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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
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.
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: 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
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
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: 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
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: 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: 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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Judgment: 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
The 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