Do you ever feel like you’re living life on auto-pilot? Just going through the motions, numbed out and questioning what life is really all about? I can honestly say that I have lived the better part of my life this way. Zombie land. Day in, day out.
Until one day in 2015, I found myself in a crisis of seismic proportions. A shit-storm so big that I had no idea how to navigate through it or even fathom moving beyond it. The experiences and teachings of my life until that point had not prepared me for this. Enter stage left: a diagnosis of breast cancer with a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in my left breast.
And as I heard the breast surgeon repeat for the second time, “You have a lump, and it’s cancer”, my mouth went dry and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. As tears streamed down my cheeks, I felt so alone as I feared my own mortality. I went straight into shock. I didn’t want to believe it. I wasn’t prepared for this news. I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that this could be my fate.
There is nothing quite like a cancer diagnosis to shake you to your core. I wanted to kick and scream but who would want to listen? I wanted to know why cancer had picked me. Why?? I wanted to deny its very existence in my body. What’s worse is that I did not want to receive proper treatment or to heal because that would take up my precious time.
The weeks that ensued were among the darkest of my life. Like waves crashing on a rocky shore, emotions washed through the numbest parts of me, waking me to the many stories that defined my life.
As I retreated into my shell, feeling the gap of separation from loved ones widen, I took deeper dives into my being than I had ever done. I started to question who I was, what was important to me, what inspired me and what I needed to let go of. I looked at the patterns that kept me comfortable on auto-pilot and the many labels I had chosen for myself so I could impress loved ones and succeed in the corporate world.
And the deeper my exploratory dives, the more I realised the layers upon layers of protection I had constructed. So many masks and bull shit stories to prevent the world from seeing who I truly was. Like I was some grotesque, unlovable witch too wretched and unworthy of acceptance. I had concocted quite a complex set of fairy tales about myself, none of them very close to the truth.
In February 2020, I went for my annual mammogram, five years since my first diagnosis. A different radiology clinic, a different surgeon, and another diagnosis of breast cancer. Left breast. This time, aggressive cancer. What the??
Once I got past the shock and denial of a second diagnosis, I felt rage, hurt, grief, confusion, disappointment, shame… Did I mention rage? Why me? Why now? Why again?
The body is a powerful messenger
Call me crazy, but I’m the kind of person that believes our body is a powerful messenger. It is constantly communicating with us through our tight shoulders, headaches, indigestion and so on. Physical symptoms show up when we aren’t in alignment, or rather, when we are out of balance. Our body is always trying to return to its naturally balanced state. Messages usually start with a little whisper and, if left unattended, amplify into a tap. And if the tap is disregarded, a slap usually follows in the name of a disease or illness that will stop you dead in your tracks. Something like breast cancer.
Unlike my first diagnosis in 2015 where I refused treatment and chose to soldier on with my life, my second breast cancer diagnosis (with a much more aggressive form of cancer) was the slap I needed to truly hit the pause button on my life. It was then that I embarked upon what I’m calling my soul’s sabbatical.
Making Myself A Priority
As I weighed up all the elements that make up my life, and determined what I needed to give up, deciding what to do with my coaching business was the hardest. I am like many coaches who love the work we do and the feelings of purpose and achievement derived from it. Would I be able to continue working alongside my treatment? Would I have the energy and focus that my work demanded?
I was torn. The egoic part of me wanted desperately to put on a brave face and continue working. Soldier on, so to speak. But, the quieter voice within me was saying, ‘just stop’. I sat with my struggle for several days. Until I asked myself the golden question, ‘what would you advise another person to do in your situation?’.
And in that moment, I knew I would NEVER advise another person to push through their diagnosis and treatment, choosing their career over giving themself the much needed time to rest and heal. So why was I not prepared to give that to myself?
It was time to get real with others and more importantly, with myself. To be v-v-v-vulnerable. Oh God, that’s something I don’t know how to do! To let people see my soft underbelly. To see that I am not okay and that I need help.
I reluctantly began to write a heart-felt email to my customer base, sharing my diagnosis with them. I informed them that I would be closing my business indefinitely, to gift myself the space and time I needed to return to optimal health. This was a massive, courageous, painful step for me – to put myself first and make my treatment a priority.
I was so worried what people would think. I assumed that my coaching clients and business colleagues would be upset that I had let them down. That I had disappointed them. But, it was the opposite. The understanding, generosity and support I received was overwhelming.
Where, in my life, had I learned to put everyone else’s needs before my own? To shower love and support on tp others and not give it to myself? I struggled to give myself permission to be a priority in my own life. Boy, did I have some work to do!
The Perfect Crisis
And as I progress my way through chemotherapy treatment, I can feel the layers of my bullshit stories washing off of me. Letting go of the old egoic patterns that no longer serve me. Letting go of the stories I am so bored of repeating. Letting go of the titles I created that never really fit anyway.
I now find myself in the dark hallway between the doors of my old life before cancer and a new world after cancer. And as much as the hallway is lonely at times, scary and uncertain, it’s also quite exciting to consider what might be waiting on the other side for me. What do I want my life to look like? What is important to me now? Who are the people I most want in my life going forward? And what am I ready to let go of?
Life makes me laugh at times. As I make the journey from one doorway to the next, I can see that my cancer crisis is actually a gift. The greatest gift, in fact. This perfect crisis has illuminated my truth; letting go of any remaining fragments of my false self to make way for the full expression of my unadulterated, true self.