Fully Alive — A Joyful Ride

I have to admit, like so many women, I always knew there was a chance. But like so many women, I never thought it would be me. I never thought I’d hear those devastating words––you have breast cancer.

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she thinks about losing her breasts and hair more than losing her life! But, I found that cancer is not as rude as chemotherapy. I will never talk about the pain I endured during chemotherapy because I want to turn the volume down on its cruel voice. I’d rather give a voice to what we can gain when we survive.

I am thankful for cancer because it changed my life! I am more myself than ever before, reawakening to passions I left behind long ago, like writing, theatre and dancing . But even in all my triumph and with infinite gratitude for the life I have been blessed to live, instead of celebrating my survival this October I am ironically grief-stricken, mourning the man who healed me.

Life would have turned to death without him. You can read more about how the voice of Charles Aznavour healed my pain and my body in my tribute to him here. I watched this week as they carried his casket into the church in Paris. His many fans holding flowers, signing their signatures, and leaving messages of condolences for his family. The familiar formal dress of saying goodbye––so dark and dreary––the opposite of his true life force of passion, conviction, and love. People outside the church clapped a final tribute for the maestro while singing his lyrics “Emmenez moi “…

Honestly, I didn’t attend the funeral because I really believe that he’s a legend which never dies.

The spectacle brought about a realization of the grief associated with cancer. It had robbed me of the life I thought I would have with my family for a time. I mourned the loss of our normal day-to-day routines. I did grieve the life I lost during my battle with the disease, but instead of focusing on all that I had lost I chose to stay strong in the beauty and gratitude of all that I could do, even if I had to find new and different ways to be with my children. What once was an easy outing to Disneyland now involved wigs and wheelchairs, but I didn’t care. My smile was even bigger and my joy greater. Thankfully I am now able to live a life beyond my dreams with them.

Similarly, in this season of celebration and loss, I will focus on the beauty and power of Charles and his extraordinary music which fills every day of my life. I find solace in the words of French President Macron who paid homage to the greatness of my friend and healer, comparing his lyrics to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, saying, “In France, poets never die.”

Grief is a tricky thing because it can come out of nowhere and involve so many different emotions. In this way, grief can blindside us. We are angry about something but we don’t know why. What are afraid of a situation but the reason for our timidity seems a mystery. All we know is one minute we are living life as we always do, and the next we are knocked down by powerful emotions. This is grief.

Awareness is the beginning of healing and the beginning of recognizing our grief. In a sense, we need to make friends with grief. Don’t fight the emotional rollercoaster. Instead, just get in and go for the ride. To bury grief under a guise of strength is never wise because it will inevitably reappear in ways that are detrimental to healing and happiness.

Feel every feeling. But also know that this is a season, and one day you will see the light again. You will be able to find joy in the things you always have. And when you do, everything, even a single flower, and birdsong will become more precious than ever before.

This is the gift of grief––overwhelming gratitude, peace, and appreciation for all that is. Life goes on after and even during the rollercoaster ride of emotions, into a more abundant, passionate life you’ve never imagined.

1 out of every 6 women is diagnosed with breast cancer every day. I personally advise each woman at the age of 30 to get checked, whether by MRI or mammogram or ultrasound, whatever the doctor decides. I was only 33 when diagnosed, so if you are 30, go ahead and check yourself !

We are stronger than cancer, especially if diagnosed at an early stage.

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