Rediscovering Fire: How My Loved Ones Healed My Cancer
On August 10th, I was diagnosed with invasive squamous cell carcinoma. A PET scan a week later revealed the cancer had spread into the local and regional lymph nodes, and potentially into the distant nodes, indicating a diagnosis of stage 4. I would need a biopsy of the distant nodes to confirm, but if the biopsy was positive, I would only be offered palliative treatment. At 45, with an 8 and 2 year old, I was facing the possibility of a terminal diagnosis.
When my sister was alive, I would text her when I felt a new healing symbol coming in but couldn't see it. Before she died I texted her “Hey, I’ve got this symbol coming in. It feels pretty strong.. What is it?” Two minutes later she texted back “It’s a wrench and a rose.” We were going to look at it later on to figure out what it was here to heal. And then she was gone. After she passed, our two year old started going into his dad’s toolbox and grabbing a wrench, handing it to me, and saying “from aunt Wawa” (her name was Laura). After she passed, people kept sending me roses in one form or another. A candle in the shape of a rose, actual roses, cards with a rose on it. And then my IOS screensaver updated one day to a giant rose. Suddenly I remembered: the wrench and the rose. I didn’t know what it did yet, but I knew my sister was sending reminders for a reason.
By the time I got the diagnosis, I had developed pain and pressure around the original site, and I was vomiting. I had let this go too long, pushing through the pain for months. Exacerbated by the shock and grief following the loss of my sister, the cancer had spread quickly. And this, in the end, may have been what saved me. The pain increased so quickly that it made me finally go to the doctor. I started having pain back in May and thought it was hemorrhoids. I went to urgent care, and they prescribed a steroid medication, which just made it worse. When I got the diagnosis, I knew I was in trouble. I was already so sick, it hurt to take a deep breath, I had developed a strange cough, and I was told this cancer was “aggressive.”
I asked our eight year old to sketch out the wrench and the rose for me. When he came out of his room with the sketch, he showed it to me, pointing out the infinity symbol at the root of the rose, representing that love has no beginning and no end. He said it was love that empowered the symbol. “Send it to people who love you Mommy. They will save you.” I began to use the wrench and the rose on myself, and I began making calls to friends and family, asking them to send the symbol. By the end of the first week, 33 people were sending the symbol. The pain and pressure were greatly diminished, and I was no longer vomiting. Taking a note from Ted Lasso, my husband posted a sign above the front door, BELIEVE, reminding us to believe in miracles.
When I called my niece to tell her the news, we cried together. Still deeply in grief over the loss of her mother, she had the presence of mind to remind me of something the pastor said during Laura’s service. It was about agape love, the kind of love and action that shows empathy, extends the desire for good of the beloved, wants the best, and extends help. She said those who were sending the symbol were demonstrating agape love. At 24, my niece is the epitome of grace. With poise and elegance, she delivered a eulogy for her mother that was full of humor, reverence, and pathos. She has just started veterinary school, but she still finds time every day to send the symbol that her mother, her aunt, and her cousin created.
When people sent the symbol, they would report back on what they saw and felt during the experience. Many saw a rainbow, indicating they were actually seeing the connection between our higher selves (it looks like a rainbow bridge). My husband could see the wrench spinning counter-clockwise, reversing the timeline on the cancer. He said the rose then went in and restored the tissues and pathways the cancer had damaged. Many reported the same impressions. One friend in particular would use the symbol each day and would tell me what she saw. In the early days of the diagnosis, when I was still so sick, she saw my father, who passed away when I was 17, and my sister using “some type of force” to “push me back to us,” back to life. When we teach Reiki, we teach that it is “life force energy,” the same energy that empowers an embryo to grow. When I was pregnant with my youngest, I felt a swirl of energy coming into my uterus early on. Life force energy.
As I came back to life, my sister and father faded, and my friend would see what was happening with my healing on that particular day. “I see flames. The symbol is burning the cancer away. I see salt water, get into salt water.” I soon felt well enough to have lunch with some girlfriends. When we sat down at the table, a rose was on it. It was a dark tangerine, a mixture of the root and sacral chakras, which is where the cancer started and had spread to. Many felt the symbol was helping them, as they began to experience synchronicities. One felt she was “awakening,” as she saw an actual chrysalis one day, and the next, a butterfly. Another felt a sense of peace as she used the symbol and felt that it was helping her to stay calm throughout the day.
Another would use the symbol and see me smiling, in a lotus position, radiating warmth and peace. Another saw me running in the woods, which I do every day. She also saw my eight year old in a rainbow t-shirt, smiling at her. Another began to find wrenches on her property and would send me a picture each time. Another began to see her own healing symbols coming in, and she would add those to the wrench and the rose. My mother used the symbol on me every day, and her fibromyalgia went away. A friend of my sister’s, who I have known since childhood, didn’t feel like she knew how to use the symbol, but her daughter, whose middle name was Rose, was a gifted healer. She gave the symbol to her. I debated on asking a friend who had a five month old, but she kept coming to mind. When I called, she had roses on her table. She saw a fish in her mind’s eye, which she interpreted as representing my need to “flow” through this experience rather than get into fight mode. She also said that she didn't feel it was stage 4. “It is serious,” she said, “but it’s not critical.” I was glad I called.
When I called another friend, she said “are you telling me you want me to blast your ass with my care bear stare? “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you.” It felt so good to laugh. I made the mistake of telling this to our eight year old. He promptly taught his little brother to come up to me and say “Can I blast your ass?” Again, it felt good to laugh. But then, he closed his eyes and I felt a jolt of electricity hit me right on the mass. I asked our eight year old “Did you teach him to send the symbol?” “No, but he's heard us talking about it mom.” Now our two year old just smiles and says “Do you need it?” If I say yes, he closes his eyes and beams it to me. When I ask him how he learned to send the symbol, he puts his palms up, as if he is telling me the most obvious thing in the world, and says “Aunt Wawa.”
I went for the biopsy of the distant nodes the following week. When I arrived, one of my friends ended up being the ultrasound tech. It gave me such comfort to have her by my side throughout the procedure. She only works three days a week, so I felt like Laura was looking out for me again. While we waited on the results, I continued to make calls to friends, asking them to send the symbol. By the end of the second week, 55 people were sending the symbol. I could feel that the tumor was still there, but I was back to functioning normally. I was even able to run a couple of miles a day again. The oncologist called the following week to report that the biopsy was negative, but he still believed it was stage 4 based on the results of the PET scan. He said they wouldn't want to treat me for a cure because it would put me through unnecessary pain and suffering. He was going to take the case to his tumor board later that week.
I had an appointment with a surgeon that day, and I asked her if she’d seen the biopsy results. She said she had seen the results, and she didn’t believe it was stage 4 because nothing else “lit up” on the scan between the regional nodes and the distant nodes. The distant nodes were also much smaller than the local and regional nodes, although they were at the borderline size. Still, she believed the distant nodes lit up because of “reactive change.” In other words, because they were fighting something, not that the cancer was in those nodes. She agreed to take the case from the oncologist and argue strenuously for me to be treated for a cure. Later that week, the surgeon prevailed, and the tumor board decided to treat me for a cure. I was still technically metastatic because the cancer had spread to the regional nodes, but I was stage 3C, not stage 4. I insisted on a new oncologist.
When I told my graduate school cohort, the outpouring of love and support was like nothing I’d ever seen. We cried together. One person enveloped me in a huge hug and said “thank you.” “For what?” I asked. “For your vulnerability. You will get through this. We are with you.” My care bear friend is in this cohort. We told the story to them, and then we laughed together. One person left class and went to the beach. She used the symbol over the waves. She saw the rose petals scanning me and said she felt that mother nature was with me in this effort. Another drew a full color picture of a care bear with a wrench and a rose on its tummy. It was the epitome of agape love.
I have been assigned a new oncologist, one that believes in me and my ability to not only survive after this diagnosis, but thrive. She is incredibly competent, full of fire, and deep, deep empathy. She comes from Cameroon and goes back every few months to bring care packages to her mother. She says I have an excellent chance of a cure. I am due to start chemo and radiation at 10am on the 28th. I can still feel that the original tumor is there. By doing chemo and radiation for six weeks, the treatment will “do the work” of clearing the cancer, and I can expect a cure within six months. Instead of having to take a year off, I can graduate on time in May with my cohort.
For me, it will be integrative treatment. I will harness tools from mainstream medicine and holistic healing to achieve the best outcome. I am told that the first few weeks of this protocol are manageable, but the last couple will be rough. Still, not bad compared to what some people must endure in the name of healing. By the time I start treatment, we will have kept this cancer at bay for seven weeks. My loved ones and me. My brothers and sisters of the rose. I am grateful for this experience. I am not fighting cancer. I am journeying through it. When I get to the other side, cancer will just be another gift given to me to help me grow and evolve. The lessons I learn along the way will inform how I work, how I love, and how I heal myself and help others heal themselves.
Yesterday my friend who uses the symbol every day and tells me what she sees texted “I see you surrounded by a huge heart and so much warmth. You are protected.” For someone who has struggled with self worth for most of my life, any residual doubts as to my worthiness have now melted away. I know now, with certainly, that I am worthy of love. Indeed, we all are. This morning, my friend texted “I see a giant heart and your sister’s face.” Last fall, my sister and I got the rare chance to talk on the phone. “You know, I never really thanked you.” She said, “For what?” “For true healing.” “Ah, that’s okay. You’re my sister.” “We’ll, someday I’ll return the favor.” “Hopefully you’ll never have to.” No, I hope not, but if you need me to, I will.” Indeed, she did.
French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardn, an early 20th century priest, scientist, scholar, and mystic, said that the greatest discovery in all of human history was fire, and that if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. My friends and family harnessed the power of love and used it to burn the cancer away. They halted this aggressive cancer and sent it into regression. From here, I journey forward, with my sister, and the brothers and sisters of the rose, into a new reality. One where we are awakened to the power we have as humans to create miracles through our love for one another. For then, we rediscover fire. And, like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes, as we are once again brought back to life.