Cancer as Cure?

Many times I’ve wondered why I got bladder cancer (I was diagnosed March 4, 2019 and am currently cancer free after many surgeries and treatments.) Maybe my smoking for almost fifteen years, ages twelve – twenty-six, caused it, plus ingesting my dad’s constant pipe and cigar smoke for the eighteen years I lived with our family. Maybe the pollution in the environment. Maybe the fillings in my mouth, leaking mercury and other toxic metals into my system. Maybe chronic inflammation that resulted from infant surgery without anesthesia or adequate pain control. I’ll never really know.

What I do know is that cancer cured my ambivalence about life—about whether I want to live and appreciate being alive. Cancer forced me to want to live so badly that I’d do just about anything. What had to go was the attitude I’d adopted as a result of my early pyloric stenosis surgery at twenty-six days old: ambivalence.

I’ve written numerous blog posts about how that surgery impacted my life, which you can click on and read. One of the major impacts was that I had undiagnosed PTSD for most of my life, causing instability and distress. So while the surgery saved my life, at what cost? I have always felt ambivalent about having been saved.

So many burdens from the early surgery weighed heavily: the financial strain on my parents; the emotional toll my near death caused them; my brother’s anger at being neglected during my health crisis; a deep distrust and fear of my body; the grief over the abrupt separation from my mother and attachment problems that resulted; a large scar on my belly that made me feel ugly, unlovable, and alone in the world. I rarely, if ever, felt grateful that I had been saved.

My parents and doctors were, of course, thrilled I made it; however, my parents were so stressed and traumatized by almost losing me and by struggling to help me recover that they’d neglected to communicate much of the good fortune and gratitude part. I felt their stress more than their happiness.

So along comes cancer, saying, You want to live? Well…….., I began to answer. Cancer interrupts: Oh no, that’s not good enough. Uh uh. If you are going to beat me, you have to be all in—gratitude, trust, a new way to relate to your body: Not fear but friendliness. Learning from your body and listening to it.

Cancer came as a message: You, Wendy, can no longer afford the luxury of feeling ambivalent about living. No. You’ve got to flat out love your body and love the life you’ve been given. No buts, maybes, ifs, sort ofs, sometimes. Your goal is to learn to love this life.

No one in her right mind asks for cancer. But cancer cured me of any ambivalence I’ve held since those early days. It cured me of hesitation, and self-doubt. Indecision. Yes and no. Maybe. This change did not happen overnight. It took time. Through affirmations and Healing Touch bodywork, I began to change. My meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh helped, too. And while I am not always in the I-want-to-live zone, I am much of the time. I’ve learned to make my mind up about it and notice when I slip into ambivalence. Then I simply flip the switch on my attitude. And that is a very good thing. Because I want to beat cancer and keep on living.

I have a history of taking pride in being a disbeliever, a naysayer, a sarcastic person who was always looking for the underbelly of things—the gimmick or unfairness in life or the fact that things don’t always work out. But now that I’ve been given a second chance through my treatment at UCSF Medical Center, I’m taking it. I’m convinced that I have a right to be. I’m convinced that my life was worth saving as a baby and it’s worth saving now. I was meant to be here on this planet in this body. Sure, I feel despair at times, sadness, frustration, grief, and disappointment. I feel those feelings and then, get back to gratitude, ambivalent no more!

 

Bessel van der Kolk on the radio: A Must-Hear Interview

Click on this link to hear a fantastic interview with Bessel van der Kolk (choose the edited version) about trauma and the need for treatment that reconnects a trauma survivor with his or her body. He is interviewed by Krista Tippett on the program “On Being.” I resonated with everything van der Kolk had to say… Continue Reading

"Becoming Comfortable in [Our] Bodies"–Transforming PTSD

I am thrilled about the article I just read–“The Limits of Talk” by Mary Sykes Wylie, Ph.D., a senior editor of Psychotherapy Networker. She eloquently explains the evolution of the thinking of Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and neurobiological researcher, regarding the nature of trauma. In his decades of experience and research, he came to the conclusion… Continue Reading

Can We Free Ourselves from PTS Prison?

Talking with folks about PTS, those who have it and those who don’t, I get the feeling that, in general, people believe that those with PTSD will just have to live with it the rest of their lives. Or, folks are a tiny bit hopeful that they or someone can change but don’t really believe… Continue Reading

To Write, To Draw, To Feel: Accessing Pre-Verbal Trauma

There are many ways to get in touch with trauma that we have experienced before we knew language. And accessing this information is key to beginning to heal from early wounds. Many of us will need therapists to help us access and process this material; we will need support in healing. There are many things… Continue Reading

Into Sky: A Tale of Somatic Release

I’m growing a wing. More accurately, the wing that’s always been there, atrophied and flightless, is finding freedom. Strange as it sounds, my shoulder is being liberated from guarding my body where a surgeon cut my belly open when I was twenty-six days old.  Somatic release! Amazing. Check this out. All day every day, and… Continue Reading

Out in the Community with ReStory Your Life

I am psyched. I gave my first talk out in the world beyond the classrooms of The College of Alameda and it was thrilling. Eight women from the Women’s Motivational Meetup in Sacramento, hosted by Griffin Toffler, gave me their attention, listened to my lecture, and participated in a writing exercise at the library in… Continue Reading

Incisions–Coming Full Circle

Last Thursday, a dermatologist cut out a melanoma on the back of my leg just below my calf. It was a slow spreading kind and since I caught it early, I am told that it hasn’t metastasized. That’s the good news. I didn’t think the surgery and recovery were going to be a big deal. But… Continue Reading

In the Land of Hypervigilance

I have lived a life that is very different from what most people must experience. I have lived in the Land of Hypervigilance. Each morning shortly after waking, I do stretches that an osteopath taught me. These movements manage a painful hip that cries out when under stress. Yesterday lying on my back, having finished… Continue Reading