some thoughts on spiritual life after cancer

I'm a survivor of squamous cell cancer of the right tonsil stage IV-b. I was 48 years old when diagnosed back in 1998, went through some chemo, then full doses of radiation. Noting that different doctors offered different combinations of radiation, chemo, and/or surgery, I attempted to find out for myself what the best treatment would be for me. I was really concerned with side-effects and at first refused radiation. I never had surgery.

In the end, what took out the cancer was the radiation. That and perhaps the Chinese medicines I took and perhaps most importantly, my meditation/spirituality practices. After the grueling radiation trip, the radiation oncologist said to me "not only is your data off the charts, but there must be someone looking out after you". He really was amazed that I survived and he continued to tell me that in the years following treatment.

Today I am cancer free, but live with very difficult consequences of radiation. My ability to swallow is shot (haven't eaten anything by mouth in over 5 years), I have substantial COPD, loss of hearing and speech impediment. These maladies are primarily due to radiation treatment. It took years for the conditions to manifest. Despite the ongoing difficulties I am very grateful to be alive and I continue to function pretty well considering my impairments.

I think that "wellness" is primarily a mental state. I find much beauty, meaning and peace through my spiritual practices. These keep me going. I recommend spirituality, whatever that is for you, as the primary means to deal with the serious consequences of this illness. What is spirituality? Could be connection with God or Higher Power or personal meaning. How we put things together in our minds makes a huge difference to personal experience.

For those of us with serious illness, I wish you all a good and meaningful journey. The path of serious illness is unwanted and very difficult for most of us. LIfe however holds much beauty and grace. For all of us who suffer, may we find our refuge in direct experience of the divine.

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