What I Learned from Stage II Melanoma
When I got diagnosed with a stage II melanoma, I was taken aback by a mixture of feelings. The first question was why me?
Little voices in my head were like police officers demanding to know what I might have done wrong to deserve that.
In a state of fear, I blamed myself. I have lied, I have cheated, I was not as compassionate to others as I should have been, I was selfish.
The list of reasons was somewhat soften by the other voice, the victim, which helped me identify the things I did do right and that should have placed me in the "no-cancer" category.
At the top of that list was the fact that I, as I believed, loved life fully and appreciated every aspect of it. Added to that, was the fact that I cared for my health. I ate a healthy, organic diet and exercised almost every day, including yoga sessions three times a week. I also worn sun-block!
What I couldn’t understand was why the voice of blame, the police, was winning the debate in my head.
Fear of death, or the clinging for life, is described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as one of the five obstacles of the mind. This obstacle, rooted in ignorance, hinders our ability to reach a state of clarity.
It also creates our attachment to the material world, and even our own body, as if conserving things can somehow reduce our chances of dying. Looking at it from another perspective, existentialists have philosophized over this human behavior by actually pointing out that our fear of death is such that we ignore it until we are literally at our own death bed.
While avoiding the thought of death enables us to plan our lives without a fatalist approach to it, it also gives us a fictitious sense of eternity. In other words, we live life pretending it is here forever, with some of our deepest dreams stored in our minds but never turned into reality. It is difficult for us to look at each day as if that day was our last one here in this lifetime, but certain events will actually do just that.
What I learned while managing my own fear of death, during the first weeks after my diagnosis, was that what I lacked was a genuine love for life.
In order for anyone to love anything, especially life, one must first love thyself.
Looking at the four big aspects of my life: (1) love/relationship, (2) health, (3) career, (4) finance, none of these were in line with the authentic Karen.
I was not in love with me. I couldn’t help but recognize that I was in a very toxic relationship, where love and spirituality had long been replaced by a busy and unfulfilling social schedule.
I was also not healthy. I had had several instances of migraines in the last few months, had spent entire nights awake, throwing up in reaction to foods I would normally have not had any problems with, and generally felt fatigued no matter how many hours of sleep I got.
In terms of my career, I had made a big move from a very large company to a much smaller one, and had taken the position of principal with responsibilities well beyond anything I had had before. This was simultaneously exciting, and stressful.
Additionally, as a principal, I was asked to create my own role, and I knew within a few months that the space for the creative career I had so longed for, was not going to exist within that work environment.
Finally, in terms of finance, I recognized that I was unable to manage my money and save it in the way I had been able to do in the past.
It was my pursuit to fall in love with myself again that helped me overcome this fear of death. When I opened up to the possibility that all things in my life could be transformed and shaped to match my true dreams, fear subsided, giving space for love.
To get rid of toxicity in my life, I had to make changes, each one of them leading me closer to the true self I had been so far from.
While traumatic events have this incredible power to shake us up, awaken our dormant dreams, and inspire us – we should all be able to take this lesson, anytime, and ask the biggest question we all have an obligation to answer: am I in love with myself?
Transformation happens when we replace fear with love.