Thursday, May 24, 2012

Surrender to Survive

Recently Greta had a homework assignment to do an acrostic poem.  Do you remember those?  You write the word vertically, and then come up with a word or phrase for each letter that flows cohesively.

She chose the word Survivor.

I've been thinking a lot about that word, lately.  I'll roll it around in my head; sometimes I'll even mutter it out loud:  I'm a cancer survivor.

I'm trying to have faith in the diagnosis, and I'm struggling.  My inflexible, controlling mind - the one controlled by the hyperactive squirrel in my brain - whispers in my ear and asks me scary questions:  yes, but are you SURE?   How do you KNOW?

The bottom line, I guess, is I'm having a hard time trusting the diagnosis, at least when I put my own bad self in charge and forget the very keys to surviving:  acceptance and surrender.

In the twelve steps of recovery, the third step reads like this:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.   I love this step, because it enables you to find your own God, your own Higher Power.  And for me it has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with spirituality.

There is a prayer that goes along with the Third Step, and it goes like this:

God, I offer myself to Thee- 
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.

Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always.

The key phrase, for me, in this prayer is this:  Relieve me of the bondage of self.

The third step helped me a lot when I was sick. When I found myself twisted up in fear and uncertainty, scared out of my wits and trying to make sense of it all on my own, I'd remember the third step prayer, which I modified to a kind of short hand in my head.  I would close my eyes, open my hands, and whisper:  Take it. Don't let me be in charge. Take this burden of self from me, and fill me with your will.

Now that I'm on the other side of the cancer, I am taking my will back more and more, and I'm suffering because of it.  I'm having a hard time with missing my Dad these days.  I always miss him, deeply, but we're coming up on anniversary of the last time I saw him alive (Memorial Day) and of his death (June 11th) and I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that he's gone. I play the day he died over and over in my head, trying to make sense of something that cannot be understood by my limited human brain.  I cry and long to turn back the clock, to have a second chance at telling him I love him. 

All impossible, of course.  There is no way-back machine.  I cannot ever change the past.  I cannot change the present or the future.  I am a cancer survivor, at the moment, and I will do everything in my power to stay that way, but ultimately it's not up to me.

Two days changed me forever:  June 11th when my Dad died so suddenly, so quickly and so unexpectedly, and October 4th, when I found the lump in my neck and knew - I just knew - it was cancer.  Both those mornings I woke up with no understanding my life would change forever in the span of a few short hours.  

It will happen again.  Those will not be the last two days in my life that are like that.  So I'm working on acceptance and surrender.  I'm trying to remember to ask God, as I understand Him, to relieve me of the bondage of self, and help me surrender to His will.

This doesn't mean, to me, that you throw your hands up and wait for signals from God to live your life.  One of my favorite quotes is:  "Call on God, but row away from the rocks" (Hunter S. Thompson).   I have to do the work, but I have to keep my heart and mind open and willing.  I have to have faith that things are happening for a reason I can't fathom, that I'm not supposed to understand.  Already, I can even look back on my cancer and understand the things I was supposed to learn from that experience; the ways it changed me that no other experience could have done.

But it's really, really hard.  Especially when things don't go the way I want them to at all.   But I'm working on it.

I decided to do my own acrostic poem for Survivor:

Surrendering to the 
Reaching for the 
Very sacred


  1. Lovely poem, and lovely post. We’ve been talking about recurrence fears at our page, and it’s an awareness that most women want to shake but cannot forget. Your idea of letting go, relieving of the bonded self sounds very comforting, like a weight off the shoulders.

  2. Beautiful poem, Ellie. Thinking of you!

  3. Great post Ellie. I really needed to read this this morning. Thank you.


  4. To say you are a cancer survivor implies you are also a victim. I rather think of you as a cancer conqueror. That implies that you are a warrior who has just fought the most incredible fight of her life and emerged victorious!

    So Namaste to the Ellie the Conqueror.

  5. I love "Reaching for the Very Intimate." What a scary thing for most of us to consider, and how wonderful different intimacies can be. are awesome!

  6. The wise man in the storm prays God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Ellie, if we could just learn to deal with this fear thing, then being a "survivor" would be a cake walk, right? I guess, though, you are right... we just do the "survivor" thing one day at a time and surrender the rest. There's no question that TODAY we are survivors.

    I guess we grieve one day at a time as well... some days... we grieve over the loss, some days we grieve over the regrets we carry... I am full of gratitude for the people that love me... they don't need to tell me one more time - even if today is my last day. They've told me in so many ways already! I'm sure your Dad would have said the same... he just knew!

  7. It is a blessing you still have your mom.

  8. Thanks for sharing...wonderful and inspiring words.
    Peace and love,
    Siggi in Downeast Maine

  9. I am glad you are here to continue sharing with us. I love your poem. Your dad knows you love him. You've been talking to him all along.

  10. I definitely needed the third step prayer tonight. Thank you.

  11. I love this, Ellie! Rewriting my site now, using the "survivor" word for the first time in print, not sure how I feel about that. This helps. Enormously. It's really beautiful... thank you!

  12. HI, I am just blog hopping and guess I hop into a great site. Love your post. Very inspiring. Like you said, one day at a time. Today you are a cancer survivor and that's it, full-stop. Hpe you have a great week ahead.

  13. You take my breath away. That is all.