Flashback to 17-year-old me at a Tim McGraw & Faith Hill concert with my besties when one of our favorite songs comes on, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Jumping up and down, belting the lyrics (in perfect harmony, I’m sure), swaying side by side…
Someday I hope you get the chance To live like you were dying Like tomorrow was a gift And you’ve got eternity To think about What you’d do with it
What would I do with it? Well, at that time, my main focus was obvious: try to capture a pic of Tim’s gorgeous butt in those wrangler jeans.
Now that I’m 36 and have rocked through the cancer party–it’s safe to say my priorities have shifted a bit.
One thing I didn’t expect is that Death has become a welcomed, fascinating meditation. You’re dying. I’m dying. We’re all dying. Let’s face it, bodies don’t make it. No medication, supplement, prayer, meditation, exercise, or amount of money will prevent you from transitioning out of this body.
So why do we spend so much time fearing it? Why is death looked at as a worse-case scenario? A bad thing? And why is it such a HUSH topic of conversation?
In my recent blog post, “Diagnosis = New Direction,” I talk about how I prefer to explore my nightmares now. And one of those nightmares is the cancer coming back terminally and being given those words, “there’s nothing more we can do. It’s only a matter of time.”
And here’s my favorite question to contemplate…
How would I live if I knew I was dying?
The time in between my diagnosis and waiting to find out how much the cancer had spread were 2 of the most amazing weeks of my life. All of the daily bullshit stressors completely dropped away and I found myself in an incredible state of gratitude for everything and everyone. I experienced joy in the simplest of pleasures ~ riding the trolley, watching our godson’s soccer games, cooking a meal, sitting under a hot shower, holding hands with my husband, stepping on acorns (not kidding ~ there is something SO gratifying about the crunch of an acorn!).
As I try on this scary future and let myself feel through the terror…I see an opportunity for even more presence, slowing down, deeply connecting with my loved ones. Appreciating every second that I am able to see my Godson grow up. Falling in love with my husband all over again.
I see sharing my experience of dying with others and learning from others. I see acceptance, peace, gratitude for every moment that I’ve been given. Forgiveness ~ making amends with others and within myself for anything that still hurts.
I see traveling more when/if it’s an option for my body. If I can’t travel, I see asking my friends from all over the world to send me short 30 sec videos of the inspiring places they go and things they do.
I’d say YES to adventure…I’d try that salsa class, jump on a surf board, go white water kayaking, float in a hot air balloon.
That’s Me! Cancer Camp in Tarkio w/First Descents
That’s Me! Cancer Camp in Tarkio w/First Descents
That’s Me! Cancer Camp in Tarkio w/First Descents
I’d snuggle. A lot.
I’d continue to take care of my mind with self inquiry and would question thoughts like “I am dying…can I absolutely know it’s true? Or is it truer that in reality, I am still here breathing? Is it possible that I am even more alive than I have ever been?”
I’d love on my body with nourishing foods, movement, time in nature. I’d love the shit out of that piece of chocolate cake and glass of wine too.
Any part of aging would be such a privilege ~ finding a grey hair or wrinkle? Yes, please! That means I get to get older.
I’d probably have some pretty stellar freakouts ~ and just like I did during the cancer journey, I’d get to learn over and over again that I’m still ok in this moment…and this one…and this one…I could feel the intimacy of being with myself in that deep pain & suffering. And the intimacy of being held by someone else.
And there’s one more thing I would be super motivated to do:
FINISH. MY. BOOK.
(Yes, I’ve been writing a book! Woot! Woot! More on this later 😉
So…WHY wait? I can live ALL of this now.
Perhaps the turnaround to my question is truer:
How would I live if I knew I was dying living?
With an open mind, death can be a catalyst for truly living. This contemplation on dying is giving me the perfect prescription for how to fully embrace life. So what are YOU waiting for? #RxLiveLikeYouAreDying
On September 4th, I celebrated my 35th birthday. I think birthdays will officially take on a brand new meaning ~ I’m just so grateful to have one! Now that it’s been almost a year since my diagnosis, I LOVE watching my mind compare this moment to one year ago…right now, I’d be getting ready for my biopsy, and two days after that (September 16th), I’d get the call that would change my life forever.
One year ago, if someone would have told me, “Guess what?!! Those lulu lumps in your boobies & armpit are CANCER and in ONE year, you will have been through 5 months of chemo, lost your mermaid hair, had your natural breasts surgically removed & replaced with boobs-of-steel tissue expanders, and floated through 5 1/2 weeks of radiation therapy…” I would have responded: “YOU CRAZY.” And then if you said, “And even more surprising, is that you will actually ENJOY a lot of it. It will open your heart in ways you never thought possible. It will open doors that you never knew existed. It will give you strength, purpose, presence, and gratitude. You will feel an enormous amount of love and support from so many. It will be one of the greatest gifts of your life.” I’d say, “WHAT? NOW YOU REALLY CRAY CRAY.”
Crazy. Awesome. Beautiful. Life.
So to catch you up…I am officially DONE with all of the major parts of cancer treatment! Radiation was so much easier than I expected. I’ll write a separate blog piece sharing details, but right now my skin has healed well and it feels as soft as a baby’s ass.
Last Friday, my plastic surgeon leveled out my fembot boobs so that they are the same size for once! I have to say, they look pretty darn good. Still indestructible ~ when you hug me, it feels like I am wearing armor. I’m having fun planning out the final surgery which will take place sometime next Spring or Summer. The surgeon usually waits 8-12 months after radiation which allows extra time for the skin to fully heal ~ it can sometimes continue to tighten and shrink. Lots of stretching and I apply a homemade cream w/Frankincense, Lemon, Argan, Jojoba, and Vitamin E oils daily.
I had another ultrasound to check out the cyst on my ovary…I’m ecstatic to report that not only is it nothing to worry about, my doctor doesn’t even see a need to continue monitoring it. What?!!! So that’s done too.
I have begun taking Tamoxifen – a drug used to prevent reoccurrence for hormone-positive cancers. It is a systemic treatment (meaning it treats the whole body) and if there are any remaining cancer cells, it will bind their mouths closed so that they can not feed on estrogen. No food = No life.
I had mixed feelings about taking any type of drug for 5-10 years, so I did my best to explore a well-researched alternative. Each doctor and naturopath I talked with had the same answer: there is no alternative. Because I am young and know this body is awesome at producing estrogen – aka “cancer candy” – it is very important to me to address this part of the cancer treatment plan. The way I look at it, Tamoxifen is the best option available for me now and I’m open to that changing. My oncologist put it nicely, “I don’t like to tell anyone that they will be taking a drug for 10 years…because we don’t know…new research could show up or circumstances may change…let’s just try it out and see how you do.” When I got the bottle from the pharmacy, I laughed out loud when I saw the pills. I was picturing some kind of huge scary, horse pill…it just looks like an innocent, little baby aspirin. So far, no noticeable side effects other than I’ve been getting a little hot flashy at night – and this is also summer in Texas, so who doesn’t?
August was incredible. I gifted myself a month-long sabbatical to celebrate the end of treatment. Zero doctor visits…I was just a regular gal living an amazingly free-flowing life of travel! The trip started with a few days in NYC with my sister-in-law, Annie, and then we joined our soon-to-be sister-in-law, Emma, for her bachelorette party in Brooklyn. We drank wine, ate great food, and danced until 3am! I was pretty impressed this body kept up with the girls!
We had lunch one day at Smorgasburg – an outdoor flea market with about 100 eclectic food tents. I was standing in line for some Vegetarian Venetian wrappy things and asked the woman in front of me if she would take my picture. She asked what brought me to Brooklyn and I told her that I was there for a bachelorette party and then blurted out that I also just finished a year of cancer treatment. She said, “Oh my god – ME TOO!” She just had her final reconstruction surgery and she asked if I wanted to feel them. Immediately, I said “YES!” and within seconds of meeting, I’m feeling up a stranger’s boobs with people all around us. Ahhhhh….I just love how going through this experience breaks down all boundaries. PS – they felt AHHHHHMAZING!
After the high energy of NYC, I took a train to Westpoint to stay with my girlfriend, Krissy, and her sweet baby. We’ve known each other since 3rd grade and had so much fun lounging around, cooking meals, and reminiscing about all of the crazy things we use to do when we were “young.” And how we still feel just as awesomely immature. Time is a funny concept.
Then back to the train to Boston where I stayed with my brother, his fiancée, and my furry Niece. They just moved into a cool new neighborhood and we spent our days walking, doing yoga, and eating yet more amazing food. I abandoned my diet a bit and treated myself to local fresh breads, organic coffee, and some kickass desserts. And oh, pizza…how I’ve missed you. To my surprise, I felt really good! My energy came back although I would often take an afternoon siesta.
I then hopped on a bus to Burlington, VT, where I stayed with my friend, Todd Smith. He is also a facilitator for The Work of Byron Katie and hosts personal retreats at his home – I can attest first-hand that WOW, what an amazing home they have! And He and his partner are wonderful hosts. We ate Ayurvedic meals and at night we took a swim in Lake Champlain under the full moon. It felt cleansing and purifying.
The next day, I moved into the finale of my sabbatical: a week-long retreat called “Love is the Power” led by Tom Compton in Quebec. It was hosted at the country home of one of sweetest families I know – Sarah Maya, Matthieu, and Zia. Another great friend, Susan, helped to organize the retreat. Sarah Maya and Susan reached out to me when I was diagnosed and offered to do The Work with me whenever I needed support – and I said yes. In all of my “People are kind” experiences throughout the cancer journey, this one was over-the-top generous. They all invited me to join the retreat as a gift. And what an incredible gift it was on so many levels.
In such a loving and supportive environment, I was able to explore deep fears around cancer returning, judgements about me choosing conventional medicine
over doing all alternative, the fear of death, and much more. Vegetarian meals, walking meditation, dancing like no-ones watching…and I even led a few morning yoga classes in nature. It was the perfect experience for me – mind, body, & soul. Perhaps I will share more in a separate post (OK, I have a billion blog post ideas I want to write!!!), but one key takeaway I am continuing to explore is “who would I be without the label of right and wrong?” This was an invitation from Tom and it’s definitely taking root in me. I notice so much of my life is lived out of needing to know “the right way” and “the right answers.”
What if it’s ALL right? ALL good? ALL Love?
After the retreat, Susan and I spent a few nights in the amazing city of Montreal before I flew home. I loved hearing French every day and am already plotting my return. Although I experienced sadness to leave, I was also excited to return to my “new” life in Dallas. No more daily doctor appointments – just some follow-ups here and there. Back to a new reality.
A new chapter has definitely begun. And the universe has already given me some really cool opportunities! I was asked to create yoga videos for CanSurround, a web-based tool designed to help with the mental & emotional journey through cancer. The videos just went live today!!! There are three: 10-min Yoga for Deep Sleep, 20-min Chair Yoga for Peace, & 30-min Yoga for Strength, Flexibility, & Presence. I had so much fun creating them with my own cancer experience in mind, and I hope it will help many others move through their journeys with more grace and ease.
I have also been asked to be a Yoga Coach for Reset Retreat, a company of like-minded ladies who create life-changing retreats across the globe. The first one is THIS weekend in Texas Hill Country and it’s sold out! And I just get to show up and teach the yoga!? Click here to read a recent interview I had with the company. It shares how I came to yoga, my experience with cancer, and how I weave in The Work of Byron Katie into my yoga teachings and life.
Speaking of The Work, I also just started my first e-course as a trainer in the Institute for The Work. I am co-training with a dear friend, Robyn ~ another amazing facilitator who reached out to support me when I was diagnosed. Travis and I will also be staffing the 9-day School for The Work in Ojai in the fall. My life is definitely calling me to share this work in many different platforms and I just love seeing what shows up for me.