If you got here by skipping to the end, I forgive you. It is exactly what I have been known to do! If you did not, I am proud of you.
Either way, it is time to take stock.
Have I changed because of what happened to me? Yes.
Will I live life differently from now on? Yes, because I am no longer the same person.
How? To find out, read on.
Many years ago, my older sister in Germany had framed a cute little poem and hung it on her office wall. Here is my translation and the original text:
The impossible we attend to immediately. Unmögliches erledigen wir sofort.
Miracles take a little longer. Wunder dauern etwas länger.
Upon request, witchcraft will be used. Auf Wunsch wird gehext.
These three lines arguably captured my approach to life in general before my cancer surgery in August 2020. It touched on the what (“the impossible,” “miracles”); the when (“immediately,” “a little longer,” “upon request”); and the how (“attend to,” “witchcraft”). Listening carefully to the universe for karmic advice, I had chosen to which external and internal life projects I would apply these vows of sorts. Taking control of my destiny in Germany and Canada or “the where” — which the poem does not touch on, incidentally — had not been without its ups and downs.
Overall, it had been a stable ride, however, for which I had always been very grateful.
In hindsight, it occurred to me that I had viewed my cancer diagnosis through the same “karmic assignment lens,” for the lack of a better label, communicated in this poem. What did I need to learn and/or teach others from this specific challenge? Was there a tangible reward or added incentive to get it right so as not to have to repeat the lesson?
I had already figured out after radiation treatments had finished that my late mother’s favourite prayer contained the answer to the latter question. A higher power would reward me with serenity, courage, and wisdom after having successfully faced life-altering experiences.
“That sounds remarkably like the story line of Mozart’s Magic Flute to me,” I had concluded at the time. I also chuckled because it was one of my favourite musical works to teach at university. The year 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 had been anything but a fairy tale, however, even though there had been a snake (the cancer?); a prince (my medical team?) who was charged with freeing a princess (me?) who had been kidnapped; and various trials and tribulations the couple needed to overcome (the treatment plan?).
Thankfully, Mozart’s librettist had opted against the backdrop of a pandemic and instead invented hilarious characters such as a bird catcher who made the audience laugh while reminding them of how difficult following rules can be as a human being.
So, what do you think my lesson(s) were, dear reader?
Permanence in change (to quote Goethe)
It was now the perfect time to let go of attending to “the impossible,” i.e., excelling in everything I did and being everything to everyone, for once and all. Instead, I would follow “Dr. Barb’s two golden rules,” which she had already adopted for herself several years ago but not embraced fully until being faced with cancer. From now on, I would view “asking for help” and “doing less” as signs of strength, not weakness, as I strove to lead a more balanced, comparatively uneventful life.
Affecting “miracles” of a different kind — first and foremost being cancer-free — now deserved 100% of my energy and willpower. There was no doubt that I had a long way to go until the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation would no longer rule my daily life as was the case right now.
Eyelids that weighed 50 pounds each greeted me almost every morning in April, and I got scared every time I experienced belly pains or threw out multi-coloured panty liners. And who was this white-haired woman staring back at me when I looked in the mirror or into my phone or computer camera? She had a huge scar on her belly and engaged in a vaginal stretching routine every other day. It was my sincere hope that when her time to leave this earth had come, she would die from old age rather than “something stupid.”
There was no question that I would continue to use “witchcraft” — that is, listen to messages from my inner guidance system and the universe “upon request.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a famous Lutheran theologian who died in a concentration camp near the small German village in which I grew up, described perfectly what my heart, mind, body, and soul feel like whenever that happens. He wrote the following in 1945 which I have translated for you and continue to pray on a daily basis: “Sheltered wondrously by good forces, we expect with confidence what may come. God is with us in the evening and in the morning and, certainly, on every new day.” (“Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen, ewarten wir getrost, was kommen mag. Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen und ganz gewiss an jedem neuen Tag.“)
“I cannot believe it has been nine months since you told me to go see my doctor,” I said to my trusted massage therapist on April 30, 2021. In hindsight, the timing of my illness had been perfect: instead of educating others during a pandemic, I had been taught what living with cancer was all about.
“What do you expect the universe will do now that you are cancer-free?” my massage therapist asked.
“Pleasantly surprise me,” I said and smiled.
And then she lived happily ever after (or so she thought)
On June 22, I flew to Victoria, B. C., having ditched the “road trip with twin” idea in favour of selling my car back to the dealership. When I stepped into what was going to be my new home for the next twelve months or so, I knew that this change of scenery was exactly what I needed. On July 1, I went back to work (albeit remotely and part-time), and on August 11, 2021, my twin sister and I celebrated a very “chilled” 54th birthday, eating cake on my fabulous balcony which I, the non-drinker, had promptly dubbed “Barb’s beer garden.”
“I should write a sequel about my year of healing,” I said to my twin sister, inner child, and main guide. “You go, girl,” they replied. In other words, stay tuned for more, dear reader!