This is not a book about illness, but about great love, gratitude, and miracles. It is about what is and not what isn’t. It is about saying yes and not no. It is about light and not darkness. It is about great opportunities and not great insults. It is a journey of the heart and not of the body. It is one of trust and not fear, of opening up instead of closing down. It is one of learning and growing, not resisting and resenting. It is about unfolding outward instead of contracting inward. It is my journey, and it is the journey of Team Suzette.
Perhaps the triumph over cancer, or anything, is not measured in the number of our days, but the openness of our hearts during this mysterious, majestic, magnificent, and often messy journey we call life. How much love, light, and gratitude can we bring to whatever time we are given? No matter what our life challenges are, to truly dance to the rhythm and pulse of God. To somehow, with all our humanity, keep opening time and time again to allow our light to shine. For if our heart closes during any journey, then we have traveled nowhere and learned nothing.
In the blink of an eye, our diagnosis can detour our once seemingly predictable and planned footsteps in the direction of unforeseen vistas and treacherous paths. With a magician’s sleight of hand, the cards of our life are now shuffled differently, and we ask in surprise and shock, “What happened?” Our breath, another sunrise, and the number of hellos and goodbyes before our final farewell are no longer taken for granted as our gears now jam in the stark light of diagnosis.
We all walk through our lives in a hypnotic trance until something comes along that grabs us by the shoulders and shakes and wakes us to stare face-to-face with reality. Then the delicate thread of our life is felt deeply, as if for the first time. Not unlike a seamstress carefully reeling the silk, we are reminded of how easily this precious gift can be snapped away from us. We sense the ominous breath of the diagnosis on the nape of our neck, reminding us of our fragility and impermanence, sending chills down our spine.
We enter diagnosis, staging, treatment, or any challenging life circumstance, and tend to put our sights on the future. Our lives will begin once chemotherapy ends, we feel better, and are back to work. We live in waiting for some desired outcome. We want to double and triple jump over our challenges to an imaginary finish line. However, the journey is everything. If we are looking at some optical illusion of a desired end, we don’t feel and experience the blessings and lessons that are right before us. We miss the present moment that is our lives: the moment that feels like the neck of the hourglass but that also widens into eternity.
To let the world in takes courage. To experience our physical and emotional pain takes great strength. However, it is often our path to discover our true selves from our experiences. We then bring meaning to what is given and allow it to take us deeper and deeper into awakening. Cancer, or any seeming trial or misfortune, can become our teacher. Focusing on recovery, we toss aside what is frivolous and keep what is essential, allowing the light to shine brighter on what is real and true for us. We often add so much that is unnecessary to our lives, and once we peel the layers off, we come to realize what nourishes and sustains us and what creates a heavier burden. The stillness and silence within our own wilderness of healing brings gifts of clarity and knowing.
How do we say yes to cancer? How do we make space when it feels like there is no space left? How does anyone stay open while going to City of Hope every day, where the energy of cancer can linger like an ominous storm cloud? How do we say yes to the drip of chemotherapy, the insult of surgery, the buckle and bolt of the radiation mask, the tidal waves of nausea, the pain in the dark of the night, and the merry-go-round of side effects? The jigsaw puzzle picture of our lives feels as if it has fallen to the ground and scattered into a million pieces.
If we fully embrace what we are given and let go of what we think we need and want, we open up and, moment to moment, allow life and all its healing energy, lessons, and love to flow through us. We can then trust the bigger picture that all is a great gift. Ultimately, the pearls are revealed within the hardened shell of our challenges. We bow to everything as we do to our teacher, without judgment, knowing all is sacred.
It is hard training to keep saying yes and opening up time and time again. However, the closed fist lets nothing in, while the outstretched arm, hand, and heart allows for healing.
I’ve given lessons on meditation and led retreats on “Finding Calm Within the Chaos.” I’ve practiced tai chi for twenty years, facilitated support groups, and seen countless clients in therapy. I have taken many twists and turns in life, faced some dark nights of my soul, and experienced and learned many lessons. I’ve been through physical challenges and experienced the body’s incredible capacity to heal, as well as the spirit’s amazing resilience and strength.
However, the waves of learning keep crashing on my shore. Life always beckons us to a deeper and deeper knowing and experience. We don’t cross finish lines. We just continue to grow. It is an endless journey. I continue to experience that love given returns to us a hundred-fold and the essence of life as giving and receiving this love. Life continues to reveal the deeper movement from form to spirit, the experience of separation as an illusion, the importance of gratitude, joy, and finding meaning in whatever is happening, the body’s immense resiliency, and the truth found in trusting the divine in the 360° view of my life. Again and again, I'm learning, falling, getting up, holding on, letting in and letting go, and continuing to say “yes” to whatever I’m given. Not an easy task in the face of diagnosis, treatment, recovery, or life itself.
I have notebooks full of tests, summaries, reports, and recommendations with my name on them that rival War and Peace. They are a neat and somewhat tidy account of the trajectory of my healing journey. However, boxes can become cramped and distorted, wrapping the experience with a tight ribbon and a bow. Yes, they are the facts, the circumstances. But is that my journey? Perhaps it is the external landscape. Yet we should never be confined by the sharp and predictable corners of the box. We need to keep breathing into what is happening and open ourselves to the many possibilities for healing. It is then that the edges of the box begin to soften, widen, expand, and fade. Diagnoses and predictions disappear, edges smooth and then lift, and life becomes the beauty of the day-to-day working on being alive, open, and loving.
We all have our stories, though our leading characters may differ. The setting. The props. The conflicts and the resolutions. Yet there is no difference. Our opening is at birth, followed by a series of acts ending with the final curtain.
We all have our challenges. Our triumphs. Our losses and gains. Our yearnings and fears. Our pain and our awe. We stumble. We fall. We rise again. We fall. We laugh, we love, we resist and yet persist. We live and we die. In our humanity we keep trying to make sense of it all.
So this is not just my journey. It belongs to all of us. It is living on this planet. Being human. Moving through, going beyond, sinking deeper, making sense, rising above, experiencing and absorbing, seeking and finding, losing, and then reclaiming. The specifics of my story may be different from yours. However, the challenges we face and lessons we learn along the way transcend individual details. What we do with the brick and mortar of our own stories ripples out to become our human story. The acceptance and meaning we bring to them becomes our great gifts.
This book is not the story in the manila folders that read “Hodnett, Suzette,” but in the empty spaces of its pages. It is the bone and marrow of my journey. As Lao Tzu writes...
Pots are formed from clay,
but the empty space within it
is the essence of the pot.
Out of the mud grows the lotus blossom. What follows are fallen petals along my path. They are the words that I brought back home from my days in the wilderness. This is not a “how-to” book. There are many of those written to guide one in their chosen discipline. It is instead a compass pointing in the direction of all things healing. Reflections, inspirations, and lessons from my journey as I step by step, moment to moment, and breath to breath traveled along my path. They are the words of one soul moving through this crazy and unpredictable yet glorious ride of life. It is my testimony to the gifts of love, gratitude, and miracles received along the way. If it helps one soul navigate their own seemingly treacherous waters to a calmer shore, then I am honored and grateful.
The journey is everything. The glory is in each unfolding day. As the renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, it is “moment to moment letting life flow through us.” All of it: the pain, sorrow, joy, triumphs, fears, wonder, beauty, and love. We need only to keep saying yes and open our hearts.
Right here, right now.