As I sit in my home studio this Friday morning, I am immersed in a sense of quiet. This quiet has become our new normal, over the past six weeks of mandated stay at home due to COVID-19. I hear the birds chirping as I sip my coffee, there is an owl not too far away. I am up much earlier than usual. Early enough to notice these things. Above all things, the rush that used to dictate my day, running out to yoga, meeting a friend for breakfast, getting a quick walk in before starting my work day. That rush has ceased.
I was inspired as I began to wake up this morning to tell
the tale of the greatest transformation of my life.
A period of time that changed me forever. It was a crossroads, a moment of truth in which I reached a fork in the road of my life.
It began in June 2017 upon the completion of my chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was 29 years old and the last year had been a trying one. The year prior, mysterious health issues and weekly doctor visits led me to become a patient, yet one who was relentless. In response to my discomfort, fatigue and extreme weight loss, my doctors told me, “You’re young, you have a bug, just rest and wait it out.”
Angry, frustrated and truthfully very weak, I insisted that these doctors check further into my blood work for three months. Finally, the diagnosis presented itself.
But, this story of transformation is not about my journey with Hodgkin’s.
That journey was the predecessor to my transformation, it was an experience that taught me to advocate and fight for myself. That was an experience that showed me, just how safe, supported and loved I was.
During those eight months of chemo, I had friends and family gathered around me every single day. My husband barely slept a wink through my treatment, checking on me throughout every night and keeping me laughing every day. When I got diagnosed, I was sure I would survive. I knew I was going to be okay because I declared, I AM NOT DONE HERE (on Earth). I knew I had something to live for, a message to share, an IMMENSE will to live planted itself in my heart. And that will got me through the treatment.
That time, doctors appointments, infusions, naps and cheerful visits, was the easy part.
I was declared in remission in June of 2017 and that is just when the transformation process began.
During chemo, Jon and I lived with my parents. What a blessing that was to have three people to entertain me. But, by the time June came around, Jon and I had moved back into our own home and he returned to work. I was left with nine hours to myself, everyday. The person I saw in the mirror, was not me, bloated from steroids, barely able to go on a walk around the block. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. My body, filled with the aftermath of eight months of chemo.
I had visitors from time to time, but I was in remission now and so, life went back to normal, for everyone else. In the beginning, I would try to start decorating or working out, trying to return to what was normal. At first, I tried joining a gym. I tried going for hikes, I even went in for an interview at an apartment complex to be a leasing agent, the job I had right after college.
Jon would come home from work, tired from an hour commute and I would have dinner ready, making conversation about all I had accomplished that day, as though it validated me or my value as a person. I wanted to show him, and everyone how hard I was trying. I was offered the job, part time and had a few days to respond.
One night, we were eating dinner on the patio where Jon had strung twinkle lights above the table. They were like little planets above us against the pastel, summer sky. After we finished eating, I couldn't hold it in any more. I caved and began. to I cry. Nothing was working, I couldn’t work out how I used to. A typical grocery store run left me exhausted and life felt so foreign to me.
I was trying so hard to go back to a state of normal.
I cried and cried and cried that night. After the tears ran out, I asked Jon take a polaroid photo of us, because I was so depressed. All I wanted was to return to who I was before, I wanted to go back to normal. I was so tired of trying, and I felt helpless. That night, he talked me "off the ledge". Of course, I wasn’t going to take the leasing job and he encouraged me to just chill. “Recover, take care of yourself. Do whatever you need to do, or don't do anything at all. Rest,” he told me.
I was no longer the girl I was before chemo, the person in hopes of external validation who relentlessly worked out and kept busy for all the wrong reasons. I was changed, there was no going back and that night of surrender brought me to the present moment.
I decided two things, I was okay with resting. I would spend my days watching Netflix alone. Something to my old self, considered so unproductive and shameful, I would have never done. The second resolution, was to sign out of social media for a while. I didn’t know how long, but I needed a break. Space to re become myself. I made a video to describe how I felt. I placed piles of papers and journals onto my desk and I set the camera up to film the desk. Then, I turned a fan on and the papers went flying everywhere. It was like the scene from Wizard of Oz when the witch is about to arrive.
I now, had surrendered to my transformation, and the evolution began.
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My world has been absolutely wind blown. I need the summer to reorganize, cultivate my new ideas and just freaking relax. It is with relief that I take a summer vacation to regain myself. If you need me phone or snail mail is best 😘 #peace #latergram #bye #summerbreak #digitaldetox #june5 #oct5 #happy #try #cards #vision #insidemymind #mess #reborn #seethelight #done ✅
I would have friends over frequently, when they weren’t working, they’d visit and we would have lunch or watch movies. It was so fun to have people over, of course it was, that was a distraction from being alone. During my alone time, I picked up my journal. The entries from that time are very sad and heavy, mainly because physically I felt so bad. Not sick, just elderly, poisoned and so bloated.
Months went by without social media and without my distractions, I began to feel more comfortable with not needing to be perfect all the time. With Jon’s support I learned to used the words, “I’m tired, let’s just order out.”
I realized that part of my illness was intertwined with this foundational feeling of inadequacy. Like it was never be enough just to be, and so I’d fill my days to the brim and report my productiveness, as though it would make me worthy of the life I had. Yeah, that’s pretty sad. But it took not being able to do anything in order for me to realize that I didn’t have to do anything to be worthy.
I got pretty comfortable with the alone time and the kicking back. Daily journaling brought me to some root causes of stress in my life. I would scheme about my future plans of starting Amador, but I was far from ready. It was still a time of healing. Even though I felt sluggish, something new began to stir inside of me. I I had to separate from my old self and expectations, to silence the outside world in order to hear myself again.
There was a new connection to something inside of me, but I didn’t know it yet.
One day, after watching an episode of Girl Boss, I had an idea. It had been two months since I applied for the leasing job and been on rest regimen. As the end credits came on, and the next episode enticed me, I remembered something! I had seen an organic smoothie place opening up ten minutes from my house. I met the owner at a farmer’s market while I was going through chemo the previous April (it was now end of August). The idea was planted back then, “I’ll work there after treatment,” I told myself. But, I had forgotten about it completely. It came to the front of my mind and called me to get up from the couch that morning.
I put some make up on and drove there. It was a brand new place and they had not fully opened, but the door was cracked and music was blasting. The place had a pink storefront and big vintage mirrors on the wall, they had photographs from local artists displayed, it looked like a place I'd be happy to go to everyday. I walked to the counter, and introduced myself. The owner was a few years older than me, short blonde bangs, hair tied back with a beautiful smile and suspicious eyes. She wore a band teeshirt and a long flowered skirt with an apron on.
“I met you in April, at the Farmer’s Market, I was going through chemo back then. I’m doing better now and wondering if you are looking for anyone to work the counter?”
She hired me on the spot. And the next week, I was to start the job!
Working at the smoothie place was my saving grace. Although I was exhausted, it got me out of bed at 7:30am and I got to interact with customers and be helpful every day till 2pm. Having something outside of healing felt great. Working there transformed me.
I could have chosen to live the rest of my life as a well taken care of cancer survivor, I would have had entertaining weekends and been very rested. I would have cut my self slack, and always dreamed of how my life could have been if I hadn’t had cancer.
But that was not the new me.
I didn’t work at the smoothie place for that long. It was three months, I got to know the owners well. They were a hardworking and sweet couple who also owned a tattoo parlor three doors down. After a couple weeks, I got promoted to making orange juice and I loved spending the hours with the juice press, it reminds me now, of the spiral machine I use to make journals.
I was inspired by this couple, not much older than me, creative entrepreneurs, living off the beaten path and creating the life they dreamed of. I got to know just how merged their whole life was with their business. Although they worked a lot, they were happy. I knew, that one day, I would be like them, with my own business, a grand work of art, my life’s work. But, it was still just a dream.
The most difficult part of the job, which still reminds me how strong a will I have, was mopping the entire restaurant at the end of every day. On my first day there, the owner pointed at the mop and bucket and told me to mop the entire place. That first day, I couldn’t believe I was doing it. I was weak, I was tired after working for six hours on my feet. Didn’t they know, I was in recovery! I couldn’t do this. But no, I didn’t say anything, because I knew, this was my invitation for transformation. Strangely, this act, was me doing the work. And so, every day, right at 1:30pm the hardest part of my day came— mopping that 1000 sqft restaurant.
Over twelve weeks, it was that very act that changed me.
I now understand that the last hour of mopping was a metaphor for what it takes to be a business owner. It is also, what it takes to be your best self. It’s that point, when you think all the work is done and you could just check out, check your phone, get distracted on Netflix and go outside of you. Choose not to grow or push yourself. This is when the hardest part presents itself. It was the same option I had to sit of the couch and spend the next years of my life in recovery.
But, the path less traveled, is the one that takes a a lot more work. The path that picks up the mop, day after day and gets stronger. This path teaches us to do something extra for ourselves, to become stronger even though it’s hard.
In points of transformation, our vision is stunted. We don’t have a clear view on who we are. It’s because we are not the same as we were, and we will never be that again. I discovered that there was no going "back to normal". This point of intense questioning can launch us into soul searching journey in which we will encounter a fork in the road.
It is up to us which direction we will take. I believe the truth that binds us all together is this; when we surrender to our of transformation, first, we must nurture the self. Then, we answer the call that comes from our inner truth. If we are willing to face what scares us, we can reinvent ourselves and will rise from the ashes, radiant, strong, enlightened and forever changed.