I have a shameful secret that I have never shared with anyone. I have prayed a horrible prayer. I began praying this prayer when I was about 12 years old. I’ve presented God with the same request a thousand times. She has never answered…until now. Finally, she has shown up in the most grandest way, not only granting my wish, but essentially offering me a choice and returning the question by asking me – is this request still valid?
As a highly sensitive person, I have taken in life deeply. Every joy is massive, and every sorrow is unbearable. I’ve known wrenching heartbreak on so many levels that by my 45th year in life the collective consciousness of the cells in my body were no longer healthy. My inner critic had so drastically destroyed even the smallest semblance of self love that I could no longer distinguish truth or even allow love from others to wake me up. The words were spoken, but they meant nothing. The walls of self loathing were far too solid. And my prayer became an unconscious mantra.
“Please God, take me. I cannot stand the pain of life any longer. Please release me from this body and this earthly existence. Please take me home. Please God. Let me die.”
There is no one event that invited this prayer; just a lifetime where my sensitivities somehow misconstrued my truth thereby cutting me off from the force of love. Emotionally I had become such a mess that I could not longer grow – so my cells did. After months of dealing with a horrible cough that would not go away, I requested a chest x-ray. That was the beginning of a tremendous journey; a journey that ultimately, oddly, saved my life.
The urgent care doctor told me the chest x-ray revealed metastases on my lungs that were coming from an unknown primary tumor. She suggested I get in touch with a general practitioner ASAP. I did just that and got an appointment the next day. I had a large mass protruding from my pelvic region that I assumed was a fibroid. I had been seeing a gynecologist about it, but because of my medical insurance, not only did it take me four months to get into the gynecologist, but once I finally saw her, I had to wait another month to get an ultrasound to determine if the mass was indeed a fibroid. It was during that wait that I went to urgent care where they found the metastases.
The general practitioner ordered me a CT scan that same day and by the next day I got the phone call that changed my life. “Ms. Rodriguez, I’m sorry to tell you this but the scan reveals what we believe to be cancer in the pelvic region as well as the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes.” I was at work when I got the call. I had just stated a new job in Hospice admissions and triage. Ha! Hospice! The irony!
I had stepped outside to take the call. The doctor wanted me to come in the next day so he could refer me to an oncologist with City of Hope. When I hung up I began sobbing. I knew a call like this was coming to some degree since there were metastases found on my lungs. But nothing could really prepare me to hear the totality of the content of the call. I left work and drove 30 miles in rush hour traffic to my parent’s house where I shared the shocking news with them. I called my sweetheart, Luis and my daughter and shared with them as well. Of course, everyone’s response was “We will fight this. You will be fine.” But none of us even knew if we were dealing with something fightable.
The days and weeks that followed were filled with doctors and hospitals and poking and prodding and a painful lung biopsy that revealed the unbelievable – stage 4, metastatic ovarian cancer with metastases on the lungs, liver and lymph nodes. I remember sitting in my hospital room the night before the confirming biopsy with my oncologist. The scan alone told her what she needed to know. I was dying. The biopsy would simply reveal her recommended course of action, but either way it included chemo. Luis was there with me and I was uncontrollably crying. I was scared. I was scared of the needle they were going to stick into my lungs in the morning and other procedures, including chemo, which still lye ahead. I was scared of dying in pain, but not death itself. I had never been in the hospital before except to give birth. I had never had surgery and NEVER even entertained the thought of dealing with doctors until now.
Although my doctor was very careful not to give too much of a prognosis, I asked if this cancer would take my life, she said yes, but the chemo would add quantity. I insisted I wanted no quantity at the price of quality. She assured me she would honor that request. All I wanted was more time with my daughter, grandson, Luis and my parents. I wasn’t done yet – despite that damn prayer I had recited a thousand times.
Surgery was out of the question because the cancer had spread so much. First, she wanted to see if we could shrink the mets with chemo. And to administer the chemo without frying my veins, she wanted to surgically implant a chemo port-catheter; a lovely little contraption that is implanted into my chest where it connects with a major vein to my heart. This is where I get all my chemo pumped in from. Fun stuff!
Being not only a believer in alternative medicine, but also a practitioner, many of my friends were shocked that I chose the conventional route and agreed to chemo. But what most people don’t know is that I had been dealing with symptoms for months before my diagnosis. I thought the symptoms were connected to the mass, which I thought was a fibroid. I had been treating these symptoms with many different types of alternative therapies – reiki, shamanism, herbalism, conventional talk therapy, energy medicine, diet, exercise, and more. NOTHING WAS WORKING! I knew in my heart at diagnosis that I needed to follow a different, more conventional route in conjunction with my alternative work. I knew I needed to explore chemo.
There was a period of about 6 weeks between diagnosis and my first dose of chemo. Once I received my diagnosis, my body and mind let go. I had been in such pain, on so many levels prior to diagnosis. But I kept going. Despite the fact that I had to factor in thirty extra minutes to get ready for work so I could lie down, or that I was getting very little sleep due to pain, I just pushed through. I was so harsh on myself I would not let myself rest. So when I got my diagnosis, I stopped fighting and surrendered to whatever I wanted to do. I stopped working from that night of the phone call. I got into bed that night and did not leave the house except for doctor’s appointments. When I did leave the house I needed a wheelchair to get around. I stopped eating. Luis and my parents tried endlessly to get me to eat, but they were not very successful. I might have a few bites of Jell-O here and there or a nibble of yogurt, but nothing substantial. I became very weak, thin, and slept most of the day. I existed in a comatose state. God had finally answered my prayer and granted my wish! I was dying.
My mother would come over every day and sit with me and rub my legs, worried terribly about my declining health. My father would come and tend to my gardens so they wouldn’t die. Luis would cook and clean and do anything to get me to eat. He also encouraged me to get out of the house, even go for a ride, but I could not muster the energy. Getting up and down my stairs became a one-step-at-a-time sloooow journey; one that I avoided if I could. I was totally and completely exhausted. I was exhausted from my diagnosis, but I was also exhausted from life. It was as if all of the pain and suffering (physical and emotional) I had forced myself to push through over the years was finally coming to an end and all I had to do, all I could do, was rest. Deeply rest. I was not necessarily surrendering to death, I simply had an unwavering need to just rest. I was so tired from life. I don’t think I can explain it any better than that right now.
The day came for my first chemo. I was in so much pain, so weak, so tired; I didn’t care what was going on. I took morphine before I left the house and once I arrived, they drugged me up with a cocktail of pre-drugs that knocked me out for the count. I woke up occasionally only to hallucinate. I don’t do well on drugs and they were taking full effect upon my mind. I was having conversations with people that weren’t there and fighting with Luis about objects that were not there, including a book I insisted I was reading – there wasn’t a book in sight. And if there were, I was in no condition to read. Apparently I was quite the day’s entertainment for the nurses and staff. Luis got a kick out of it all too. After about six hours of crazy shenanigans, Luis was finally able to take me home where I slept until morning. I continued in my comatose state for a few more days as the chemo side effects kicked in. By the following week however, something miraculous began to occur.
One morning I woke up and suddenly realized that the horrific pain I had been suffering during the night for the past six months had gone away. It is a funny thing about pain. When you feel it so intensely for so long, you get used to it. When it subsides, it takes a while to recognize its deficiency as your mind is still living as if it were in pain. This was true for me at least. I began to notice an incredible sense of peace and love throughout my being with my newfound absence of pain.
The more and more time that passed without pain, the deeper and more poignant the peace and love felt. For me, it was foreign. I had never felt this level of love and resulting peace before. The love I felt in and of itself was unfamiliar. It wasn’t a love coming from outside of me; it was a love that defined me. I could feel this force of love surround me that was coming from within as much as it was coming from without. And what was coming from without was from a solid force of endless, unconditional love. I suppose it is what some would call God or Goddess or Spirit. It felt (and still feel) it is so all-encompassing that I could not put a label on it, but I would describe it as a force. This force and I are one. This force and you are one. This force is what connects every living thing as one. This force is where we came from and were we will return. It is what created us and it runs through every cell in our being. We are not just a part of this force, nor is it just a part of us – WE ARE THE FORCE. We can both feel this force as existential as well as emanating from within.
What I was feeling was not only love from Spirit, but love from my self. This was extraordinary! Such a stark contrast for how I was feeling at the time of my diagnosis. I was falling madly in love with myself, just because I existed. Every night I would feel this force of love surround me and every morning when I woke up I would just bask in it. I would text my mom about how wonderful it was to be out of pain and write facebook posts about my revelations of self love (I couldn’t talk at the time because of my cough). This love was healing me from the inside out. I began to eat again and going on short outings.
I was recognizing that all of the extreme emotional pain I had endured over the years had accumulated in my body as physical pain. As I began to heal from the physical pain, so too was I healing the emotional pain. In this amazing state of love, I could really let go of the past and integrate my experiences into growth. I was now growing, so the cancer didn’t have too. I had finally experienced the totality of rest that my body and mind needed in order to really focus on healing within.
Before my diagnosis or BD, I was all about go, go, go; do, do, do; produce, produce, produce; and do it all while giving the illusion to the rest of the world that I was perfect. I spent more time wallowing in my own private unhappiness, unworthiness, failures, lack and resulting self-hatred than truly resting and allowing myself to heal and integrate life’s traumas. I had moments of self-love, but they didn’t last. I could understand the concept enough to teach about it and to preach about it, but I wasn’t completely experiencing it. In fact I was experiencing a nightmare of self loathing. Sort of like the typical irony of the therapist that helps everyone else while her own life is completely in shambles.
The truth is though that I could not felt this level of peace and love without that level of anguish and torture. The mental contrast between the suffering and pain and this new state of love is exactly the space where the healing occurs. In other words, I needed to really feel the distinction between the sell-hatred and self-love in order to heal. In other words, I needed the cancer!
In fact, the same goes for all of us. Hopefully you don’t need cancer, but we all need trauma, drama and pain in order to have the opportunity to integrate and rise. Forget about letting go or releasing. We can’t release a part of ourselves and the past is a part of us. But we can integrate the grief and sorrow so that what results is the incredible love and joy of what is right in our life. Releasing and letting go is like denial. What we resist persists. When we dive deep into our truth around pain and suffering there is a self compassion that becomes available. Should we choose that self compassion it begins to transform into self-love. That self-love allows for compassion and forgiveness of others, compassion and forgiveness of ourselves and ultimately an integration of the past, resulting in true peace and a deep awareness of the force of love that we are.
I’m not done with life yet. I had an extraordinary night of dreams about a month ago. I was being shown aspects of my life’s purpose. At the moment just before I awoke, I disembodied voice asked me “So, what do you want now? Do you want to live?” I paused for maybe two seconds and then answered with a resounding “YES!” And then my alarm went off and I spent the day with my grandson.
The chemo sucks. It kicks my ass. I might spend and entire week in bed. I’m bald, have no eye lashes or eyebrows and feel tired and weak a lot of the time. Sometimes I get a little nauseous. Sometimes I get a lot nauseous. But I can eat again. I am pain free most of the time. I can leave the house without the need of a walker or wheelchair. I am healing beyond expectation. I have one more chemo session in this round, and then I get a chemo vacation and another scan to see where I am and where I’m headed. And by the way, those chemo nurses that I entertained that first day – they have become some of my greatest allies and cheerleaders.
Who knows what is going to happen to me. Perhaps my emotional healing healed my body, the cancer is gone and I will live to be 100. Perhaps my time is about done here and I’ve got weeks, months, or years to live. It doesn’t matter really. I say that cancer saved my life because I was not living a life BD (before diagnosis). Even with my chemo-riddled body, I am living more fully than I ever have. I’m here right now and right now I plan on basking in that self love and enjoying every minute I have with those I love. I have no intention of wasting precious energy sweating the small stuff. My hope and wish is that you don’t either. My prayer now is that somehow, some way my story wakes up anyone who is stuck in the land of unlovability to get the hell out of dodge. That is no place to live, only to die. My prayer is that we all slow down enough to feel the force of love that we are move through us and around us and touch the people we love. I pray that we all get the rest we need before life forces it upon us.
One last thing…stop worrying so much about what you put in your body, and worry more about what you put in your mind. The body has an incredible intelligence that knows how to process out toxins on its own. Yes, eating well most of the time supports that process. But you have to think well too. I believe one reason I’m fairing so well through chemo is because of my herbal medicines, but they can’t do all the work. I have to show up too. We are not what we eat, we are what we think!
Let’s just all stop worrying about anything – period. Worrying is the greatest waste of energy and robs us of being in the moment.
And know this – I love you!
I leave you with this haunting piece I wrote two months before my diagnosis. Channeled by the Great Goddess Kali herself…
I am Kali. Have you summoned me? You have asked for change and I am here to ignite it. I will cut out of your life what no longer serves you. But I am not nice or gentle about it. I will cut and cut until you bleed into an anemic stupor, just short of literal death. And that is precisely the point. For when you are weak and can no longer fight off the necessary changes, you are forced into surrender. Worry not, as the wounds will heal and become the most beautiful scars. Yes, beautiful! In thier forming is your own death and rebirth into an expression of yourself far grander than your fears would allow. I know it hurts dear one, but I do his out of love. I can see what you can not and what is on the other side of that fear and pain is a joy unimaginable. Sometimes gentle just can’t get the job done. Sometimes what holds you back has formed roots that must be violently torn right up. If you can muster trust in me, it will serve as a mild anesthesia. It won’t completely eliminate the initial pain of my psychic, psyche surgery, but it will make it tolerable. And what is on the other side of your recovery will be the highest high you have ever known. Take a deep breath. Keep breathing. I promise, the pain will end.