I can count on one hand the number of times throughout this entire oncological adventure when I have actually articulated, “I have (or now had) cancer.”  When people inquire, I usually respond with, “I was diagnosed with cancer,” or “I’ve been through treatment for cancer.”  The few times I did say those three words, there was a reason I didn’t want to engage at that moment and so just opted for the most socially expedient response and then quickly made my escape.  Even now, two years post-treatment, I can still squirm and wince at least a little when writing that amazingly loaded, life-altering, puny little sentence.

The reason for my very conscious linguistic circumspection was that it helped me to create a psychological boundary.  It wasn’t denial.  I did my research, showed up at my appointments, endured treatments I abhorred, and damn, engaged a public discourse about the experience.  I wasn’t exactly hiding, from myself or anyone else.  Rather, my choice to draw a line in the psychic sand was more about fierce inner hygiene.  Cancer in the O.R. is messy, especially when microscopic malignancies evade a surgeon’s scalpel.  Cancer in the chemo ward is a crapshoot, gamblers all wagering deadly toxins against their lives.

But cancer in the mind is the biggest tragedy of them all.

Cancer never landed on me as a diagnosis because I didn’t let it.  Even after months of treatment, I would still find myself asking, “What am I doing in here?” For it made no sense, to me or anybody else.  Family and friends were astounded.  Several of the healers I worked with were challenged by the diagnosis.  The non-traditional ones, the medical intuitives who were very familiar with the vibration of cancer, did not pick it up.  The pathologists in the hospital had enough question about the complex tissue samples to want to send them off for expert readings at specialized labs.  And while all this was going on, folks on the street were telling me I looked radiant.

Did I doubt the diagnosis?  No.  And yes.

While a few (perhaps several million, but it’s all relative) of my cells may have switched on the cancer gene, I strove to never let the vibration of cancer and the cultural mythology surrounding malignancy settle on me.  We have such a story going on about what it means to have cancer and what’s required to engage it fully.  War, battle, fight, enemy, victim, survivor, remission—all these words are loaded with huge assumptions (which I plan to unpack in later chapters).  For now, suffice it to say that what gives power to an event is our intention.  If we’re locked even unconsciously into the fears endemic to the C-word, then by saying “I have cancer,” we can unwittingly buy into a socially prescribed malaise that has nothing to do with engaging the life force needed to literally or metaphorically switch that gene back off and get on with the business of living.  And so, given the opportunity (and there were many), I would ask myself, “With what do you identify:  illness, or wholeness?  Where do you want to put your attention?”

Because of my answers to these questions, it was hard to acknowledge that I had a disease, because I just didn’t identify with it.  Others may have claimed that I was sick, but I refused to go there.  Again, not because I had my head in the clouds (or the sand) drinking some New Age Kool-Aid which dictated that I create my own reality and therefore this was my fault so I better not even pronounce the word if I wanted to get better.  No, more because I am understanding more and more that all phenomena are just vibrations and the less story we create about any of it, the easier it is to shift the frequency.

There’s an interesting recent twist to this whole story.  It was literally just last week that I could finally say, “Yeah, I had cancer,” and leave no internal residue.  Here’s what happened:  I am scheduled for my next round of follow-up exams in a few weeks.  And, as is often the case when preparing to reenter the oncology universe, fear cropped up.  Mostly I was ignoring it and even helping others negotiate their own dread around similar circumstances.  Until a friend sent me a video that got under my skin and triggered my fears in a way I could no longer avoid.   So I asked myself, “What is this?  And what does it mean that you refuse to say those words?  Are you really divorced from the story, or are you still in fear?”  When it came up tails, I got to look again.

At Death.  At Fear.  And how I could let even my fear of Life deliver me, radiant and full bodied, into the clutches of Its mortal twin.  Stifling the joy and peace of this moment.  Robbing me of the awareness of bliss with every breath.  Dropping the guillotine of judgment all because of untoward diagnosis.  Locking me into the casket of mis-identification, confusing life with something that doesn’t include the moments that sear us to the bone.  When I really understand these unwell thought forms—and enfold them with the compassionate embrace of present moment love and attention—they die.  And I come back to life.

So yeah – I had cancer.  And on my best days, this doesn’t mean anything special, extraordinary or unusual.  It doesn’t generate fear—of living or dying.  It doesn’t define me; it’s not how I mark my life.  I am neither victim nor hero.  And if I find myself fighting any battle at all, it is to never, ever let cancer have me.