Monday, March 15th, marked the ten-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. It happened over spring break in 2011 on my first-born child’s birthday. It was a surreal day, and one that significantly altered the course of my life. I had “the good kind” of cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, and managed to get through it with only a partial mastectomy and one week of radiation. As I’ve witnessed close friends navigate their cancer experiences with considerably more suffering, and loss of life for one friend, my gratitude for the simplicity of my own experience has been ever-present.
The morning I received the call, two thoughts were crystal clear. I embraced cancer as my path at that time, stepping into it as I would a practice. Additionally, I knew I needed to create space for art to be a part of my healing process. To make that happen, I drove to the art store and purchased a blank journal to hold my journey’s images and writings. In the weeks that followed, making art played a primary role in how I processed all that was happening to me.
Looking back at this time, I can honestly say that it was one of the greatest gifts of my life. First and foremost, I realized how much I was loved. Messages and support arrived continually, with words of encouragement. So I wouldn’t forget this, I printed pages of email messages received and used them as the background for art journal pages. It was a time when I learned to receive, which was a big adjustment. The whole experience was an in-my-face reminder to take better care of myself.
I began my morning walking practice at that time and refined my nutritional plan. My calendar and activities/responsibilities were examined thoroughly to see what could be eliminated or revised to reduce stress. I took a good hard look at who and what was taking up my time.
Ten years later, my life is still full, mostly with days overflowing with what I love. I’ve narrowed it down to school, family, art, a few friends, and yoga. My life feels quite satisfying right now, and I know it’s a result of the shift that cancer set in motion. Being in the personal space I occupy at the moment has a direct impact on my continuing work as founding director of Awakening Seed. I feel grateful for each new day. All the self-care I’ve cultivated for myself provides energy to support those around me. Also, I find that the clarity I’ve gained these past ten years allows me to focus on the bigger issues we need to pursue as a school, in particular around social justice. In talking with one staff member about all of this, she said that having had cancer and recovering from it “seemed to active an internal drive with the message that our work is not done. It was especially focused on the planet, recycling, growing food, and addressing humanitarian causes.” It is my intention to keep using the gift of time I received ten years to continue our work that is not done.