#48 - Back in the Here and Now

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Though I don’t subscribe to a particular religion, the above quote resonates deeply with me. One could easily substitute the word God if one were so inclined with many other words or phrases that also conjure up a similar notion of wholeness or connectedness. Today’s editorial focuses on a small part of my journey towards being more present in my everyday life.

After a long hiatus from writing LU’s monthly newsletter, I am happy to say that I am back at the keyboard. Finally. The reality is that I could have continued with writing the newsletter through my bout with papillary thyroid cancer but I chose not to. Well, in fact, I did write and publish our 47th edition in June. I had planned to continue from that point on but I found that despite having ideas to write about, I lacked the focus needed to write the monthly editorial and other necessary content for each monthly edition. I made a conscious choice not give myself a hard time about it. Having only missed one month out of forty-eight possible months up to that point, I decided that I indeed deserved a well-earned break to take care of myself. And that is exactly what I did.

Despite having a type of cancer with one of the best prognosis (more than one person told me that if I had to get cancer, it was the ‘best’ one to get), I was scared when I first got the diagnosis. I had just begun a new life adventure and had worked hard to make the transition. I had just moved back to NYC after having lived in Portugal for over fourteen years and my family was to follow soon after. Having been accepted into a rigorous and competitive program to fast-track potential teachers into the high-needs areas within NYC public school systems, I was to start a new profession – that of a special education teacher. I was one of the lucky potential teachers but I had not been aware of the vast amount of pre-work involved prior to being accepted. By the time I was ready to leave in early May, I was stressed, excited, over-tired, and scared but still happy. Less than a week after I had arrived in NYC, my wife called with the diagnosis. BOOM! YOU GOT CANCER!

My world shifted beneath me. I felt scared but I also felt a sudden sense of relief. Suddenly everything that had been worrying me ceased to. Just like that. Gone was the overwhelming stress and worry that had come with what were then the taking of the up-coming NY State certification. Gone was the apprehension and stress of what was then an up-coming frantic job search. Gone was the crazy anxiety surrounding what was then the few weeks prior to what the program itself deems as the training ‘bootcamp’ for its new recruits. All the stress and anxiety suddenly vanished. Sure I shed some tears as I was frightened about my health and disappointed that my plans were suddenly turned upside down. I knew that I had to return to Portugal to deal with my health issue. Still shedding tears, I immediately met with the program’s organizers to ask for a deferment till the next cohort that would start in the summer of 2016. I am a firm believer that tears can have a real transformative power. People often respond well to an open vulnerability. Needless to say, I got my deferment.

I mentioned that my world had shifted and it really did. With that sudden and actually wonderful relief brought an equally wonderful insight. I remember pondering how strange it was to feel such a relief when I was suddenly thrust into a world of not just unknowns but scary unknowns. Despite it being the ‘best’ cancer to get, I was still facing cancer after all. After a bit of reflection I understood that my relief came from realizing that in the big scheme of things, most of what I was worried about really didn’t matter much at all. Everything that had seemed so vital seamlessly shifted to a much less important position. With that knowledge brought a sense of great inner peace. It also brought with it gratitude for what is really important…the everyday, simple wonders around me.

I felt grateful to be alive, to have a loving and supportive family, to have friends to count on, and to simply just be a part of this great, connective energy that we are ALL a part of (except maybe Donald Trump!).

Both that inner peace and that initial gratefulness has stuck with me throughout the whole cancer ordeal and I do not foresee it going anywhere. I allow myself to do more by doing less now, by simply valuing being present and enjoying the simple moments. Even when I have more to do, I am learning that if I am more mindful of the actual moment that I am in, everything ends up being exactly as it should be. Of course, that is not to say that I don’t have expectations or that I have let go of my plans. It is just that I am better able to let my expectations and plans blind me from being here right now.

Today I feel stronger and healthier than I have felt in years. I have recently started meditating and practicing yoga as an everyday part of my routine. I get up extra early for this but it is well worth it. Personally I have been finding it very helpful in staying present and cultivating an awareness so that I can truly appreciate the here and now. I definitely feel far more grounded than before.

Although I obviously don’t recommend cancer to anyone, I have to say that I have learned a lot from the experience. The big C has been a good teacher in that it has been a catalyst to truly wake me up to life. I have a scar that runs across my neck. It has faded quite a bit already and will continue to fade over time. Either way I sometimes refer to my scar as a war scar as it is an everyday reminder of my battling it out with cancer. It is also a wonderful everyday reminder of the gifts that having cancer has given me – the gift of being more present, more open and more grateful. As an anonymous person once wrote ‘scars are tattoos with better stories.’ I wear my scar proudly and reverently.

Courtney How

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