“De omgeving van de mens is de medemens.”
“We live in the context of our fellow humans.”
– Jules Deelder
Dhammamegha here. It was World Cancer Day on Saturday the 4th of February. It’s been on my mind, as some of my friends and family have been diagnosed recently and are going through or coming out of treatment.
I asked my friend Manigarbha, a Dutch order member living in the south of the Netherlands, to write something about how her years of practice helped her when cancer came knocking. Here’s what she wrote:
Last March, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since then, I’ve had chemo, a mastectomy, radiation therapy, and hormone treatment. I have learned how true this line is, and in many ways, I’ve experienced kindness through a challenging time.
Jules Deelder wanted to express this kindred spirit amongst human beings, though something of the strength of this quote gets lost in translation. We are all in the same boat. The Buddha taught this in the Four Noble Truths.
I wasn’t much prepared for going to the hospital to hear the result of the initial test. I have relied on my body for 55 years, and I was pretty convinced it wasn’t going to let me down. So, the hit could have been hard when I heard it was malignant. I surprised myself in a way. The floor didn’t open under me. The rug stayed where it was.
When I got the bad news, it brought the best out of people around me (and out of myself) and I only had to open up and let it in. What could have been a hell realm of suffering became a sort of heavenly realm of interconnectedness alongside the moments of not feeling very well. Friends, Buddhists and people from all areas of my life, (re)appeared through messages, cards, calls, and visits.
Yes, my life changed, but it continued and even became quite rich. Most contacts became meaningful, and some intensified. The situation brought to the fore a web of connections and friends in which I was embedded. It wasn’t all plain sailing of course, and there were moments of overwhelm and as a new friend (someone who had a similar diagnosis and treatment a few years ago) said: some of this process you will have to do on your own.
The thing that surprised me most was my initial response to the diagnosis. I’ve taken this as an opportunity to learn, because then at least it’s of use. Instead of asking ‘Why me?’, ask ‘Why not me?’ Because it’s a fact that 1 in 7 women get breast cancer, which is quite a lot!
We have two books that can be of help if you or someone you know is touched by cancer: Bhikkhu Anālayo’s Mindfully Facing Disease and Death and Devamitra’s Entertaining Cancer.