Summer is the time of year for many guests to arrive, to eat you out of house and home, and sometimes it feels like they will never leave. This year, my old friend cancer decided to make a surprise visit.
Cancer has visited before. It was almost 25 years ago when I had a stage four growth on my cervix. Yes, this is the kind of thing that occurs to women who have sex, so I hope you are not utterly shocked that I have had sex.
In fact, if you want to know how many people have the HPV virus which can cause cervical cancer, the answer is just about everyone. Really. According to the U.S. Government, approximately 20 million people between the ages of 18 and 49 have it. But those are only the people who have regular healthcare and have sought treatment. I’m sure there’s another 200 million who can’t afford healthcare and so they go around infecting more people.
There is a giant leap between having this virus, and getting cancer. I made the jump in my first marriage and it was a bomb big enough to leave the marriage in its wake. Not the disease, but the cure. The cure, which entailed surgery, chemotherapy and a long period of abstinence, did us in. What do they say? What does not kill you makes you stronger? Well, cancer killed us.
The next 25 years for me were blissfully free of this unwanted houseguest. I was told I was 100% rid of the virus and the corrupted cells. In fact, given that nearly everything had been cut out, scraped, and chemically killed, I was indeed, like a virgin. But the truth was that I was just uninformed.
Last year, the guest returned. I remember the moment my doctor called because I was at a soccer field watching my son play and I couldn’t hear her very clearly. I do know that when a doctor calls you, again and again, and doesn’t leave a message, that the news is bad. The first thing I thought was how beautiful my son looked on the field. I never wanted to forget that moment.
It turns out, that all these years when I thought I was a virgin – at least at a cellular level – I might have still had both the virus and the cancer. My doctor said that until recently, the tests weren’t very good at detecting this stuff. I might either have been re-infected, or I might have had it all along. There is no way to know for sure.
However, I do know this for sure, life is terminal. Having the specter of cancer return is a wakeup call for me to do what I was meant to do. There are no guarantees, as if there ever were. Cancer makes you present real fast. In that way, it is a gift.
There is no longer a day that I don’t tell my children, and my husband, and even most of my family that I love them. I juice green vegetables more often. I get rest. I practice yoga. I tell my students to live fearlessly, even when they are very afraid. What’s more, I show up day after day to prove the point.
Because if nothing else, the awareness of death makes you live that much better. Death is life’s greatest change agent. Cancer is just its calling card. I didn’t want it to return, but now that it could be here, I’ll kick it’s ass by living the best I can.
Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, a former corporate executive and a survivor of 50+ years of life. Known as the “Erma Bombeck of the Mat,” Michelle is the author of the memoir “Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga,” and a Columnist for Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine. She is an E-500 RYT with Yoga Alliance and teaches Aligned Vinyasa in Denver, Co. Even though she is uber-fabulous, she is NOT an Ambassador for Lululemon, and has been promised she will never be one. You can take her with you on your computer or I-thing by downloading her classes from www.yogadownload.com.