Four days after I got engaged I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The doctor said, “You have a cauliflower growth on your cervix. That’s not normal. I am booking you in to see a specialist.”
A myriad of tests and a few weeks later I am getting ready to go into hospital tomorrow and have what is called a ‘radical trachelectomy’ – removal of the cervix, leaving the uterus and ovaries intact in order to preserve my fertility.
I decided to share this story because I know that each one of you reading this will know someone who has cancer, whether it be a friend, family member, or a colleague. I am hoping that some of what I share will be helpful to you.
Like you, when you hear of someone being diagnosed with cancer there is a shock and horror about the news, and then a secret relief that it is not you. I believed cancer was for other people. Not me. People who do not look after themselves get cancer. Old people get cancer. Some poor unfortunate kids get cancer. Not me. I’m healthy. I have been a vegetarian for twenty years and have run five marathons. When I went to see the doctor I was two weeks away from running my sixth marathon.
When I got the call saying I had cancer, this was my reaction: terror. Then grief, then shock, then horror, and a whole cocktail of other emotions. I sobbed long and hard. I looked at my new husband-to-be and wondered if he still wanted to marry me as I faced the prospect of losing my ability to give us children.
I would love to say that I was strong, that I saw the positive side of things, that I laughed it off. I did no such thing. I was as terrified as anyone else who learns their body is under major threat.
Being told you have cancer really, really sucks. It hardly seems real, even now, a month later. The worst part was the waiting between tests and results and doctor’s visits to clarify what it was we were dealing with. The worst imaginings tend to wreak havoc. Then there were plenty of questions. Why? How? How does a life coach get cancer??
The truth is that a life coach did not get cancer. Zoë got cancer. And that’s when I started to understand a little more about what this could teach me. I raked my history to find some source, some reason for my cancer, some personal transgression, some oversight in my health that I had missed. I beat myself up wondering how I did this to myself. I stripped all of my emotional and mental cloaks away to go to the source and stood there raw and vulnerable to see the human being under the skin.
And that’s when I felt a deep compassion – a compassion for myself. When I reached this deep place of love, I was then able to let it flow to others and feel compassion for every other human being who is wrestling or hiding from their own demons – physical, emotional, or spiritual.
It is a big journey requiring much courage. Some people say that cancer is a gift, or that they have it for a reason. This sounds dreadfully punishing. I choose to find something I can learn from this. It is a big journey, only just beginning, but I have found some crystals of truth in the anguish.
Here is what I am learning on my cancer journey:
* Each and every human being is a universe of gifts and stories and wonder.
* I love many people and am loved deeply in return.
* I don’t have to be brave all on my own.
* I can heal my soul, if not my body.
* I am already good enough – I do not need a massive bank balance, fancy clothes, or any other markers to know that I am a worthy human being.
* I am who I am – I am not my job, my services, the roles I play in life as sister, daughter, partner, business owner. I am Zoë – a woman who lives and loves deeply.
* Laughing is a really, really good thing.
My wish for you, dear readers, is that you pause for a moment each day in full and complete gratitude for the gift of life and all the wonderful things before you. See and appreciate the sunlight on the trees, the blue sky, a smiling dog, a beautiful song.
Life is good.