Each of us has the ability to choose our attitude, no matter the situation. Nearly two years ago, less than a year after we had buried my grandmother, my aunt first learned about her cancer. The prognosis was not good. The cancer had already spread from her lungs to her adrenal gland, or vice-versa, and there was some talk of average life expectancy based on the stage she was in. It seemed that she had gone straight from several years of dealing with someone else’s illness, to dealing with her own mortality. I will never forget the day she told me she was ill; it was as if her main concern was not for herself, but for me and how I would handle it. Her way had always been to care for others first, and facing the greatest battle of her life, she again looked to see how everyone else would fair. As she began to put together a plan for how she would fight back, she began the first of many rounds of chemotherapy, and was faced with yet another personal hurdle. Her relationship with her husband was deteriorating quickly. She had always been the caregiver, and now that the tables were turned, he would not step into a new role. He chose to come from a place of denial, anger, and self-preservation. My aunt chose to live.
So, six months after being diagnosed with cancer, my aunt packed up all of her personal belongings and left her husband. She moved in with her son, my cousin, and continued her personal search for meaning. We live several states apart, and talk on the phone every few weeks. These phone calls have meant the world to me. She has taught me about authenticity, honesty, and faith. We have talked about the dreams she will never get to fulfill, the people she needs to forgive, and the places where she needs to make amends. She rarely complains, though she will let me know when she’s having a bad day or feeling some depression. These conversations are real in a way that makes them sacred. I will carry these conversations forever in my heart as a gift of holding another, and being held. Last week the last chemotherapy stopped working and my aunt signed papers for a form of radiation that will kill one of her kidneys. When we spoke of it, she said, “It’s a big decision to make.” I replied, “It seems simple to me, you can live with one kidney, and the alternative is giving up.” She let me know that giving up can be the right decision too, though it is not one she is ready to make yet. She is still choosing to live with grace and dignity, and has let us know that there will come a time when she will make a different choice.
During one of our recent conversations, my aunt shared with me a reoccurring dream. Before I share the details, it’s important to know that this is a woman who is at home in nature. She loves nothing more than being perched on the side of a river or lake with a fishing pole in hand soaking up the fresh air, the sun on her face, the smell of the trees and earth softly floating on the breeze. This is her vision of paradise, to be held in the arms of Mother Earth. Knowing this is who she is at her very core, painted a vivid picture in my mind’s eye of the dream she described to me in loving detail. In her dream, she’s young and running free through the forest. Her long flowing black hair is unrestrained, as it’s caught in the wind of her movement. She is happy, delighted to feel the strength of her legs as they carry her through the forest. The sun shines down upon her. She is at peace, with an inner knowing that this is where she belongs. This dream reminds me of the kind of woman my aunt is, and the kind of woman I intend to be. Even in the midst of tragic circumstances, she chooses not to lose sight of who she is. She remembers the very essence of her true-self and shares it generously with me. This is how my aunt lives her life, not as a victim of cancer or of any other situation. She holds ancient wisdom in her hands. She is that young girl, running free and happy in the sunshine.
How do you choose to live? Do you remember who you are, despite the circumstances of your life? Have you allowed yourself to become a victim in your own story? Or are you like my Aunt Pat, who has chosen to be the master of her fate? Something to think about.