"Biting Back takes a compelling look at self-care, setting boundaries, and protecting ourselves from friends, loved ones, enemies, and sometimes even ourselves. Written in a page-turning and warm style, Claudia’s refreshing addition to the self-help shelves offers empowering solutions to effectively remind us to stop inviting troubleinto our homes and souls." -- MELODY BEATTIE, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF CODEPENDENT NO MORE


The Prodigal Vampire

I'm afraid if I don't post something soon you guys are going to stop believing in all that stuff I said before about how "fine" I am with the cancer, so here's an update: I'm still fine, more or less. One chemo down, 3 to go, and I think the worst of the first chemo has passed. Or maybe it hasn’t. It’s sneaky stuff.

But I've been thinking a lot about cancer and vampires and prodigal sons in the past few months – and about healing, too, since that's what practical vampire slaying is really all about – healing, that is.

And here's the thing: When I first got my diagnosis and started looking at books about chemotherapy, I kept finding stories about people who saw themselves as being "at war" with their cancers. They'd say how they were envisioning these little chemo-soldiers with little grenades or whatever, going in and slaughtering all their cancer cells…and that’s okay, I guess; people can see themselves as going to war with their cancer if that's what they believe in and that's what works for them. But for me, the old "war" imagery just wasn't working at all.

I have a favorite story that you've probably heard at one time or another in your life (at least I bet you've heard about "the fatted calf" -- admit it, you have) and the truth is that I think it’s just about the most beautiful story that’s ever been written: it's called The Prodigal Son.

You know it?

Now there are so many things I love about this story that I could pick it up at any point at all and talk about why that particular part of it is so great, but for the moment let me just say that, for me, it is simply the most perfect story about the transformative power of Surrender, of Love, and of Community that I’ve ever heard.

It goes like this: A father has two sons. One day one of the sons comes to him and says, “Dad, I’d like my inheritance now. I don’t want to wait around for it, and I’m wondering if I could just take my half now instead of later.” So the father divides all he owns into half and gives one share to the son.

The kid takes off for faraway lands and has some pretty good times – times reportedly filled with wine, women, and song, and then what finally happens, of course, is that the money runs out, the booze dries up, the women disappear, and the kid wakes up one morning to find he’s squandered it all, and is living with pigs.

He takes a look around the pen and thinks to himself: “Even the servants in my father’s home live better than this. I know I don’t deserve to be a son anymore – I gave that up – but maybe I could go to my father and ask him if I can be a servant in his house.” And he starts down the road back to his father’s home to ask him.

Now if you’ve never heard this next part about how the father sees his son coming from afar – then up until now you’ve missed one of the most beautiful images in any story, anywhere, ever.

Because when the father sees the son coming from so far away, what do you think he does? Does he say, “I’m going to beat the crap outta that kid,” or, “I’m going to let him back in but first he’s going to get the lecture of his life?”

No. What the father says is this: “It's time for a party.” He calls to his servants to set the tables, bring out the finest robes, find the anointing oils, and kill the fatted calf – "My son,” tells them, “My son – who was lost, and now is found – is coming home.”

When I think about cancer and vampires and prodigal sons like that, I remember the father in this story -- the father who never thinks to abuse or even reprimand his son: there are no grenades being thrown from afar, no mean words waiting at home for the son – only love, only gratitude, and a big, beautiful celebration.

I’ve always been hard on myself, full of mean words and grenades. I have a series of lectures and cruel one-liners I’ve used on myself: “You’re fat, you’re stupid, you’re foolish, you’re ugly, etc.,” – vampires brought out with such regularity that I hardly even notice their feeding anymore, you know?

When I got my diagnosis – that very hour, that very second – all that stopped. It occurred to me to let loose some vampires, I guess: “This is no more than you deserve – all those years of smoking and drinking and being such an asshole,” but then it stopped. I think I realized for the first time that I couldn’t go on that way anymore, that I was going to have to start saying nice things to myself and loving this body and mind that’s given me life and taken me here and there – wherever I’ve chosen to go and without complaint, too.

"What a nice body!" I thought, "What a good mind!"

“I love you,” I told it, “and I’m sorry for all the mean stuff I’ve done to you and said to you, and I’m going to do my best to love you from now on, my good old pal,” I said. And then I gave my shoulder a little pat, and my hand a little kiss.

It seemed pretty weird, but I have to tell you, it was NICE – nice to love myself as I would my daughter or my husband, or any friend, to love myself without reservation, like the father in the story.

I won't be using the imagery of soldiers or grenades in my meditations about chemo. So far I'm trying to see the chemo as transformative light and a gentle touch to each cancerous cell.

And we'll see how that works instead.


Camellia said...

I don't know how I stumbled across this site, but I went back to the beginning and read it. I was so taken with your practical vampire advice, it spoke to what I've been preaching and trying to practice for so long, I kind of skipped over the cancer part. I am glad you are taking the route of loving yourself, and sharing it with us. If thoughts are healing, you have many healing thoughts coming from this direction.

Claud said...

Well Camellia, if you're not the sunshine of MY life, I just don't know who is! Thank you so much for coming over and commenting, and for your healing thoughts. What a bright spot to wake up to (after Nap #1 of the day!).


Jaye Wells said...

This is one of the most moving things I've ever read. Seriously. You're such an inspiration.

Claudia said...

Aw, Jaye.

Thanks pal.


jjdebenedictis said...

I'm glad to see you post again; I have been worrying. :-)

And this was a beautiful post. I think it is better to focus on a positive mindset.

I think the talk of "fighting" cancer is useful for people who are so terrified that they have trouble finding the will to just continue living after their diagnosis. But at the same time, I don't think it's useful for a person to get angry at their cancer. It's a negative emotion and it doesn't actually get rid of any cancer cells.

claud said...

Hi Jen!! Always so good to see you, too. Thanks for worrying about me, you sweetie you.

And yes, fear is the "corroding thread that is shot through the fabric of my life"* right now. Not anger, as you rightly point out is pretty useless -- there is that for many people too, I know. But for me it's fear, and it's no more healing than anger is. Sigh.
Thanks for stopping over...lc

*from Alcoholic's Anonymous ("Big Book")

funforager said...

I agree with Jen and Jaye. This is truly beautiful. Just reading it makes all the tight muscles in my body relax. I think some oncologists would do very well to read this post. In very few words, you target the essence of what (I believe)causes disease in the first place.

stephe said...

I'm so glad you're doing well.

I've been caretaking my baby brother and my mother during their journeys with cancer, and I tell you, during all of this, the treatments, the counseling, the advice, no one has ever shared this approach, much less used The Prodigal Son to do it.

I am floored.

My loved ones and I have much to talk about. It's time for a change.

Thank you seems lame in the face of such profound words. I offer it up, anyway. Thank you so much!

Claudia said...

Dear Stephe,

Talk about being floored. I don't know what to say.

I have a friend who told me once she was going to light a candle for me because I was going through something tough at the time (I don't remember what, actually, it was a long time ago) -- but then she sent me a candle of my own to light, and I've been lighting them ever since. There's one I light as I ask God for help, and there's one I light to thank God for all I've been given and all that is.

I'm going to light one for you and your family, Stephe. I'm so grateful you came over!

Claudia said...

Well Funforager,

I think it's so interesting that with breast cancer ALL the docs SO honor the way in which the patient wants to proceed, and I think it's because of what you say here: that so much depends on what the patient believes in but ALSO depends on the cause of the cancer. Only the patient can intuit that and (therefore) which way of healing is best for them. It's a fantastic thing I've never experienced with conventional docs before, and just so cool, how much they put back into the patient's hands.

And thanks for saying such nice things about my post, too. Tootsie.

Susie Fantuzzi said...

For those of you not fortunate enough to have known Miss Claudia since her high school days (as I have), she looks the same! advanced in attributes ... life learning, spirituality, awareness, strength...
since she has not "advanced" (in age) physically.
Does that make her a REAL Vampiressa?
I'm Italian so I made her an Italian Vampire.

Claud said...

Thanks, Ms. Fantuz!

http://jennifergrafgroneberg.wordpress.com said...

Claudia, the way you write about your cancer, and finding this place of understanding, of this big-heartedness and love, then I am not so afraid of it, as I was once.

This is such a beautiful and moving post. Thank you so so much for writing (like others, I worry!) but even more, thank you for being yourself. You inspire me.

Claud/PVS said...

Honestly, on balance so far I'd have to say the cancer has been a more "good" experience than "bad," but keep in mind that I'm sure I'd feel differently if it were not treatable, or if the prognosis were not good. Whole different ball game...

Thanks, Jen.

Angela said...

What an incredible post, Claude. I haven't thought about that story in a long time, but it is really a beautiful one and knowing you, I wouldn't expect you to treat your cancer any way except loving - that's just how you are.

Sherri said...

I just gave myself a little kiss. Thanks for reminding me I'm lovable. Missed you.

Anonymous said...

I've just turned a page in my life. I'm going through great crisis and anxiety and have realized that the way people treated me was only due to my allowing it.

I am a Cancer survivor in remission..I know your spirit will guide you through the remainder of your treatements.

Your words have touched me so deeply.

I hope you don't mind...I told myself how beautiful and what a good mind I have and patted myself on the back..and I too said I'm sorry.

Thank you sooo much!
Take Good Care of you!
All the Best
Catherine :)

Claudia said...

Dear Catherine,

Thank you so much for writing! I am in remission, too - and have new fears now. I'm wondering how I ever thought I was going to walk into this cancer storm and then walk out of it unchanged - it seems ridiculous now, but that's kind of what I thought. It seems that the cancer is going to be a bit bigger influence on my life than I imagined. I am more gratified than I can express that you found some comfort in my experience...that is one thing that hasn't changed since this whole thing started: ever since the day I let go of the self hatred it hasn't returned. Cancer and God gave me that gift - the Dynamic Duo! I am glad to know you and if you ever want to write me please feel free to - practicalslayer at yahoo.com

Wishing you a journey full of Love revelation,

وليد العروي said...

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