How Cancer Made Me Stop Believing in Signs

“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

For most of my life I believed in signs. Not the no u-turn type of signs but the other kind. If a butterfly came out of nowhere and stopped in front of me I took it as a good omen. A sign from the universe that something good was about to happen or that transformation was on the way. Just to be clear I didn’t get signs all the time nor did I spend most of my time looking for them. Still, when what I thought of as a sign crossed my path I took notice and felt affirmed by the message. Unless of course something happened that I considered a bad sign and then I might worry on it a bit before shaking it off. Looking back though I think I saw more good signs than bad ones. I’m sure statistically that should have been a tip off to the way my mind was interpreting the “signs” around me.

When my non-smoking husband was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer what followed was 13 months of chemo, radiation, two hospital stays and me giving him injections twice a day. We metaphorically lived and died by the results of his latest scans. There were times when we got good news and the chemo seemed to be pushing the cancer back and others when it had stopped working. The news was never as good as I wanted it to be because by the time we found out about the cancer it had already progressed to a point that was considered terminal. My husband Walter was a fighter though, and he hoped to be in that extremely rare and tiny percentage of people who survived past the year he was given.

It was during this time of extreme stress that I started to rely heavily on signs. I began to see them everywhere. I was desperate for them. I needed signs that told me things would be okay, that my husband’s next set of scans would be more positive. A crow would walk in front of me and my mind would work feverishly to decipher whether it was a positive or negative sign. It got to the point where I thought the signs were clear but that I just was just too stressed out to interpret them accurately.

I remember one day being in the hospital parking lot having just dropped my husband off curbside for his next chemo session. I saw something, I don’t even remember what it was now, and I started to try to convince myself it was a good sign. My desperate mind went there automatically but I’d had enough. I remember boiling over with frustration and asking myself to stop, to just please stop projecting my hopes, worries and denial onto every little thing that I could make into a sign. There were no signs that could accurately predict that my husband would beat his cancer because the truth was I knew, and the doctors knew, that this was a battle he wouldn’t win. I became acutely aware in that moment that I no longer believed in signs at all, not even a little bit, not just for fun. My mind completely killed off any attachment I had ever had to the concept. It was painfully obvious that it was just my mind projecting meaning onto the world around me.

My belief in signs was killed off slowly and painfully by my husband’s battle with cancer. It was another loss but one that I actually welcomed. It meant that I no longer needed to use any mental or emotional energy to try to decipher, understand, or make sense of the various occurrences that came my way. Instead, I’m free to enjoy and be present for whatever serendipitous events or moments of synchronicity cross my path — no interpretation necessary, no signs needed.

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