Tattoo Chronicles #1 – Survivor

My first tattoo. Got it in 2008, five years after surviving cancer.

I drew this design up myself, and the tattoo artist commented it was obvious I wasn’t a tattoo artist – too many fiddly little scrolls.survivor tattoo

I wanted this tattoo more than anything. I needed a permanent reminder to never take my body for granted, and always listen to it when it speaks to me. The non-hodgkins lymphoma was stage 3B by the time it was found, undiagnosed for seven months despite my repeatedly visiting a doctor asking for tests. I knew I was sick. He told me I was just tired and working too hard. I walked into my local hospital emergency department on July 17th 2003 and told them if I was going to die, I wanted to do it in their waiting room, not in my kitchen in front of my kids. They found the saucer sized tumour in my chest within an hour of my arrival. Rushed to a bigger hospital in an ambulance, then airlifted two days later to Sydney. Three months of chemotherapy and two of radiotherapy. I learned a lot about myself in that time.

First thing I learned is my body knows what sometimes my mind and will refuses to admit. I thought I was living a good life, but it was a cacophony of compromises. My body said, fine, go there if you like, but I’m not coming with you.

It took time for me to relearn my body’s signals and to rebuild the trust between it and me. Now, I ask it first before I do anything where it will be required to bear the weight of the consequences. Sometimes it says, hell yes! Sometimes it says, are you kidding? Sometimes my body says, look at your arm, girlfriend. And when I do, I’m sometimes reminded I am not made of iron and stone. I can break. But sometimes looking at my survivor tattoo reminds me I can do very hard things. It reminds me not to expect so little of my body.

And sometimes, my tattoo reminds me becoming a survivor requires one almost die, and then come back from that…..but there be a day when I will not come back. Is this that day? No. This is not that day. Today, I live. Every day, until that day. I live.

Selah, my friends.
Jo xxx

Negative Thinking – What It Is, And Isn’t.

On Negative Thinking.

So much talk about positive vs negative thinking. But what is it exactly? What are negative thoughts, and why do we need to stop them?

When I had cancer, here’s something I heard a lot – “You just need to keep thinking positively!” After hearing this for about the thousandth time, I began to realise most people didn’t actually believe thinking and speaking positively was going to help me get better. Asking me to think positively was actually for the most part just something to say when they didn’t know what else to say.

But something else became clear to me also, after many years working in cancer supportive care and mental health support.

People were talking about positive and negative thinking as this big thing with immense power over circumstances and people, over minds and metaphysics and the Universe and even over God, but only as it applied to very sick people or people under extreme duress.

In other words, not themselves.

So they would ask a sick person not to talk about their being sick, and make out like being sick and not talking about it definitely helped sick people get better more quickly. Further, they talked about it in such a way, with such fervour and pragmaticism, that if you were sick and talked about being sick, you could be forgiven for thinking just the talking alone was likely to cause a far more rapid and certain demise.

And somehow all this was considered positive thinking.

Nobody ever seemed to think about the consequences of a very sick person never getting to talk about their experience, their pain or ask for help with that, or their believing talking about it was likely to make them sicker and maybe die. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t see how this is positive.

Further, the person asking the sick or hurting person to stop being negative often seemed to do so because they felt helpless and inadequate to do very much else, even though it would’ve been so much skin off their nose to simply sit with the person and listen for a while. And the feelings of helplessness and inadequacy which caused a person to say something benign like “You just need to keep thinking positively!” was never considered to be a kind of negative thinking or itself.

So, let’s review what we’ve just learned. Having cancer (or some other physical or perhaps mental illness, or having suffered abuse or realising you’re an addict or a perpetrator and need help) and needing to talk about that is considered negativity, but believing you have no power or capacity to help a person with cancer (or any of the other life-impacting issues above) feel better, and telling them that to even utter a word of complaint, or own their problem, or articulate their fear will make them get sicker and maybe die faster.

And I started to believe maybe we needed some help to work out what what kind of thinking can really be classed as negative, if, that is, negative means –

• unhelpful, and not conducive to getting help
• unhealthy, not enriching or life-enhancing
• incapacitating, or speaking to lack of capacity
• not reflecting the reality of the situation, and
• not connecting people in meaningful ways.

Because when it comes to a person in pain telling another person about that pain, and then the person being told about the pain wanting to run away, or deny it’s happening, or not do anything about it or just not hear it in the first place, I tend to think there’s a lot more in the above list applicable to the latter person just described than to the former.

So, I guess there’s negative thinking, and then there’s negative thinking.
………………………………..

Negative thinking  – what it ISN’T.

• Telling others you have, or describing, a medical or mental illness is not negativity. This is passing on information. Being informed, and being informative, is positive.

• Telling others you are experiencing pain or describing that pain – mental, emotional or physical – is not negativity. Verbalising and expressing your pain to a person who can help you is essential in getting help with that pain. Getting help with your pain is positive.

• Informing others you are an addict or alcoholic is not negativity. Acknowledging you have an illness or area in which you need help, and accepting help and support, is positive.

• Informing someone you are experiencing or have experienced abuse is not negativity. The first step to moving out of and processing the consequences of abuse is reporting that abuse, and describing the consequences and circumstances surrounding it. Verbalising the conditions and results of abuse is positive.

What negative thinking actually is.

• Believing pain and process are not inevitable in life. Such thoughts will cause you to demand perfection and invulnerability of yourself and others in the face of pain and process, vulnerability and imperfection. Expecting perfection of self and others is negative thinking.

• Believing yourself inadequate to render appropriate and generous support, kindness, gentleness, compassion and understanding to a fellow human being in distress. Withdrawing from hurting people because of your fear of inadequacy, or of their pain, is selling yourself short. You have so much to offer, and even the smallest of kind gestures will help. To be mindfully present is to help. To not believe in your amazing capacity to always be able to be kind and compassionate is negative thinking.

• Denial of your own flaws, and your capacity to hurt others, for vice and avarice, is negative thinking. Believing there is such a thing as the “other” is negative thinking.

• Ignoring, neglecting, denying or providing justification for abuse of any kind. Believing this is ever okay is negative thinking.

There are others we could add to this list.

What you’ve probably believed was negative thinking or negativity are perhaps not quite correct, and even unhelpful. We thought it was plain old bad to talk about our pain, but asking a hurting person not to talk about that hurt is like asking a starving person not to to ask for something to eat.

Behind every complaint, every sad tale, every description of illness or abuse, there is a person with a story. The real story may not be the story they are telling you, but stories of pain are always a request for help in some form.  There is a place for affirmations; they can and do work. But the hurting ones’ cry to be heard is not “negativity”; the negative thinking is our belief we are inadequate to offer them more.
…………………..

(c) Jo Hilder 2015

You are more than good enough.

I don’t live in regrets, but I do look back at times and wonder how I could think what I was thinking for all those years. How did I come to be so afraid for so long, and what was I afraid of?

It wasn’t until I developed a massive cancer in 2003 that I really thought about whether the way I was living my life was doing me any good. I understand now, I was driven by trying to please others, taking on the roles they had for me, making myself up as the mirror image of who I thought was acceptable and successful and good. Nobody would’ve thought I was racked by fears and insecurities. I seemed confident and capable, and achieved a lot.

But I look back at photos of myself and see a woman desperately blending into the landscape around her. Everything about me designed to paint myself as a certain kind of person – responsible, intelligent, successful, productive, talented…..yes, “special”.

I didn’t feel special. I felt less-than. I felt I had to prove myself. So I created a persona from the outside in and hoped it would work.

Based on fear.

They don’t like me. They won’t help me. They think I’m stupid. They think I’m bad, dirty, flawed, sinful, broken. They don’t see how clever, talented and good I am. They will ignore me. They will reject me. I need to show them I am good, and good enough.

Then, one day, I realized I was sick, and getting sicker. It was clear that my body disagreed with the life I was living, and wanted out. I could keep living the pretending, prove-it-all, self-aggrandising, insecure, over-achieving life if I wanted, assuming everyone thought the worst of me and wouldn’t help me. Assuming I was so helpless and worthless I needed to prove I was worthy. I could keep living like that. But my body had decided it wasn’t coming with me.

I thank my body now for its wisdom, for “putting its foot down”. For not being willing to ride with me any longer on my fear-based marathon of trying to disprove my assumption everyone thought badly of me and I needed to prove them wrong.

Because that’s what I thought.

I am bad.

I need to show I am good.

I appreciate now why I was attracted to Christianity at such a young age. The heavily reinforced concept of being a helpless, rotten, dirty sinner who needs help and can’t do anything for themselves including be “good” exactly matched my internal view of myself.

Except, that’s not who God is. That’s not what Jesus is about. That’s not who I am.

I wonder… are you held in a “system” – a group, culture, family, tribe or way of being – because the beliefs they hold reinforce the negative way you think of and feel about yourself?

Is the picture you have of who you are really the truth? Is it what God truly thinks? And how long are you prepared to believe you’re helpless, dirty, broken, unworthy and wrong…until your body or mind or soul decides it doesn’t want to come too?

I look at all the disconnected, soulless people I know, and I think I see what happened.

Their soul had enough, and it got up and got out of there. They died a kind of death, and now they can’t see or feel it any more.

But you see it, you feel it, don’t you?

Look for the flame inside you. You already suspect you were born for more than this. You have heard a calling in your spirit, and you’ve allowed your fears to quell that voice, in your search to be safe and liked and belong. But it’s costing you. What are you prepared to pay, to stay as you are right now?

I’m grateful I listened to my body and broke out of my old beliefs. But things got much worse before they got better. I lost my business, and my marriage. My husband descended into mental illness and addiction, and my church family largely abandoned me. We imploded financially. I was left wondering why I survived cancer, to die in every other area of my life.

But as it turns out, everything I suspected in my heart about myself – but which had been undermined for years by fear – was true.

I really was strong and brave.

I really was faithful and intuitive.

I really was clever, resourceful and intelligent.

I really was capable of deep, healing love, forgiveness and trust.

I really was a capable, connected and loving mother.

I really was beautiful and worthy of the love of a good man.

What do you know? I was “good” after all.

My life is healed and healing, from the inside, right to the outside. Who you see today is who I really am. I’m not proving or striving any more. I don’t believe I’m a rotten, bad, unworthy sinner – I understand how we live in the age of Gods grace, and are fully restored to our glory in our creator. I am not afraid. I am me.

Be courageous, my friend. Freedom from fear can begin today. One step. Then another. Why not begin? Listen to that still, small voice inside you, and begin to trust it. It’s telling you the truth.

I’m for you – you’re worthy. And you’re good.

Love, Jo xxx

Self-Care Is Not Selfishness

selfcareMany cancer survivors say one of the hardest things about living well after cancer is learning to put themselves, their health and the things they love or enjoy first in their lives.

It’s a tough lesson to learn – and sometimes it’s tougher for those around us to change than it is for us to decide change needs to happen. Also, we may belong to a group who taught us others always come first (I learned it was Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last which led to true J.O.Y. in life, but I’m not an advocate for that any longer), but there are no medals for those who deny themselves pleasure, rest or access to the things which make them happy.

There. Are. No. Medals.

Good self-care is not selfish, and neither is living the life you want, or need, to live to stay well and strong. Do one thing today that’s healthy, and just for you. You’re so worth it.

What do you think? How hard is it for you to put your own well-being or pleasure before that of others?

*****

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Awesome Video Clip – Chemo and Cancer: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Just loving this! Thanks to my friend Tammy Guest from Inspirational Health for showing me this video.

I’ve learned this is 22 year old Chris Rumble of Kent, in Washington, USA – would love to track this gal down and share a little of her story with you!

If any of you can help me out, leave a comment or email me at mail@johilder.com

The 6 Most Unhelpful Myths About Cancer, And How You Can Change Them

MYTH #1 – Cancer is rare.

In fact, cancer is not rare. The odds of getting cancer in your lifetime are the same as being born a boy – latest statistics state one in two people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.* When every second person gets something, that something isn’t rare.

Why this myth is unhelpful – Whilst ever we believe we have a low chance of having a particular thing happening to us, the more unlikely we are to change our behaviours, or change our attitude towards it. However, the most effective way to prevent cancer, and to help those who have it now, is to change our behaviours and attitudes.

Be the change – Acknowledge cancer is no longer a rare occurrence in our society, and perhaps re-examine your attitudes towards your health and well-being in light of this information. Also, think about the way you view people who find themselves diagnosed with cancer, and whether those perceptions are based on the reality – cancer is commonplace and curable – or based on the myth – cancer is rare, and always fatal.

 

MYTH #2 – Cancer will kill you.

For most people, a cancer diagnosis no longer means certain death. Once, a cancer diagnosis was rare, and death was likely. Now, thanks to increased awareness, better health education, high-tech research and improved treatments, it’s cancer fatalities which are becoming rarer and rarer.

Why this myth is unhelpful – A morbid fear of cancer – and anxiety about possible outcomes – can cause as much, if not more, distress for the cancer-diagnosed person, their friends and family than the actual disease, symptoms or treatment. This pervading fear of dying of cancer can also prevent people investigating troubling symptoms and warning signs, despite the fact early diagnosis of cancer dramatically improves treatment outcomes.

Be the change Whilst cancer may lead to an untimely and tragic demise, a diagnosis in no way spells certain death. It simply isn’t true a cancer diagnosis means you will die of cancer. Please, have symptoms or signs checked earlier rather than later. For those troubled by fearful and anxious thoughts after a diagnosis, counselling or support is available via your GP, a social worker or local cancer charity. Call the Cancer Council NSW on 13 11 20 (within Australia) or contact a cancer support service or counsellor in your area.

 

MYTH #3 – Cancer is smarter then we are.

Cancer cells are not smarter than us – it’s just they don’t know when enough is enough. Even a virus is well aware if its host dies, it dies too, and tries to escape well in advance. Compare this rudimentary intelligence with that of cancer cells. No, cancer isn’t clever, or intelligent. It’s just plain old, garden-variety dumb.

We’ve circulated this myth which says cancer has some kind of mind of its own. Certainly, when it defies treatment, it can seem like it’s outwitting us. But it isn’t.

Why this myth is unhelpful – When we have cancer, believing the cancer has a life of it’s own can leave us feeling our body is “out to get us”. This can lend itself to a base distrust of our body, undermining our confidence in our ability to heal or “outwit” the cancer at a time when we can be feeling physically and mentally diminished, weak and vulnerable.

Cancer cells are not smarter than people are – they simply lost the switch which tells them when to turn off. Very clever people continue to work to find out the reasons why, and are also finding ways to turn off those cells or at the very least, think of new ways to get them the hell outta there before they do too much damage.

Be the changeCancer is a sign something in our body is unbalanced and needs immediate attention. It’s when we need to direct our most tender care and compassion towards our body, not treat it with disdain or distrust because it “let us down” or “tried to kill us”.

Rather than making our body the object of anger and suspicion, instead lavish it with tender nurture and respect. You wouldn’t harshly berate a sick child. Affirming the body as able to heal and worthy of ours and others care will both empower and soothe us in a time when we need it the very most.

 

MYTH #4 – Cancer is evil.

We’ve interpreted cancer’s mindless advance through the body as a kind of cunning malevolence, probably because this has helped us see it as “not part of us” or as “the enemy”. However, in reality cancer is merely cells doing what cells do best – multiplying, over and over. Cancer has no mind of it’s own, and has no will or intent towards us.

Why this myth is unhelpful – The mindless advance of cancer can make us think it has some mystical force attached to it.  Imagining ourselves “fighting”against cancer can help us feel strong, and as if we’re “doing something” about the cancer. But metaphors of evil and malevolence can also be incredibly emotionally and mentally debilitating and anxiety producing, and can feed intense feelings of victimisation and helplessness.

Be the changeInstead of focusing on the negative attributes – real, or imagined – of the cancer, focus always on the positive attributes of the person. Use metaphors which depict cancer as “less than” everything the person with cancer is, instead of setting them up against cancer in a mental conflict they may feel unprepared or unwilling to engage in.

 

MYTH #5 – Cancer is a failure or punishment.

People often say things like “God is trying to teach you something” or “The Universe has a lesson in this for you” when someone is diagnosed with cancer, but in reality, few people really believe this. More often its simply something to say when they don’t really know what else to say. However, some folks really do secretly suspect the person with cancer has done “something wrong” somewhere, taken a “wrong turn” in life, or caused their own cancer because of bad thoughts or feelings. The person themselves may feel this is true.

Why this myth is unhelpful – Whenever we believe cancer has occurred because of a particular shortcoming or behaviour on the part of the person who had it – whether it’s a real cause, like smoking, or a more esoteric one, like unforgiveness – we’ll behave or speak in a way (perhaps even inadvertently) which expresses that judgement. Feeling shame because of something we did we think may have caused the cancer will evoke a sense of condemnation and guilt, and perhaps even resignation about the cancer. Whilst cancer can happen because of things we do or do not do, cancer itself is not a failure or punishment. Even if cancer happened because of something a person did or failed to do, no one ever “deserves” it, nor our judgement about why they have it.

Be the change – Ascribing attributes of justice or “deservedness” to cancer is giving it way more power than it deserves – cancer is actually amoral. Instead of wondering why cancer came in the first place, focus on instilling hope in the possibility of a healed, healthy future. Walk beside them in their journey, helping them direct their energy into people and activities which will foster good health, emotionally and relationally, as well as physically .

 

MYTH #6 – Cancer is the winner.

All those metaphors we use around cancer of battles and fights, heroes and victims, inevitably leads us to some less than conducive images of the outcomes.

Why this myth is unhelpful – Every time we say someone “lost their battle with cancer”, we intimate that between the two of them, cancer was the better and the stronger. But how did cancer win when someone dies? Did the cancer not die with them? And what family can cancer leave behind? What wonderful glory trail of paths blazed, adventures enjoyed or stories written did the cancer forge for future generations? What good memories, smiles and laughter did it and will it continue to inspire? How does cancer outshine us, in life, or in death? How can cancer ever win?

Be the change. We can change the language we use around cancer. We can stop talking about it as if it ever wins, even when someone passes away. People do not “lose their battle” with cancer – they die, and when they do the cancer dies with them. We do not grieve the cancer, nor should we.  The cancer ought never outshine the person we loved in life, nor be exalted as the victor over them when they pass away.WCD_Logo_RGB_2012

Unlike the magnificent human being who we loved, and unfortunately, tragically lost, cancer leaves no legacy worth remembering, and we dishonor all our loved ones amazing achievements in life when we speak of cancer as having bettered or conquered them.

Cancer does not deserve the credit we give it when we speak of it this way. Instead say “They died, after having lived a wonderful life, having loved many and achieved much. They died of cancer, but cancer did not win. ”

Feb. 4th is World Cancer Day

 *http://www.cancerinstitute.org.au/publications/cancer-in-nsw-incidence-and-mortality-2008

*****

 

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #30 The Three Questions

The chapter you’re about to read was actually the first one I wrote for this book, but there’s no way it could come first. The thing is, what I’m about to say is what I’d like to say over and above just about everything you’ve read so far.

Because it’s a conversation we may need to have – with ourselves, and with others – at some time.

When things are going great in our lives, we pretty much have the luxury of avoiding stuff we don’t want to talk or think about, much as we might hide a mess under the bed or food wrappers down the side of the couch. However, when something like cancer comes along, other things in our life often need to move around to make room. And when we start moving things around, our no-go zones become exposed to the wide, blue heavens and all God’s children too. Oh my God, we cringe, there’s all that stuff I just couldn’t face, didn’t get around to, don’t want to think about. Well, honey, guess what? You need to deal with it now.

For an awful lot of people, thinking about dying is stuffed way, way under the bed. The plan generally is to deal with it quickly at the last possible moment. I wonder – would you recognise that last possible moment if you saw it coming?

If you have cancer, you may have thought you saw it coming in the first five seconds after somebody said to you, “You have cancer.”

These kinds of conversations are very, very hard to have. Nobody teaches us how to do it. Generally, in our culture, we don’t even talk about death for goodness sake, even though we all die. Much of our dealing with dying is about pretending it isn’t happening and wishing it wouldn’t right up until it becomes inevitable. This isn’t very helpful. We probably need to start talking about it way before then.

People don’t like to talk about dying because death and dying is considered to be very, very bad, and to be avoided at all costs. Hello – of course, it is.  Death is bad, obviously sad, and can also be tragic and untimely and unfair. But our refusal to even speak about death as being a part of life perpetuates the belief that all death is intrinsically bad, as in wrong, and we mustn’t ever talk about it. I’ve learned that whilst dying is unavoidable, it is actually possible to have a relatively good death. Not everyone gets one, but I think it’s in all our best interests to see that those who could possibly have one do so.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

One way we can improve the kinds of deaths people have is by stopping talking about them as if all death is a failure.

I especially become angry when it’s carelessly remarked “They lost their battle with cancer.” What if, in their mind, they never fought cancer? And if they didn’t fight cancer, but rather journeyed through cancer right to it’s end (remember, when we die of cancer, cancer dies too), would that really be so awful, so wrong?

—–

A few years ago, I heard someone speak about what we might say to someone who was facing their own death. Their suggestion was so simple and so powerful, I’m passing it on as a suggestion for perhaps how you might want to think about it, or have a conversation with someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. I’m not in any way suggesting this will be easy. It couldn’t possibly be. But it will be at the very least clarifying. Perhaps even liberating.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, there are three questions to consider:

Is it my time to die?

If it isn’t my time, am I  prepared to do what’s required to survive?

If this is my time, am I ready for that?

The answers to these questions may impact not just how you journey through cancer and treatment, but also the quality of your life, or your death, at the end of it.

You can see now why I didn’t put this chapter right at the beginning.

—–

Of all the things I learned whilst I had cancer and since, learning to have this conversation has been the most useful piece of information I’ve gleaned yet. I’ve had this talk with myself, and I’ve suggested it to others. I believe the conclusions you come to could very well be the only information you’ll need, whatever happens with the cancer. But that doesn’t mean the conversation won’t be confronting or uncomfortable.

We all want a good life, and a long one, but we don’t always get one. Now, given my own health history, I don’t know if I’ll have a long life, but I sure as heck want a good one – and I also want a good death. I’ve known folks who didn’t have a good death, and I believe this is as just as tragic as a short life or a wasted one. It may be time to move the couch and have a bit of a check underneath. Maybe the couch has already been moved, and you’ve relegated yourself to an upstairs closet to avoid facing the subject. If you’ve been avoiding it, I gently, loving suggest you don’t avoid it, if at all possible.

Of the three questions I’ve suggested, you may only need to answer one, and knowing the answer to that one may make all the difference. This is not a formula, or a guarantee. It’s simply a way for you to open up conversations between yourself and the folks you love, to help you recognise and acknowledge your priorities, your values and your resources.

I don’t know what else to say, except it sucks we have to even think about this stuff whilst most people get to leave the couch where it is, and ignore the mess under the bed until much, much later. And I’m sorry about that. So much about having cancer is bad – not just inconvenient, unfair, and scary – but yep, plain old bad. I know you hate this. Me too. Me too, to all of it.

Tomorrows Soul Letter is the very last one. Love you. Hope you’ll be back. See you then. xxx

*****

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #29 Big Far Away, Where Hope Waits For Me

My eyes have deteriorated a lot over the last few months, mainly because I‘m writing and using social media far more than I once was. I’m spending a lot of time looking at computer and phone displays really close up. A friend of mine who also used to spend hours a day looking at a computer screen reckons after a couple of years living on a farm with wide skies and long views, his  vision has improved amazingly. He says it’s because he gets to look at things which are a long way away all the time now. Tall trees. Horizons. The neighbours paddock. A child swimming across a dam. Gazing at faraway things has improved his phsyical sight, and I venture, his imagination too.

As I look around our own compact home with security grills on every window, itself surrounded closely by other houses all of them shut in on themselves rather than opened up to the outside, it’s no wonder my eyes are so tired. Everything in my world is right there, close-up, in my face. To see something far away, I need to get in my car and drive to somewhere else – somewhere where the land meets the ocean, or the land meets the sky, or things grow which touch both the land and the sky. I wonder if I can retrain my eyes by looking into the distance more often.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

When you have cancer, it’s almost like the world closes in around you. You may even pull your walls in closer on purpose to give you something to hold you up, to make you feel safe. You may find it hard, even scary, to look too far into the future. Fear of not even having a future can force us to only look at what’s right in front of us – the here and the now.

We may call this “living in the moment” – it sounds far more romantic than “What’s the point of thinking about the future? I could be dead in a year.”

In the cloister of the cancer world, our days can be reduced to a pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping, and being available for whatever others want to do to us to get rid of the cancer. It often doesn’t feel much like “fighting cancer” – surely that would feel like doing something? We wait for results, we wait for appointments, we wait for the side-effects of treatment to kick in and then abate again. We look at the walls of the inside of the rooms of our house, the insides of waiting rooms and clinics, the insides of cars and buses and taxis. We become dully familiar with places we never even noticed before – that weird space behind the toilet, the dust on the medicine cabinet shelf, the wrinkles on the inside of an elbow.

There is no more wonder, serendipity or spontaneity. The air and the ground and the sea and the growing things must be kept away, and we from them, because they are wild with germs and dirt and chill and could make us even sicker. The walls grow higher. The colours grow duller. The sky moves further away. Our vision for far away things begins to grow cloudy, whilst at the same time our ability to perceive the tiniest change in our body or immediate environment is heightened. Someone moved the soap. I can feel a lump. As night approaches, the sun edges closer to the horizon and the clouds recline before it, aroused into amazing purples and blushing orange and peach and gold….whilst we potter about our living room in our dressing gown and slippers, closing the window against the chill and our myopic eyes against the painful, boring day.

A gift we must give ourselves when we have cancer is the opportunity to see things which are far away.

Things which are outside of us. Things which tower over us, and run beneath us. Things which rush up and lap at our feet. Things which drop away before us. We need to see the sky and the stars and the horizon. Things which are great, and which move very slowly. Things we can only see when the earth turns. The tallness and the depth and the proximity of things.

When you have cancer, take care to preserve your vision. Much like I need a break from this computer screen, and probably a break from this small house and neighbourhood too, you need a break from your small, closed-in world. Your vision – the way your mind, and your soul, sees the world – needs to spend some time out in open spaces, away from the cloister of a cancer experience. Your imagination feeds hope, remember, and bigness, far-awayness, over-theredness feeds your imagination with all the good, nourishing things it needs to stay alive.

Go outside. Go big far away. Look up at the stars. Count the sun-sparkles on the ocean. Run your hands through sand, dirt and stones. Find a place where there’s a wide sky, and lay yourself beneath it. Throw up the blinds, and watch the wind cause chaos. Grow something where you can see it. Throw something somewhere you can’t. Place space before you, and distance behind you. Hope is living as if you’re heading now for everything you want and desire, as if it’s just a matter if time – because one day you’ll get there. You’ll get there. Expand your long-distance vision further and further, and nurture your ability to see into your own future.

Your hope needs somewhere far away to wait for you .

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Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner #28 Believe What God Says About You

Believe what God says about you.

This will take a step of faith – perhaps the very first one you’ve ever taken. Faith may be the last thing you feel capable of right now. But if you’ve ever read or heard someone’s story and laughed or cried with it, or been moved or inspired by it, then you are capable of faith. It takes faith to believe, and to believe in someone’s story, whether it really happened or is made up. If you’ve ever believed someone else’s story as they told it to you, you have enough faith to believe in your own.

Believe what God says about you.

If you’ll take this step of faith, then all the tangled, crumpled things will begin to unravel and unfold before you. You may begin to believe you can indeed let go when everything inside you screams to hold on. Letting go can feel like the last thing you want to do, but letting go is what you need to do to move beyond the here and now. There’s a saying, “Let go, or be dragged.” Can you remember how it feels to let go?

When you let go, you’ll feel afraid. Perhaps very afraid. But in surrender, you will begin to see everything afresh. What’s been unclear and hidden from you will come into view. Your eyes will see horizons again. When was the last time you saw a horizon?

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

Believe what God says about you.

Faith is the first step, and will always be the first step toward healing, wholeness, health, freedom and future, whatever the outcome of this present difficulty.

Yes, even if the worst possible case scenario seems or becomes inevitable, there’s still room and scope for hope, healing and wholeness – in your soul and in your mind, in your relationships and in your religion. You can be healed, even if you don’t survive this.

There are more ways than one for cancer to kill you. And there’s more than one way for faith to heal you.

Believe what God says about you.

Don’t be afraid.  It’s only one step.

The first step isn’t a leap. A leap of faith may come later, after you’ve mastered the step. God knows you, and He knows where you are. He knows you’re fragile right now. And He understands all you can cope with is one small step.

Believe what God says about you.

Listen. He’s speaking.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”*

You’re far from home, far from where you want to be. This exile feels like hell, like punishment and retribution and spite. But it isn’t those things. You haven’t been punished by God, but you have been captive. He wants to make you free. He wants to make you whole, healed and free.

Your story now has a chapter about an exile and a captivity. It’s not a perfect story any more. But there is a future and a hope in your story, still. God has written restoration and prosperity into your story. Don’t believe what you see right now. Believe instead in the higher story. Believe what God says about you.

Believe what God says about you.

*Jeremiah 29:11-14

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