Saturday, June 30, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday Morning

I know my neighborhood pretty well so I can tell when sod has been laid down, or a fence put up, or flowers planted. I love walking my dog Max on Monday morning because I get to see the fruit of the weekend labor.

This morning I saw a woman start to get in her car to go to work, but she paused and stood there looking at her newly planted garden with a kind of awe and appreciation for the work she had done. You know how you do--you sort of stand there and think, "How the hell did I ever do that?" Then, with a groan, she got in the car. (Sore muscles are always the most painful a couple days after the labor.)

As a chaplain I get to be with cancer patients as they are doing hard personal and spiritual work. Going through chemo and surgery is like laboring all weekend in the garden. But unfortunately for me, I don't often get to see patients on "Monday" after they have done the work and experienced the transformation.

But once in a while, I'll run into someone a year later and that's when I get to have the "Monday" experience. I get to see the fruits of their labors. Their hair has grown back, perhaps they have a new appreciation for life, perhaps their family has a new appreciation for them. Maybe they've discovered who they really are. It's a gift for me to see how they've grown.

But this growth doesn't happen all at once. In the same that way planting a shrub doesn't necessarily mean that it's taken root; having cancer and all the realizations that go along with that doesn't guarantee personal growth. You have to water, weed and feed your new self.

And just so you know: I don't allow Max to pee on any new plantings. It just doesn't seem right.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

How Did I Cause It?

Although I am a graduate of the Shit Happens School of Cause and Effect, when I got my cancer diagnosis, I did exactly what everyone does: I tried to figure out how I got it. I regularly exercise, am in a happy marriage, and eat well. But here are the things that immediately came into my mind:

Too many protein bars! That summer when low-carb was all the rage? I ate chocolate/peanut butter protein bars all day long. I also ate those low-carb fake candy bars that contain artificial sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium and neotame. Frightening to pronounce let alone ingest.

Not enough meditation! I had a good meditation practice going for a while, but, well, things got busy—um, yeah. Maybe meditation would have calmed down any abnormal rapidly dividing cells. Or perhaps the Divine was trying to tell me something, but I wasn’t there to listen.

I should tell you that I use these words interchangeably: God, the Divine, the Universe, the Presence, Mr. Martha Miyagi. I’ll explain that last one. I don’t have a visual for “God.” She/He/It has always been an inner voice for me—a combination of Mr. Miyagi from “The Karate Kid,” and Martha Stewart—before she became a felon.

I figured that Mr. Martha Miyagi said, “Well, cancer ought to slow her down. That will give her time to meditate.” I got very zealous about meditating right then because I was afraid that if I didn’t the Universe would cut off my legs.

Didn’t take a real lunch! I had a bad habit of working through lunch. This was usually because a lot of patients came in between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. If I took lunch then I’d miss them. Then in the late afternoon, I would eat lunch at my desk while charting. This is not considered good self-care. But I thought, What if the patients who don’t see me this week die? It gradually dawned on me that if they did die, it would probably be because of their cancer, not because they didn’t see me.

Fired from my job! Seven years before my diagnosis I was fired for a book I wrote, and I was devastated—much weeping and gnashing of teeth! The stress of that must be what caused it.

So those are all the reasons my mind provided. But I know that I can never trust my mind. So I meditated and went deep within and asked my heart, “What caused my cancer?”

My heart said, “Shit happens.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fame or Enlightenment?

It’s Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life and Cancer is coming out in September. I find the whole thing all very exciting. No, this is not my first book, but it is my first hardback which makes me feel all writerly and proper.

“You’re going to be famous!” This has been said to me several times in the past two weeks. Even my own dad said, “Honey, I hope they sell lots of copies of your book and that you’ll get famous.”

I said, “Dad, that’s not my goal. I just want to make a difference—help someone on their journey.”

At first I wondered if people thought that was one of my values, as if the goal in my life is to be famous. Then I was in a meeting last week and we were saying good-bye to a guy who is going off to get his MFA in directing.

“You’re going to be famous!” someone sang out.

He laughed, embarrassed and said the exact same thing I said, “That’s not my goal.”

It occurs to me that this is simply a value of our culture where everyone is trying to get on TV, have their Warholian fifteen minutes of fame, or even just be famous for being famous. (I refuse to write her name.)

Recently I was reading some Sufi stories and some Zen stories and they often start out: “There was a man who was seeking enlightenment.” (Okay, so they weren’t gender inclusive.)

Seeking enlightenment! Imagine that! No one has said to me, “Oh, you’re going to be enlightened!”

Cancer doesn’t care about your degree of celebrity or enlightenment. It’s an equal opportunity disease. Perhaps fame may get you better medical care, although it shouldn’t. But fame won’t affect your response to chemo or surgery or radiation. But perhaps enlightenment does. So I’ll continue to seek it.