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Cancer: a bell of mindfulness

running with wolves and stitches, Jul 2019

running with wolves and stitches, Jul 2019

Last week I had cancer; this week I have eighteen big stitches in the back of my thigh. Spoiler alert: this post is all about remembering that we are fragile and finite.

I have hesitated to share this with you until I was sure my doctor had removed all the cancer (she has) and this chapter of my journey with the big “C” is over––it would be rude of me to expect you to process my heady journey alongside me. Plus, I don’t want to be treated like I am sick. I’m not sick, a few cells randomly decided to mutate rendering me a walking contradiction: as healthy and vibrant as I’ve ever been and yet reminded of my grotesque fragility.

This was my third time having melanoma surgically removed, the first two were when I was twenty-one. When I was young I didn’t process what this all meant, riding my bike to and from the clinic up and down First Hill then proceeding to climb Mount Rainier that weekend and at Smith the next week. Needless to say, this experience of dissociating from the meaning of my illness left me with ripped stitches and ornery scars––one of which I eventually covered up with a tattoo. I told no one about the surgeries, didn’t care for the wounds, and, as a result, missed out on the opportunity for development held in that diagnosis. Last month, at the age of thirty-two, I chose to engage with my diagnosis differently.

Having meditated on death, I understand that the sole condition of living is our unavoidable expendability. I see reminders of my mortality everywhere: to fuck is to die (ever wonder why the French call orgasms ‘la petite mort’?); to release into sleep is to agree to lose control; to birth is to invite another soul into the cycle of mortality, the wheel we all run on wishing we could get off; and most poignantly, to love is to die. Creativity springs from space, ignition, and constraint. Without an end, without the supreme limitation of death, to this wild ride, we would have no impetus to live and would, instead, be like the demigods, ignorant in their infinite abundance yet learning nothing, or like the hungry ghosts, eternally consuming through tiny mouths what will never sate our big bellies. 

The repeated realization that I will one day die, that you will meet your end too, sends me urgently to my practices and refines my craft like no other motivating force could do. The looming reality of death is my taskmaster; it keeps me discerning, rude, loving, and feral. This time melanoma did not rattle me, instead it was a bell of mindfulness calling me to wake up in the dream of life. I doubled down on my meditation practice, I kissed Rumi as many times as she would allow, I baked obscenely delicious treats for myself, I got around to painting the dingy walls in my bedroom, I finally ran those overland routes I’ve been dreaming of since moving here, I gathered my beloved forests around me like a blanket.

As you read this please ask yourself: “Am I awake right now or am I dreaming my way through life?”