“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
I’ll never forget the moment the words fell from my doctor’s mouth. In one fell swoop, the “perfect” persona that I’d spent thirty-plus years carefully constructing received what would ultimately become a fatal blow. Following that fateful day of demarcation, my life would never again be the same.
But let me back up a bit.
By the time I’d arrived at my early thirties, I was cloaked in all the trappings of outward success: a lucrative career in the high-paced, high-stress world of high-end commercial real estate; a swanky West L.A. apartment filled with pretty things and a closet full of designer clothes; and a perfect size-two body that I’d finally learned how to punish and deprive myself into maintaining.
At that time, I was what I would now refer to as an expert in applying “Band-Aids.” Desperate to avoid confronting anything uncomfortable—whether in the realm of my body, mind, or emotions—I numbed myself with a creative array of distraction techniques.
High-carb, sugary desserts were my go-to for suppressing painful feelings—and, soon after, toxic processed foods, diet pills, and eventually drugs became my go-to for managing the resulting weight gain.
When work became too stressful, I’d buy yet another new outfit, round up my crew of girls, and throw back a few cocktails to drown out my day while rocking the dance floor late into the night.
If I could hide the not-so-pretty painful stuff behind some slim fit designer jeans, a fresh highlight, and a smile, I thought, all would be a-okay. That I had no energy, got sick all the time, and generally felt like crap most of the time seemed acceptable, even normal.
I had a collection of Band-Aids to mask those symptoms, too.
A few weeks after I heard the c-word fall from the mouth of my doctor, I found myself staring up at a bright white light as the doctor cut an incision down the bridge of my nose.
I felt nothing, but I knew in that moment that my life would never be the same.
I just didn’t realize at the time how it was going to change. The significance of surgery on my face did not escape me.
This was not on my ankle, but instead front and center where everyone would see it. My bangs were not going to hide this scar. Nothing could hide this outward reflection of my inner disconnect.
The truth was there was no more hiding from anything. I knew my body was speaking to me at a whole new level. This was my wakeup call; it was time for the Band-Aids to come off.
My body had finally captured my undivided attention, and I had questions: Why was this happening to me when I was so young? What was I doing wrong? How could I make sure this wouldn't happen again?
I had been worrying for so long about outer appearances that I had completely forgotten about my inner being. In an attempt to right my wrongs and heal my body, I started researching foods and other natural remedies to effect a deeper healing for all of the little ailments I’d been masking for years.
I emptied out my freezer of all its frozen dinners and snacks, started eating whole foods, and began taking a few key supplements. In the beginning, these changes were no picnic; I had embarrassing gas, a rumbly tummy, extremely smelly armpits to the point that I had to get rid of all my shirts, and worse skin outbreaks than when I was a teen.
But even though I felt utterly terrible, I was equally hopeful at the same time.
It turns out that when I stopped applying Band-Aids that only concealed deeper imbalances, my body became free to heal and excrete all the physical toxins along with the toxic thoughts and emotions that I had been holding onto for decades.
It was quite the experience.
Think of a long-term smoker. While they are still smoking they may have only a small hacking cough, but once they quit, they will start coughing deeply all of the time. This is because once the exterior assault has ended, the body is actually able to start clearing out the damage and repairing tissue from years of daily abuse.
That was me—the girl that had metaphorically just quit smoking and was now hacking up a lung in more ways that I care to admit. It was a heartbreaking, difficult, beautiful, painful, and everything in between.
I bow at the feet of the human body. When I gave mine half a chance and a little support, it became a healing machine.
I Am Awake!
Changes started happening in my body. I began to have more energy. The detoxification became easier.
My body felt better and the tinge of depression that I thought was just part of my personality began to fade and make way for a much more joyful existence. It was crazy how good it felt to actually feel good. But the thing I never expected when I started to heal my body is how much of my inner truth would fly up in my face.
The voice of my inner truth became so darn loud that it pushed me right out of the type “A” designer life I had created and into one that was much more hippy-esque, loving, and accepting.
I started to see life in new ways, I began to dislike things that I thought that I loved, and at times I barely recognized myself. Of course, this didn't happen overnight, but it happened pretty quickly, and I knew that I could never go back to the self-punishing way of life that I had been living. Things had changed because I had changed from the inside out.
In the ten years since c-a-n-c-e-r provided a catalyst for my own awakening, I have realized three powerful gifts that I received from this seemingly tragic experience.
1. The truth heals.
We human beings do a lot of crazy things so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable emotions or to run from ugly thoughts.
We elude ourselves so we don’t have to admit that our relationship sucks, or we feel so painfully insecure that we need liquid courage to go out at night. We tell ourselves stories so we don’t have to face the deepest truths that lie under the surface, and yet those hidden truths are exactly how we heal.
Cancer gave me the biggest opportunity in my life.
It woke me up to deeper truths that I had been running from most of my life: Running from the pain of my parents’ divorce when I was ten years old, running from the twenty pounds I gained as a result of eating my feelings, running from the sadness of being a “bigger” girl, and never feeling good enough at anything even if I excelled at it.
My overachieving size-two designer life was never going to fix these hurts of the past. You can’t run fast enough to escape the truth.
It is always there whether you choose to acknowledge it and no matter how many Band-Aids you apply in an attempt to escape the inescapable.
The running, the avoiding, the lying to myself had finally manifested as an illness, and it was going to kill me either literally, figuratively, or both. And I don’t know which one is worse, actually dying or just feeling dead inside. I am glad I never had to find out.
2. Listen to the whispers of your soul.
I never would have thought twice about the way I was eating, taking care of myself, or the way I was living my life until illness rattled my cage.
It caused me to pay attention, to seek new learning and to evaluate my life.
Sometimes we all need a wake up call. No one wants it to be a diagnosis, but I have come to realize that I had been given so many mini wake up calls, but I refused to listen.
I was always catching colds and flus, but kept living on fast food and frozen yogurt. I continued my upward climb in a career that gave me anxiety and stressed me out to the point of not sleeping well and having chronic stomachaches. I was having pre-cancerous lesions burned off my legs and arms every time I visited the dermatologist, but I paid no attention, made no adjustments, asked no questions.
My diagnosis had been building under the surface for years, quietly gaining momentum, and I ignored it all.
I now know that it always works best to get the lesson at the point of a whisper, but for some of us we just don’t listen until our door gets kicked in. At least that was my experience and now, I have learned to get quiet.
To listen early on and to make little adjustments as need be. To sense the subtleties, create the space for peace and quiet, and to live in a way that honors health.
3. Build an authentic life.
I knew deep down inside I was living a life that was not really reflective of who I was—or of who I was becoming. I knew it.
I wouldn't have admitted it, but I knew it.
Occasionally, I would get these little whispers from my soul that I should make some changes, but my ego won out time and time again until I was diagnosed and I began to reset, re-evaluate, and reconnect to myself, to the true me.
The person I was before I built this persona. To the little girl inside of me who just wanted to be loved and accepted.
I found my way back to her and started to build a better life. One that actually felt good inside. It is never too late to discover who you really are, to continually seek to understand yourself better and allow yourself to evolve.
You are always being supported to return home to you and live an authentic life.
I have come to realize that we are all here to evolve, and every realization—even those that come about on the heels of illness, loss, or upheaval—is designed to support us in discovering and reclaiming more of our truth and getting used to owning it and expressing it.
It takes courage. Oh boy, does it take courage.
Life has its way of pulling you in all kinds of directions, but when you get quiet, when you connect to your soul, you know, you simply know, and all you have to do is muster up the courage to follow that knowing, one step at a time.
And if you follow it, you will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—or better yet, know that you are it.
It turns out, the word cancer was not the end of my life; it was the beginning, a gateway to a higher way of living that I may never have found, or even thought to look for, otherwise.
It was a soul whisper that became loud enough to command my attention, and, as soul whispers always do, it led me right to the perfect place.
While it was impossible ten years ago to fathom all the ways I would evolve and expand, or the many insights that would open up along the way as my body healed, I now see that this entire experience lead me to a truth—a truth that is so powerful, it heals all.
When we are willing to listen, illness can be our greatest teacher.