Losing Myself, Finding Myself: Learning the Lessons of Illness

By Cynthia Greb

I have so many stories to share. We all do, do we not?

Eight years ago I was surprised to find out I had early breast cancer.

Dancing Chakra Energies, painted during my healing journey. (C)Cynthia Greb, 2012

I think pretty much every person alive gets a little freaked out when they hear that C word. It was such a huge wake-up call for me because I’d always considered myself very healthy. After a long process of meeting with various doctors and doing an enormous amount of research and reflection, I decided to treat it very minimally with lumpectomy only, and then changing to a largely vegetarian diet and losing some weight. I also took some extended time off from work.

Over the course of the ensuing year I had occasional part-time work, but at that point, absolutely nothing in me wanted a regular job. I needed to retreat from the workaday world. It was time for some serious soul-searching, healing, dreaming, and writing. It was time for me to pay attention to my own needs instead of caring for everyone else.

I will grant you that I lived in financial poverty that year, but it was very much worth it. I had a sweet nest in which to live. (I had approached friends asking if I might barter for a place to live, and they generously said yes.) I had a lot of alone time. I was blessed with a sweet lover who nurtured me physically and emotionally. I had time to draw and paint and spend time in nature. And eventually, after about one full year, I got my message. It was this:

Life is short. Do more of what you love. Do less of what does not feed and nourish you.

Autumn in the Catskills, photographed during my road trip. (c)Cynthia Greb, 2013

For a few years I’d been dreaming of traveling the country in an RV. I certainly didn’t have money for an RV, but I figured I could still take a road trip. So I moved my things into storage and instead of paying money for rent, for a month or two I traveled. All I needed was money for gas, food, phone, and car insurance as I would be staying with friends along the way. I began with a mini vacation in my girlfriend’s home while she and her daughter were away camping, and then I journeyed north, through the autumn landscape, visiting a total of seven friends in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. It was wonderful to have time to simply sit and chat, to take walks in the woods, to take photographs of the beauty that surrounded me, and to share some leisurely meals. This felt like how life was meant to be. None of that rushing around. Just good people, beautiful scenery, and time….

Next I bought a round trip ticket to visit dear friends in Colorado and New Mexico. I missed the Southwest.

Watercolor-like views from a sunrise walk while I stayed with a friend in Colorado Springs. (C)Cynthia Greb, 2012

I had come back east to take care of my parents. (I was caring for them while simultaneously working for a hospice organization. Over the course of sixteen months, I got unbelievably burned out. I truly believe this contributed to my illness.) At last my family found good caregivers for my parents and things stabilized enough so that I could consider allowing myself to do what my heart yearned to do. And so, after exploring options in both Colorado and Santa Fe, I ended up settling in an incredibly gorgeous and heartwarming place in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado, just a little over an hour’s drive from the northern New Mexico border. I was filled with so much joy there. Each day, the beauty just took my breath away.

While there, I did come back twice to be with each parent for the last months of their lives. And, each time, though I was infinitely glad I had chosen to spend such precious time with them, I had also, once again, kind of lost myself. But then, eventually, I would come back. Back to my soul’s whispers.

What do you love, Cindy? What is most important? Do that.

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