Confession: this is not the column I meant to write this week. I originally planned to write something like this in a few weeks, when a particular anniversary was upon me. But, when I was doing research on my vocation project today, a particular quote caught my attention. And interrupting life is primarily what this quote reminds me of, so here I am interrupting my writing schedule.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent” (Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation).
I am fully aware that certain times of life are meant for reflection rather than action, but I’m not quite sure which is harder — the self-reflection or the action. Both have been incredibly hard these past few years. I have suffered immensely and have completely lost my confidence in myself, my health, my life. Why? Because my life was interrupted. Rudely.
On June 20, 2015, I went to the doctor because my stomach hurt. On May 26, 2016, I finished treatment for uterine cancer. My treatment was the doubled trifecta of fun: two surgeries, two chemo drugs, and two sites of radiation. I lived on my bed, and on the couch, and eventually in the bathtub because radiation burns are best soothed by water, baking soda, and salt. I was hospitalized for dehydration and learned to drink a cup of water every hour. Water became both my enemy (during chemo when everything hurt so bad I could barely move, so getting that water was the hardest thing to do), and my saviour (which was weird because baths have never been my thing).
In all of those places, I thought when I could, and prayed, and prayed. Breathing was prayer, and prayer was breathing.
All I wanted to do during that time was get back to the classroom. Before cancer, teaching was breathing for me. After cancer, teaching is prayer.
Two things in particular strike me. First, my students are writing their final today. I pray I have given them the tools to write their final, and be proud of the work they have done. I hope I have given them everything they need. I hope they will be able to take what they have learned into the rest of their lives. I pray they will remember what they have learned from each other and our time together. Teaching is important to me because my teachers gave me the tools and the drive to get where I am today.
Second, writing this column feels strange. For those who know me, I’m generally a private person. But cancer has opened me up in more ways than one. So here is my reflection.
Walking into the classroom the first day after cancer, I was shaking so badly I thought my teeth would fall out. Was I nervous? I was terrified. Was I excited? I was thrilled. Did I gain back a piece of confidence? Yes. Did I lose that confidence soon after? You betcha.
This year has been a roller-coaster. Sometimes I miss the apathy of chemo because my emotions have been all over the map, and I thought I was going to lose my mind. But I pray. Every night when I lie down, I pray. I talk to God. Some semblance of sanity comes back, and moments of comfort come to me in the day.
I have never paid much attention to what others thought of me. I’ve always liked being a little bit different. After cancer, I was shaky and people’s opinions became of utmost importance. I could no longer look inside myself for that comfort, because my insides were literally cancerous. But lately I’ve been pushed into different kinds of prayers, reflections, and interactions. I’ve started regaining confidence. And now I’ve opened myself up to you.
When I asked one of my beloved teachers for tips on writing theology, he told me: “Be yourself. You were asked, so write you.”
So this is me. I am a cancer survivor. I am a teacher. I like bunnies, and monsters, and all things bright and shiny. I’m not afraid of the dark, and will do everything I can to bring light into life. I value fun, sweetness, and you. I am a budding theologian. And I pray I have interrupted your day, because interruptions are my favourite thing. Interruptions have changed my life.
Life, they say, is the best teacher. Interrupt your life a little, and see what you learn. I think God likes that kind of thing.
Pomazon is assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.