I want to tell you a little bit about my approach to having a brain tumor – the metaphor through which I am viewing my experience.
Many people interpret cancer as a fight – a battle. I am choosing a different way to think about it. My view is that it’s a journey towards wholeness. I see my brain tumor as a part of me that needs to be healed.
I have begun thinking of myself as a universe in which trillions of cells live. These cells are a “we” that collectively make up “me” – Fran. We (all these cells in my body) need each other – we ARE each other in a very real sense. And yet, these trillions of cells are very much diversified and do many different things inside the Fran universe. Without this diversification, none of us could live. Without each other, we – I – could not exist.
I am not choosing a “fight” metaphor, because I don’t think fighting with myself is a good idea. It just encourages division – and that is literally part of the problem when it comes to cancer. Cancer cells are just parts of me that are sick or injured or that have somehow lost their healthy way of being. They don’t need me to fight them in their injury – they need my compassion, understanding, and love. I can’t beat them into health. I have to give them the help they need to heal.
Doctors have explained to me that tumors are a sort of proliferation of mutated, unhealthy cells that are no longer held in check by the immune system. They are dividing in unhealthy ways and want to develop a blood flow that supports them in this division. They mutate so that they don’t die the way that normal, healthy cells die. They can also migrate into healthy tissue, tentacling into it to grab hold.
To me, cancer cells sound scared. I can understand that. Life (and I am sure the inside of my brain) can be scary sometimes.
But I want and need them to heal. I want and need to become more whole. I can’t do this without “them” – without the currently unhealthy cells – moving with me towards wellness, health, and wholeness. I see my job now as encouraging an end to unhealthy divisions inside the universe that is me. Indeed, there is no “them” and “me.” It’s us. And we are in this together.
It reminds me of my favorite children’s book ever, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. In order to save her brother Charles Wallace, Meg had to try to love the horrible, repulsive (and I believe even brainlike) “It,” which had completely taken over Charles Wallace’s consciousness. If memory serves, Meg discovered that she couldn’t love “It.” But she found that could love her brother, even when he was acting like “It.” And that love is what saved him.
Can I love my brain tumor? Can I feel compassion for it? Try to understand it? Invite it back into harmony, healing and wholeness with the rest of “us,” and try to give it what it needs? Can I help it to not feel separate, isolated, scared, and wanting to divide?
I learned a lot by reading A Wrinkle in Time. I think I can.
So I’ve found myself talking to my brain tumor this past week. And it’s been talking back. In the dialogue, I’m learning something about mercy and compassion. I’m learning that everyone needs to be healed of internal division in some way. I’m learning that fear divides, and that love makes whole. My tumor has told me it needs rest, healthy food, lots of water, and a good deal of understanding and encouragement.
Each morning, I now spend time encouraging my brain tumor through the use of imagery. I ask it to consolidate all that is unwhole and unhealthy into one, compact space. I ask it to migrate out of and release any hold it has on healthy brain tissue. To do this, I visualize little hiker cells, complete with walking sticks and bandanas, taking a healthy hike out of the parts of my brain that are otherwise well. I also ask them to use “pneumatic tube” transportation, like in the movie version of The Polar Express. (I figure time is of the essence with brain surgery pending, so why not use technology?) I encourage these hiker cells to let go, and not be so scared. I reassure them that we will get through this. Together.
I also talk with my tumor about its blood supply. In my initial meeting with the neurologist at Martha Jefferson, he said my tumor didn’t “light up” with blood vessels, which is a good thing. But there do appear to be some “little whispies” that could be bringing blood to it. I’ve asked my tumor to shut them off and help them dry up and turn to dust completely. I’ve explained to it that that blood supply only serves to divide us and make us unhealthy, and that there is already a good blood supply in other areas of the brain that will give us all we need – health, wholeness and unity.
I also ask my brain tumor cells to stop dividing, since this is the only way to wholeness and health for the Fran universe. Division just creates problems and is not necessary. Unity is the way for us. We already have everything we need if we stick together and help each other.
Finally, each morning I promise my tumor to send only good, organic, healthy foods to help it sweep away toxins and inflammation and anything else that is making it sick and hard for it to heal. I envision my cells – all of them – getting healthier and stronger, and having a cleaner ecosystem around them.
So this is not a fight for me. This is a healing. This is an opportunity to be made whole.
I can’t help but note that this approach could be good on the outside of my brain, too, in the stream of life that I participate in everyday. There is a lot of fear out there, a lot of division. There is a huge tendency – especially in a U.S. Presidential election year – to always divide the field into “them” and “us.” Our team vs. theirs. Democrats vs. Republicans. White vs. black. Immigrants vs. those who have been here longer. Rich vs. poor. Haves vs. have nots. Christians vs. Muslims. Conventional military vs. terrorist.
Thinking of people (or cells) as “the other” or as “not us” doesn’t help overcome division or build wholeness and understanding in our bodies, societies, or lives. It separates us, and prevents us from working together. It allows us to more easily blame and then hate. It suppresses the possibilities of mercy and compassion in our hearts. And it keeps us from healing and wholeness.
Let’s stop using “battle” and “other” as metaphors for living. And let’s really start living!