Last August I walked into my doctor's office, listened to him clear his throat and say -- "Adam, you have Thyroid Cancer."
CANCER?! Me?! Can't be! I'm an athlete! I eat well, practice yoga, meditate... Wait... ME?!
What I quickly learned is that within the spectrum of cancers, thyroid cancer is probably the best to have. Encouraging news... But it didn't give me much reason to celebrate.
As the information fully seeped in, I could feel my fear escalate. I immediately started crying, and simultaneously, I could also feel a part of myself holding back.
In anticipation of the floodgates opening, I became increasingly restless. The next 10 minutes felt like an eternity, and the moment I made it out the door, I hopped on my bike, rode in a fog down to the beach, opened the floodgates and cried like I hadn't cried in a long time.
At home I collected my thoughts, nestled into my couch and contacted my family and close friends.
As expected I was met with a variety of emotions; love, compassion, anger, sadness, confusion, fear...
Most of my loved ones seemed to find comfort in speaking fondly about my character, strength and courage; they alluded to the fact that I'm one of the toughest people they've ever met -- a fierce competitor, who can, without a doubt, win the battle against cancer. "You got this, Adam. If anyone can BEAT CANCER, it's you, buddy."
I could feel their love. And at the same time, I was at odds with the messages they conveyed.
In an ironic twist, while in the lobby waiting for one of my initial pre-op visits, a "fight cancer" commercial appeared on the TV.
We all stand up... United... determined to beat cancer! We won't give up, we'll fight this thing until the very end.
As these words echoed from the TV, I sat there, trying to come to terms with the reality of my own situation. It was a pivotal moment in my journey.
Between friends, family, and now the TV, most of the messages I received encouraged me to fight against cancer; however, the thought of fighting sounded terrible to me.
For as long as I can remember, I was taught that if I want something, I have to fight for it. As a man, this often means fighting against other men.
In sports, it meant doing everything in my power to fight and defeat the other team. It was about being tougher, stronger, meaner and sometimes... just straight up nastier.
I felt like I'd been fighting for most of my life. And now, here I was, being asked to fight once again. But I was sick of fighting and I simply didn't want to fight anymore.
Luckily there was another perspective being offered to me. And it turned out to be one of the biggest gifts I've ever received.
The gift was about shifting my view on how I relate to the cancer - to see it as an opportunity to actually connect it through love.
I was encouraged to separate myself from "the cancer" -- in other words, make the clear distinction that cancer isn't something that I had, but rather, a "diagnosis" that has nothing to do with who I am as a person.
This gave me permission to use cancer as a tool for learning; so I began to ask myself "why" this was showing up in my life? And more importantly, what is the underlying message?
From a spiritual context, a diagnosis of thyroid cancer suggests that the person (in this case, me) perhaps isn't living a life that fully connects to their "self-expression," "creativity," "communication," and "truth." Therefore, a blockage, or disease has developed in that area.
In other words, it suggests that I was potentially living a life rooted in disappointment. Repeating patterns of not speaking my truth and frequently suppressing my emotions.
Not easy stuff to come to terms with, and impossible to measure. Yet, the reality of being diagnosed encouraged me to ask a very simple, yet profound question:
Do I fully and unequivocally forgive myself?
In my Masters program I learned that, "healing is the application of loving to all the places that hurt." Clearly, my thyroid asking me to apply some love.
In order to love myself this way, I've had to forgive myself for all of those times that I've swallowed my voice, not spoken my truth, or chosen not to fully express myself.
If I make myself wrong for the choices I've made, I'm doomed, because this kind of self-judgment is perhaps what led to the growth of my tumor in the first place -- and is thus a recipe for further suffering.
However, if I choose to forgive myself for any previous or current judgments I hold towards myself, I give myself the opportunity to grow, learn and heal from this experience.
I went under the knife a few weeks ago for my second surgery in the last 6 months. And the last two weeks I've had moments of feeling frustrated and pissed off that I've had to go through this. Not once, but twice.
I've also experienced wonderful moments when I've opted to close my eyes, take a deep breath, connect to my heart and say to myself, "I fully and unequivocally forgive myself."
I've discovered that this practice is not easy for me; I've been pretty hard on myself over the years.
However, I also realize that this is a process of re-conditioning the way that I relate to myself and there is no "wrong" way to approach it.
In the end, I believe I have two options moving forward: to fight or to love. The obvious choice for me is love.
However, if I find myself reverting to old patterns by choosing to fight, suppress, or judge, I also feel great comfort in knowing that I have the ability to forgive myself for doing so.