Open Your Heart

There was a famous Qigong master whose wife had cancer just everywhere in her body. The doctors couldn’t do anything for her. All over the world thousands of people were praying for her, but she just kept getting worse. Finally, the doctors said that she had perhaps an hour to live. Her friends and family were standing in a circle around her bed, saying final prayers for her and for her easy passage into death.

Suddenly, the woman opened her eyes. As the days passed, she sat up, began to talk, and asked for food. Within a few weeks she was moving around and even riding her bicycle. When the doctors scanned her body, they found no trace of the cancer.

No one, including the doctors, could understand why this had happened. When they asked the woman, she said that as she lay dying, she felt the prayers of others and began to open her heart wider and wider to receive that love. As she opened her heart, she felt the life beginning to return to her body. From that point on her life’s work took on a new direction and she was able to accomplish more, give more love to others than she had ever dreamed possible.

Hearing this story marked a turning point in my own life. I trace my ability to finally believe that I am not going to get cancer again, that I am truly cured, from the day I heard it. I continue to walk daily in that light.

Last January when I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer—seven years into my cure—it was a great shock. I began chemotherapy, Herceptin (a genetically engineered drug), and Tykerb (an oral drug taken daily). This was a grace period for me, during which I did not think about much but just getting better. Over six hundred people were praying for me.

Finally, after weekly treatments of Herceptin and four chemos spaced at three-week intervals, the day of my second full-body PET/CT scan arrived. When I returned to my doctor’s office for the results, I was scared. My Uncle David and Cousin Lynn sat in the only two available chairs and Donna, the physician’s assistant, knelt next to me and took my hand. I couldn’t read her eyes. Then she said, “The news is good. It’s very good. All the cancer is gone from your body.”

I told her, “You just made about a hundred people very happy.”

Later, my oncologist told me that this result was “amazing.” But he also told me the truth, that he had seen “some” women with my type of cancer be completely cured. So then, for me, the question became, how can I be one of those cured ones?

I realized at the moment that doctors took our blood and scanned our bodies, but they did not have us fill out questionnaires about why we believed we had gotten sick in the first place, what was missing from our lives and our hearts, and why we were still alive when others had died. They could not explain the mystery of the human soul. I thought, “Surely, I’m not the first person in the world to ask these questions.” But I also realized that it was up to me now. Could I find the answers for me?

Once my treatments had started, I had put fear aside. But I hadn’t been expecting such a fast result. Now I had my dearest wish, the answer to my most fervent prayers. “There is no cancer at all in your body.”

But then fear and depression struck. For weeks on end I was scared that I would get cancer again and die from it. I was very toxic from all the chemo and other drugs, my digestion was awful, food didn’t taste good (although I made myself eat), and I had no energy. It’s easy to feel optimistic when you feel good physically. But I woke up every single morning feeling depressed, terrified, and overwhelmed.

Then my neighbor Sandy suddenly got worse and died of metastasized cancer. She had always been one of my number-one support people, a woman of great faith and utterly fearless. She had been diagnosed a couple of months after I was, and then she lived only two more months. No one was expecting this. I started to feel that if she had died, what chance did I have?

One day I realized that I had been trying so hard in my emails to others to always find the spiritual lesson, to always be brave and optimistic, to always be positive. I hadn’t told anyone what a mess I was. So finally I sent out an email telling people that I needed help, that I had become socially isolated because I felt so physically sick. I wrote, “I’m so tired of always being a f**king hero.”

And people responded so generously and beautifully. They literally saved my life.

My friend Isabelle told me the story above about the Qigong master’s wife. After she got the email, she offered to come over and take me out to lunch and promised that she would not leave me until I felt better, even if that meant staying with me for a few days. What compassion! I needed so much at that point just to hear someone say, “I will hold your hand until the fear passes.”

Many years ago in her twenties, Isabelle was on a spiritual quest to find out her life’s purpose. She prayed and prayed to no avail. Finally, one day when she was alone in her kitchen, an enormous voice that reverberated throughout the entire house and through every fiber of her being said to her, “Your life’s purpose is to learn how to love.”

What is so comical is that Isabelle argued with the voice. Finally, God had spoken to her, but he’d delivered the wrong message! She told him that surely that couldn’t be right, that she had come here to do something really important, like invent cold fusion or find a cure for cancer. But that was the message. And as the years have passed, she has learned this lesson. Isabelle is one of the humblest, earthiest, funniest, kindest, more compassionate and loving beings that I’ve ever had the honor to call friend. And that’s saying a lot because my friends are world class.

Everything has been different for me since Isabelle told me that story. It sounds trite, “Open your heart,” but to me it’s like the secret of the universe has been revealed to me.

My heart had been closed before I got sick. I had lost faith in myself and given up my dreams, told myself that my life was “good enough” when I really felt as though I’d been washed into a backwater from which I couldn’t escape. Now I’ve opened my heart, found faith in myself again, and my dreams have come back. I am finally free to do my life’s work, without fear or self-doubt.

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About Joy Parker

As a three-time cancer survivor and storyteller, I felt compelled to create this blog because I felt the need to connect with an audience and immediately share what I am learning as I am learning it. The material in this blog is serving as the basis for two books that I am writing. The first book talks about how illness is a vehicle that takes us into the unknown land, teaches us things we couldn’t otherwise learn, and then gives us the opportunity to bring them back to our community. It offers a compass and creates a map of the unknown land so that others might find their path more easily. Most important, it shares what I have learned about waking up and being truly alive in this magnificent world. That might sound simple enough, but the actual experience is devastatingly beautiful and powerful. The second project is a book with medicine cards discussing many of the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences with healing and as a healer, the indigenous world, and walking a spiritual path. Most important, it is the story of the development of my own personal mythology. People tend to think of myths as massive stories and beliefs that develop in a culture over hundreds or thousands of years. We now live in a time of crisis and we don’t have a hundred years. The time for healing and transformation is now, and we are the ones we have been waiting for.
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