# 1. On facing death in the eye

And not wanting January to end

A while ago I thought, "I hate January, but I don't want January to end."

Time vaporizes - every year more swiftly than the previous one - and I want to be present. I wished January away, but I also knew that *this* specific January is never coming back, which is both a burden and a relief for completely distinct reasons.

New Year's Eve feels like yesterday, a point in time that marks a series of decisions I made for the year ahead. We're now - already - at the beginning of 2021 month # 2 and yesterday, February 4, was in fact World Cancer Day. Savoring the journey is foreground for me now so, every morning, I remind myself of which day it is, something I haven’t done since primary school. It is a way of staying mindful of the passage of time, a way of expanding it or rather expanding myself in it.

I dislike Januarys: its greyness, its days short and formless blurring into each other, but I like to live. It's not always obvious if one enjoys living or not unless that possibility gets taken away, somehow. For me, having a term of comparison was important in this realization. That's why I've been keeping the memory of chemo close enough. For me, “chemo” is a general term meaning Ana before everything: Ana Before Cancer + Pandemic (Ana BCP.) “Chemo” - short for chemical and psychological warfare in my body - was my lowest period in a road that had been descending for quite a while, even before my diagnosis. But that’s the subject of another letter.

Ana After Cancer (Ana AC) developed a kind of fondness for navigating the *difficult* time. Reading this very sentence is odd, and I struggle to expand on it without sounding ridiculous. I guess that now I try, as much as I can, to approach hardship from a place of gentleness and curiosity. I try to ask open, candid questions to myself. What am I resisting? Is there a lesson hidden in this imbroglio? Can I use this situation to practice skills that will strengthen the foundation of my -self? And: what is the gift waiting for me on the other side? Because there's always one, even if it takes us a lifetime to find it.

I'm intentionally developing an appreciation for the process of deciphering my inner struggles. Again, uttering these words feels funny, because I was so used to things being hard, rigid, unyielding. Part of me is afraid this harmony will fall like a house of cards, but the other part knows that this is about walking the avenue of trust, over and over again. That, and letting the fear coexist with you. Fear is inevitable when you have the complex brain + nervous system of homo sapiens. The path is about teaching ourselves that there's more to life than emotional disarray. The journey consists of giving myself the right conditions to believe in my experience of the world, trust my body, and bring my nervous system to a place of serenity. It is also a path of reading, studying, and broadening my knowledge of all that is puzzling; keeping an openness of mind that enables me to keep reaching new conclusions. Like tree leaves getting blown by the autumn breeze, I let old beliefs sweep past me naturally, once not applicable anymore.

Suffering doesn't need to be my baseline. I thank cancer for this lesson. This was my "gift on the other side” of chemo. The point where Ana BCP gave way to Ana AC. The epiphany arose from profound emotional pain. "Life needs to be more simple than this," I thought one March day of 2020, and this thought came fueled by anger. Anger at who, I wasn't sure. There was anger at myself, at my family, at all the people who ever inflicted pain on me, consciously or not. Right there and then, I decided to remove myself from any and all environments that felt stifling of my growth and emotional well-being, and I vowed to radically trust myself in that decision. Physically, I was at my weakest, but taking that resolution gave me a surge of empowerment, and I decided to ride the wave.

There's not much that we can do when it comes to the shit life throws at us. Illness, loss, depression, deprivation, stress, obstacles, people who hurt us, mistakes we make: they will all be regular visitors in our lives. But we don't need to meet them in permanent inner-conflict. There's always the option not to engage with the mental imbroglio. We always have a choice, even if it seems like an impossible choice to make. Leaving my ex-partner's place on a March day, with my body at its weakest and a potentially deadly virus taking over the world seemed like an insane thing to do. But I wouldn’t hear of it. Sometimes, jumping into the abyss is all we need to realize there had been a safety net awaiting us all along.

Many people showed up for me during that period, without knowing what was at stake. I started receiving food from food rescue heroes at Guerrilla Kitchen the day after I left. I barely had enough money to buy groceries then so when I received the first package I cried profusely, startled by the generosity of all those "invisible hands" bringing me sustenance at the moment I needed the most. Friends visited me at my window, checked in on me, cooked for me, zoom called with me. Most of them didn't know I had just jumped into the abyss, which made it all even more significant. They were just there for me. To be back to my place, to my cats, to my people, to my-self, was a solace difficult to put into words.

The key moments in our lives feel like facing death in the eye. That's how extreme fear can be before we take the ultimate step. "If I do this, I'll die," and it's often an emotional death we're talking about: the scariest of all fears. "I won't be able to survive without this person / this support / this drug / this money / this job / this status” (whatever it is, for us.) It is only when we relinquish our perceived oxygen bag that we are able to see that oxygen is everywhere in fact, and we can find it in the most surprising places. Inside ourselves, for instance.