In February of 2015 my life’s path shifted dramatically.
The one person I felt certain I would know and love until the day I died was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. I thought for sure we would raise our children together.
I considered Tides my spiritual soulmate, best friend, my most magical collaborator, and life partner. When the cancer was discovered, it had already spread to many other places in her body and she was 7 months pregnant.
Thanks to our phenomenal community of healing arts practitioners and activists, family and friends, as well as the exceptional care at UCSF, Tides began a journey of faith based on the belief in radical remission and gave birth to a healthy baby (my godson). (You can read her story as told by her husband, here). I dropped everything that wasn’t absolutely essential in my life and dedicated myself to supporting her healing and my newborn godson.
This journey was a powerful teacher in the art of balancing self-care with caregiving. I knew I had to maintain an increased level of self-love in order to show up fully to love others in this time wrought with challenge. I did my best, but I was not always in balance. My relationship with my body, confidence, and sexuality was definitely was impacted.
Sometimes, I was surprised by how extremely alive I felt -- sensual, vibrant, my erotic energy thriving. Other times, my body felt numb, disconnected, unfamiliar. It was a bit of a mind f*&k to navigate the spectrum of these experiences, and the constant question of when to take time to do something for me when there was so much need to give to others. Despite my best attempts to stay vibrant and healthy, I hit bumps on the road along the way.
The biggest bump was literally a bump: I felt a pretty large lump in my breast mid-summer of 2016. I was terrified and disoriented. Thankfully, it faded after I menstruated and hasn’t returned since, but was yet another reminder -- amidst the HUGE one I was immersed in -- that life and health and our bodies are FULL of uncertainty. I battled to maintain my dignity and still access feeling sexy during the coming and going of hemorrhoids (which, lemme tell ya, is not an easy feat...I’ll probably write an entire blog about it someday!), and struggled with nagging lower back pain. I still danced a few times a month (afro-cuban salsa classes and an open movement space I called “Move InTuit” were my saving grace.) I walked on the beach near her house and would body surf in the ocean as often as I could convince myself that the water wasn’t too cold. My commitment to caregiving helped me keep my commitment to my health -- until she was no longer here to care for.
Tides passed in August, 2016. I was holding one hand, her husband held the other, and a group of loved ones surrounded her hospital bed, singing, as she took her last breath. She left this world as gracefully and beautifully as she lived it.
I was unable to maintain my own grace very often after August. Others around me might argue with me about that statement, but inside I was shutting down. I stopped dancing, rarely cooked for myself, watched more tv than I have in my entire life, and grappled with serious weight and energy fluctuation during my grieving. If it weren’t for long walks with my dog and the toddlers in my life, I would have likely become completely stagnant. I did NOT feel sexy. Or vibrant. Or confident. Nor did I want to.
I’ll never forget the moment that snapped me back into my body again.
A ten year old is to blame: the daughter of my friend, a brilliant strong-willed child I’ve known since birth, pleaded for me to join her in her aerial silks class, and despite my resistance, I couldn’t say no to her smiling face and bright eyes. In dramatic contrast to her impressive silk-climbing skills, the class was excruciatingly hard for me, and 35 minutes in, while suspended upside down, I started sobbing, and realized why I hadn’t been moving. There was SO MUCH emotion in my body, and moving my body was stirring up all those repressed emotions.
Since that moment in May of 2017, I’ve turned my attention back to my body and reinvigorated my practice of self-love. It’s been an uphill journey, filled with plenty of tears and setbacks, but I called upon all the practices and tools I have taught others time and time again as a coach and facilitator, and put them to work -- on myself.
Now, almost two years since I knelt by Tides’ side for the last time, I have a movement practice again. I’m dancing again (now it’s Zumba that is my saving grace), and I have a simple daily ritual that reminds me to celebrate my body, even as it feels different than it did before. I might not ever return to the body I had before my journey with Tides and cancer, loss and grief, but I’ve learned a potent lesson that will stay with me forever: accepting and honoring my body’s uncertainty is an essential aspect of my self-love practice.
I feel more prepared to be with the changes that will come with age and shifts in health, and inspired to I weaving my experiences into my coaching and trainings in service to other women in times of change.