A cancer survivor's journey of healing, finding her true self and discovering a new and abundant taste of life.
New Beginnings are often disguised as Painful Endings
On March 19, 2011 I was diagnosed with cancer and life as I knew it disappeared into the abyss created by these three little words: "you have cancer." Until then life as I knew it had been pretty good. I had been on a spiritual path for a while and I considered myself a happy and lucky person. We had moved from Belgium to Canada in 2006, which had been a major step in letting go - letting go of my parents, my friends, my job, my house, and most of all of who I was in that environment. I rediscovered myself in those first few years in Canada and I honestly thought I had become the person I was meant to be. I was happy, I had a wonderful husband, 2 beautiful children, and lots of good friends all over the world. I was enjoying life and I did not think it could get any better. I was wrong. It could get a million times better, but not before it went completely dark first.
Step One : Claiming my Power
"You have cancer", three little words with an enormous impact. I had always considered myself a positive person and I was not prepared for the darkness and the fear that hit me when those words were thrown at me. I felt myself disappear into a deep pit of despair and anxiety, one I was sure I would never be able to climb out of. I wanted my life back. I wanted to be happy and positive Murielle again. Who was this dark and anxious person? Who was this Murielle that I had never met before? Or maybe I should say: who was this person that I had been running away from all my life? Because indeed, as I discovered later, this person was just as much a part of me as the positive, joyful one; but she was much less wanted and appreciated by me. It is so much easier to run away from what we don't like than to embrace it and welcome it in. I was about to discover that running away may be easier, but that it was keeping me from living my life to the fullest. On March 19, 2011 I was about to embark on a journey that would lead me to the real me.
In the midst of all this darkness, there was this little seed of light, this knowing that this cancer was there to teach me something. That if I listened really well, I would find out what my body was trying to tell me. I had no idea how to listen, or what this message could be, but I knew for sure that something in my life needed to change. I decided that I would do whatever was necessary to hear the message. As with all journeys, the first step is usually the hardest one and my first step was a particularly difficult one to take for me. I had been brought up in the mindset of having absolute respect for someone with authority and to never question what a doctor tells you to do. And this was exactly what I was about to do. I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, I had a lumpectomy and a removal of three sentinel lymph nodes. Since cancer was found in one of the lymph nodes, I was told I would need to do chemo and then radiation therapy afterwards. Everything inside of me screamed no to the chemotherapy. I heard the message loud and clear, but it was so opposite to everything I had been taught, that it took all my courage to listen. I could feel that with the chemo I would not be able to make the journey I was meant to go on. I knew that it would not just destroy my body, but also my spirit. And I needed my spirit to get to the bottom of my soul, and figure all this out. So I said no to my medical oncologist, I would not do chemotherapy. She was stunned but understanding, and in time even supportive. She could sense that I was on a much bigger journey than killing my cancer. Which is something I do not believe in anyway: how can we fight cancer without fighting ourselves?
I would like to add here though that this was and is my journey and that yours may be completely different. This is not a crusade against chemotherapy or doctors, this is an honest account of what I felt was important for me. I did agree to radiation therapy, but refused again to go on hormone medication afterwards. I went against the opinion of a medical professional, not once, but multiple times. Was it scary? Yes. Did I ever regret it? No. This decision was the first step in claiming the power that was mine and that I had so freely been giving away all of my life; not just to doctors, but also to my parents, my friends, complete strangers, situations... This scary first step propelled me on a journey that would prove to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Step Two: In the Arms of Mother Nature
But let's go back to the first few months of my journey. I honestly did not feel like this would be the best thing that ever happened to me - not at all! I was trying to listen, but all I could hear inside of me were screams of fear and anger. I tried to feel where this journey was going to take me, but most of the time I felt just numb and disconnected. And it was exactly this disconnection that brought me to the next step on my journey. My first reaction to all this fear and anxiety was of course to run away from it. I did not want it and I certainly did not enjoy it. This running away was translated into hours and hours of walking. On these long walks I discovered that it was not merely the act of walking, but the embrace of Mother Nature that was helping me. I would walk through the woods and feel the need to embrace a tree, or to feel the moist grass under my bare feet. I would feel the need let the rain wash over my face and to dig in the earth with my bare hands. It was through my connection with Mother Nature that I was finding my way back to myself. It was in those moments that I would feel a spark of connection, a wave of feelings that were bringing me more clarity. This next step on my journey was showing me that everything is connected and that Mother Nature is an excellent teacher. Now, years later, I can say that my connection with nature is more profound than ever before, and that she is my guide, my mother, my soul, my place of rest - that she is all and everything in one. She showed me the way to embrace all parts of myself so that I could come to that place of unity. It is in this place of unconditional love for ourselves that we find the true meaning of life. It is in the arms of Mother Nature that we find the courage to go there.
Step Three: Stepping into the Unknown
It became more and more clear to me that I was indeed on a journey to find the real Murielle. This was the Universe responding in the most unexpected of ways to a question that I had asked in November of 2009. At that time, I was struggling with the concept of who I really was. I had left my whole life in Belgium behind and I had started this new life in Canada, but somewhere there was this confusion about which version was real. I started working with that question and I believed that I had it figured out in the meantime. I certainly did not expect that cancer would be my guide, if there was anything else to find. But apparently there was a lot left to discover and this would be the way in which I was going to do so.
And so the journey went on, the next step being shown to me by a shaman friend of mine. She was a person that I believe was put on my path for the sole purpose of revealing this particular part of me. She was guiding me in meditation and on one occasion I asked her if she could still see any light in me since all I could sense was darkness. She said there was nothing but light inside of me, but that I had to remember that I was "the Wounded Healer". She said that my experience with cancer would lead me to helping other people, that from my own wounds I would know and recognize theirs and help them heal. These words reached deep into my soul, something stirred, and I knew it was true. I knew this was my purpose on this earth; I just had no idea how I was supposed to do it. Especially since I myself was just starting this journey and I certainly did not feel able to help myself, let alone other people! I think at that point I did not even completely grasp what she meant, I just knew that, yes, I was the Wounded Healer. I decided to just trust and let everything take its course. I understood that at some point on my journey it would be revealed.
This was the part of my journey where I had to trust and learn to appreciate the Unknown. I had always been a person that had to be in complete control of whatever was happening next. My whole life was built on lists, plans and safety nets and now I was asked to just wait and see. I was terrified, but again I knew this was a necessary step on my journey and so I took it.
Step Four: Discovering the Place of Self-Love
All these steps were taken in the first few weeks after my surgery and were preparing me for the biggest step of all: the step of accepting and loving my Self unconditionally. When going through radiation, I was introduced to a cancer support and yoga group at the local hospice. At first I was reluctant to go; I did not need to be around other cancer patients and have a constant reminder of this disease. Yes, I was running away, again. Until I decided I was too exhausted to run. I went to this group and through meditation and yoga I was shown the path to self-love.
This did not happen overnight, but step by step I learned to embrace, first of all my darkness. I came to understand that it is only in embracing the duality that we can come to unity. The acceptance of my darkness allowed my light to shine even brighter. Piece by piece I...