It is commonly said, “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.” Or, when we’re observing the misfortune of another, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I have come to a point in my faith where I do not believe God gives us hardships, and I do not believe God is selective with his (or her) grace. However, I do empathize with Mother Teresa, who said, “I know God trusts me; I just wish He wouldn’t trust me so much.”
Two years ago, a cancerous tumor was discovered at the back of my neck. I was stunned and filled with questions, not only about the best treatment, but also what this might mean for my future.
The tumor was removed through an extensive operation; however, the surrounding cancer was thought to be aggressive. The medical team recommended seven weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. It was rugged, arduous and debilitating, as is common.
While undergoing treatment, I decided not to jump to interpreting the meaning of the experience. It served me better, I felt, to stay in the moment, no matter how unpleasant, and just observe—not an easy task, I assure you!
However, over time, three lessons emerged. First, I was amazed by the level of support and encouragement I received from family, friends and my partner Cheryl. Calls, emails, texts and cards came every day. This generosity of spirit forced me to confront how I viewed myself.
Like many people, I have at times felt I was not “good enough.” Perhaps if I wrote another book, had more money or a more prestigious title, I thought, it would signal I had finally arrived. Yet the suffering of treatment yielded a profound blessing. I began to accept that despite any of my mistakes, failures or idiosyncrasies, I was truly loved just as I was. I was already good enough.
A second lesson became clear several weeks after I finished treatment. I was told my recovery was going well, but to me the process seemed incredibly slow. I continued to ask, “When will I feel normal?”
The healing process helped me remember what was within my control and outside it. Through chemotherapy and radiation, good blood cells are destroyed with the bad. An internal tsunami had taken place in my body. A lot of repair, clean up and healing was needed. I required frequent naps to refresh my energy. Nevertheless, this slower pace led me to be more observant and appreciative. In the middle of a snooze, I often received a creative idea!
While my friends told me I looked well, and I was thankful for their encouragement, I longed to return to a more robust and energetic me. I was told this would take months or longer. So my second lesson was patience.
To be patient is to let go of self-imposed timelines. I realized I had to release my expectation of what “should” happen and when. Patience is the healthiest way to experience the unfolding of our lives. It teaches us that no matter how life surprises us with the good and the not so good, we have the capacity and the spirit to handle it.
My third lesson appeared about four months into my recovery. I knew my prognosis was good. I was getting stronger and had every reason to be optimistic that I had many years of life ahead—but something inside me was declaring: You are not here to mark time! Within each of us is a force, a spirit, waiting to burst forth. It is the desire to create, to boldly engage in life. I resolved to not take my life for granted, to not allow negativity to take away my imagination and dreams.
We may have 24 years to live or 24 hours—we truly don’t know. So let us not hold back. Let us live boldly!
I know my journey through cancer was, indeed, truly sacred. For I now believe that if I fully accept that I am good enough, if I practice patience, and if I have the courage to live boldly, God’s vision for my life will be realized.