No Mud, No Lotus
Without suffering, there’s no happiness.
So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud.
We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world with a lot of tenderness.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Above photo taken by Denyse at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, July 2022
No Mud, No Lotus
This phrase echoed through my mind much of this spring and summer. In fact, a lot of eastern teachings and symbols were integral to me coming to terms with a surprise thyroid cancer diagnosis. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the Cliff notes are as follows:
Routine bloodwork at my annual wellness check-up in 2021 identified elevated calcium levels which was linked to issues with my parathyroid. Because I already have osteopenia, I opted for a parathyroid surgery in April. At this time, the surgeon found a suspicious growth in my central lymph node. Because the finding was considered unusual, a tissue sample was sent to an expert at Moffitt Cancer Center in NYC to validate. In May, Moffitt confirmed the growth was metastatic thyroid cancer. I was tested to ensure there was no further visible growth. In July, my thyroid was removed along with the rare, aggressive cancer which caused the growth in the lymph node.
The backstory in terms of how I dealt with this news is a bit longer. Other than some generalized fatigue, which I attributed to aging, I had no physical symptoms to alert me to what was growing in my body.
Just as was the case with a T2 Diabetes diagnosis in 2005, I went into denial about my cancer diagnosis. I was more concerned about how a surgery would interrupt my yoga teaching commitments and future plans. A second call from my surgeon about the seriousness of the diagnosis woke me up. I realized I needed to prepare for surgery and hit pause.
Speaking of Yoga, that’s become my secret weapon when it comes to mud. Even when I’m in denial, yoga practices help to ground me so I can better navigate the muddy uncertainty of life. Even if it seems illusive, yoga helps me connect to joy. Deep breathing, yoga nidra, acupuncture and reiki (graciously offered by my dear friend, Mei) also contributed to my dealing with this uncertainty.
Thanks to yoga and support from healer friends, I had plenty of resources to tap into. For several years, I’ve taught Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra at Inova Hospital’s Life with Cancer program. At the time of my diagnosis, I had just begun training to offer one on one yoga therapy sessions to the hospital’s oncology patients. My supervisor at Life with Cancer, patiently offered me all the time I needed to heal as well as steering me to helpful Life with Cancer resources to help post treatment.
Despite the abundance of resources and blessings in my favor, I still got scared. Uncertainty created worried queries. Would I be able to teach again? Would I lose my voice? Did the cancer already spread to my bones? Should I tell people, who and when? Even the best Yoga Nidra practice could not ward off these worries as I tried to fall asleep at night. Then, a funny thing happened.
One night while visiting family and fatigued from so much worry, I went to bed early. I immediately fell into a deep sleep. Around midnight, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I was staying at my sister’s house, in my nephew’s bedroom, so I was a bit disoriented. As I willed my eyes open, who was standing by the side of the bed but the Dalai Lama! His joyful dark eyes twinkled from behind his glasses. His big smile illuminated the room. His gold and red robes contrasted with the darkened hues in the room. His hands in prayer mudra suggested a Namaste greeting. His brown shoes and socks completed the image. I swallowed my surprise and mutely responded to his command to move over to the center of the bed. Before I could respond, I realized he was climbing into bed with me, fully clothed, eyes twinkling, smile suppressing a giggle. I lay on my side, eyes wide open, but too dumbstruck to move. Face to face, I gazed into his eyes. He reached his hand toward my thyroid, placed it there and said. “I offer you my blessing, all will be well, no need to worry.” Then, I fell back into a deep sleep. I work up the next morning with this dream fresh in my mind. All my worries were gone. A smile from the experience lingered as I chuckled to myself at the irony of the dream.
I went into my July surgery calm and confident in my surgeon’s skill. While there is still uncertainty about my condition, I choose to blossom in the joy that life offers. My blossom may be a bit faded and my stem a little curved, but I am so blessed to be surrounded by joy and happiness in life. My first extended walk post-surgery was to a local lotus garden in late July. Thich Nhat Han’s words quoted above rang true. I take comfort in knowing that cultivating joy and happiness is inner work that can bolster us even in muddy times.
As I meditated in the lotus garden this July, I realized fallen lotus petals symbolize the happiness and joy we leave behind at the end of our life’s journey.
May you blossom like the lotus! Much love, Denyse – August 2022