This month marks the 20th anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I have been thinking about how precious and precarious this life is and I am remembering an experience I had this past September when my friend Gina and I were driving across country from the east coast to the southwest. It was early in the morning and we had just spent the night at a hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia and were heading towards Ohio. We had our tea and snacks for the day, perhaps listening to Krishna Das. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but our spirits were up as we continued on our journey, with anticipation, towards Santa Fe. We were on a six lane divided highway, probably going about 65-70 mph and at this point there was little traffic on the road. To our right were woods full of trees moving towards Autumn…the sun was just rising, it was chilly and the air was a bit misty.
Ahead of me I saw something on the highway, and at first I couldn’t make out what it was. My mind was working in high gear, trying to make sense of the situation. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as I recognized that in the road ahead of us were a doe and her fawn, apparently frozen, standing in the middle of the middle lane, the lane my car was in…. Instantly I pushed the button to turn on my flashers as I slowed the car way down….I began praying out loud, pleading the doe to lead her fawn out of the road. Wishing that time could be frozen, just as she and her baby were.
At the same time I was noticing there were a number of cars coming up behind us. I was praying that the drivers would see what was happening, and would slow down. I recognized that I had absolutely no control of the situation. Where would the deer go? The doe could easily make it over the low concrete divider, but the fawn? And there were cars on the other side of the highway. Please hurry, beautiful mother….please, please, get your precious baby with her little white spots out of the road. My adrenaline was rushing, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a knot was forming in my stomach, and my eyes were filling with tears…perhaps I was holding my breath. Gina put her hand on my leg. So much was running through my mind. I was terrified that something really awful was about to happen; that the deer and or humans were about to die…any one of us…all of us.
In a magical, mysterious moment, all the cars slowed down, somehow the mama deer signaled to her baby and they ran off the highway, disappearing back into the woods. In my mind all the cars came to a complete stop, but I can’t say for sure. Really, I don’t know what happened in that split second that seemed to go on forever. I was so startled, so awake in that moment…knowing full well that it could have been my last moment, my last breath. But it wasn’t.
Twenty years ago when my surgeon, dear Ellen Brock told me that I had cancer, it was as if she had told me I had a cold. My mind could not comprehend the words that came out of her mouth. It wasn’t until I saw the tears in her eyes that I recognized it was more serious than a cold.
In that moment, time seemed to leap into slow motion. My adrenaline was rushing, I could feel my heart beating rapidly, a knot was forming in my stomach, and my eyes were filling with tears…perhaps I was holding my breath. Ellen put her hand on my shoulder. So much was running through my mind. I was terrified that something really awful was happening. What did this mean, to have a diagnosis of cancer? How was I going to tell my parents? What was going to happen to my life? Did it mean I was going to die? I was only 31 years old. I don’t remember praying or pleading…. The situation was beyond my comprehension and seemingly out of my control. I was in shock, scared and confused.
After a second surgery and chemo treatments I was skin and bones and everything seemed to take way too much energy. I spent the days on the couch, slowly coming to an understanding of what had taken place, and slowly gathering the gifts that were given to me, gifts that continue to guide me to this day. Of course there is so much more to this story (perhaps for another post), but clearly it was not my time to go, for which I am continually amazed, and truly grateful.
I will never forget that moment when a cancer diagnosis crossed my path, nor will I ever forget that moment when the doe and fawn crossed my path. Both took me to an edge. Both were wake up calls. We all have these calls each day – big and small, pushing us to the edge, urging us to awaken and not take things for granted. It seems we somehow need these reminders to wake up. I welcome the small reminders and I recognize that I don’t need to wait for a big wake up call to remember how precious this life is and that I can choose to live my life fully….now.