My Friend Has Cancer

As you may have heard our friend, colleague, teacher and one of the co-founders of Yoga on High, Martha Marcom, was diagnosed with cancer over the last two weeks. She has a site at Caringbridge.com in case you want to stay in touch with how she is doing and see the opportunities for help. Please at this time do not call them or send emails (in order to keep their inbox manageable with planning and medical info). If you would like to send a card please send it to Yoga on High at 1081 N High St, Columbus, OH 43201 and we will be sure she gets it. And of course send prayers, reiki, blessings and any dedications you like. She is already feeling the river of support and is floating along in it.

One of my best friends in the world has cancer and I am totally attached to having her live a long life and for us to grow old together. In the yoga world “attachment” is considered by certain texts and people to be a big obstacle to enlightenment but I don’t care right now. I AM attached and to pretend otherwise would not be truthful (another biggie for us yogis.) My emotions are all over the place these days. I’m sad, worried and really confused. Cancer? Really? Even as she is heading into surgery she looks radiant and healthy. She has eaten healthy food her whole life and has a life-long yoga practice. Cancer? Really? I’m also so grateful to have shared so much of my life with her (so far) and know that I will be by her side no matter what happens. And of course this deep attachment comes from love—a love for her that transcends any thoughts of whether or not she lives or dies.

One of our mutual friends called me the other day worried that she was being selfish for crying about our friend when there was so much to do to help her. I said, “Join the club. Were you thinking that yogis don’t cry when their best friends get a scary diagnosis?” Since I am a yogi and I have been crying, I can say for certain that they do. Last weekend I asked another friend when she thought my nearly 40 years of yoga practice would kick in as a support for all this. I was really wanting not to feel as crazy and desperate as I was, even though I also know that feeling what I am feeling is a powerful practice in itself. She was a little steadier than I was that day but we ended up crying a bit together and she reminded me that we know nothing. Knowing nothing was a respite for my mind since my mind was sure my friend was dying soon. And while that is still a possibility, we don’t know. She doesn’t know, her doctor doesn’t know, I don’t know, none of us knows. Truth is Truth and that in itself is the tiniest bit of comfort.

Mostly I can’t remember what I have learned about yoga. Sometimes my body remembers the asanas that will help me feel present, other times the practice seems foreign to me. I was teaching a class to veterans with PTSD and addictions the other day and I heard myself say that one of the reasons we practice this stuff over and over is that if we don’t, it won’t be there for us when we are in crisis. Only little bits of what I have learned are coming through, but these bits are saving my life each day. The other day I remembered to feel my feet on the pavement when I was walking. This is a walking meditation technique that I have learned and taught. That was way more helpful than being in my mind. I …felt….my….feet…and in feeling them I was in the present moment for a few moments until I was kicked back up into crazy mind. The day after that I found a powerful chant that I have been singing aloud and is with me much of the time these days. It is loud enough in the background that my mind doesn’t always have space for all the dire thoughts that seem to have taken up residence.

Now this next piece is cool and is definitely a result of years of training. In the past I would have tried to change the station of the mental radio as much as possible with a kind of disgust. Mind=bad. Shut up so I can rest in the experience of Peace, Love and Oneness. I would have felt unyogic to be harboring desperate thoughts of dire circumstances and death. What I realized though is what a great friend my mind is in all this. It is putting before me all the possibilities of what can happen here so I can get used to it all. Because it is so hard for my mind to consider a world without this friend, it is doing exactly that. Practicing. Hey Marcia let’s imagine a world without your friend. How would you survive? Who would you call for help? Who else would be sad? What would you say to her husband, her children? Who would be sad if you were the one? Because my mind knows how hard this would be it’s helping get ready for any possibilities. It’s so painful but also useful. When it doesn’t feel useful anymore I eventually I remember my chant and feel my feet. I’m also inviting my mind to consider all the ways she could live a long and beautiful life. That feels very useful too.

Back to attachment for a moment. I have lived long enough and lost enough loves that I have learned something else about attachment which is not often expressed the way I would like in all the scriptures. Life itself, teaches us non-attachment. There is so much coming and going of things and people we love that life is constantly showing us how to let go. If it comes time that I have to say goodbye to my friend I believe I will be able to do that and eventually be at peace. I have experienced and survived the death of family and friends before and suspect I can do it again. In this case I am not ready at all and it is more authentic for me to live the love and attachment that I am experiencing. Whatever happens next will prepare me for what comes after that. And after that……

The other thing that keeps me going is our community. My friend is not alone and I am not alone. We have people all around us and we are all in this together. This is not only HER cancer. Though she bears the brunt of it, it is OUR cancer. We are with her as much as she can stand and we are helping with plans, food, reiki and whatever else is needed. This feels so good and True. Some people are stepping forward to do my work for me, others are happy to let me pause in what I owe them. In a life that felt already much too busy, I am finding I have space for her, for this writing and for the part of my work that seems necessary, even now. But I am feeling the clarity of people first. We need to talk and share. We need to express our love and we are. This feels so right. And this trumps whatever cancer brings—or maybe this is part of what the cancer is bringing. Either way we can LOVE.

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5 Responses to My Friend Has Cancer
  1. Amy Fecher

    This is beautiful Marcia. Sending love to you, Martha, family, friends, and the entire YOHI community.

  2. Gail

    Thank you, Marcia. Well said and so eloquent!

  3. Birgitta Bergstrom

    Oh Marcia, so wise, so true, so thorough, so much heart, yes, so much you. Thank you for sharing, and by that, helping so many to make sense of the sad news.
    Light and Love to all,
    Birgitta

  4. Sue Perisi

    Marcia, thank you for sharing so eloquently. I’m sending lots of love to you and your entire extended family at YOHI. Namaste.

  5. Dale Ann

    praying. reiki-ing. tonglen-ing. merit committing. blessing.