marguerite's diary

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

I am not sure I have come to grips yet with the reality of what I am facing, but if I am in denial, then that will be shattered soon. Yesterday I spent four hours at the cancer agency. Anne came and stayed with me. We did "lakita japa"(1) together and talked about what is going on. It is so good to have spiritual friends who bring me back to reality if I stray.

I have ovarian cancer, and I believe it is in the serious stage, although they have not yet given me exact information. I have the option of joining an international clinical trial, but I have to decide today. I think I will do the trial. It will be more demanding as it includes at least two surgeries and many sessions of chemotherapy, but I would also be given comprehensive treatment and followed closely. And I could give back to the system that is serving me. I will be put in a random group one group to have surgery first and then chemo, the other group to have chemo first and the surgery twelve weeks after the first treatment. The basic premise of the study is to see if chemo first is a better treatment. Of course, I will have no choice about what course of treatment I will get, but that is where Divine Mother comes in I will surrender that to her. In fact, it seems I will need to surrender everything to the Divine at this point, my very life. Treatment of one kind or another will begin in the next two weeks.

And I am quite nervous and fearful. Although I am one to stuff my fears down, they are showing up in nightmarish dreams. I had one last night. I'm not sure how to deal with this, but last night I got up and sat and did silent mantra. That helped, and also lying down on the floor beside my Kuanyin. She is so comforting.

I realized that I have been harbouring a silent fear over the months regarding death. A fear that all my family would die and I would be left. How lacking in faith it is for me to think that I would be left alone. I think my recurring dreams about being lost are really about losing my connection with the Divine. That somehow I get into the activities of the day and lose my connection.

And so I am trying to build and strengthen that connection. When I first realized that something was wrong but didn't know what, I moved toward the compassion of Kuanyin. I have been using the Kuanyin oracle book.(2) Her little poems give me courage.

July 27

Reality is coming in closer now. I went again to the cancer agency, this time to ask questions and to sign the consent to be part of the study. I have to undergo further tests to see if I am eligible. I was happy that Anne came with me again because I was nervous. We did lakita again and it calmed us both. I am very grateful for her loving friendship. I realize that my nightmare the other night is about my fear and my not acknowledging it. I went to the Kuanyin book again and help was there. This is the oracle she gave me:

The Right Place
Ascend it is vital you hole up in the tower,
It's like being in the forest surrounded by thorns ...
Heaven's highest wise one decides the fate
Don't take on things beyond the reach of your powers.

I don't know if I fully understand it all, but the poem tells me to surrender. And so I remembered to offer everything to Kuanyin, even my fear. I hope she doesn't mind my pestering her, because I had to make that offer several times today, and will many times more before Monday when I am scheduled to have another biopsy. I am quite a sissy physically, and have been blessed with a life without a lot of physical pain and so I am quite inexperienced in dealing with it. But deal I must.

It feels like a strange unknown road I am traveling down, not easy, and yet some richness already has emerged so much Love and Light. And humour. Anne and I had a few laughs today amidst the medical milieu.

September 19

Chemo is like dying. This is my second round and I am moving into the living part again, but the first week was very hard, and followed a similar pattern to the first round. The first day is fine, and then for the next three there is dealing with the symptoms nausea, cramping, headaches, constipation, insomnia none of them very intense individually, but together, a presence to deal with. Days five, six and seven are about extreme fatigue. I had forgotten that part as I was cutting up a banana for breakfast on day five and had to lie down and rest before I could eat it. This is the dying part knowing that the energy is not there, not even to hang onto the Light for more than a minute or two, even that I had to surrender. I am so grateful to those who are holding the Light for me. It reminds me of when Papa Ramdas said, "I ask God to hold on to me, because he must know that I cannot hold on to him."

But as the sun shines and my energy comes back, I see I am moving into the living part of this second chemo process. I played my harmonium this morning and will be able to do some practices, reading and who knows what.

September 29 (third day of chemo)

This morning my heart went out to the young woman sitting in the waiting room at the cancer agency. Eight a.m. and I see the telltale tiny round bandage on her arm that indicates that a blood test has been taken, just like mine. But she's too young to have cancer, she can't be more than nineteen and she's sitting there alone. I send her Light like the Buddhist Tonglen practice breathing in her pain, along with mine and anyone else's there today, and breathing out Light and healing.

I have moments of feeling weepy today, feeling compassion for those on this journey, and seeing the compassion of the nurses and other personnel as they work with the patients with such patience and care. And I feel grateful for the companionship of Anne again, being there with Light, understanding, acceptance and humour. When I asked Kuanyin what was my message for this round of chemo, it seemed appropriate that the answer was this:

With Love
With love, let a new breeze blow through the house
The Way is cleared by Te, Virtue, as it always was ...
So clear your path of the harsh growths that separate you,
When all three can be in harmony, you'll know what's to come.

The oracle felt so right. Love is the basis of all healing, allowing the new to come through. The harsh growth of my body, of my mind can I embrace them and let them go? What are the three that need to be in harmony? Maybe the body, mind, soul. How do I bring into harmony the dark and the Light? There lies the mystery.

(1) The practice of writing God's name.
(2) "Kuan Yin: Myths and Revelations of the Chinese Goddess of Compassion," Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsey with Kwok Man-ho (London; Thorsons, 1995).

As of this publication, Marguerite McAfee has gone one year without further medical treatment and her cancer is in remission. She has resumed teaching yoga, holding a few classes a week in her home in downtown Vancouver.

At 69, she says the biggest lesson she learned from the last year was that her work in this life is not finished, and that the Divine, in its many forms, will be there to the end. And though her experience with cancer has been difficult, it has also taught her to uncover the happiness that resides in every moment, no matter what one's external circumstances. -LMN

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life