“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”C.S. Lewis
I wish I could write this post somehow in celebration of suffering, but suffering may only be accounted for after the fact, and perhaps deemed “worth it” if we are lucky enough to learn the lessons she offers. It’s been my recent experience that in the midst of physical suffering, it is everything we see, all we know. There is an occasional remembrance that there was a time before suffering, and perhaps a vague hope that there will be a time after it. But in the moment, it fills all the spaces. We just must make room.
I’ve been in the midst of the most intense battle of a long cancer fight. For 7 years I have mostly enjoyed quite robust health, even with the dreaded diagnosis. Of course there were difficult spells, radiation being a stand out, but I always bounced back and my oncologist had more than once pronounced me her healthiest patient and inquired as to how I was keeping so well. How was I keeping so well? Devotedly taking acupuncture and herbs, a restricted diet, dedicated personal, soul-level healing work. All these things I thought would continue to maintain my good health indefinitely and hopefully bring a cure.
But everything changed about four months ago. The cancer had become more aggressive I was told. As my husband and I searched and explored our options (for better or worse, never willing to take the road well-worn until having done our own research), my physical health declined significantly. By the time we found a new doctor, Dr. K, I was told I was there in the nick of time, that in another 3 or 4 weeks there would be nothing they could do for me. At that point, after having been severely anemic and with my GI system on total lock down with fluid from ascites, I was losing weight rapidly and barely able to get out of bed due to the discomfort in my body. I was wasting away and truly wondering whether I would make it out alive from this decline. Our prior oncologist had painted an even more negative picture. She offered chemo, but it was dangerous she said. I would lose more weight, probably need more blood transfusions, feel worse before I got better. In fact, all these things did come to pass. But the new man, Dr. K, gave us hope where Dr. L had not. When we met Dr. K, we finally had a felt sense that I might live through this ordeal.
I started the prescribed chemo regimen, already given at a smaller dose, and endured terrible side effects. My mouth was covered inside and outside with sores. I was having ceaseless nose bleeds. I could only get down a few bits of food through a straw. My blood counts went further down. I needed a blood transfusion and round of injections to raise my red and white blood cell counts. We had to stop the chemo to get me back in order. During this time I was as sick as I had been in my life and could do nothing. I just lay in bed. Not reading, not watching TV, not getting up. Just lying there. My sister came to visit and stayed an extra week. She couldn’t bring herself to leave me in my current condition. She read to me and gave me foot massages. But besides these comforts, my usual tricks and machinations to ease the poor struggles of my body had not worked. I simply had to be the suffering.
Eventually I began to feel a little better. We have been able to continue chemo since then, reducing the dose again. I am doing better, but suffering is still very much a part of my physical reality. There are breaks sometimes, openings in the heavy fog. In these spaces I see that while in my internal world I may sometimes feel like a zero, a void, in my external world, I am love.
I live in a kaleidoscope of love that my family and friends weave around me. With them I am never nothing. I feel fully embraced. Even though I am physically altered – my hair has fallen out, I’m wasted thin, my belly distended – still, I am whole with them. This is an incredible gift. I am whole in their presence.
My Mom and sister alternate coming, thousands of miles, to take care of me. To warm my soup, to wash my clothes. To be with me. My husband sits with me, even during crying jags in the middle of the night when he would be sleeping but for my grief that is spilling over. He does not want to leave me alone with it and he lets me know frequently that he is with me, every step of the way. My friend Lauren comes, the most kind and capable of humans who touches me, talks deep talks with me, about her life, about my life, not afraid to speak of death, not afraid to speak of life. A gardener, she offered yesterday to plant a garden for me to attract hummingbirds.
My friend Meredith came to visit here in Maryland all the way from Olympia, Washington. She was only here about 24 hours but when we discovered my hair was falling out, Meredith immediately found a wonderful woman to fit me for a wig, took me for a fitting, and contributed to the enormous expense of a beautiful, natural looking wig that made me feel more whole and beautiful.
There are scores of others in the kaleidoscope of love. Owen who does distance healing for me every week, all the way from Scotland. The abundant and ongoing blessings of my soul teacher, don Oscar Miro Quesada and his beautiful, powerful wife, Cindy. The many friends and neighbors who visit, bring us food, who have brought us food for months now. Friends who come and clean the house. Spiritual warriors, Theresa and Rod, who have uplifted our hearts with Lakota pipe ceremonies. My in-laws who have made myriad airport trips, delivering my family to me, and who continue to make special occasions, like birthdays and holidays, special with beautifully laid tables and traditional family meals. There are too many names and beautiful deeds to mention in this kaleidoscope. Yet all this love creates a world big enough to live in, big enough for my soul to thrive and yes, a vision, a palpable dream of a time beyond illness.
And it makes me wonder, could it be that perhaps this illness, even with its attendant and deep suffering, has been sent by love. Is it possible that it’s an answer to my prayers to be of service to life? I cannot know the answers to these questions. But I do know that while suffering is real and at times seems to be all there is, so too is the kaleidoscope of love. Whether or not I feel the kaleidoscope, it is there, an eternal force in which, no matter what, I live.
About the Author
Rebecca “Firehorse” Snyder is an acupuncturist and healing artist with over 20 years experience, skilled in bodywork, mindfulness practice, and movement. Holding numerous certifications, she is most grateful for her five year apprenticeship in Tai Chi Chuan/ Qi Gong with Master Tai Peter Hom of New Orleans. Rebecca holds a BA in Asian Religions and Art History from New York University.
A long time spiritual seeker, Rebecca has studied and grown her spiritual path through the guiding light of many wonderful teachers and the study of numerous spiritual traditions, including study abroad in Nepal of Tibetan Buddhism at age 20. Dance, music and ceremony hold important places in her personal healing journey and continue to be treasured vehicles to express a passionate reverence for life. Rebecca has finally found her spiritual home in the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition of Cross-Cultural Shamanism, under the tutelage of don Oscar Miro-Quesada.