The Peculiar Gift of Cancer

On Christmas Day in 2012, my mom called me with a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. The doctor chimed in a few days later to confirm the news, offering a sincere attempt at part-sympathy, part-clinical prognosis. He gave her three months to live. I was on a run at the time, and I broke down.

The journey from that time to today — where my mom spends her remaining days sunken in bed, her life force draining—has been the catalyst for one of my most painful yet profound awakenings.

When death comes knocking, you answer

This is vital to know: before the diagnosis, Mom and I had been separated for 20 years by a chasm of bad relationship; to be more precise — an inferno of fear, pain anger and bitter silence. As a devoted family man, the hardened rift between mom and me was crippling.

Then, Death came knocking and…we answered. The news of the cancer forced both of us to deeply ponder how to share our remaining time together on Earth.

The healing — it unfolded organically, but not instantly. As mom and I began to reconcile, we both fell at various times into episodes of paralyzing fear and unconscious hostility. Perhaps Death knew this and wanted to help, so He slowed down the pace of the cancer so we could burn through all the angst and arguing.

Day by day, week by week and somehow, year by year, we eventually created space for love and light to re-enter.

During this time, I also discovered a more healthy and sustainable way to cope: meditation. The practice was shocking at first. Never before had I allowed myself to observe, without judgement, my firewall of toxic and egoic thoughts.

Meditation helped me acknowledge my fears but not let them define me. I learned to accept things as they are, and to accept Mom as she is. I could now hold conversations with her that were once unimaginable: alive in the present moment, weightless from the corrupted memories of the past or anxiety of the future.

Saying goodbye, sort of

Happy times camping on the Big Island of Hawai‘i

Let’s hear it for my mom — she has outlived a 3 month Stage IV cancer prognosis by over two years and four months, and she’s still going. Today I spoke with her on the phone, and while I wish I could say there’s been a miracle and she’s going to pull out of this, or things have taken a marvellous turn for the better, that’s not the case. Mom stopped chemo two months ago and it’s clear now that her time on Earth is fading.

As much as this hurts — and boy does it hurt — I can honestly say this cancer gifted us back our love — the same, pure, timeless love we started with 40 years ago.

I now realize— in the face of death — that this beautiful woman I know and love as my mother goes far beyond her cancer-ravaged body, far beyond our footnoted history, even beyond time and space.

Mom — my love for you is undying, even after you’re gone.

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Photo credits: Hilke Bohannan, Mayur Gala (Unsplash)

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