I’ve spent the last several months looking at CT scans. I can’t decipher them. I see patterns that look like deep space. I see nebulae, stars and hydrogen gas.
Last March, a doctor in the ER of San Juan Regional Hospital saw what he was trained to see. The scan didn’t reveal a pattern of stars, or a milky-way-like galaxy, but a recurrence of ovarian cancer on my liver, kidneys and abdominal wall. The latest scan revealed none. No measurable disease.
On October 15th, I’ll be released as full time patient and after a while begin a kinder infusion of maintenance chemotherapy. The treatment offers promise of an extended remission, so I’ve signed on indefinitely as long as side effects remain minimal. I’ll be retested every three months and pray for good scans, better patterns.
The past six months have been different than when I first diagnosed in 2011. Recurrence is scarier and because of that I’ve become determined to make peace with it in some way.
Many of my friends are long-time meditators, and while I’ve spent hours trying to connect with one practice or another, I’ve always felt like an impostor in the lotus position. Namaste is a word I associate with soft-eyed women who sweat prettily in yoga classes, grow their own vegetables and smell of patchouli and lavender oil. And though I’ve secretly envied them, I’ve had trouble following their lead, letting my thoughts float by like clouds without hitching a ride to somewhere.
I often wake up in the middle of the night. During the first few months of treatment I would lie with my eyes open attempting to measure the contents of my life: the good deeds vs. the deficits. I’d wonder what it would feel like to let go of the body, an idea that wouldn’t let up in the tomb-like silence of 3 a.m.
Since childhood, I’ve heard many stories about the dark. That it’s to be avoided, that monsters lurk in its shadowy corners. But night after night, I sat in it. And after a while I stopped feeling the need to keep it at bay. The first step came in giving voice to fear. The second asked me to follow it deeper. And there I discovered glimpses of peace. Not the peace I’ve been chasing my whole life, not the soft-eyed, emanating ease kind of peace, but an experience of the dark that was bigger than the stories I’ve been told. The dark without stories is just silence and that silence feels as if it holds all of life inside it.
This new understanding doesn’t demand a practice, it doesn’t promise that I won’t hurt, won’t experience fear, won’t behave badly, won’t feel lost.
But I’ve come to realize that I’m not in charge. I can strive, I can learn to love better, I can envision clear scans far into the future and I will do all of these things. But beyond any idea of me, there’s something bigger. Its edges extend beyond my grasp and aren’t subject to my measuring… good, or bad… worthy or unworthy.
And so, through this sloppy and accidental meditation, through staring down scans that look like pictures of deep space, not cancer, I’ve made an important discovery: the light that is always there in the beautiful, beautiful dark.