On Surviving

IMG_6777A week ago today, I was in the hospital having surgery for thyroid cancer. It had taken a long time to get to this point where the anesthesiologist was suddenly saying, “So I’m going to put the oxygen mask on you now.”

Today is my father’s birthday. I had the surgery three days after the two-year anniversary of his death.

I thought I would have to wait until this past Monday to find out the results of the pathology report, the results that would tell me whether or not I did in fact have cancer, and whether or not I would have to do radiation to kill any remaining cancerous cells. The doctor called me last Friday and let me know what they found was indeed cancerous, but they caught it in time and it was small enough so I don’t have to do radiation.

I thought I would write something longer about all of this, but each time I try to write I only get to one or two possible sentences:

The first doctor tells me my neck is enlarged.

When the doctor inserts the needle for the biopsy….

And then nothing but the blank page and I get tired just thinking about the journey that led to the first incision. Clearly, it’s still too soon.

All I can say today is how thankful I am for this life, for my family, for my mother who has been praying for me constantly, for my niece who sent me a handwritten card complete with all of her perfect misspellings that had me in tears: “I relly, relly, relly hope you fell better. Is Uncle Jango crying?” for all the love I have in my life, for my partner (correct spelling, Django) who is everything.

Today, my great aunt on the Jamaican side of the family enlisted a small group of family and friends to conduct a thinking Reiki for me and my husband. Auntie Glo is in her nineties and still teaches yoga. I don’t know how anyone is supposed to say “no” to Auntie Glo. In an email she explains what a thinking Reiki means: “As with practicing Reiki, you all know that in the thinking Reiki we each focus our thoughts on the receiver, [Me], and her present issues, and on Django and the calls on his energies to help her to heal. The meditation helps each of us to keep our thinking focused. Each of us writes in our own way and so we might make the meditation practice around the process of creating a piece of writing –a poem, a blessing a bouquet of healing thoughts, etc.  This is an individual effort and it is up to you whether or not you care to share it.”

So from 3:00 to 3:30 this afternoon, family and friends sent healing energy from Jamaica, Canada, D.C., California.

Such a simple, loving gift: Today, we are all going to think about you at the same time.

I don’t know anything about Reiki, but I figured if people were sending healing thoughts my way, the least I could do was try to be open. At 3:00, I followed Auntie Glo’s detailed instructions that came after her initial explanation. I thought about the past couple of years. I thought about what it means to grieve—a person, or a piece of one’s own body, how it can feel the same. I thought about hospitals and doctors and needles and fear. And I began to release all of it.From my journal: I release each pound of fury. I release each dying cell. I release each memory of death, each death of memory. I release… I release…I release…

If only it was this easy, but it’s a start.

In the past couple of years, I’ve learned more about the thyroid than I care to know. I never knew how important it is, and I had no idea how prevalent thyroid cancer is among women. 2013 estimates: “About 60,220 new cases of thyroid cancer (45,310 in women, and 14,910 in men)” From another article:  “African-Americans have fewer incidences of thyroid cancer but are typically diagnosed at a more advanced stage.” As I searched for the voices of women of color who have had thyroid cancer, I found very little. I needed and still need to hear our voices because we’re already fighting so much.

IMG_6781And I’m thankful for Black women, like Audre Lorde and dream hampton, whose words have kept me steady.

“We are learning by heart what has never been taught.” Audre Lorde

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs is doing a resurrection of Audre Lorde. Today, I happened to  listen to Lex read from Lorde’s poem “Call.”


Around 4:00 a.m. on Sunday, five days after the surgery, the power went out in our house. This was the result of an ice storm that hit mid-Michigan. I’m from California. I’ve never been in an ice storm. It’s devastatingly beautiful. The trees encased in ice become weighted down. I forget what an inch of ice is supposed to feel like on a live wire—someone told me the other day but I forgot. It’s a lot, hundreds of pounds maybe. We stayed in our house the first couple of days without power, our conversations interrupted by the breaking of branches of old trees in our front and back yard. It’s hard to describe this sound. The same friend who told me about the weight of ice described it as a “pop and a hiss.” It’s devastating, pieces of trees that have spent so many years forming gone in an instant. But in true Midwest form, my neighbor says, ”Oh, they’ll regenerate.” Because that’s what happens. Life goes on.

IMG_6853It’s also beautiful. When I see all of these plants encased in ice it almost makes me believe we can preserve things. Maybe come spring everything will be okay. Like a dork, I think of Han Solo frozen just waiting to be melted. Of course, that’s not how it works. Plants and people die. But life still goes on. People do live on inside us. I believe in body memory, in what gets passed down from one generation to the next. Blood and breath. If we’re lucky, we might even have their words, like the index cards my father used to mail me with rhyming poems and short notes I thought were so silly then, but which now hang above my writing desk at home.

“Daughters who don’t return phone calls never grow up to be writers.”

Even now in Michigan, many remain without power. We had to leave our house because it was too cold for me to continue the recovery I needed to do. We have the means to be in a hotel room. It’s not the Christmas I thought we would have, but I’m here, we’re here together, and we continue to receive healing light and love from friends and family. It’s more than enough. It will always be more than enough.

Earlier today I read from my friend Allison Green’s lovely post “Ornaments.” These lines hit home: “Deterioration means more to me at fifty than it did at thirty… I’m more fragile than I used to be, too, but I’m still here.”

Amen, Ashé, and to all the Black and White Santas and Baby Jesuses everywhere.

As they say in Jamaica, Happy Christmas.IMG_6832Rae Paris

9 comments on “On Surviving

  1. Jeanette Cool says:

    Sending more healing love your way — to your open heart filled with amazing perceptions of this journey.

  2. Dr. S says:

    Love, love and more love. And some Revolver soon enough.

  3. So eloquently written. Sending thoughts your way.

  4. fstanfield says:

    So eloquently written. I wish for a super speedy recovery.

  5. Max says:

    You’ve caught something about the ways life happens–good news and the ice storm at the same time. i think it’s 400 pounds of weight on a branch–can you imagine? I’m happy for your happy news.

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