Last June, I received the startling news that I had aggressive bladder cancer. Anyone that has ever received a cancer diagnosis can understand how that stops your world. Everything changes in that moment. Everything. Your sense of health and invulnerability are ripped away from you. Death, horrible suffering, loss of everything you love, and the vanishing of self flash before you in endless kaleidoscopes of twirling fear. Once you get over the shock and denial then depression descends like a heavy blanket of wet concrete, unrelenting and crushing. Some loved ones, friends, and co-workers rally and support you with unimaginably kind and generous acts and others desert you in heartbreaking ways. Some are dismissive and relegate it to nothing more than a mild bump in the road and some can be even cruel in their lack of empathy. It was during that first grieving and shock that I realized I was sacrificing myself for work, for stress, for anxiety and fears that could not be controlled in any way. I had to teach myself (am teaching myself) to let it go; to stop ruminations and angry dialogues that plagued my internal terrain. I realized I also needed to find purpose and fulfillment other than in my day job, which really had lost all joy due to a toxic co-worker who I endlessly let belittle, demean, and minimize my every accomplishment. I not only heard those messages, I believed them. I am still working on erasing those sabotaging scripts that I allowed in because of not embracing how wonderful I really am. Hey, I am great. I have flaws, sure, but that doesn’t mean I am not great. You are great too. If you don’t believe me, just think of five strengths you have. They can even be very small strengths but they may have massively positive influences within the universe. Just like cruelty can kill people (literally—I would know), so too can kindness and generosity save someone. Kevin Hines wrote in his book, “Cracked, Not Broken” that he would not have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide (which he remarkably and thankfully survived) if one person had smiled at him or expressed concern when he was visibly crying that day. Our acts have amazing consequences, both positive and negative for the receivers. On that same day, a woman stopped Kevin, who was crying noticeably, and asked him to take her picture. She doesn’t even know that she could have stopped him with a few kind words; saved him from terrible, life changing injuries. But, like most of us, she was focused on getting the thing done and was not present for the emotions of strangers.
Finding purpose and meaning in this life is already within us. If you are lost, volunteer. Raise money for a charity, walk dogs at the pound, help an elderly neighbor or cook a meal for a sick friend. These small acts get us outside of our own head and connect us to the greater life force, which we often become disconnected from in our endless preoccupation with our own concerns. When I opened my own therapy private practice in January, six months after my diagnosis, I knew I had come home to what my purpose was. I didn’t find that way by myself, my dear friend Lissette (the author of the Healing From Within newsletter) and my now deceased mother (another article on that amazing life experience) encouraged me strongly to go back to what I loved, rather than be an administrator as my only source of contributing to this world. Words cannot express my feelings of gratitude for both of them as well as my husband and his business partner for allowing me to use space in their suite of offices. The universe really did conspire to bring me to my purpose. And it will happen for you, too, if you just open yourself to the possibilities waiting for you. Additionally, I have met such amazing people in my practice who are working on finding their joy and purpose every day. They are such brave explorers they constantly inspire me to continue my own growth and development.
Although I received terrifying news last June, and I am working through some really big obstacles impeding my health and happiness, I am forever grateful for the wakeup call. Having a crappy diagnosis can certainly derail your life as you know it, but joyous change also happens. In some ways, being released from your invincible beliefs, you wake up to the preciousness of life. Such a gift! The wind in the trees, the cacophonous sound of a crow, the melodic twirl of a robin, the sun on skin, the smell of low tide and cut grass, the rumble of an outboard boat engine, the warm fur of a beloved pet, your loved one’s hand extended in comfort and support, these are the things that take your breath away and fill you with gratitude if you open yourself to them. Use your mind and your senses to feast upon the quiet beauties of every day moments.
So, I ask you to take 5 minutes today to really listen to the birds, appreciate it with your mind, your ears, watch the clouds drift across the sun, enjoying both the warmth and the coolness. Rub the silky nose of your dog, the belly of your cat, hold your partner’s hand or a parents or child’s and really be there in the moment. Not worrying about dinner or a work assignment. Give it your all for those 5 minutes. Do it tomorrow too. Take 5 minutes to talk with your neighbor without feeling impatient to rush to the next thing. Be fully present in the conversation. Notice how much she smiles in her eyes at the receipt of your full attention. Who knows? The life you save could be your own.