Sharon Landis is a friend of mine who began a cancer journey in late 2008. Such a diagnosis includes much grief as ordinary life is utterly changed for the duration of the illness. But cancer and spirituality were not separate things for Sharon. She used her cancer to deepen her spiritual journey, and she writes beautifully about it for us here.
Sharon Landis' Cancer Journey
Good and Bad; Love and Suffering
My tongue, throat and hair cells are dying along with the cancer cells. Some good things have to be sacrificed along with the bad things. It reminds me, oddly, of love. When one chooses to live open and unguarded, surrendered to Love, a few walls of defense need to come down.
Like seeing beyond physical beauty. Seeing the spirit glowing rather than the face. Not that I ever thought myself beautiful, but not bad looking did sort of define me. Now, each round of chemo brings lip blisters and angry zits, as if hair loss isn't enough. Looking good is sacrificed in cancer healing. Strangely, I do feel beautiful these days. God's grace carries me even through glances in the mirror.
Love demands I love myself as much as others. Love myself in the process of healing, where I am right now, not love myself when I've become what I want to be, when I'm healed, or when I've arrived, when I'm worthy enough. God loves me right now, where I am in life's process. I am asked to do the same, for myself, for all others. The time for Love is right now, no matter what struggle or glory is happening within or around me.
In October, my spiritual director quoted something that hit a deep chord in me. I remember smiling deeply, just receiving the quote into my soul. I can't remember who said this because I was so touched by the statement: "It is a truly gracious person who wants what they get in life, rather than insisting on getting what they want." Please correct me if I've misquoted, and let me know the author too, if you know. I keep hearing that quote now, and wonder why I smiled so deeply upon first hearing it. I'm astounded more with knowing what was growing unaware in my body then. The longing and desire to be so accepting of life was growing in me along with cancer. Is this how Love grows? Was this God preparing me for what was coming?
I don't believe the quote means passively living with an abuser, or putting up with what should be changed. I believe it means embracing 'what is', that which can't be changed no matter how one stomps feet, yells, fights, denies or runs. God doesn't mind stomping or yelling, I hasten to add. I've yelled at God plenty of times in the past and thrown fist fulls of eggs into the manure pit during periods of anger releasing. I always imagined God clapping and 'egging' me on. God is big enough to embrace my real feelings. Over the years, I've learned God loves when I'm real, when I own my emotions, face them, deal with them in non-violent ways. God becomes real to me in measure of how real I am with God.
No one with any sanity would welcome a cancer journey. Yet the spiritual path brings paradox. Along with bad often comes good. Another quote from school that I love: "To live is to grow. To grow is to change. To change is to suffer." Suffering is bearable when one can open to the gifts hidden within. The first gift I received "AD" (after diagnosis) was sudden clarity about my body, my life, my desires. It's amazing how easily I've been able to separate what matters from what doesn't matter, and how I've learned to trust and let go of more control.
Every day, I'm humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of love offered to me. Countless gifts of time, service, transportation, meals, cards, flowers, pajamas, and so much more, more than I could have ever imagined. Family, friends, church, even strangers are reaching out to me. People I haven't heard from in years are praying for me, sending me cards. It's overwhelming! My soul grapples with deep questions in all this love. Am I truly loved that much? Or is the suffering what deserves this love? Could I get through this without any support, like the countless poor, abused and forgotten? I'm sure I've been stingy with my love, not giving it fully to others, always, whether or not they are suffering or in need of love. I especially wonder if I am open to loving those outside of my community, whether or not they suffer? Are these questions and thoughts of compassion, love for others, or thoughts of my own unworthiness? It is this kind of self awareness, without condemnation, this undefendedness that love asks of me.
The biggest gift in this cancer journey of suffering is letting go of more fear. I've carried within me a life long dream of writing for the public, but fear kept my writing hidden. With cancer and chemo, death doesn't seem as far removed, and suddenly I am no longer bound by fear. My writing flows from me as before, because I can't stop writing. But now I share it instead of keeping it to myself. I share whether or not any one approves. And, I'm amazed when people do.
Your Cancer Journey
If you or someone you know are on a cancer journey, you may have experienced some of the emotions Sharon expresses here. The focus of this website is grief--this includes the grief that comes when life hands us something we did not expect or want. You may find some of the exercises in the photo reflections or grief journaling sections helpful for reflecting on your story. If you would like to share your cancer journey with us, you can send it to me through the "contact me" tab.
Need to chat with a live person? Read our Online Grief Counseling Interviews.