Have You Ever Asked, 'WHY'?

Recently, I started asking myself, WHY did I get cancer? As if the universe was putting me in a ‘cancer class,’ and I had to write my final report about it. Why did I get cancer and not my sister? Have you ever asked yourself, why? Why did you get cancer? Why did someone you love get cancer? Why did someone you know die from cancer? Just, WHY?

My sister Caryn

My sister Caryn

Well, I’ve been struggling answering that question for myself. I know cancer is a ‘disease’, but what exactly is disease?  If you break it down, it would be dis-ease…something that’s ‘not at ease’ within us, within me, within you.  It doesn’t need to be judged, and it might have been brewing since childhood, or even something passed down from my ancestors, but I see it as something that needs to be healed, and it chose ME, it chose YOU, to heal it.  WE are the lucky ones!

So, why did I get cancer?  Of course, it depends on who you ask.  If you ask my doctors, they might say, because I had the BRCA 1 gene, and the odds of me getting cancer were like 60% by the time I turned 60.  But I got cancer in my 40’s, so why then?  I went through a lot of IVF trying to get pregnant, that could have made it come sooner, but doctors also said that if I DID get pregnant when I was trying, the pregnancy would have killed me, making the cancer spread uncontrollably. Crazy right? Cancer saved my life if I look at it that way…I think all of these reasons are valid, but I also have another theory to add to it all, and whether it’s true or not, it’s the story that resonates most with me, the story I wish to tell, and the story that is my truth.

If you ask me, I would say I got cancer, stage 4 mind you (the universe knows how stubborn I am, and stage 1 or 2 wouldn’t have done much!), to teach me how to love myself, to teach me how to appreciate everything I have in my life, AND, to stop comparing my life to others.  To feel GOOD about myself, with all my failures, missed opportunities, AND with all my successes and experiences.  I didn’t have children in this life, and I really wanted some.  Of course, I can adopt one, but part of me feels too old to do so, and part of me feels like I have too many other things to pursue, too many other dreams to fulfill, and I want to go for them all.  Also, my husband is 16 years older than I am, so it seems selfish of me, of us, to take on a child at our age, but that’s it.  SO, I put that dream to rest, or should I say, cancer put that dream to rest, and maybe one of the reasons cancer came to me… to let go of having a child.  SO be it.

Also, cancer showed me what’s most important in my life.  I mean, I knew what was most important in my mind, but NOW, my whole being knows. And, my #1 thing is health, the MOST important thing, because without it, I couldn’t be free.  SO, now that I’m 100% healthy and cancer free, I can have a ‘bad day’, or a failed dream, or an empty bank account, and still be okay, really okay, because I have my health.  Period.

Cancer also taught me one thing that I kinda knew about myself, but now I REALLY know it… I am a really strong person, and when I set my mind to something, I am a force that can pretty much accomplish whatever I want.  And I am very grateful for my strength and tenacity, to be physically blessed with a strong immune system.  I mean, my immune system was strong even on chemo!  I remember being told, don’t be around crowds, don’t go to events where there’s a lot of people, all that stuff… I remember my family, even my husband, getting colds, some got the flu, and I never got anything!  And I was teaching all my yoga clients as I went through chemo, they would get sick, they would have to cancel, but I never got sick…so yes, my immune system is pretty freakin strong!

But other than health, my lessons were mostly about the importance of LOVE, being around love, doing the things I love, being able to receive love from others, appreciating love from friends and family, and not wasting time being around people or activities that don’t bring a sense of peace, or love.  Of course, we all need to do errands, or clean toilets, or go to events for others, or see a movie that your friend wants to see and you don’t, or change a diaper when you rather be sipping a margarita… that’s all normal ‘non fun’ stuff…but it’s important to be conscious and aware of how you are spending your time, who you are spending your time with, and what you’re giving your time to, because time goes pretty fast, and doing things that don’t bring us joy seems like a waste of time, no?  I mean, I can break it down like this… activities that bring more stress, more fatigue, more depression, more anger, more resentment, they are probably things you don’t love, or things that are unhealthy.… when we’re doing things we love, it can only make us happier, more joyful, and in turn, make us happier and more joyful to be around for others.

Lastly, one HUGE reason, I believe, I got cancer, was to develop Zero Negative, and be able to help the world in the way I’ve always wanted to help the world.  I have a message to give, one that I lived through and one that helped me, so I know it can help others. I was used in a way, used by the universe, to help shift the world, our perspective of how we live, of how we treat others…and the universe gifted me cancer to put me on this path.  It’s such a big task, one that I had to go through many doors to receive all the lessons, all the guidance, and now that I’ve passed a lot of the necessary tests, now I walk forward with Zero Negative, not knowing exactly how its going to work out, but knowing what I want to say, and it’s purpose.

And one more thing, I guess I can’t talking about how amazing cancer is?!  I might sound like a freak, but I am talking truth right now!  Cancer taught me that I need to be good to myself. Period, most important thing.  We need to love ourselves first and foremost, and then go out and love others.  If I don’t love myself, how can I expect someone else to love me?  And that’s usually what we go after, someone to love us and give us love because we don’t have it for ourselves.  But that puts us in a very ‘ungrounded’’ place, when we NEED that person to love us, when we’re not picky about who love us…that’s when we stay with people who don’t treat us the way we deserve. 

Anyway, I could ramble on and on about love, but I’ll end with this…funny, but I think cancer made me human.  Brought me back to who I really am, and made me aware of who we really are as humans. Brought me back to what’s important in life (to me), and how to appreciate and be grateful for it.  If I were to die tomorrow, I would be happy with everything that I have learned this lifetime…I would be bummed that I didn’t get to live another 50 years, knowing what I know now, but at least I would know I’m okay with how my life turned out.  SO, how can I NOT be thankful for cancer? 

And ultimately, it doesn’t really matter WHY, but it matters how we choose to deal with it. I dealt with my cancer with Love, Understanding, Appreciation, and Acceptance, believing it was here to help me grow. And I DID grow, a lot. Which makes me feel like I understand how to ‘get through things’ a little better, and that the stories we tell ourselves have a lot of power in them! SO, I’m choosing to view cancer as one of the best things to have happened to me thus far. My story, my perception, and my truth. So be it!

How do you perceive your cancer? Lemme know!

Jenn




Life AFTER Cancer...The New Normal

So, it hasn’t even been a year since I’ve graduated into the ‘cancer-free’ world, so I KNOW, without question, this might not be my WHOLE life after cancer, it’s just my life right now… after cancer.

The first thing that is completely different than I was BEFORE cancer, is that I was never sick,  and I never even worried about being sick.  If something hurt, well it would eventually go away.  I went to all of my yearly doctor visits, so I wasn’t ignoring anything, but it was just something I never worried about.  Cut to, now… EVERY little thing that hurts, or feels weird, or LOOKS weird, like a muscle cramp, a swollen gland, a freckle I haven’t noticed, a pain in my hip, etc, I immediately think…CANCER ?!?!  And even if NOTHING feels ‘off’, I still live with this cancer ghost behind me, watching my every move, wondering if it wants to come back or leave me alone.

Whenever I am in a doctors office which is almost weekly,  I am not shy to ask about certain things that feel weird…most doctors kind of smile because of the absurdity of thinking it’s cancer, but I am able to get an ‘absolutely not’ from them which is ALL I need.  But here’s my dilemma right now, and please let me know if you’re a survivor and feel the same… I am worried about my worries… because I don’t want to be the one person manifesting my cancer to come back!  I am Miss Positive, taking a negative and turning it into a positive, making this trauma in my life become a blessing, and it has become a blessing in so many ways, and I am the one who manifested that… so I don’t want to be the one who worries about cancer coming back, and then one day, yikes, the cancer is back…even writing it down scares me a little bit, so I’ll stop right here.  My worries are my worries, and I am sure they are normal to a degree.  I know that my doctors are watching me very closely for 5 years, and if my cancer doesn’t come back in 5 years, then it’s NEVER coming back.  So be it.  My worries are just in my head and have no way of making anything happen.  But this is a real, slightly annoying, part of my life AFTER cancer.

The second thing about life now, very different than before, is that I am very aware of death now.  I came so close to death with my diagnosis, which was the last thing I would have ever thought would happen to me… and now, after living through it, I just feel so much more vulnerable to the world, to life, to the universe, that I can’t control anything, and death is somewhere out there, just waiting for me.  It does create some positive actions, however, because I really do take every day more seriously than I used to, which is both bad and good.  It’s great when you make the most out of your days, and feel happy to be alive.  It’s hard, however, when you put a lot of pressure on yourself to make the day great, and as we all know, not every day can be great, so a bad day sometimes becomes a VERY bad day, just because it’s bad.  But then on the opposite side, sometimes I feel blessed to just be alive and have bad days, because being dead would NOT allow that!  So I guess life after cancer is a little bit confusing!

The third thing about life after cancer is that no matter who I’m talking to, cancer becomes the main part of the conversation.  Not so much with close friends and family, but every one else that I run into, it’s always about cancer.  How I’m feeling, what was chemo like, how scary it must have been, etc…And part of me loves talking about it, because I had a pretty special story come out of it, and I love sharing it.  It also makes me feel proud of myself, talking about what I went through and where I ended up.  The downside is that it’s starting to become part of my identity, which I feel weird about embracing.  Yes, it’s a fact, I AM a cancer survivor, and will always be one for the rest of my life.  But, I am so many other things that are getting pushed away because cancer wants to take main stage.  I’m assuming it’s because I’m so freshly out of the battle.  Maybe, in a couple of years, it will move to the back burner.  But as of now, my identity feels as if I am a cancer survivor and nothing else.  I guess it could be worse, meaning I could be a cancer victim, or someone living with cancer, both of which I definitely do NOT want to be.

Anyway, I guess I’m just trying to figure out what life is AFTER cancer.  And maybe there’s nothing to ‘figure out’, it is just part of my journey, and what I’m experiencing at the moment.  And it’s weird to feel ‘fine’ and ‘boring’ when just 6 months ago I was fighting for my life, I was in a war, I was engulfed in something that was all consuming, and now life isn’t so dramatic anymore.   My husband fights with me now, doesn't think about the fact that I almost died… it’s like everything is back to normal, except me.  I feel I’m the same person, yet I’m not the same person. I feel differently about things.  Sometimes I feel others don’t ‘get me’ as much as before.  I don’t want drama in my life, and I see some people fighting over stupid things and I think, how crazy it is to waste so much energy on nothing that really matters in the big picture.  I get annoyed at petty conversations.  I don’t like hearing others beat themselves up about how they look.  And, I don’t want anything in my life that isn't anything but LOVE.  Love, to me,  is the most healing of all things, it’s so amazing, and so worth it.  Which is why I have become so passionate about Zero Negative, and promoting Love through fashion!

Anyway, I’m still a lot more positive than I was, even when I worry about cancer.  I know deep down, the cancer isn’t coming back.  And I know deep down, the universe has my back.  There is a quote that I love, and it feels like a good ending to this blog…  

‘Staying positive does not mean that things will turn out okay.  Rather, it is knowing that YOU will be okay, no matter how things turn out.’ 

xoxoxo Jenn

It's All a Gift

Over the holidays I was given a book from a friend called More Beautiful Than Before. You can probably guess what it's about, but I'll tell you anyway ;) It's about overcoming sickness, pain, and/or loss, and coming out of it on the other side, more beautiful than before.  So, the crazy thing was that the author of the book, Rabbi Steven Leder, was actually the Rabbi that had converted me AND married my husband and I.  So I had to reach out to him to tell him how much I loved his book!  So many passages in the book hit home for me, about seeing how pain can be a gift, about understanding how fragile life is and how it can be taken away at any moment, and also about going through suffering with grace, kindness, and  appreciation.  He so generously granted me permission to share parts of his book, so I wanted to share a chapter called 'Enough is Enough'.  I remember being diagnosed with cancer and feeling like I would never be the same, no one would see me the same way, my body, mind and spirit might be compromised forever.  But obviously, that was not the case, and in this chapter, Rabbi Leder really shows us how we ARE enough no matter what is going on, and what we have is always enough, no matter how much, or how little... 

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Enough Is Enough

Eighty percent of the world lives on less than 10 dollars a day.

— W o r l d  B a n k

 

I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise.

I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless  peach. It might have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love.

At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day.

But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon wrote this poem in 1993, upon hearing her husband’s cancer diagnosis. Ironically, it was Kenyon, not her husband, who died a year later from a fierce and swift onslaught of leukemia. The “otherwise” she foresaw came unexpectedly one day, with no regard for the silver candlesticks, the paintings, the birch wood, or the flawless peach.

Pain diminishes us, and it is so important to remember, in the midst of pain and everything that pain takes from you, that still . . . you are enough. You are enough just as you are. You are worthy of love and kindness. You are enough. And you have enough. 

Whether in our own pain or in witness to another’s suffering, life is a miracle for which we ought to be grateful every day, because it could be otherwise. 

The Polish psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik proved that when you show people a picture of a circle with a small wedge cut out of it, their eyes first go to the missing piece and miss the much larger whole every time. In the midst of pain and loss, it’s hard to recognize how much remains. If you want to change your life—really change—wake up to the blessed life you already have despite your pain.

“Rabbi, in just two more weeks he would have been 90,” a son tells me as we prepare for the funeral. “In another year they would have reached their 65th anniversary,” says the daughter. I understand their disappointment, but I also remind them that 89 years and 50 weeks of life and 64 years of marriage are full, whole, beautiful, blessings. 

Often, when I start to feel sorry for myself because I think life has dealt me some unfair decree, I think about a conversation I had with a friend who is a famous comedy writer. “Whoever said there’s no justice is right,” he said to me. “Thank God there is no justice. If there was justice, I would be a slave in a factory or bent over in a field someplace like most of the world instead of getting hit over the head with a bag of dimes every time I say something funny.” 

I know what many people think when I encourage them to count their blessings. “Okay. We get it. We’re lucky. We’re not starving. We’re not living in a hovel.  But things go wrong in our lives— terribly, painfully wrong.” Believe me, I know. I know because it’s my phone that rings when a family needs to find a treatment program for an addicted teenager, or wonders if I know of a good family law attorney or a job opening somewhere, anywhere. And I know because I’ve stood in my closet at the end of so many long days, reaching for a hanger, pondering the tear stains on my suit coat from holding someone earlier that day in front of an open grave.

“Imagine, if you will—a gift,” says Stacey Kramer in her TED Talk. “It’s not too big—about the size of a golf ball. . . . It’s going to do incredible things for you. It will bring all of your family together. You will feel loved and appreciated like never before and reconnect with friends and acquaintances you haven’t heard from in years. Adoration and admiration will overwhelm you. It will recalibrate what’s most important in your life.

“It will redefine your sense of spirituality and faith. You’ll have a new understanding and trust in your body. You’ll have unsurpassed vitality and energy. You’ll expand your vocabulary, meet new people, and you’ll have a healthier lifestyle. And get this—you’ll have an eight-week vacation of doing absolutely nothing. You’ll eat countless gourmet meals. Flowers will arrive by the truckload. People will say to you, ‘You look great. Have you had any work done?’ And you’ll have a lifetime supply of good drugs.

“You’ll be challenged, inspired, motivated, and humbled,” Stacey continues. “Your life will have new meaning. Peace, health, serenity, happiness, nirvana. The price? Fifty-five-thousand dollars, and that’s an incredible deal. . . . This gift came to me about five months ago. . . . It was a rare gem—a brain tumor, hemangioblastoma—the gift that keeps on giving. 

“And while I’m okay now, I wouldn’t wish this gift for you. I’m not sure you’d want it. But I wouldn’t change my experience. It profoundly altered my life in ways I didn’t expect. . . . So the next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain, consider that it just may be a gift.”

Ironically, it’s easier to count your blessings when you have cancer or some other terrible challenge than it is when things are fine. Most of us lead pretty ordinary lives most of the time, and that’s a challenge in itself, because it’s hard to appreciate just how extraordinary ordinary really is. 

While having breakfast at my hotel the morning after I delivered a speech in Austin, Texas, I happened to sit next to a Texas state assemblyman who had attended the prior evening’s presentation. We chatted about this and that and then I asked him what I thought was a common and appropriate question posed to most politicians, which was, “What’s the next office you plan to run for?”

“Why do you ask?” he challenged. “Isn’t what I’m doing now important enough?” 

His response stopped me short. He was so right. 

If you ask me to define what it means to be a spiritual person in one sentence, I would say, “It is the sanctification of the ordinary.” All religious and folk traditions I know of have some sort of prayer, blessing, or ceremony related to the most mundane aspects of daily life: sharing a meal, seeing the sunrise or the new moon appear, waking up in the morning, eating bread or some other very simple food. Why? Why a blessing over something as ordinary as bread? It’s simple of course . . . if we can be grateful for bread, then we can be grateful for the other, greater blessings of life as well. Ideally, we are at our best when we take no small thing for granted. It is a wiser person, a happier person, a more successful person, a better person, who even in pain, or especially in pain, can affirm the enoughness, the beauty, the miracle of bread.

From:  More Beautiful Than Before; How Suffering Transforms Us by Steve Leder (SteveLeder.com), Published by Hay House Inc. and available on Amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/More-Beautiful-Than-Before-Transforms/dp/1401953123/ref=sr_1_1?s=hpc&ie=UTF8&qid=1501816891&sr=8-1&keywords=Steve+Leder