I had long days and nights during recovery from the mastectomy to ponder the meaning of this grand drama in my life called: “Toni has breast cancer.” I knew myself well enough to admit that I was a consummate drama queen. If my Soul wanted to get Queen Toni’s attention, It would have to stage something truly dramatic-life-threatening. What better messenger to send than breast cancer? It certainly had gotten my attention, catapulting me upon a six-year journey of forgiveness and ultimate release from a hard and unforgiving heart. I now had ears to hear and eyes to see. I now understood from personal experience that forgiveness is the basic, fundamental principle upon which a life of spirituality and service is built. I was about to be presented with a second great message or teaching: implicit trust in the Divine Mystery of life is requisite on this Path upon which I had freely chosen to walk.
Through a series of unexpected blessings and synchronicities, I wound up being treated by a well-known, Greenwich, Connecticut, integrative oncologist. His treatment plan called for twenty-four, “gentled-down” infusions of the standard-stage-three-breast-cancer-approved chemicals. Chemotherapy was to be followed by radiation treatment and a lifetime regimen of Tamoxifen, the anti-estrogen “flavor-of-the-day.” I was also put on a nutrition and supplement program which would help protect my body while facilitating the work of the chemicals.
For the first four treatments, I traveled merrily back and forth from the Bronx to Greenwich, Connecticut without a hitch. What on earth, I wondered, could those other women undergoing chemotherapy possibly be complaining about? I felt great. I returned to facilitating creative expression workshops and even took on an assignment editing and rewriting two children’s books. I was once more on top of my game. I lived a day at a time, putting one foot carefully before the other and not allowing myself to think about how my body was going to survive twenty-four weeks of poisons coursing through my veins. I dared not let my imagination venture into radiation and Tamoxifen territory.
For weeks I lolled happily along the shores of “De Nile.” And then, Adriamycin-also known as the “red devil”-and I crossed paths. Something deep and visceral stirred within after that fifth chemo treatment; my body’s introduction to the “devilish” one. Our meeting took place on a Friday morning. I lay in bed that night sensing the approach of death. I felt as if my body…my very organs were exhausted, giving up the fight; getting ready to shut down. This last assault seemed more than my weakened and compromised immune system could withstand. Believe me; it wasn’t about losing my hair. How vain. Hair grows back. But could my heart repair itself? Could damaged nerves in my extremities regenerate? I lay awake for hours feeling the havoc that the new poison was wreaking in its ravaging journey through my body.
The warning came suddenly- during that hypnogogic period just before one dozes off. It hit me in the solar plexus: “Chemotherapy will kill you. Find a way to rebuild your immune system. Do not further destroy it.” The message was clear and direct; a dictum from Whatever It was that I communed with in the Silence each day. I prayed that night as I’d never prayed before. I asked Whatever It was that I felt stirring within my heart to show me what to do instead of chemotherapy. I asked It to answer me in such a way that I would be certain that these words of warning were not simply my fear speaking.
I received a clear and unmistakable answer upon awakening the next morning.
Watch for the next article: Ask, Seek, Knock-Believing-and by Jingo-You Shall Be Answered