Hope, Personal Development, Virtues

The Light That Never Ends: The Gift From Some Dark Times { Guest Post }

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{ This guest post was written by a dear friend of mine, Lorraine. }

To paint a brief picture of my life prior to 25 May 2017, I was a young professional spending her free time supporting community building efforts and generally too busy or naïve (from my perspective now) to consider having to deal with anything serious health related. On that date, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The most frequent question I receive is, “How did you figure it out?” It didn’t hurt, I could just feel it! It was a mass 4 centimeters in size, slightly harder and rounder than the rest of my breast, and, luckily, very close to the surface. My husband urged me to check it and I lackadaisically did. A doctor’s appointment, mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy later, my results came in.

The Call That Changed My Life

I was in Seattle when I got the call, standing on Pikes Pier among hundreds of tourists, thousands of miles from my family, on the day before the annual Medical Library Association conference. I was in shock; nothing my doctor was saying was registering and she knew it. I could feel her kindness and tenderness through the phone, she begged me to call her back. I immediately found what I thought would be a quieter space to call my husband, Cole. I should mention that my response to crisis is a sort of denial or compartmentalizing, while Cole’s is immediate action. “You need to get on a plane today. Come home, you have to go to the doctor.” Our two responses did not mesh at that moment, and it didn’t help that a small group of what sounded like architectural academics had decided to form a group around me to discuss the choice of native flowers made by the pier’s designers as I tried to have this intense, tear-filled, and heated phone conversation. I immediately made the next available appointment with the surgical oncologist and finished out the week-long conference.

An Opportunity To Learn

I’m a librarian and I like to think of myself as a logical person. I have read a lot about spiritual dynamics and I like to imagine that, like a scientist, I can apply this to my life and the described outcome will result. Crisis and victory is a prominent theme throughout religious text, not to mention the arc of most stories. My favorite scared text is the story of the Watchmen, described by Baha’u’llah in the Seven Valleys and Four Valleys: a distraught man is withering away because of being separated from his beloved. The man finally decides to leave his home and end his life in the town square. As he walks through the street in the middle of the night, the watchmen begin to follow and then chase him. He curses them and is angry for their torment. In his haste, he scales a wall and falls into a garden; when he looks up, there, in the dim light of a lantern and he sees his beloved looking for something she had lost. Nothing can describe the wholeness of his heart in that moment and he realizes that he should have blessed the watchmen, for without them, he would never have been reunited with her.

This story is what I carried with me, it’s how I headed into this diagnosis. “In the end, I will be a better person and I know that for a fact.” It was my mantra in the beginning. This knowledge protected me, at least for a time, that is until I experience the side effects of chemotherapy.

Losing My Sense of Womanhood

Let’s start with my first lesson though, which was that I was more than just a body – to be a human being is to be a body, mind and, above all, spirit. These three elements of myself suddenly came into sharper focus and, as I went through my cancer journey, I was tested by losing each one by one. The fact that I was a body became immediately apparent as I grappled with my unconscious attachment to it. Everything that society and science described as the female gender was literally being taken away from me—my breast, my hair, my hormones. What was I then? In my mind, I thought, “Ok, my gender is an attribute of myself, but it isn’t who I am. I am my thoughts. I am my soul.” So, I accepted my surgery and I even felt joy for knowing more about myself than before.

Losing My Mind and Soul

My surgery took away my body, but chemotherapy took my mind and soul. I relied on my logic to get me through the first month of breast cancer. I applied my spiritual dynamics like a dutiful spiritual scientist and it worked, but the thing about chemotherapy is that it doesn’t just cure cancer, it ravages your healthy cells too. In my worst moments, every muscle of my body hurt, every joint, every long bone, my temperature see-sawed and burned my insides, all while being drenched in a cold sweat. I couldn’t find comfort from sleep because there was no comfortable position to be found. All I could do was to focus just above the pain, because if I thought about one part or another of my body long enough, it hurt worse. Where was I without my mind? How could I reach my soul without it? I was an open wound on every level that made me human. With that, the world became very dark and featureless. I felt a kind of sadness I had never experienced before, where the world felt cruel and that I would never feel well or happy again.

The Ultimate Return of Light Into My Life

That wasn’t true though. Nothing is permanent. Literally every moment the whole of existence is something that it wasn’t before, brand new and expanded. The light slowly seeped in again, of course see-sawing with each treatment, but gradually getting better. To me, I had lived a thousand lives by the end. In one life, I was old and lived with arthritis. In another, I knew what it was to live with chronic pain. In yet another I felt the stigma of depression. Each type of pain was a personal experience in someone else’s shoes. I can close my eyes now and feel the pain of my neighbor like never before. I am a better person now because my empathy and compassion for others comes from lived experience.

When I cry now out of joy or a sense of beauty around me, I feel the sadness at the same time. It’s like reaching a new stage of existence when moments of your life are informed and enhanced by pain that you have experienced. To feel moved by something is to feel all of yourself in a single tear, the whole spectrum of light and dark all at once. I lived in the valley of knowledge, I understood that at the end of a trial, I would be better. But now I see, rather I feel, that there is no beginning or end, no first or last. There are instances in my day where I feel the unity of our existence like I never have before. My gift, at the end, was realising that there is no end.

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10 thoughts on “The Light That Never Ends: The Gift From Some Dark Times { Guest Post }

  1. This was so touching and beautifully written. As someone who lost my mother to cancer, this touched me very deeply. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Oh bless you bless your heart thank you for writing this!

    “Each type of pain was a personal experience in someone else’s shoes.”

  3. Dear- beautiful Lorraine,
    What a moving piece indeed. Thank you so much for articulately sharing such an intimate part of your journey with the world. As most of us have someone in our lives affected by cancer, it was good to hear a bit more of how they might have suffered or still be suffering.
    I am looking forward to meeting the most updated version of the gorgeous Lorraine I last saw walking around the gardens of Bahji. Sending much love and hugs.

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