Many folks upon hearing they have a serious diagnosis of any kind, go immediately in one of a few different directions. Either they hunker down to being realistic at all costs, go look up their prognosis on actuary charts and prepare for the worst. Or they might try denial, LALALALA. Perhaps they decide to “Fight Fight Fight – never give up, stiff upper lip – never give into fear or despair, in fact don’t even acknowledge any feelings.” Then there is the option to revel in a new status as a bonafide “victim of disease” and reap the rewards of attention from loved ones who “don’t appreciate you as they should.” Some try the scholarly approach- do enough research to earn a doctorate degree while keeping emotions out of the picture. I think I have tried out all these strategies, and more, before I settled on the one that works for me right now- which I call Cancering Magical Realism.
Magical Realism may be more familiar as a term used for some Latin American literature that treats otherworldly events as common place – things like talking to the dead, or to angels. “Like Water For Chocolate” is an excellent example.
What I am talking about here is an approach to disease that acknowledges that there are magical and miraculous things happening every minute. That the truth is people have gotten better from every single diagnosis.
“I do believe in Fairies. I do! I do!”
Every bell curve has outliers- and those outliers get better against all odds, and we don’t know why. Science really doesn’t know why some people will get better, sometimes without any treatment at all, while others die despite early detection and gold standard treatment. Which makes me wonder what happens when you dial open the aperture on what is possible? What if what is making some people get well has nothing to do with tumor characteristics and everything to do with some mystical force?
If this is true than rather than waiting for scientific research to give me permission to engage in something that intuitively feels healing, The act of acknowledging that there is mystery frees me to explore lots of options.
Cancering magical realism focuses on the pursuit of healing / happiness rather than the pursuit of “cure”. Even though Magical Realism fully acknowledges that cures do happen, it recognizes that mostly they are in the hands of God. We don’t have access to the biggest picture, we can’t know what will happen. But we can choose to take whatever steps we can towards the light.
“NOW IS THE TIME TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE HAPPY.”
Image the Clarion Horn sound here. Any diagnosis represents a tremendous wake up call. To recognize what has been true all along. Is it easier to be happy knowing that I was restaged to ZERO? Of course it is. But if I use my pCR as a signal to return to the status quo of my pre-cancering life I think I would be stupid. Besides which being NED, no evidence of disease, is in no way a guarantee of anything. All the MRI machines and blood tests have limits. If they didn’t I wouldn’t have even had surgery, being as my many tumors were already gone. My pCR was a gift, not something I earned or deserved.
The reality is that my year of treatments was one of the most luminous and happy years of my life, not because I was cancering, but because cancering illuminated that happiness is ultimately an inside job. (Plus the folks around me blanketed me with so much love – how could that not have changed things.) It is also true that the year after my “successful” treatments held many emotional challenges. One way of thinking of last year is that I was being given the opportunity to learn to trust in mystery and practice how to reset my mindset.
There is no blame or fault or victims on this magical playing field. No winners or losers. All the sparkly happiness in the world will not hold back death. Like the magical realism of Latin American literature, my version does not avoid looking at death. Because there is a side of the bell curve for those who die quickly too. The goal of cancering magical realism is not to avoid death- it is to embrace the reality of magic in as many ways as possible, knowing that we will all be birthed into death at some point, with no exception. We each will walk that path, probably much as we have lived. Death is not punishment, even though life is a great privilege.
Until the moment of our death there can always be a sliver of hope, always something to be grateful for. We can always ask “how can I make life more wonderful? Not just life for me, but all life.” That is magical realism. That is an example gifted to me by the dying that I have been blessed by.
It is okay to dive into this universe of magic, because getting a diagnosis is not the same as seeking funding for scientific research, or running for political office. There is no panel that sits in judgement of your adherence to some gold standard of objective reality. There are no awards being given for pragmatism here. There is just the fact that there are no guarantees, there is only this moment to be happy, if you choose to.
Cancering Magical Realism weaves spells and prayers and blessings into every day life. It is to feel fully what feelings come up, and then to choose happiness. It is to engage in a headlong adventure of love and gratitude. It is to drink beauty in from unexpected places, and sometimes to cry wildly, often in the same day. It is to look for the messages from the realm of the spirits, and acknowledge them.
“Do you believe, like I believe, do you believe in magic”
from Do You Believe in Magic by The Lovin’ Spoonful 1965
Cancering Magical Realism keeps one foot in reality and uses the other foot to step towards infinite possibilities. It is what made me raise my hand to vote for a pCR at the oncologist office when I first heard the term, and to then ask Joe and Dr. Andersen to vote with me. Even though it was an improbable outcome with my initial presentation, and was only brought up as an improbability. One which would prevent me from enrolling in a clinical trial that my oncology team thought would benefit me after surgery. Dr. Andersen thought I was being silly, “It isn’t up for a vote.” he said. To which I responded, “Its my body, and I say we vote.”
The question is did my body respond better to the chemo and targeted therapy I received that day, because I wrote “pCR Here we come! on all my infusion bags? I know that the placebo effect is really just another way of saying that the body has tremendous capacity to heal. It is why I feel so fiercely that I need to be not only reconciled, but enthusiastic about any treatment I utilize to support my health. It is what made me use a sharpie marker to write blessings on every single infusion bag they ever dripped into me. Voting and writing blessings were tiny steps towards the most benevolent infinite probabilities spiraling outwards from every moment.
Magical Realism has encouraged me to embrace all kinds of things that I have identified as being contributing factors to health – whether that be to hand knot healing gemstone necklaces, or to sleep under blankets covered in words of blessing, or taking walks in beautiful places . . . making love with my husband, laughing with my children, lighting incense and candles on my altar, drinking spring water, or eating homemade sauerkraut. I can’t even count what they all are, anything that brings me peace, joy or clarity I say yes to.
While at times I still have my moments of using one of the other strategies, in general it is pretty easy to say no to anything that seems to smack of the “dark side.” I avoid most news for instance. I choose to believe in the benevolence of the universe, even though terrible things happen. When hard times come, I choose to feel it, not stuff it, and then begin the work to come out on the other side. To choose happiness over and over. I have no way of proving if all this reframing, voting and choosing to live in a world of mystery had any impact whatsoever on my health. But there is no way to prove that it doesn’t either.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I am putting my faith in it working out. This faith is shaken at times, and worry sprouts like weeds in my consciousness, but in general I value being happy rather than being right. It allows me to imagine people I love in vibrant health, even if they are very ill- because sometimes miracles do happen, and we have no way of telling from our perspective when that might be.
So if my future holds a return to cancering, and I die from it vs the host of other accidents or ailments that statistically might take me out, I will die. Perhaps some will say I was wrong about all this mystical subjective stuff, but until then I will be as happy as possible believing in my own personal fairytale.