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Finding a Different Way – Part 3
It has been a year since I found the lumps in my breast that sent me to see the doctor who confirmed I had breast cancer for the second time and needed a full mastectomy. Around the same time, I lost a dear friend to cancer. The burden of that combined grief threatened to crush me and it was only through the re-discovery of the power of forgiveness that I was able to shed past hurt and grief to better cope.
Now I seem to be fully recovered from the mastectomy. At a recent visit, the surgeon who usually talks statistics and percentages with me, as well as issuing dire warnings since I gave up the anti-cancer medication, has pronounced me healed. He added, to my surprise, that I will stay well because of my positive attitude and that positive people heal faster and stay healthier, according to recent scientific research.
However, my thoughts have not always been what the surgeon might call positive.
Over this last year, I have practised my death in my mind many times as well as planned the funeral. I have cleaned out cupboards and given things away. I made myself ready to die by silently reviewing my past in the wakeful night hours, by telling those I love how much I value them, and writing stories that have been in my head for years. Having prepared myself to go, I am also keen to stay and so I research and action healthy habits, ways to live, think and be. These ways mainly involve daily prayer and meditation, religious practice, improved diet, daily walks, simple exercises, hugging, laughing, smiling and being connected with lovely people.
Fortunately, I had a near death experience about 15 years ago which freed me from the fear of dying. I had been rushed to hospital in septic shock and as I lay on the bed with my body shaking uncontrollably, I made the decision to stop trying to fight it. I had been silently calling out to God for help but finally, I let go and prayed, “I’ve had an interesting life; if it’s time to go, I am ready.” ... and I gave up.
With that yielding came a wonderful peace. I was finally physically still but somehow I was also looking down from above on my two daughters standing beside the bed where I could see my body looking like an old coat I’d cast off. I heard my elder daughter say in a shocked tone, “She looks like she’s dead!”
In my high place, surrounded by peace and joy, I found her reaction funny because suddenly I was aware that my old body was nothing. I’d just outgrown it. I knew there was no need to be sad. It was the same as looking back into childhood and remembering how wonderful and precious those first shiny shoes seemed. Now we know there are far finer things both to have and to be experienced in life. We have grown in wisdom and understanding. So it was that day. I began to laugh inside me but then I saw my daughters’ sorrow and realised they didn’t understand. When I felt how sad my daughters were, their grief called me back to be with them. I wanted to comfort them and help them to know that all was well.
The next thing I was aware of was being in a private room with a nurse sitting near the foot of my bed. Over me, as if in a dream, figures worked to heal me. Every time I woke they were there but in the morning the nurse told me no one else had been in the room with us.
Friends came to the hospital to give me spiritual healing and when the Charge Nurse declared, “There will be no healing in this ward!”, some sympathetic nurses quietly found us a room to work in and supported the complementary practice.
Looking back on this time, I am grateful for the experiential inner knowledge that after this life there is much more and that we leave this world behind just as we left our toys behind when we grew up – reaching out for more wonder-filled things.
One of the wonder-filled things I have found in this life has been finding a different way of being, through this last year. I had recalled that researchers report that rats, given the task of finding their way through a maze to a reward, will eventually change and try different ways to achieve their goals. Yet we humans tend to keep acting in the same old ways while still expecting outcomes to change. For me, that realisation of the need to change came when I had breast cancer for a second time and lost my dear friend Jan, to cancer. It made me wonder if there was more for me to learn through the experience of cancer and if somehow I had missed it the first time. That is when I decided I would find a different way to experience cancer this time round.
Jan, who had died the same week as I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, had taught me the difference between being brave and being stoic. They are two quite separate things to my mind. I was stoic the first time I had breast cancer in 1991, secretive about its effects on me and I busily carried on with my life – barely touched by the whole experience. Perhaps it was through this denial of the situation that I missed the true lesson of the cancer experience and now had an opportunity to do it again – properly this time. Dear Jan was brave and endured to the end, always caring and loving her friends as well as all of life. However, she was not stoic but highly articulate in her descriptions of the pain, discomfort, indignities and disappointment she experienced. Jan was inspirational in her eloquent style that meant we friends shared her journey. She also moved me to treasure even more deeply the relationships I have and to reach out to others just as Jan herself invariably did.
The learning through Jan’s example, prevented my keeping this cancer journey quiet this time and pretending it was of no consequence – as I did 20 years before. Now I let my husband Warwick come with me to clinics, investigative imagery appointments and follow- up treatments. I also asked for prayer when it was offered and unexpectedly received a bodily experience – in every cell – of infilling of Spirit for which I was and am still, deeply grateful. This was indeed part of a different way.
While I determined to be positive, I eventually shared how badly the post-operative medication was affecting me so that I not only felt so ill I wanted to stay in bed but also doubted that life was worth living any more. After realising my symptoms were side effects of the medication, I chose to terminate the treatment and began to feel well again. Soon after, on my birthday, I was fortunate to hear Mother Maya Tiwari speak and read her books. She is a cancer survivor who has become a healer and a type of guru. Through her I learnt: I am not the mind [or body], I am awareness and I took the Ahimsa (non-violence) vow: I make inner harmony my first priority. This was a very different way for me and challenged old habits of thought and action.
These insights kept me well and happy for many months until eventually I found myself wondering again what I was still here for. I had physically recovered from surgery and medication. I could now look at myself without crying or wishing I hadn’t lost my breast. I was well and wanting to be engaged with life again. Not content to be a human being, I tend to be a human doing and now wondered how I could contribute even though I was not teaching any more. While I was glad that I had been able to continue editing a quarterly esoteric magazine, there was a need to do more. I intensified my meditation practice, prayed and waited.
Eventually, into my mind came the memory of being asked years before to write inspirational texts sharing my teaching experience, philosophy and practice for teachers in some theosophically-oriented Manila schools that provide free education for impoverished children who could otherwise miss out. Hesitantly, I emailed the theosophist who had set up the schools and enquired if he still wanted articles for his teachers. He did. So has begun a very happy and inspired period of writing for the teachers doing such good work. With the writing has come a feeling of excited happiness within me which I think is actually pure JOY. I just hope the articles help to encourage the teachers – they certainly encourage me. I almost feel guilty that what I hoped could be a service to others is in fact blessing me, perhaps demonstrating the New Testament words (Acts 20:35), “ It is more blessed to give than to receive .”
In following this different way, I have stopped many times over this last year when I have caught myself feeling defeated, negative or unworthy and consciously chosen to change that. I have done it by praying, meditating and expecting to discover a new and different way to be. Sometimes I need to forgive or accept and sometimes I need to change my responses and expectations. We are not meant to be victims and everything that happens to us can be turned to the good. I need to stop judging – myself, others and circumstances. People and events are what they are. It’s up to me how generously and lovingly I can respond.
In the past I doubted my entitlement to ask for good things for myself and stoically accepted as my lot, the hard and horrible events that came along. It was a sad habit.
Now I am expecting the highest and the best and have recently asked that my life be loving, strong, healthy, long and productive. This is certainly a different way for me.
Pamela Zane Keys
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