A cancer diagnosis feels nothing like a beginning.
It feels like a door just slammed shut.
It feels like your dreams for the future have been cancelled.
It feels as if you’ve been put off a train at a station in a place not particularly pleasant or interesting, while everyone else gets to stay on the train and keep going somewhere green and lovely and exciting. And you don’t know if the train will ever be back again.
Cancer feels like the end of something. Of everything.
Or just the end, full stop.
And you’re right, it is the end.
It’s the end of the part of your life before this one.
It’s the end of the way things used to be.
It’s the end of – God knows what. And that’s the frustration, isn’t it? You know it’s the end of something, but you can’t know all the ways just yet. All you do know is what you hope it isn’t the end of.
Cancer is the end of not speaking the unspeakable.
Cancer certainly is the end of some things. Cancer is the end of pretending these kinds of things don’t happen to us. It’s the end of thinking you have plenty of time to travel, to change, to forgive or to put it right. Cancer is the end of believing it doesn’t matter how you treat your body, your body will always bounce back.
Cancer can also be the end of thinking your body is you.
You are not merely what constitutes your body. Your body is one part of you, and unfortunately, that part isn’t working very well right now. However, there are other parts of you cancer cannot reach, and those parts may be about to come into their own. But only if you like, and only if you choose.
Cancer can feel like the end of you being the boss of you, or you knowing where you’re going, of self-determination and autonomy. It can feel as though you’ve been forced into a process of personal transformation when you weren’t ready for it, didn’t ask for it, and thought everything was perfectly okay before cancer came along, thank you very much.
I’d like to tell you when it comes to cancer, there may be a few things you lose some control over. But lets get this straight – the personal transformation part is totally optional. If you choose not to give cancer the power to improve you, just as I’m sure you’ve no wish to give cancer the power to lessen you, then good for you. But I’d also like to tell you what I’ve learned about cancer, and that is it changes things. It may change the way you see the world, your idea of the way things really are, or your perceptions about the kinds of things which can happen to people. Cancer may change your body, or force you to have it changed in order to make cancer go away, and this can feel unfair, because it is. Cancer may increase your sense of fear, or your capacity for courage. Cancer changes things, and sometimes the thing they change is us.
Some of the things cancer changes can’t be changed back to the way they were, and this is cause for grief and regret. But sometimes the change is exactly what you want or need to happen. Some of the things cancer changes you may feel have to change, and it’s about time, and some you may want to change. Being made to change by a force you can’t control can make you feel angry and cheated, and many people defy the changes cancer forces upon them. But there are some kinds of change which may put you ahead of cancer, and help you feel on top of it instead of under it. Every time we make or allow a change, it’s a new beginning, and with new beginning come endings too. There may be anger. There may be resentment and resistance. But the choice about how much change you allow or welcome always remains with you.
In a way, cancer is a kind of beginning. Cancer can be the end of one way of thinking and being, and the start of another one.
This is the beginning of your cancer journey.
Think of one of those roadside maps, the ones with the big arrow pointing to a dot which says “You are here”. Well, you are here.
And in order to go forward – and not simply sit down in the road and wait for something to happen - those of us who make this particular journey must pull on some boots, pack a rucksack, make a map, and just get started.
It may seem like everything you thought was sure and certain is falling apart and coming undone, and all you see are walls closing in around you. Perhaps this is the darkest time you’ve ever faced in your life. Please know that despite what’s happening in your world, what it may feel like to you and where your future may seem to be heading, this is not the end.
Now, I can’t know exactly what circumstances brought you here, but I do know what brought me here.
Love. For you.
I’ve been where you are now, and I’m here to tell my story. You’ll have the opportunity to tell yours as well. Above all else, please know – your story matters. It matters to me, and I’m not the only one it matters to.
You may think you need to be concerned about where exactly you’re going, and how on earth you’ll get there, but at the moment, you don’t need to worry about that. What’s important is starting – and here you are, just about to do it. The road is stretched out before you, and what went on before now is behind you. You may never have the opportunity to begin again like this, and you know, that’s exactly what’s happening. Regardless of what lies ahead, and how long you’ll be journeying for – with or without cancer -you’re beginning again.
This is the beginning.
To see this as a beginning, you may have to use your imagination a little. Everything you think you know about cancer could be telling you all kinds of things about how this is likely to go. Our memory and our history is there to protect us from danger, to keep us safe from harm. But your history isn’t going to help you this time. Your memory and what you think you know about what it means to have cancer don’t have anything good to say about this, and what you really need isn’t what your memory has to offer. You need something only your imagination can give you, and that’s hope. Hope is living out of your imagination instead of from your memory and your history.
You have the opportunity right now to begin living from your imagination instead of your history.
You can begin to change what you think you know about yourself, about having cancer, about the others and your life and the way things are in the world. You have a chance to change your mind, and even to change your self.
Many people never get a chance to do this. And here you are with exactly this opportunity.
Look up. You are here.
Dear friend, here’s what I really want you to know, and what I’ll be here to remind you of for the next thirty days as we journey together. Despite what you may have thought about what it means to have cancer, and despite where this road leads and how long you journey for from here on in, this is not the end.
This is the beginning.
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