This story begins when I was 20, when and I left NYC and the world of professional theater when I realized I didn’t want to spend a life speaking other people’s words.
But that was the prologue of this story. This story really begins a decade later, when I learned that I may never speak again. It happened moments after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer; a fast forming tumor had grown on my thyroid and was spreading into my lymphs. After 6 weeks of trying to find the right kind of doctor and facility that could diagnose the lump in my neck, within an hour of being diagnosed I was sitting across from a technician who was scheduling my surgery. I was being fast tracked because of the rate of which the cancer was spreading.
[PSST. You stumbled into a challenge I gave to the participants of the online course Myth, Magic, and Medicine, Storytelling For A New Paradigm to speak their medicine outloud and share it with their community and on facebook. And so to honor them, and the vulnerability, and courage required to do such a thing, I am doing the same (gulp). Not an easy task for the record Now back to the story....]
Needless to say there wasn’t much time to process what was happening.
But there was a split second of decision-making that would define me for the rest of my life.
I realized I could cry my way— or laugh my way— through this situation. I had experienced a lot of loss and grief up to that point in my life. I had lost my best friend in highschool to suicide, my best friend in college to a car accident, 4 friends to suicide, my most influential mentor as a young teen had committed suicide, I lost a lover to a freak wilderness accident, and the mother of one of my dearest childhood friends had just died. One might say I had an intimate relationship with loss and saddness.
Without thinking, I chose to laugh. I say I chose. But maybe my soul chose. Something deep within me that didn’t involve conscious consideration chose. So when the technician told me I had to sign a statement that said I had to state that I was aware of the risk— that I might lose my voice in this operation— I joked, “You just say that to all the pretty girls, don’t you.”
To which he replied, “No, I don’t. You have an unusual case and we are going to need to cut across your larynx, and you need to know the risk.” I went into that operation full well knowing that the words I spoke might have been my last. (For the record, I didn’t say anything worth remembering. I was too terrified).
When I woke up from the surgery, they held a mirror in front of me. There was a large garish string of criss crossing x's that began at my ear, ran down my neck, and across my chest.
My first words were, “You monogrammed my initial backwards on my neck?”
They couldn’t believe my first words coming out of anesthesia was a joke. Call it luck. Call it being at the right place at the right time with the right surgical team. But I left that experience transformed, on the road to being healthy, and in a new relationship to my family, friends, my approach to life, but most obviously, understanding that having a voice is something I would never take for granted again.
I understood that a situation will be a situation, and you can either laugh your way through it, or cry your way through it, the only thing that is different is how you choose to live within the situation. I left understanding that humor can be used anywhere. I’ve come to understand that humor is a lifesaving device. I’ve used it to focus people’s attention when in it precarious and dangerous situations when rafting through a storm in Alaska, I’ve used it in the agony of heart break, and of course, I’ve lost it plenty of times along the way.
There is a saying that is speaking to me right now, it comes from Sicily and goes like this, “Words poke holes in the universe.” Part of my medicine, if I may be so bold and vulnerable before you, is that I understand the power of words; how they can be used as tools of mass destruction, or the seeds of hope. Words are magic incarnate. We can use them with anger, or with humor. And they will affect people, but even more so—they shape and give form to the reality we live within. Words are the threads in which we weave our realities. And as I claim this medicine of mine before you, and take responsibility for this medicine, I am beginning to understand more and more that you actually can’t speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, but you can let them speak through you, and you can provide a platform, a place, for others to be heard.
It’s no joke to claim your medicine. And in the telling of the story, I look back on my 20 year old self. I wonder what she would have said had she been asked to answer this question before experiencing that operation. I wish she had been asked, had been invited to bring focus to the inquiry. But when I look back…She was becoming the answer all along.
This world of our asking everything us...and more than ever to shine bright in the power of our medicine. What is your medicine?