When I was asked to write a piece about my experience with cancer and how it relates to my health and wellness path, I was excited. I’ve wanted to share my journey about losing my Dad to the Big C for a few years now, in hopes of bringing some light to those who, like myself at one time, see nothing but darkness. However, when I actually sat down to write this, I hit a block.
As I looked at the keyboard, my chest became tight and my breathing- heavy. I was surprised by my intense emotions surrounding this event, which happened 7 years ago. It just goes to show that the natural healing path requires patience and compassion. What’s the reward for facing your pain, rather than stuffing it down or avoiding it? True freedom, joy and peace. I feel each of these sensations within my heart often and I believe it’s only because I’ve been brave enough to face the skeletons in my closet.
Doctors found Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my Dad’s mouth when I was 16. The medical experts we went to said it wasn’t caught quite early enough and was very advanced. The man, who once ran beside me on the other side of the ribbon during my junior Cross Country races, suddenly appeared frail and hopeless to me. He was basically given a death sentence. I remember feeling completely disoriented and out of my body when I found out he had a terminal illness and really, for months afterwards. It wasn’t until my Dad was lying in a hospital bed with his eyes half open and tubes everywhere that it really hit me- I had to make my remaining time with him precious.
Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, my Dad pulled through that stint and went into remission after his tumor was successfully removed through radiation and surgery. A part of his tongue was removed as a result of the surgery and so he struggled to talk and eat, BUT he was happy to be alive. I took cues from my dad, the one who was really fighting the good fight, as to how to respond to his illness. When he was happy and hopeful, so was I. When he was sitting in the suffocating space of hopelessness, I fell into it, too. My Dad stayed in a positive mindset for months, until we all learned his cancer was back- and with a vengeance. He had another surgery, which basically deprived him of any ability to talk and eat and he became a shadow of himself. I can’t describe how painful it is to see someone you love in pain, but then, if you’re reading this, you probably know that.
At the end of his battle, my Dad was ready to surrender. He was in so much discomfort and his quality of life had deteriorated so drastically that he, in my memory and view, wanted to let go and be at peace. I sat by his bedside the day before he passed away and held his hand. He seemed lifeless, but I felt his warm presence. I held his hand as I choked back tears and told him it was okay to let go. He squeezed my hand. The next day he was gone. It’s only now that I realize this tragedy needed to happen in order for me to become the compassionate, loving, resilient person that I am today.
I’ve taken a long and winding road to get to where I am today: right in the middle of the glorious health and wellness industry. I searched for answers and relief from my grief for years after my Dad died. I went through excessive drinking and eating phases, therapy, job gains and loses, dozens of cry sessions with friends, countless journals, breakdowns and breakthroughs BEFORE I found peace. I was searching for comfort in everything I could outside of myself and wondered why I still felt broken. The reason for this is simple: healing starts from the inside.
At a certain point in time I had to surrender to the awful, uncomfortable feeling of loss and be in acceptance of what my reality was at that moment. I had to, and continue to be patient with myself when seemingly ‘old’ emotions resurface and take me a step back. I had to bring compassion into the picture so that I treated myself with the utmost respect and kindness during such a difficult time, just like I would any other human being. When I was ready to step out of the stillness of grief I moved into yoga and THAT changed my life.
I’ve been practicing, seriously, for 3 years and meditating almost daily for 2. Yoga has taught me to love and respect myself on my mat and in my life. Meditation has showed me how powerful it is to be still, silent and ask for what we need. I miss my Dad every single day, but when I do yoga I feel like I’m with him. When I meditate, I feel his gentle hand on my shoulder, infusing my heart with ease and love. He’s smiling down on me, so proud of me for loving myself and taking care of myself in a way he always wanted to.
These are my coping tools now. These are the secret weapons I keep in my back pocket when grief, or any limiting belief surfaces in my mind. These are the same tools I brought out when my Grandad passed away from lung cancer last year—although that’s for another blog post.
This part of my story is about losing my parent to cancer, but honestly it could have been any disease or incident that took him from me and my response would be the same. Losing someone is life changing, for the better or worse. It’s up to YOU, it’s your CHOICE to decide how to write the rest of your story after that chapter.
Choose self love. Choose acceptance. Choose patience. Most importantly, choose health.
Check out Eryl’s blog for more info on how she uses yoga and meditation as a source of healing!