how it was supposed to feel and I didn’t know how to make it better, but cancer did.  Now, because cancer took away my job, I have all the time in the world to sleep, so I am not exhausted.  Also, because cancer took away my time with my son for so long, I no longer take it for granted.  I am excited when he comes home from school at 3 because I have missed him rather than dreading picking him up from daycare at 5:30, not knowing how I could possibly get through dinner and make it to bedtime without collapsing. Also, cancer took away a ridiculous vomit-phobia that always seemed to loom over me to a certain extent, knowing that children are vomit machines.  Leave it chemo to cure you of that. Sometimes I am sad that I can’t have any more kids, especially now that I am truly loving being a mother.  And let’s be honest, I am not sure there is anything I like more than babies, but there is also a sense of relief in the fact that I don’t have to feel conflicted about it any more.  The decision has been made, whether I chose it or not. Also, I have a new openness to the idea of adoption.  That is not something  I could’ve wrapped my mind around before now, though I always admired those that could.  How could I possibly love someone elses baby as much as it deserved when I felt I wasn’t accomplishing that with my own?  Now I see that it is possible by loving without thinking. Love without fear. Love without wondering if you’re loving enough.  Love with fear you’re not loving enough.  Love especially when you fear you aren’t loving enough. Love anyway. Always love anyway.

Because my boyfriend and I broke up, and cancer took away my “datability” for a while, I finally learned how to be alone and how to distinguish that from loneliness.  Cancer removed the “reserved” sign that I had subconsciously placed on a section of my heart a long, long time ago. I thought I needed to save it for that special someone. If I wasn’t in relationship, I was constantly looking for the person to fill that spot because my heart-felt so empty when no one was there. I would choose to be in relationship, even if it was the wrong, just to fill that space.  Cancer took away my ability to seek a partner for a while, so I gave up the hunt.  Once I surrendered to singledom, that empty space was immediately filled by all the other love in my life.  My heart only felt empty because I had a false understanding that only a life partner could fill that space.  How absurd it seems now that I wasn’t allowing myself to be filled with love because I didn’t want it to interfere with my search for love. There is always, always enough room for more love.

Perhaps the greatest thing that cancer took away was my incessant worry.  One might think, since having cancer, that I would be overwhelmed with worry about my health.  Wondering every minute of every day if the cancer was coming back, if my body would reject my transplant, if I would get some illness that my suppressed immune system wouldn’t be able to handle.  And of course, I have my moments.  However, the farther out I get in my recovery process, and the more clarity I have about the purpose in all of it, the less worry I have. Being patient enough to reach an understanding about the purpose of suffering allows for to have faith that suffering  is a necessary and beautiful thing if you want to live a life of peace and joy.  To reach the level of darkness that I had reached and come out the other side makes anything seem possible and reveals how counterintuitive and wasteful worry is.  I only increased my suffering when I was worried about what tomorrow might bring; when I worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.  I never ever thought I would be able to handle it, and I always always did.  I no longer worry about money: there is always enough.  I no longer worry about being sick: the worry was my sickness.  I no longer worry about what I will do for a living: living is what I do.  I no longer worry about the suffering of others: the worry is the suffering.  I no longer worry about what people think: they are not their thoughts, and I am not their thoughts, and I am not my thoughts.  I no longer worry about how I spend my time: there is no end.

Cancer took away any doubt that there is a god, or something larger than myself, or a bigger plan in the works.  I am not a religious person, but there is no way that I could’ve dreamed up this elaborate scheme that was so obviously the answer to my healing.   I never would have guessed that it would take me getting very sick to bring me to true wellness. And even if I knew that getting cancer would improve my life exponentially, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to have it. Who would?  I am not a hero because I survived cancer. It would have been far more heroic to come to these truths without getting cancer.   I didn’t choose to get into the barrel and be thrusted down the falls.  I didn’t bravely enlist myself in this war, I was drafted.   I have always been a coward in that sense.  I never ever would have willingly put myself in this position.  But once I realized I was falling, once I accepted the fact that I was in active combat, I saw pretty quickly that there was no sense in trying to hold on, in resisting or running away.  I was scared, and I didn’t know if I would make it out alive, but I  followed my gut and surrendered to the cancer.  I even invited it to “bring it on”. I begged it to teach me what it needed to teach me, and to please make it quick. I felt confident that once I learned what I was supposed to learn, it would leave. Immediately after battle, I looked around at my life.  I was injured and depressed and all I saw were casualties…all of the things in my life that cancer had taken and I wondered why it had to take them away. All I saw was loss and I felt a bit betrayed.  But, little by little, as I lined up each and every corpse of my past life, I came to realize that every single casualty was either an enemy in disguise, or something I didn’t need anyway.  Cancer did me a favor.  And it did it in a way that only cancer could.  Like the heavy rainfall that came down the other day, dark and cold and drenching my car, thereby removing all of the dead bugs that encrusted my windshield obscuring my view; cancer washed over my life.  The rain wasn’t the enemy, the bugs were. Sorry for the abundance of metaphors, I really can’t help myself.  For those of you who looked at me like I was crazy or lying when I said cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me, now you know why it is absolutely true.  Although I can’t promise I’m not also crazy.

As I reintegrated myself back into the land of the living over the last several months, people have asked me many questions.  The most common is  “how did you do it?”.  Well, the simple answer is: I have no idea.  It is like asking a message in a bottle how it managed to wash up on shore.  There is no agenda, no sense of direction, no effort on its part to arrive anywhere specific.  One day, after being carried through a current stronger than itself, through rough waters, and perhaps the roughest being right as it is approaching the shore, it is gently deposited on the water’s edge. When someone finds it, it is laying calm and still, with an important message inside, waiting to be shared.  How it got there is not nearly as important as the message it holds.

Lately, I find myself wanting to share my cancer experience less and less.  It is not an unwillingness to share.  I am more than happy to discuss it when I’m asked. In fact, I have plans in the works to speak with a couple of different groups at a few hospitals, and I intend to share my story whenever I am called to and for as long as it is benefiting others. When I say I want to share my story less and less, I mean that the necessity or desire to share it for myself has decreased a great deal.  I no longer feel the need to talk about it or write about it as a means to make sense of it; it makes sense to me now. I am no longer trying to understand why it all happened by talking about it as a way to sort it all out; I’ve sorted it all out. Although I feel quite sure I will continue to find lessons in my experience and am not fully recovered, I am far enough out of it now that I trust my new-found clarity and understanding. So in light of that, I have decided that this is (for now) my final cancer-focused blog.  I had so many things that I thought I wanted to say, to the point of being so overwhelmed that I stopped writing about it altogether because I didn’t know where to begin. There are many more things that I could say, but I see now that all the other things that I could say are not valuable for the purposes that I wanted this blog to be. I could probably find a way to talk about my cancer experience for the rest of my life, but I have come to understand that it does not benefit me to see everything through the lens of that experience.  I don’t want to find myself in a position where my whole identity is based around being a cancer survivor.  For those of you that have attended one of my workshops, you know that defining ourselves by the experiences or labels that we have collected over time can be harmful and isolating.  This may be one of the single greatest lessons I learned from my cancer experience.  That being said, allowing yourself to be changed by those experiences, allowing those experiences to be used to help you reach a higher state of being and helping you uncover the truths and riches that are hiding underneath those experiences is vital to our growth both personally and spiritually.  I can not emphasize this enough.  This is what gives any experience its value, no matter how wonderful or horrific that experience was.  This is the key to coming away from suffering with gratitude rather than anger.  This is absolutely essential unless you want to be a victim of your experiences, and sometimes we really do think it is what we want. But we only want that when we don’t see our value outside of that experience.  Our experiences – all of them – are our diving boards into the deep end, not the pool.  We can spend a lot of time looking down, not jumping in, or even after we have safely landed in the pool we focus on how scary it was while we were falling, or how upset we are that we were shoved off when we weren’t ready.  We are so focused on how we were wronged or jipped that we don’t even notice that we came out unscathed, or even better than before.

So thank you, cancer, for honoring me with your education, for being my diving board into the deepest pool I have ever encountered. Thank you for washing away the dead bugs from my proverbial windshield, thank you for revealing and killing my enemies in the battle for a centered, joyful, mindful life. Thank you for taking away the things that I thought I couldn’t live without or that I thought couldn’t live without me so that I could see I was wrong, and thank you for giving me the clarity that I needed to not only better my own life, but also the unwavering sense of peace and wisdom that I need to better the lives of the people around me.  I am now ready to move forward fearlessly, knowing that I have riches to offer, both on the page, in my relationships, in my work, and for as long as I am meant to live in this body and in this world.  Not because cancer put value on those things, but because it revealed the value that has always been there. Everything else is a mystery and out of my control, and I like it that way.

And thank YOU.

September 13, 2013

100 Days

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 8:47 pm

dragonfly-beautifulIt has been a full year since my diagnosis and the magic “100 days post-transplant” is fast approaching.  After day 100, I will get a bone marrow biopsy to confirm that I am in remission, and if all goes well, they will remove my central line and I no longer have to see my oncologist on a regular basis.  It is strange… the last 100 days have included some of the longest days of my life, but somehow, looking back, it seems the time has flown by.

I have not been sleeping well at night.  My mind starts spinning the moment my head hits the pillow and I tend to re-live the last year like a movie trailer playing over and over again. I wonder what the movie would be called… “Devon does Cancer” , “Love in the time of Leukemia”,  “Life with a Bedside Commode”…?  Maybe not.  Bits and pieces of my cancer experience come in flashes as I lay there, in the form of former conversations or through images of myself in various states of wellness.  I would rather look forward to the healthy life ahead of me, walking again, being a mother again, working again, but it seems quite impossible to picture what that life will look like. Some self-protective part of me seems to prevent me from seeing too far into the future.  So now, more than ever, I am living in the moment.  I don’t think, however, that I am living in the moment quite the way one might think.  Unfortunately, this is not some wise, Buddha-like presence that I developed through my experience.  This is more of a fear-based “I can’t handle thinking about anything past this moment” kind of living in the present. I am hoping, over time, that I will get more comfortable with the idea of being well and be able to settle in to cancer-free life.  But until then, I must get used to the fact that getting better is actually much harder than being sick.  Living in the moment, in a more Buddha-esque fashion, is much easier when you have no choice but to surrender to that which is beyond your control.  The most peaceful I have felt in this whole process was when I was my very sickest.  Somehow I just surrendered to the fact that I could do nothing to change what was happening to me.  The absolute inability to control any part of it gave me permission to completely let go.  What followed was absolute peace.  I know my family was scared, the nurses weren’t so sure, but I had complete tranquility.  I got to see first hand how control is a complete illusion and that fear comes from trying to have control where I cannot.  As I started to get better, the fear began to return.  I can’t fall when I am already at my lowest point, but the moment I began to rise up, suddenly I became afraid of heights – afraid of falling again.  It was during this time that I was completely dependent on my friends and family to convince me that I was going to get better.  It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that could get better, it was more that I didn’t want to count on it and be let down.  As I continue to improve, I am getting used to the idea that I may actually pull through this thing, but I still find myself having trouble visualizing what life will look like 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years from now.  I am no longer living with the delusion that I can control what will happen, yet I haven’t quite learned how to trust what is to come.

Right before I got sick, my life was coming together harmoniously in a way that it never had before.  Something was always a bit amiss – boyfriend good, house good, but my job sucked.  Or my job was good, house and boyfriend not working out so well.  Or boyfriend is peachy, but house and job not working out so well.  The week before I was diagnosed, I found the perfect house, had just started a new job that was inspiring and fed me in a way no job previously had, and my boyfriend and I were talking about moving in together.  The 3 major areas of my life that had never before been right where I wanted them to be (at the same time), were meeting in the perfect tri-fecta of happiness.  Here’s the kicker – it was just then that all my plans were shattered. It was like knocking over a domino causing the whole thing to topple over right as you were getting close to the end. My job is no longer there for me to have back, I have yet to really live in my new house, and although my boyfriend and I have grown closer than ever through this experience, I can’t be sure, when it’s all said and done, that our relationship will ever be able to recover from this last year.  It was as if that life was never mine to have, and I have made peace with that.  I figured out, early on in my cancer experience, that I there was no going back to that life at all.  I was, instead, on an entirely new path and I couldn’t know what was waiting for me on the other side.

Now here I am, ready to live in the world again, and I feel like I am starting it all over.  So much has changed in the last year.  I know things now that I was ignorant to before, and things I thought I knew have become complete mysteries to me now.  I am scared and excited, wiser and more clueless at the same time.  The world looks both more beautiful and more intimidating.  I have everything in front of me, the whole world at my feet, yet with a keen new awareness of what I have to lose and how quickly it can happen.  The more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows.  I feel like I have just been made aware of my mortality, yet given a renewed faith in the body’s ability to heal and be well.

Upon discussing these thoughts with my dad he asked me “if you could go back to your old life and skip the whole cancer thing, would you?”  My answer was… no.  Although there are parts I wouldn’t mind fast-forwarding through, I am quite sure that this last year has been the best, worst, most beautiful and most valuable year of my life.  It’s like coming into the gate after being forced to ride the scariest roller coaster ever.  I’m not sure what just happened, I can’t get my bearings straight, I kind of want to vomit, but I feel more alive than ever.

 

March 5, 2013

Hair’s My Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 3:24 am

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Inspired by the question from my dear friend Kelly, let me talk for a moment about my hair and my body and how my relationship with it has changed.  Kelly said “I was wondering what will happen with your hair after all of this. Will it be different in texture? Darker? The same? You said the other day that it’s growing in thick, so that made me wonder if it will be different in other ways too.”

Changes to my hair have been the most obvious, at least to the outside world. But this question made me think about all the changes my body has been through during this process.  How far it has come, how grateful I am for its strength, the times I have accused it of failing me, and the ways in which I am in awe at its desire to be well and healed…all on its own.

Yesterday I took a walk.  I left my house and headed towards the park. There is a nice loop that has always been the perfect distance.  I started walking and immediately realized that for the first time ever, I might not make it back.  I remember one time, early on in my illness, asking a nurse if I should limit my activities.  I told her that I walked every day. She said that I could be as active as I felt up to, but just be careful I don’t get over ambitious and walk so far that I can’t get back.  I remember chuckling at the thought.  But here I am…listening to the crunch of the gravel under my feet, and feeling the weight of my legs growing with each step as I distanced myself from my house.  My muscles have weakened to the point where they can’t support my body for long. I turned around and headed home.  I wiped tears off my cheeks as I walked, relieved, back into the house.

I am in remission; there is no cancer left in my body, but the process to arrive there is much like breaking the screen and keyboard on your laptop in order to get to the motherboard to clean it. I cannot even remember all of the strange things that my body has gone through in this process, but I will try to recall a few for the sake of a chuckle in hindsight.  For instance, my right ear getting sore because I can only sleep on my right side.  Or my left foot being numb from my sciatic nerve, or my muscles being so weak that I have to pull myself up stairs by the railing and I can even feel it in my jaw when I talk or chew.  There were many days when my son or my boyfriend had to help put my socks on because I couldn’t bend over.  How about the time I couldn’t close my fists because I got too many fluids, or when high fevers caused constant reel of random images in my head every time I closed my eyes.  My shoulder muscles have become so weak that even now there are times when my arm feels too heavy for my shoulder to support.  You can’t forget the morphine induced constipation, lack of verbal filter and cotton mouth.  Good times.

I am swimming across this body of water: this lake that is my cancer experience.  I thought I had already and finally reached the half-way point…the point where the other shore is now closer than one I left.  But I am seeing, once again, that perhaps the distance has deceived me.  I am not done letting go of my body as I had known it to be and the rebuilding has yet to begin.

My hair was the first thing I had to let go of.  It happened in phases. First, I cut it short.  I wasn’t going to lose if for a few weeks, but knowing that it was only a matter of time, I felt like my long curls were mocking me every time I looked in the mirror.  It felt wasteful to shampoo and condition it and after years and years of long hair it was suddenly too heavy for my head.  Graciously, my mom’s hair stylist came to the hospital and cut my hair short for me.  She stuffed the majority of it in a ziplock bag to donate and then proceeded to give me my first really short hair cut.  She kept asking me questions like “do you want your ears cut out?” or “how short do you want your bangs?”  I just chuckled at every question and just said “it really doesn’t matter.”  Since I wasn’t willing to offer her suggestions, what did my mom’s hair stylist give me? My mom’s hair cut.  It looks great on my mom. Not as great on me.  The following weekend, my boyfriend and I shaved our heads together. I cried briefly, but mostly it was liberating and a big moment of acceptance for me.  A few short weeks later, I stepped into the shower, tilted my head back into warm stream, rubbed my eyes, and looked down to see the little hairs from my head running down my body and down the drain.  It was shocking, even though I knew it was coming, and wept at the rawness of the moment.  I was also overwhelmed with relief that I didn’t have to dread this moment any longer.  For the next couple weeks, I had a new bald spot after every shower until there was nothing left to lose.

After it was gone, I didn’t really care that I didn’t have hair.  When I would look at myself in the mirror with no makeup and no hair, I would see this raw version of myself that I grew to love. She couldn’t hide or fool anyone, she was honest and her strengths and weaknesses could be seen in her eyes.  I was no longer scared of who that person was underneath it all. That person was the only one I could count on to see me through.

Now, all my hair is growing back. It’s darker, but also grayer,  it’s curlier, it’s thicker and I love it.  It is a continued sign of how far I’ve come, even when it feels like there is so much farther yet to go. I can’t really say how different it will be until it’s a length I’ve had before in my life.  I watch its growth and its changes with excitement and wonderment.  What a fitting metaphor my hair is for this journey as a whole. To appear to lose it all, when in reality you were really just given permission to let go of a superficial bit of yourself that distracted from the most authentic you.

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As I continue to swim across this body of water, I realize that the other shore is, in fact, closer than the one I left.  I’m just tired from swimming for so long.

February 7, 2013

You’re the Inspiration

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 3:42 pm

Inspiration

Brothers and Sisters,

I have had the desire to write another blog entry for a couple of weeks now, but  for a number reasons (most of them not great reasons) I have yet to write my next entry.  So, I was laying in bed last night, asking the Universe for inspiration and motivation, and I was suddenly struck with an idea.  I thought, why don’t I ask my friends and family…the source of most of my inspiration…to tell me what to write?  So that is exactly what I’m doing.

Here is your assignment (if you choose to except it):  Leave a comment (below) on this blog entry with a question you’ve been wanting to ask me about my process, about life, about Leukemia, about the crazy dreams I keep having, about how to make an awesome vegetarian corn chowder, or anything else, and I will do my best to respond to each and every one of your comments (and maybe there will be only one of you, and that’s ok too).  I do not mean to be presumptuous in thinking any of you have anything you’d like to ask me, but this is a risk I’m willing to take for the sake of inspiration.  Please follow your curiosity and don’t worry about offending me; I have choked down about 68% of my pride over the last 5 months. Thank you for your overwhelming response to my entries.  I want to keep them coming!

In love and light,

Devon

January 11, 2013

Presence

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 2:46 pm

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There’s this guy I know.  His girlfriend has cancer. They used to spend their time doing other things, but now there’s just cancer.  Instead of hiking with her a couple times a week, he’s walking down to the hospital cafeteria with her, getting the over-cooked oatmeal. Again.  Instead of traveling with her or having a weekend to himself, he’s driving the same 2 hour drive every weekend to her parents house to be with her, whether he’s up for it or not, because he knows she’s been waiting all week to see him.  Instead of making dinner with her and her 10 year old son, he’s by himself with her son, doing his part to maintain some sense of normality for him while his mother is away…helping him with his homework, giving him bedtime tickles and playing guitar for him before sleep. There’s no time or energy for running like he used to.  His job is as demanding as his girlfriend, and priorities blur and clash.

When his girlfriend is laying in the hospital bed with a fever of 103, incoherent and curled up like a croissant stuffed with infectious disease, he is right beside her, trying to sleep in a glorified recliner.  When her chills are so bad that she’s shaking uncontrollably, he crawls into bed with her and wraps himself around her until it subsides.  When she’s scared and lost in the dark places that cancer leads, he’s on the other end of the phone to tell her that it’s going to be ok, even when he’s not sure.  When he kisses her on the forehead, or takes her hand, it is more healing than the vending machine of medications available to her.  Never taking it all too seriously, he invites laughter and joy into every room. Laying his coat down in front of her, over the puddles that cancer creates, she never walks alone.

Love, patience, commitment and sacrifice are busting out of the overnight bag he’s been living out of the last 4 months, but above all else, he packs the gift of presence.  He is present with cancer, present with the derailed life he lives with his girlfriend, present with her son and her parents and his job, present with his friends and family, present with his need for space, or his need for love, present when the doctor’s in the room, present with the game of rummy, and present with his faith that she will get better.  He could be anywhere else, and probably often wishes he was, but he never lets on. Instead, he wraps his arms around his girlfriend, kisses the top of her bald head, and without a word she feels him say “I’m right here.”  

December 9, 2012

Too Soon to Break Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 6:21 pm


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Relationships are messy. All of them. Partners, parents, siblings, children, friends, food, God: messy. They are complicated and stained and flawed. The best ones push me, scare me, make me question things I already figured out, and make me rediscover myself. They find cobwebs hiding in the corners of my heart and they shine a light under my bed where I’ve hidden stories and wounds, and that sock I’d been looking for. They force me to unpack past relationships and sort through the shoebox of embarrassing childhood photos. These relationships, the worthwhile ones, happen slowly over time, working only when both parties are willing to take turns peeling off layers and removing masks. Emotional strip poker. Because there really is nothing more attractive than a naked soul. As I get older, I set the standard for relationship higher, and I expend energy only on ones that fit the above criteria, because the impact of relationships often outlive the relationship itself.

And now I am in a new relationship. With cancer. Layered, complicated, and very, very messy; this relationship happened unexpectedly. Like that new boyfriend that makes himself at home a little too quickly, cancer has uncomfortably revealed itself to friends and family, made holidays awkward, and absorbed my time and energy in a manner that changes every other relationship around me.  “It’s never gonna last,” they’re all saying, but deep down I know they wonder.

Not bothering with what’s under the bed and not curious about the skeletons I’ve already cleaned out of my closet, cancer blows open the door to a dusty attic I didn’t know existed. In this attic are hidden treasures: truths of self, life, love and God. These truths are locked in a box and cancer holds the key. Why such immediate power? Because cancer has as much to give me as it is threatening to take away. It can be my greatest teacher, reveal my truest self, and show me love in it’s greatest abundance. We may spend the rest of our lives together, or – I must believe – the sooner I embrace our relationship and figure out what it has to teach me, the sooner we will go our separate ways.

One night, early in this relationship, I had trouble sleeping. I felt heavy, sad for the life that had been torn away from me. I was afraid of losing that life altogether. But the next morning, cancer lying beside me in bed, I was overwhelmed. Seeing the new day and feeling the sun shining in on little me, I knew I was being warmed by the same sun that has shone on every living creature. I was small in the grand scheme, and could feel it.  My old life felt so huge, so important to me until that moment. But then I understood my first lesson: my life is only as large as the things I’m connected to. I might never return to my old life, but cancer is teaching me a new way to live. And it was then that I committed to my relationship with cancer.

*This is the first in a series of blogs where I will further unravel the lessons I’m learning from Leukemia.  My hope is to bring light out of the depths of this experience.  

October 10, 2012

The Crisis of Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 9:54 pm

Throughout my spiritual journey, I have questioned many things.  As I grow more deeply into my understanding of the divine, I continue to sit with many questions and do not affiliate with any one religious practice.  However, I hold firm belief in many spiritual principles that is a common thread between the religions and philosophies that I respect.  One truth I hold firm is this:  If I were to remove all the barriers that stand between me and my divine purpose, all that would be left is love.  There would be no questions, no conflict, no crisis: only love.  To be love is my divine purpose.  To be love is to be divine.

I have been contemplating the difference between me (a mortal human) and the rest of God’s creation (mortal plants, animals, insects, etc…) and how this difference affects our ability to love, or more specifically, to BE love.   It has been said that the main difference we humans have over our earthly cohabitants is the awareness we have of our mortality.  We can’t know for sure if a dog is unaware of its mortality, but it would seem that (unless faced with immediate danger, when instinct kicks in) most dogs don’t seem to be concerned about the fact that they will die.  And what about plants?  Trees, flowers, vegetables, etc.? We have so much to learn from them. They are a beautiful representation of living divine purpose and being love.  Just like us, every plant has a purpose and was created to temporarily exist on this earth long enough to serve out its divine purpose and then return to the earth.  But we humans, as a whole, have distracted ourselves from what that divine purpose is.  Why?  Perhaps it’s because we have separated ourselves as individuals, seeking out a divine purpose. We are “finding ourselves”, aware of our individual mortal selves, and not looking to each other as the same species with a larger purpose.  What if we look at ourselves more like honey bees?  It seems very clear, when thinking of a honey bee, what role it plays here on earth.  It pollinates flowers, therefore the flower is dependent on the bee for its reproduction.  At the same time the honey bee depends on the flower for food so it can live long enough to reproduce.  Thus  beautiful harmony of interdependence on one another is created and a clear, divine purpose is identified.  I am willing to say that a bee is living it’s divine purpose, therefore a bee is love.  Just like a flower is love.

This helps to clarify something I have long struggled with: How to grow to my fullest potential, to my highest, most divine state of being without hurting those around me and being selfish.  It is common advice to “do what’s best for you”, to “love yourself first”.  This can be difficult as humans because we are aware that we are individuals, yet connected to one another.   This is where we remember what it means to be love.  The honey bee stings that which interferes with its path towards completing its purpose, but that doesn’t make it less divine, and we certainly wouldn’t call the honey bee selfish.  It means that it’s clearly focused on the role that it plays that is larger than itself.  As humans, we have the same obligation and privilege to focus on our divine purpose and that may mean those that interfere will get hurt.  However, if we were all focusing on our divine purpose then we could live in harmonious interdependence, not interference.

The Buddha said “The whole secret to existence is to have no fear.”  This helps me to understand more clearly the teachings of the old testament that speak of the “fall of man”.   No matter your perspective on creation, at some point we became aware of our mortality, and from this moment forward we no longer lived harmoniously with one another or the rest of earth’s inhabitants.  Fear existed anywhere that love did not.  We also began to call things love that were not.  Out of fear grew things like attachment and desire, but it would be called love.  This is the kind of love that we struggle with now.  I am in no way invalidating the kind of real love we have for one another, the kind of love that I feel for my son and my parents, and my partner.  This is precious and necessary love that is the closest thing we have to connecting spiritually to one another while living our short time here on earth.  However, this kind of love is what defines crisis: The crisis of love.  What I mean is this: When we are faced with death and mortality, and the fear of losing each other and our earthly love, this IS the crisis; the crisis of love.  It is not to say that there is no pure and divine love between one another here on earth.  It is that we struggle to maintain this pure love with one another, and fear is the culprit.  We have somehow lost the privilege or ability to live our divine purpose and love each other without fear.  The best we can do is be aware that fear is there, that suffering exists, and choose to love anyway.  You may have to choose love over and over again, but every time you choose love you are that much closer to your divine purpose.

No longer do humans serve a clear purpose on this Earth as a species, in fact, we have only interfered with all that was once harmonious and divine.  We are left with the individual responsibility of making our way back to the divine. There is nothing like the crisis of love to help us find our way there.  When our bodies remind us that they are not immortal, and when things that once identified us here on earth show their worthlessness, when fear moves in next door, love is closer than ever.

Rumi said “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”   Some of us are able to tear down the barriers, and others are given the gift of  the crisis of love, where instead of tearing them down, they fall apart in front of you and a clear path to love is revealed.

September 27, 2012

Coming Up For Air

Filed under: Uncategorized — devonafrica @ 2:29 pm

I’m standing in the ocean, too far from shore. Or not far enough? I can never tell. I have always been afraid to go out too far, so I find myself in the breaking point. I hop over waves and let them crash into my chest, and I almost fall over. Do I go back to shore, or do I swim farther in? Just then, I turn around to see a really big wave coming. My eyes widen and I tell myself it isn’t as big as it looks. I stand firm, holding my ground, but this wave is bigger than me, stronger than the place where I stand. I turn to outrun it, but I cannot. It hits from behind as I try to escape, but it’s even stronger than I imagined and it plucks me from where I am and takes over. Then I lose control. I am entirely in the hands of something outside of myself, tumbling weightlessly and helplessly underwater. Then – for some reason – I open my eyes, as if seeing might help me know what to do. But all I see is brown, murky water and white foam. And then I see the bottom of the ocean where I am surely headed. I am seaweed in the arms of something so much larger than myself. It is scary and beautiful, and eventually I let go. I trust. I tumble into a new richness of life, into new fearlessness, faith, graciousness, humility, love, peace, self, and into the opposites of all these things.

Soon I – my body – will be thrown onto the shore, and I will skid into the sand hip, chest, or face first. Then the water will recede and I will take a breath and I will see that I am okay; I will see that I have been returned to safety by the very thing that I fear and now pins me underwater. I will remember this like a bad dream, like something that lasted mere moments but seemed to last forever, and I will be able to recall everything and nothing, as if it happened too fast and, also, not fast enough.

For now I tumble in slow motion. I have time to wonder why I opened my eyes in the chaos of the wave. I think it is because I want to see how far from the bottom I am, because I want to gain footing, because I want to not give myself over to the wave. But then, tumbling over and over, I see the sun. It is bright. It cuts through the water, turning the dark to light. It gives balance, and real perspective. It doesn’t matter how close I am to ocean bottom. It matters how close I am to the surface, which is closer than it seems, and is where I will finally come up for air.

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