Once, years ago, I experienced the betrayal of my body for the first time, as I entered menopause.
I was lost, heartbroken, and confused. I alienated myself while I tried to make sense of it. It was a tough couple of years as I navigated this new stage of life. This year, these sensations returned with an experience of Creative Cell Growth (CCG, also known as cancer). (What does CCG mean? Read article here. ) Only this time, the betrayal carried a much larger punch. It tossed my whole world, my entire existence, in the air as I became angry with my body. I had to redefine my life and identity.
You see, I am a middle-aged female who has been physically active her whole life, who has navigated her world and understanding through an intimate and conscious relationship with her body. I have supported my body with healthy, organic eating, meditative practices, and an alternative lifestyle. As an international teacher of embodiment practices and body wisdom, I am considered a master teacher in the realm of the body and spirit.
So, it was confounding when one day, I was given a CCG diagnosis. In the fall of 2018, I spent nearly two months in South America, and then another month in Europe. I was leading workshops, learning and exploring. I noticed periodic odd urine coloration while in South America, but promptly credited this discrepancy to some herbal medicine I was taking. As I traveled in Europe I became aware that the odd coloration was actually blood. I sought medical attention in Greece only to learn that I had tumors in my bladder. There were no other symptoms. No pain. No tiredness. Nothing. It was difficult to wrap my brain around the news. It was especially difficult to receive the news in a foreign country from a Greek-speaking doctor.
Though I did not have any other symptoms and I had stopped bleeding, I sought another opinion the following week from a doctor in Switzerland. She concurred with the Greek physician. Cancer was in my bladder. She said, “Get help now. Don’t wait.” So home I went, to begin addressing my dance of Creative Cell Growth. At this point, I was numb, simply going through the steps. My sense of body betrayal had not yet made itself known.
My early treatments took me in and out of the hospital giving me physical experiences I had never felt before. A spasm-ing bladder – that’s certainly more painful than uterine spasms, which happen while giving birth. Blood loss caused me to pass out, necessitating emergency blood transfusions, and another surgery.
This body that I knew and loved, the body that carried me through hiking, water sports, winter sports and carried and birthed three children, could no longer function properly. This body that I loved, delighted in, leaned upon, and appreciated suddenly was weak. The sensations it had previously given me of strength, power, sexuality, vitality and possibility no longer existed. My body couldn’t keep me safe, in balance, or in life.
I struggled with pain, the sensations and experiences of chemicals coursing through my body, along with multiple surgeries and procedures. I was faced with a dismal collection of pills, supplements, needles and tools that I had to ingest and use daily. I had to begin new physical daily practices of taking my pulse, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and temperature. With a weakened immune system, I had to stay home, out of harm’s way. When I went to the cancer clinic, the incessant sounds of the machines pumping and clicking and beeping reminded me constantly that my body wasn’t working properly.
I couldn’t do the things I loved. Meditating was impossible with my pulse running high, making my entire body and head throb. I couldn’t walk more than a block, nor dance the night away, with body mass, muscle, and stamina loss. I needed to walk with a walking stick to keep my body safe and in balance. I had to let others do things for me. Make my meals, drive me, and clean my house. Even at times, wipe my butt.
As the weeks went on, I got weaker and weaker. I had more and more physical experiences that I did not recognize. There was nothing about my days that resembled the life I had been living before my diagnosis.
I shriveled. My body transformed into something completely and utterly unrecognizable as I lost weight and stamina. Listening to my physical self became difficult with a non-functioning brain. All of my attention was taken to where pain resided, to the ringing in my ears, the neuropathy sensations in my toes, and to the anxiety that permeated every cell of my being.
Looking in the mirror, I was shocked at the ravaged face that stared back at me. I had lost weight and color, and gained lines and heaviness. The loss of my beautiful flowing mane of hair dug deeply into my psyche and identity. I learned to avoid the mirror.
I questioned, why was I going through this? What was the meaning of this? Why was this body that had stewarded me through life to this point abandoning me? Why would one diseased part necessitate taking all my female parts as well? Why didn’t my meditation and acceptance practices work?
I rode the waves of grief and anger, along with doubt and insecurity. Sometimes big waves of rage rolled through; even suicidal thoughts. I questioned my value and worth. Was I loveable any more? Would I be able to have a normal sexual life? Would I ever regain my previous levels of strength and vitality? Would others always look at me as the woman with cancer? Would I be a woman again?
It was a roller coaster. The biggest, scariest roller coaster you can imagine.
While I felt betrayed, my dance of creative cell growth has afforded me a whole new relationship to my physical body. It has been a difficult journey into what I believe, how I value myself, and what I place importance upon. Today, while I am not finished with this experience, it has shown me my incredible resilience. I’ve gained back the 20 pounds I lost. I’m hiking again, and doing everything for myself. I’m not experiencing the debilitating effects of the treatments though I still struggle with many side effects. The experience is affording me the opportunity to learn to love myself in all of its forms, to offer it nurturance and acceptance for where it is. It has invited me to love my entire being. I know experientially the miraculous wonder of the body, and how it can defy all expectations.
Perhaps you know this story, or parts of this story, and you’re wondering, how did she get through it? You’re wondering, how do I get through it? Will I always be so stoic, or emotionally fragile? Will I live or die? Who’s on my team? It’s okay to be exactly where you are and trust the process. It’s okay to have crazy-talk, and wild emotions. It’s okay to go into those shadowy and dark places, and it’s okay to trust that your body will return to a new state of consciousness. It’s okay to be with each and every weird and challenging thought, emotion, or experience. These moments lead you to the extraordinary power of your existence that relies on this incredible machine that carries your essential self through this dimension we call life.
How did I get through it?
I learned to trust the process, expect the unexpected and to go further into the mystery.
Because when you are taken down to your knees, stripped to nothing, and there is nowhere else to go, what else are you to do? To give up is to give up a rich opportunity of greater self-discovery.
What did I learn that I can pass on?
Practice getting out of crazy-mind talk, strengthen your positive self-talk, thus allowing the deep, dark spots to emerge into the light of the day. Because words do make a difference. Your thoughts will take the speedway to your cellular memory. Embracing the situation becomes far easier than spending the energy combating the illness, and fighting the inner crazy talk. In trying to control life, you beat down life. In allowing the energy to rise to the surface, you liberate it into understanding and insight.
Dig in deep and find hope where you didn’t know it could reside; face the shadows of existence that diligently squirreled away into the deepest cavities of your heart and soul; dredge the shores for gems; gather more compassion; and face the illusions of your life.
Because becoming a better human being is a necessary task for all of us. Humans evolution requires the willingness to change. Every human will undergo the change experience in a unique way. This is Spirit’s path, for resistance is futile. It is time to reveal what resides beneath the disease. Your disease might be cancer. Your friend, your lover, or your family member’s growth path might be obesity, addiction, alcoholism, or rage. Maybe it’s cold-heartedness, heart disease or apathy.
Trust that, given the right support, it will return to its fullness in right timing. Love how astonishingly resilient your body is. How it expanded during an incredible restrictive time, and how it has also simultaneously softened its response and clarified its form. Know that a completed journey will afford you numerous gifts.
Cultivate a gentle heart and strong spine. May your own strong, gentle and loving force be with you.