It is hard to believe another Valentine’s Day is approaching. It is a major day for me. B.C. (before cancer) it was a day of eating my famous (if I do say so myself) lamb shanks and orzo, passing out little tokens of love and, of course, in a house of estrogen, consuming large quantities of chocolate. It was during our 2007 Valentine’s feast that I received, via phone, the news that I was about to be shoved down a “rabbit hole” and enter the dark unknown world of cancer.
Before my journey, I always wondered what Lewis Carroll was smoking when he wrote Through The Looking Glass. Now as a cancer survivor, I firmly believe that Alice and I could bond while indulging in a nice glass of Merlot. Like Alice, I was forced to go through doors, not to mention “tubes” I did not want to enter. Instead of an evil Queen of Hearts wanting my head, I heard “off with her breasts!” However, my “potions” came in IV form instead of the little bottle Alice found with the attached note stating “DRINK ME” or the hookah the Caterpillar was puffing.
Embracing it all
I would love to ask Alice how she handled talking with the flowers. In the company of women, I came to realize that “hair” and “menstruation” are big topics of conversation and when I came up short on both, I felt like Alice, trying to fit in without petals or fragrance. I would not know how to respond if the roses and tulips asked me to tell them my species or genus. There were times when I felt like a common weed until I remembered that I have solid roots and a strong stem, capable of weathering any storm.
So on this Valentine’s Day anniversary, I once again celebrate being on this side of the grass. A strange thing happens when you have been forced into a rabbit hole and at one time in our lives everyone will be. We are all survivors and here is the incredible part. The bad news; there is no way you can resurface from the “hole” unscathed. The great news; like Alice, you grow to tremendous heights only to shrink again upon reentry. The miraculous thing though is that all that growth and insight will always be with you even though you have returned to “normal.” You no longer “tolerate the toxic” as I like to say. You will find you have little tolerance for the Cheshire cats and opt to surround yourself with loving people with genuine smiles. Wasting precious time is no longer a viable option and instead of asking “Why?” you say “Why not?”
Finding the positive
I remember hearing a story of a woman stuck in a dark hole. A doctor walked by and she cried out for help. He threw her some medication and continued on. A clergyman came along and heard her pleas. He threw a prayer down into the darkness and went on his way. A friend discovered the woman down in the darkness and jumped in the hole with her. The woman was dumbfounded and asked, “Why did you come down here with me? Now we are both in the darkness!” Her friend replied, “I have been down here before and I know the way out."
Nelson Mandela, a man who was unjustly imprisoned for nearly 40 years has clearly shown that we don’t need “funky mushrooms” to make it through a crisis but rather hope and faith in the human spirit. In one of his speeches he utilizes material originally written by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You're playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
It is my wish that this Valentine’s day we open our hearts and dare to be the compass, North Star, and exit strategy for those in need of light.