Learning to be Healthy with Cancer

Marcia Schekel

by Marcia Schekel

A diagnosis … mesothelioma … a punch to the gut … frozen with fear.

Mine was April 2014: surgical biopsy, pleural mesothelioma (epithelioid), inoperable, stage 4.

What is this strange disease? I ‘google’ meso, lawyers call. Arghhh. Somehow I contact the Meso Foundation, Mary calls. I know I am connected with others with meso. I am not alone.

The Meso Foundation’s regional mesothelioma conference in 2014 was so helpful ­— to meet others, to hear new terms and learn abut meso research. I had several memorable conversations, including one with a woman who told me, “It is not about not wanting to die. It is about what to live for.” I have had time to consider what matters in my life, what I want to live for.

It has been almost two and a half years with chemo, a year-long clinical study and a new clinical study coming up this month. Though no treatment has decreased my tumors, and growth has been steady and spreading, growth has been slower than originally predicted.

I have had time to consider death and all of those loose ends and unfinished business. I have had time to practice better self-care. Most of all, I have had time to open up to receiving. Why is receiving so hard?

I believe my job is to gather information, pay attention to what is going on in medicine. But it is not all of my life. I also do those things that are most important and I’m opening my heart and mind to receiving help from other people, books, friends, family and the Universe. I believe in mercy and grace. Though I grieve the loss of much energy, I still laugh, play and learn.

Early on I found this important essay in a little book by Eve Ensler, In the Body of the World:

“What if our lives were precious only up to a point? What if we held them loosely and understood that there were no guarantees? So that when you got sick you weren’t a stage but in a process? And cancer, just like having your heart broken, or getting a new job, or going to school, were a teacher? What if, rather than being cast out and defined by some terminal category, you were identified as someone in the middle of a transformation that could deepen your soul, open your heart and all the while–even if and particularly when you were dying–you would be supported by and be part of a community?

And what if each of these things were what we were waiting for, moments of opening, of the deepening and the awakening of everyone around us? What if this were the point of our being here rather than acquiring and competing and consuming and writing each other off as stage 4 cancer?”

I am learning to be healthy with cancer. May it be so for you, too.

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