Friday, April 27, 2012

The C-Word: As if we were having a cup of tea together

Maybe a conversation. Not just a letter. As if we were having a cup of tea together. Think a quiet afternoon, the sun is fading but the cups still have a certain luminosity.

I don't know you, so perhaps it's presumptious to call you a friend. Quite possibly, we have different politics, different religions - or different perspectives on the same religion - different cultural and economic backgrounds. I live in New York City, I'm a Muslim and pretty far to the left. I've got kids and a dog and some exhusbands and maybe you do, too or maybe you don't.

I know that you are a friend of my friend Robbie Goolrick who is a beautiful, gifted, caring spirit. He mobilized a hundred new friends for me when I was at my lowest point. They answered my phone calls and commented on my facebook and blogposts and sent me lovely gifts. I am holding out my hand for you to squeeze when something really hurts because I know some of what you're going through. I don't want you to do it alone.

Of course, everyone's journey through cancer (or any one of the plagues, diabetes, lupus, eating disorders, depression that swallow us in these modern times) is personal and unique. I just want you to know I am here. If, in my endless search for information and magic, I can help you, or even save you a few steps when you are exhausted, I am here.

Years ago, there was a study that showed that people who were prayed for got better faster. It didn't seem to matter who did the praying - Buddhist monks or Carmelite nuns or congregations of Jews or Muslims or Hindus - and it didn't matter if the people who were prayed for were the same religion or even if they knew, they seemed to get better. Not long after that, there was another study that discredited the first one. An then another that gave credence again to intercessory prayer. My 16 year-old daughter sneered when I asked her to say a prayer for a schoolmate who is suffering, "That doesn't work, my teacher (an atheist) proved it..." But still, even though she says I am biased, I feel the collective energy of people channeling the Source can make a difference. I believe in the power of the crowd (as well as the Divine).

This is purely anecdotal, because I got my information from speaking to chemo nurses, but it seems that people who have social support - and that's more than facebook - people who have friends and family members to help them through the rollercoaster of getting well, get well. or get well faster. Loneliness really can kill you. Whether it's self-imposed isolation or by necessity, this is a moment to start reconnecting. Because honestly, as someone who's been close to death before, and someone who's struggled through some hard odds, sometimes the opportunity to leave all the drama of the material world is really appealing.

The reason you work to stay here is all those people who love you. They make you laugh, make the pain less intense, give the moments that you are here more weight and resonance. Even when you find yourself alone again, a friend's insights can change the direction of your thoughts, add a lightness. The scent from the flowers left by a friend makes your senses more clear and sparkling. This weekend, the cover of New York Times about health said, "All in our Minds." Though the articles were really about ways to improve brain function, it begs the question of mind over body.

When I was at my lowest point in my struggle, when the chemo and the endless hospital stays and the nausea and my hideous looks overwhelmed me, I realized that I had to make a decision to end the suffering. So I told my oncologist, "I believe that I am well. I don't have cancer any more." She, of course, told me I was out of mind and sent a pack of psychiatrists to question me about my "death wish." I just kept saying, "I am well. And if I believe I am well, I will be. I am just going to concentrate on believing I am healthy."

Of course, today most people would never guess how sick I was. Maybe that worked. Maybe it was the green juice, the raw food, the acupuncture, all the great advice online, the supplements, the swimming, the pilates, the psychic healer, the people praying for me - my Sufi circle, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, even a couple of atheists who got really worried - and maybe it was my friends willing me to stay.

Today, when I go to Memorial Sloan Kettering, my oncologist says, "Huh." But she doesn't really know. That's why I am telling you that you will make it. Because you have friends like Robbie who love you and are filling you with their energy to keep you strong and flexible. I believe that every time someone we love suffers or falls, we all lose a bit of our energy. It's like a leak in the collective unconscious.

Sip your tea slowly. I've taken out the tea leaves so it won't get bitter.

You might feel weak, but you are powerful. You are well. You will find it. Your friends need you here. Call on us, we are waiting to serve. We are here for you. Whenever you are ready. Welcome home.