My choice of a new life over cancer

Being in New York

In my mind, my choice is clear.

Tonight it’s snowing again. I watch the snow plow clear the road for the last time. I’m cold. I love my house with all its windows. I need the light; still it’s always cold.

Just a week ago I was in Dallas sweating in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. A consultation with the doctor and the rest of the time visiting with my cousin and my brother.

Is it the cold that makes me feel I’m losing my soul here in New York? I love my job, my boss, my friends. What is pulling on me so? Maybe I need time with my children and grandchildren who live in the west.

The phone rings, bringing me back to my awareness of the dark and the cold.

“Hello....Oh, hi Dr. Ray.” For forty-five minutes we talk test results, what they mean, diet, supplements, protocol and prognosis.

Cancer! Why me God? I eat right, I exercise, I meditate.

I need to move back west. I need sunshine. 

My husband, Eric needs to move west too. He’s happiest when he’s there. But he has some strange need to stay in New York. I think he needs his job more than he needs me or even to be happy. Maybe he is happy. 

If I am going to die I do not want to die here. I want to die in the sun near the people I love.

Traveling Cross-Country

A funny thing about listening to your heart. 

I knew as I drove out of New York State I was leaving my cancer behind. Yes, I did follow the diet and exercise and take the supplements, but it was the leaving that was most healing. 

With each mile as I moved westward toward more sunny days and someplace where I can finally be warm again I felt like Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of cancer cells behind. 

Eric had talked as if he were in agreement. We had taken vacations to New Mexico, Texas and Arizona looking for such a place. In the end we always came back to New York and continued in the same interminable rut.

Driving across the country, state by state, I am aware of how beautiful America is. It is early September and my drive is blessed with perfect weather. I start my days early and end them early. 

I don’t feel any regret about leaving a 20-year marriage. I experienced great love and learned a lot about myself. I feel I’m a better person for it. I may never know what drew—or pushed—Eric away. In the end I resented the wall he’d erected between us.  

I hear Dr. Ray say, “You have to let go of your resentment, it’s a major contributor to cancer.” Loving kindness, this is where I want my thoughts to come from—where I want my heart to be. 

There is something about driving cross-country; it keeps you looking forward. You become aware of leaving the past behind.

I stop for a night in Mishawaka, Indiana. The hotel is just off I-90 in an area that looks like it’s part of a college town. I treat myself to dinner at Bonefish Grill where I have the most amazing Bang Bang Shrimp. 

I don’t mind eating alone. I think people who don’t like being alone don’t like who they are alone with. I savor my shrimp and try to detect the flavors so I can reproduce this dish. Eric says I’m a food snob. Maybe he’s right, or is it just that I enjoy good food—all aspects of it? I like planning meals, shopping for the right ingredients, preparing the meal and even the cleanup.  

I am awake at 3:30 am. Wide awake. I decide to leave so I can be through Chicago before rush hour. The desk clerk is mopping the hotel lobby and looks up. If it weren’t for my suitcase I would feel like a prostitute slipping out after a night’s work. Even at 4:00 am Chicago is busy with people heading to the airport or to their jobs. I drive up the west shore of Lake Michigan, gifted with a glorious sunrise over morning mist. 

The following day I stop at a rest stop on a butte above the Missouri River which bisects South Dakota. 

From this vantage point I see a small town on the opposite shore. The map says Chamberlain, population 2000. What a lovely place to disappear for a while; a place where you would feel protected and allowed to heal.  

Swallows are flying over the river and to their nests in a cliff side I cannot see. I think I am in Lakota country and am overwhelmed with a sense of peace and belonging to this land. 

From nowhere a red-tailed hawk rises up and over me and begins to circle. It’s here, in the middle of nowhere, where I finally break down and cry for a past that is over and a future I am yet to see.

As I come across the mountains into Utah I pull into a rest stop to walk and stretch my back. On the trail I stop to talk with a long-haul truck driver. His home is in Reno; his interests are remote airplanes and helicopters. From his cell phone he shows me an expert flying a remote helicopter and I am taken with his passion. On his part I’m sure he was happy to have someone willing to listen to him talk about flying remote-control planes. I imagine his wife has heard enough.

As I drive along the Truckee River coming into Reno, I’m grateful for my children who live there. I feel like I am coming home.

Choosing Life

You must be thinking, what is a sixty-four year old woman doing walking—in my case driving—away for a 20-year marriage and a home that may or may not sell, with two thousand dollars in the bank and a five hundred dollar gas card in her pocket, knowing she will have to live with her children. Is this a mistake?   

Reno is sunny; even when it’s cold there is usually sunshine. I have divested myself of all but my most cherished possessions and some kitchen items I am attached to. I settle into my daughter’s home and start the process of finding a job. 

This is a process I feel obligated to undertake. I don’t get unemployment because I left my last job voluntarily. I join a state-sponsored network of professionals who are looking for work. I teach classes on how to deal with the question “How much do you need to make?” that always comes up in job interviews.  

I find a job at a real estate company where I support a woman who specializes in foreclosures. 

Being involved in the process of selling homes people can no longer afford because they have lost their jobs or because they are upside down doesn’t feel right.  Where is the loving kindness? 

The work isn’t difficult, but this woman is. I looked up “micro-management” and there she was. She is young, convinced she’s the only person who can do anything right, and does not take responsibility for her mistakes. 

I become very good at documenting everything I do, and saving copies of every e-mail she sends me. In the end she has her husband tell me she doesn’t feel I’m right for the job and I am in total agreement.  

What am I doing working for someone who has so much to prove? My boss in New York was the best. He gave me lots to do, then left me alone to do it. He showed his appreciation and trusted me to administer a nine-million-dollar project.   

Life is too short; I take early retirement. 

Retirement when you are living around family is redefined as “Mom’s not working; she can do it.”  So my life becomes about picking up grandkids, taking them to the doctor, cooking, etc. I don’t mind. 

I divide my time between living in a trailer on a mountain and my daughter’s apartment in Reno. The mountain is serene and healing; the city is busy and rewarding. 

There is still something I need to do. I need to reestablish my spiritual life.  

I have the opportunity to study under a spiritual healer. I take classes at the Center for Spiritual Living. I read books. I let nature reconnect me to my soul, and I have wonderful discussions with my daughter.

For two years I’m part of a healing process. I am healing myself, and I am witness to my daughters healing their lives.  

This healing is not just of the body—it’s of the soul as well. 

I fly to Dallas for retesting and discover my cancer is gone. 

Was my decision to leave my husband, reunite with my children and reinvent myself a mistake? I think not.

--Gertie Italiano


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