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What I’m Thankful for as I Reflect on My Colorectal Cancer Journey

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I barely know where to start.

The last 14 months have been very challenging for me. God knows I have had periods of depression, despondency, and sorrow. After three surgeries on the belly and nine collapsed vertebrae, I have made friends with the inevitable decay of certain aspects of life. How little we think we know ourselves and what we’re capable of.


I remember an old therapist decades ago telling me after my husband had been arrested as a political prisoner in the Middle East, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Well, maybe. But I have learned this: regardless of what confronts us, we can either let ourselves be broken by it or find a way to see its value, the mysterious and sometimes near holy benefit in what has happened.

I’ve watched other people do this with their own experiences, their own languaging. But observing others going through their life-changing events as opposed to your own are two different experiences. Not everyone has the same capacity, of that I’m sure.

I’m also certain of this: we are the stewards, the project managers, of our own lives, for good or for ill and sometimes both. It is up to us to dig deep when required, even in the face of thrashing around in angst and sorrow. It isn’t easy, and I myself have thought enough is enough! And yet, and yet…

The Powerful Will

The will, the drive, to find the previously unforeseen gifts in what appear to be horrible circumstances and events has continually pulled — and sometimes pushed — me onward, often without my awareness in the moment yet sometimes because of it, to a fierce determination.

It’s hazy, oftentimes. Just a feeling, a sense. Ordinary daily challenges that are common to our culture, while useful in this process, have rarely been enough for my learning. No, no, the really intense, dramatic lessons are what’s required to get me to shift. It’s not enough to just keep living, that’s a given. Staying alive has to have a purpose, a lesson. Why else come to earth school?! Small things can offer potent insights, and I certainly have had my share. But the whopper lessons are the ones that change one’s trajectory, open one’s eyes.


I’ve been phenomenally blessed to have examples, what some might call “Spirit Guides,” but in flesh and bone intercessions. Some teachers have been public figures such as Christopher Reeves, Helen Keller, Louis Zamperini and others. I’ve also been blessed to have flesh and bone examples personally. One such teacher was a Holocaust survivor, the other a women who was wife of a man, and mother of two sons, all of whom died by suicide.

Both of these teachers have had huge mammalian instincts to survive, but more than that. There has also been some whisper of something greater that served their will, some hint that subsequently drove them to ask deeper questions even if they were unanswerable in the moment. The yearning was there. The inevitable knowledge that you can break the body but not the soul, not unless you let it.

I no longer have certain body parts, making physical maintenance more complicated and time-consuming. While I have grieved, I have had to come to terms with the utter hassle of colostomy bags, breaches, skin breakdowns, backaches et al. Yet, I no longer feel the travesty of it all. Nuisance, yes, but not travesty.

Sometimes the hassle is frustrating; it takes what it takes to get my attention. So into the depths I have dived. Into the stratosphere I have been lifted. Through love, patience, compassion. Through teachers who didn’t even know what they were sharing. And through acknowledging the will to learn something greater about my being, knowing it is inevitably worth it.

Finally, Doc Hawkins (David R. Hawkins) has had a profound impact enabling me to face and see the world, colostomy bags and all, differently. He clearly helped me recontextualize so many things in the past, providing a way forward for the future, in part by pointing me to look constantly in the present.

In the present, floating downstream I am reminded that while I have a body, the body doesn’t define what I am. It’s both a transport vehicle and a learning device, a kind of evolving Esperanto that is both universal and individual. And while oftentimes I need a decoder ring to learn the purpose of who and what I am, at the end of the day I may lack complete or enlightened understanding in the moment, yet I still take comfort, even peace in the knowledge there’s more understanding to be revealed if I have the courage, capacity and will to inquire.

The body and it’s almost quaint breakdown is endlessly fascinating when I stop identifying it as me and pull back to realize it’s merely a device that “speaks” to us, that we are stewards of and it does not reflect the whole of us, the whole of me.

The world looks different to me now for these days are filled with the tiniest joys, almost frivolous delight in things like watching a bug crawl across the wall bent, driven even, towards a destination. Or the gentle puff of air that bends a flower’s petals ever so slightly, like bowing in gratitude for its existence. Like them, I am busy getting on with an assigned task of ever-expanding living, laying claim to a newness about what it really means to be alive.

Follow this journey on

This story originally appeared on

Image via Rosalie Cushman.

Originally published: December 28, 2019
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