22 Tarot Lessons from My Cancer Experience

22 Tarot Lessons from My Cancer Experience

A cancer journey — from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment to recovery — is daunting, terrifying, exhausting. And it’s an opportunity for a total revival of learning who you are and how you continue to live your life.

Due to a long-term relationship with Tarot, I often view situations and people through this lens. I have also used it to expand my thinking, creatively problem-solve, get inspired and search for wisdom in a non-traditional way. Receiving a cancer diagnosis was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I knew that working with these old friends could help guide me in a direction of deeper self-reflection and empowerment. Humans are meaning-making masters; I trusted this familiar tool to identify key lessons and help me navigate along the way.

The Fool card kicks things off in the Tarot journey. It’s important to note that we experience many journeys through life – sometimes we hop around and sometimes we get stuck and hang out for a while.

Here are 22 lessons I learned with Tarot as my guide. Take (and share) what you find beneficial and “discard” the rest.

fool

The Fool: The morning after my surgery, I went through my deck to see what my recommended way of being was going to be. Coincidentally, it was the Fool. This card is O. Nothing. Fully present in the now. Form has not yet taken shape – it is all possibility and potential. I chose to embrace the highest and best of the Fool’s energy.

Key Lesson: LIFE CONTAINS MANY JOURNEYS. PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER AND KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

For your benefit, I shall work my way through the rest of the journey in chronological order.

magus

The Magician: The Magician is one of my favorite cards. It’s about using all the tools at your fingertips to make things happen. I had a lot of wellness tools in my toolbox and I certainly needed to welcome some magic in my life. What tools could I use during this healing journey?

Key Lesson: PERSONAL “MAGIC” IS IN YOUR HANDS.

 

hp

The High Priestess: Embracing this goddess element was integral – silence, journaling, reading, meditation, time alone. The gifts I received through my daily meditations were meaningful in ways I never could have imagined pre-diagnosis.

Key Lesson: HONOR YOUR INNER WISDOM.

 

empress

The Empress: This was the healing I received from my literal mother and also about letting go of the feeling that I was indulging when I was resting. I no longer view healing as an indulgence or feel the need to justify resting. It is a necessity to SLOW things down. This was a huge lesson in the much too busy, over-scheduled world of my recent past. My body needed the internal sweeping and reconnecting that occurs; I had to relearn that nurturing myself through rest was an essential building block in my recovery process. Additionally, I learned that when I started to worry about things I couldn’t control, a walk outside could swiftly shift me into a different frame of mind. Daily walks in nature soon became an important part of my healing plan.

Key Lesson: NURTURE YOURSELF, INSIDE AND OUT. ALLOW MOTHER EARTH TO HELP.

emperorThe Emperor: Structure was important. Surgical drains had to be measured and recorded. Pain medicine had to be taken. Nutrition was key, especially the protein intake to ensure that tissue was being repaired at a good rate. I engaged in daily exercise to keep my lymphatic system moving and immune system strong, plus non-negotiable scheduled times of quiet meditation to rest my weary, worried mind.

Key Lesson: EMBRACE THE IMPORTANCE OF RITUAL.

hiero.gifThe Heirophant (also known as the “Pope” card): I engaged in learning from multiple areas of healing traditions and channels. I read all types of books in my personal sanctuary space (my living room) and immersed myself in the healing element of music, playing instruments such as singing bowls and drums. I also utilized the ability to “tune up” the inside of my body and relax my nervous system through chanting, toning and singing.

Key Lesson: GATHER INFORMATION FOR PLEASURE AND WELL-BEING. LEARN, THEN SHARE WITH OTHERS.

lovers

The Lovers: This card positions Archangel Raphael, the Angel of Healing, above both the masculine and feminine aspects of one’s personality. The card is about choosing wisely and uniting both sides of yourself – your animus (masculine side) and your anima (feminine side). Instead of viewing the removal of my breast as a loss of my femininity, I embraced it as a healing step to banish a threat and unite both sides of myself in a deeply profound way.

Key Lesson: CHOOSE WISELY WHEN FACED WITH TOUGH DECISIONS. HONOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF; UNITE BOTH SIDES WITH HEALING.

chariot

The Chariot: You may think you are heading in one direction, but you cannot control what life throws at you. I had quite a bobble after I had been feeling overly confident in my progress, having seen too many visitors for too many days in a row and not resting enough. The consequent fatigue resulted in a “mental spiral” in the wee small hours of the morning. It was a setback, and good to receive this wisdom earlier in the healing process.

Key Lesson: THE POWER OF FOCUSED INTENTION IS GOOD, BUT REALIZE THAT YOU CANNOT BE “PERFECT” IN OR “FULLY IN CONTROL” OF YOUR PROCESS.

strength

Strength: You are more powerful than you know – designed from some of the strongest survivors in your DNA chain. The most important aspect of this strength is the deep reservoir of mental stamina. This is sometimes expressed through tears, sometimes through anger and sometimes through humor. Deciding what the most optimal healing approach is for you is a display of strength. This may not be about curing. It may be more about grace and peace or being okay with letting go.

Key Lesson: INNER STRENGTH IS INFINITE

hermit.gif

The Hermit: I allowed myself time to retreat, re-center and re-balance. Sometimes I wanted company, sometimes I wanted to curl up in the fetal position. Sometimes I wanted to have deep conversations and sometimes I only wanted to talk to my cats.

Key Lesson: KNOW WHEN TO RETREAT

 

wheel

The Wheel of Fortune: The period of reflection where I kept asking myself, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” When one thing falls off the “wheel,” it makes room to allow for change to come into your life. This could be as simple as a new way of looking at or responding to the change. Things were changing whether I liked it or not. It was best for me to be flexible and adaptable and let go of unrealistically wanting to go back in time.

Key Lesson: CHANGE IS CONSTANT

justice.gif

Justice: Weighing decisions that need to be made. Looking at cause and effect. Wondering, “Why did this happen in the first place?” Trying to figure things out, realizing that you may never know, and learning to be at peace with this fact.

Key Lesson: BE A NON-JUDGMENTAL OBSERVER… AND BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF

 

hman.gif

The Hanged Man: No movement. Uncomfortable position. The dreaded waiting period of being stagnant and in the midst of the “messy bits.” The pain was not abating, the mind was not stopping, arm mobility was not improving. I had to let go, BE PATIENT and work on “being with” discomfort.

 

Key Lesson: GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE or SURRENDER TO BEING UNCOMFORTABLE FOR A TIME.

death.gif

Death: Thanks to Hollywood, one of the most misunderstood cards in the deck. AND, being number 13 surely doesn’t help! In reality, it’s more of an organic ending to a situation followed by a new chapter – or day – dawning. Right after diagnosis, I repeatedly pulled this card – and one time the card literally popped out of the deck and hit me in the face! As any Tarot reader knows, Death is not physical death. It means transformation and transmutation. Stepping back and urging myself to “calm the f*(^ down,” I was able to receive the card’s meaning. I was no longer who I was when this began and I would continue to become someone different through different stages to come. Transformation was occurring on multiple levels every day – in fact, in every hour and in every moment.

Key Lesson: YOU ARE THE COMMON DENOMINATOR BETWEEN YOUR OLD AND NEW FORM.

temperance

Temperance: Getting in the groove and seeking a more fluid way of being. Perfect balance is an illusion – and if, by chance, attainable, not long lasting. Harmony, such as what is found in nature, was the more healing answer.

Key Lesson: EMBRACE A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND A LITTLE BIT OF THAT. MODERATION IS KEY.

 

dev.gif

Devil: Oh my, this card is another doozy. Obsessing, not able to break free from the chains of the situation. Fear and anxiety are unwelcome visitors throughout this process. They “gift” you with mind spirals, which you can feel chained to, especially in the middle of the night. Stay away from the Internet at this time, you’ll just go down rabbit holes and feel worse. Remove the mind clutter and focus on what you know for sure, what is real right now and connect with someone you love. Heartfelt hugs and a listening ear do wonders to minimize and smooth out panicked energy.

Key Lesson: DON’T GO ONLINE AT 2AM. HUG ANOTHER SENTIENT BEING.

towerThe Tower: Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. In my opinion, this card is the most alarming and challenging. It means that a sudden, unexpected change has occurred that will rock your foundation and affect your whole world. There’s opportunity for major growth afterwards, but when you are in the midst of Tower energy, you cannot even entertain that concept. As they say, the only way out is through – allow others to help you through.

Key Lesson: ASK FOR HELP DURING THIS PERIOD OF EXTREME DIFFICULTY.

starThe Star: Stirrings that you are on the right track to healing. Little signals of rebirth and regeneration. Listening to and learning from other patient stories, yet finding your own North Star to guide you. One interesting phenomenon I experienced was “phantom boob” – it felt so strange and strong that it was actually still there. I sometimes had to look down my shirt to confirm! I now know this meant that healing was continuing to knit things together under the surface… an unnerving, but positive sign.

Key Lesson: RECLAIMING PERSONAL POWER, POSITIVITY, AND WHAT IS POSSIBLE.

moonThe Moon: Worries of side effects from the treatment. Worries of recurrence. Worries of death. The moon brings out our biggest primal fear: the dark, the strange, the unknown, the wild and not being able to see what is hidden from us. One useful way to harness your physiology is to take some slow, measured, mindful breaths. It is the fastest way to naturally alter your state.

Key Lesson: RECOGNIZE AND MANAGE YOUR FEARS.

suncardThe Sun: Baby steps. Beginning to feel more energy and confidence. Breaking through barriers, looking at situations through new eyes and being more direct. Vitality returning. During this time, I started to surround myself with more vibrancy – moving away from my predominately black wardrobe and selecting more colorful pieces of clothing and art, planting flowers that were every color of the rainbow and eating more life-giving fruit and vegetables.

Key Lesson: CLARITY AND ENTHUSIASM RETURNS.

judgJudgment: Seeing the world from a higher viewpoint. Knowing that you never see things the way you did prior to diagnosis. Life is divided into “before cancer” and “after cancer.” Learning to live with uncertainty. Walking has always been healing for me, especially done outside. One evening, I had the most bizarre experience of my body “walking” me home. This observational awareness was impactful in a way that I cannot sufficiently describe with words. As I curiously witnessed my body moving through space, as if on automatic pilot, I thought both of the vulnerability of the physical form and the power of awakened moments.

Key Lesson: DISCERNMENT AND LIFE PURPOSE – LOOK TO A HIGHER PURPOSE, MEANING, CALLING

worldThe World: Feeling whole again. Masculine and feminine united. Dancing with all of the elements. Respecting the vessel of the body. Months had passed. It was late summer and I had been out in my gardens all day, hands in the earth, moving rocks to and fro, watering, weeding, admiring and soaking in all the natural beauty and sounds. I remember going inside to my kitchen sink and looking out the window at all the different shades of green. As warm water ran over my hands, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt true peace and contentment.

Key Lesson: SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION – SYNTHESIS – COMING TOGETHER

Which leads us, once more, back to the starting line – The Fool: Setting foot on your next path in the recovery process – returning to work, starting your individual treatment protocol, learning to embrace a new way of being, understanding that everything is temporary, the importance of being present to enjoy the now and embrace the wow of being here in the first place.

Yet another journey begins.

Note: The cards shown above are from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck.

Next Up: Cool Tips for Hot Flashes

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com

Exercise: “Get into the Groove…” and Move!

I used to exercise to offset the intake of wine and nachos.

A few extra step aerobic classes or Tae-bo sessions and, “Voila!” back to normal.

Alas, that stopped working MANY years ago.

Now, I exercise – or, I prefer to say, “move,” to get lymph flowing and better balance my immune system.

Some of my favorite ways to move:

Walking – This ranks as “best in class” for me. Especially outside in nature. I’m a fast walker and can sometimes move into something that looks like “wogging,” a combination of a walk/jog. Yep, I look ridiculous. And, yep, I feel super alive. But, I enjoy slow, too.

Last August I “loped” around NYC for the entire day, racking up over 35,000 steps and seeing a ton of Manhattan!

fitbit

My “half marathon” around NYC!

Rebounding (Mini Trampoline) – I do this one in short bursts. I weave it in to help me have a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) style of workout. I do a combination of two minutes on the treadmill, two minutes on the trampoline, two minutes of strength training, rinse and repeat… My Fitbit records it as a Basketball workout, which always strikes me as funny because I’m 5 feet tall.

Qigong – I started this peaceful practice when I was healing and continue to incorporate it into my morning and evening routines. I also add the moving and breathing techniques to many of my yoga and meditation classes.

Yoga – Yoga reduces my overall stress level and allows me to appreciate the state of my body on that particular day and point in time. It slows down my racing mind and increases awareness of how interestingly my body fits together. The final relaxation, or

xenasavasana

Sweet Xena (RIP) had the best savasana evahhhh!

savasana, is the cherry on the sundae! When I was younger, I used to skip it. These days, I take a yoga class BECAUSE of those final minutes of sweet stillness. I learned about yoga4cancer when I was recovering from surgery. A friend gifted me with this book and I followed the exercises as I healed. Now, I’m a certified teacher in the y4c methodology.

Cardio Kickboxing – This one is fun and brings me back to the glory days of Tae-bo. I feel strong and have fun doing it. There’s inspiring music, light weights, and I can constructively get out any latent aggression. S*^%*^o)#@%^r!!!

My cancer diagnosis prompted me to appreciate my body and love it more than I ever had before. I was so sad and scared at first, but then became so grateful for how well my body healed and continues to heal. The medication I am on has hurtled me into early menopause (THAT’s a future post – Oh, boy!). I’ve watched the scale steadily increase over the past few months and it’s been hard not to freak out. Both my oncologist and oncology naturopath explained how my body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do – it wants to offset the drop in estrogen by adding fat. But, fat can increase chance of recurrence, so I get stressed. But, stress can increase the chance of recurrence, so… I now focus on figuring out how to “be” with this new way of being. In the meantime, I move daily to balance my immune system. I eat nutritious foods. I meditate to reduce stress. I honor sleep. I practice gratitude for my body and work on navigating the changes I’m going through as positively as I can (and I carry a collapsible fan in my purse).

What helped: The Steps to Wellness Program at The University of Vermont Cancer Center. This program is open to any cancer survivor. It’s a 12 week supervised group exercise program which includes educational workshops on lifestyle management. The American Cancer Society recommends either 150 minutes of moderate exercise (that’s just 21 minutes a day!) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise – or a blend of both – each week to help prevent recurrence and optimize recovery and overall health. Strength training is recommended at least two days a week.

What I wish I knew earlier: After many months, the weight gain WOULD eventually stabilize. It’s slooooow coming back off, but it’s finally beginning to occur.

Some things you can try right now:
Get up and go! Pick something that brings you joy. Like to dance? Try something like Zumba. Like to bike? Hop on a scenic path or try indoor cycling at a place like REV. Like being on the water? Try a kayaking adventure. Choose something FUN that you’ll welcome doing. I have been attending a Monday night Pilates class at Peace of Mind Pilates for the past nine years. An added bonus from this weekly ritual? I’ve formed forever friendships.

kayak

Have fun in nature with friends!

Break it up. It takes seven minutes to walk from my cubicle to the end of the parking lot and back. It clears my mind and always makes me more productive. If done three times in 8 hours – BAM! – 21 minutes of moderate activity.

Practice gratitude. Gosh, our bodies are freakin’ amazing. Think about it. That wonderful heart of yours has been pumping since you came into being. Your eyes are taking in this text and your brain is translating what it means. Maybe you’re listening to music, the sounds of nature or the laughter of someone you love. Or you’ve recently wrapped your arms around someone special – or petted a beloved animal friend. Perhaps you enjoyed an aromatic and delicious dinner. Your body is the vessel that carries around the unique spirit that makes you YOU for this precious slice of time. Walk, run, jump, play, and celebrate the body you have! Cherish it. Love it. MOVE it.

What are some of YOUR favorite ways to “move it, move it?”

Next Up: 22 Tarot Lessons from My Cancer Experience

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com

Birdwatching

The songbirds were more vocal, bringing literal “cheer, cheer, cheer…” with the warmer weather. Vermont has to go through sticks, dead leaves and lots of mud to get to spring, but at least our fine feathered friends signal when we are heading in the right direction.

I had taken the day off. With my surgery the next morning, I wanted to tie up loose ends in order to feel grounded and centered by nightfall. Mom and I planned to spend the morning decluttering closets and the afternoon shopping for button-down and zip-up tops. It was recommended that I wear them during recovery, since I wouldn’t be able to get my arms overhead for a while.

As we stepped into my car, I heard the distinct, “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie” call of a male cardinal right above my head. I’ve always loved cardinals. I looked up and said to my mother, “That’s a good sign.” She agreed. We humans are meaning-making beings and I was taking in all the positive signs I could get.

The next morning, he greeted us again. I told my family that he was “cheer-ing me on” as we headed to the hospital. Hey, doses of humor are helpful.

A while later, I arrived in the pre-op bay. I put on my hospital johnny and socks and got onto the bed. On the wall to the right of me was a framed picture of a male cardinal. Was he following me?

The day after surgery, I went downstairs to my living room. I had turned this into my

cardinalfriend

View from my rocker: Mr. Cardinal perching

downstairs “sanctuary space” where I could meditate, read, journal, relax and visit with friends and family.

I sat in my rocking chair (read why rocking is so good for you HERE!) and in less than a minute a male cardinal flew onto the holly bush directly in front of me. I let out a little laugh and smiled. I spent a few moments admiring his beauty until my two indoor cats came into the room. Within moments of their arrival, they headed straight to the window to let out their own unique chirps and chattering.

As days moved into weeks, I enjoyed seeing (and hearing) more birds arriving with the warmer weather. In addition to the cardinals, there were chickadees, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, evening grosbeaks and many more. Buds and blossoms were bursting into being. The season of renewal and new beginnings perfectly aligned with my healing.

In the mornings, the dawn chorus would temporarily wake me, signifying another day

dieselbywindow

Diesel wondering where his scarlet friend went…

had arrived. For the first couple of weeks, I’d drowsily listen and then fall fast back to sleep.

I began walking right away, as per my surgeon’s instructions. I alternated stillness and movement to harmonize optimal healing. Short walks turned into longer jaunts. Hills were added. The birds graced me with their musical serenades, aerial acrobatics and architectural creativity.

I once heard that the most important thing we have in common with all of the creatures of Earth is our breath. We are all breathing right now. We are Life. Try and be a little more present in yours today. I know that I certainly will.

What helped: Watching birds through the window and on my walks. Listening to the dawn chorus and giving thanks for the new day ahead (before falling back asleep!).

What I wish I had at the time: If I had a bird book or guide, I would have been able to identify even more of my visitors. 

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Set an “early bird” intention. The next time you wake to the dawn chorus, ask yourself how you are going to choose to move through this new day. If you want to go back to sleep right afterwards, that’s fine, but set an intention. What will you add to make the day ahead better? What will you remove?
  • It’s a busy world. Take time out to be still. Listen to the peepers, crickets, birds and squirrels. Taste the wind and feel the sun’s warmth on your face. Notice and appreciate the different types of beauty in your environment. Remember the movie (but real life!) wisdom of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  • Be curious about what’s going on in your own backyard. Who’s visiting? Who are the day trippers and who are the night owls? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Can you aid them in any way? Click HERE to learn about bird-friendly native plants in your area.
  • Go outside and benefit from the pleasing and stress-reducing effect of nature’s fractals. Really take in what surrounds you through sitting still in your backyard or moving on a mindful walk or jog.
  • Road trip! Visit a local Audubon Center or nature center and learn more about our high flying friends. Here are some educational events (nature walks and workshops) in Vermont.

Next Up: Books

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com.