December 2007. Retreat.
I went to the site of the guided labyrinth as the sun went down behind the Catalinas and rainy gray clouds were tinged with pink.
The woman who guides the traveling labyrinth program and who spoke this morning talked to a small group of women about how there are no rules to the labyrinth.
She wanted to hear my experience from yesterday and I told her my story of unwinding from my ego, and how I hoped I could create a labyrinth when I got home, and my friend who has a canvas business.
One of the women who came to walk tonight was on the program this morning talking about collateral survivors. She told the story of a 12-year old girl who was dying of cancer and whose greatest fear was being alone. So her mother made sure she was never alone. And when the girl was dying, her mother got into bed with her and held her while she died. And when the woman got to the end of this story and we – – all one hundred of us — were in tears, she told us that she was the mother she was talking about. And she wasn’t sure whether she was going to be able to tell us the story.
How hard a journey for those caretakers. What an amazing group of women here. Everyone has stared this disease and mortality in the face, lived with its real possibilities and prognoses and made decisions about what to do about it. Some of us here will outlive other people who have never been given this “sentence.” But everyone here has faced this diagnosis and what it can mean, whether they are the ones with cancer or not.
The retreat is for cancer survivors and oncology nurses. So the question when we introduce ourselves to each other is, “are you a survivor?” (as opposed to a nurse). Some of these oncology nurses later got cancer.
Some women here don’t use the term “survivor.” The question was asked, when do we quit being a patient and become a survivor? Some of us are still in treatment or very aggressive followup. Some say you become a survivor the moment you get the diagnosis. Sarah says she is a “patient” which is what I have been calling myself because I recently finished radiation therapy and I haven’t adjusted yet being “after treatment.” More on that later.
Edith Eger, one of our motivational speakers, said she didn’t “want to have to be a fighter.” It was hard for me to keep feeling sorry for myself for having cancer when I heard her story of losing her parents at Auschwitz and being a survivor of the Holocaust. She also says
Contrary to popular belief, there are no victims in this world – only willing participants. You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.
I don’t believe that. But who am I to argue with her?