000_1755We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us. So consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life? —Shams Tabrizi

Yesterday, I had a biopsy taken of a suspicious spot inside my cheek. I won’t have the results for a few days, and I wanted to be sure to write this before I did. I wanted to write while I am suspended between the knowing and the not-knowing. I wanted to send this voice out into the world—this voice of mine swirling in a mysterious void, this voice of mine twirling in the fog between mortality and possibility.

Let me set the scene: Carter and I are currently holed up in a hotel room for this week. Our lease was up, so we could not stay in our little blue rental house until construction work on our 1930s house is completed. Saturday, the moving guys, Anthony and Daniel, showed up and packed our belongings into two large moving pods. At the end of that day, we moved into the Marriott Residence Inn with Mazel Tov. Darter the cat is ensconced in Carter’s workshop, with lots of blankets, belongings, and her litter box.

Friends tell me to think of this as a vacation, but I have not been able to get into that vacation frame of mind. I have been, rather, in that limbo state of mind, suspended between homes, futures, plans, and…well…just everything.

And I was not expecting to find myself in this hotel. I had fully expected to be staying with a friend, but that fell through in an odd and miserably uncomfortable way that left me reeling, in a sudden death clench with my old friends Abandonment, Desertion, and Aloneness. I have this recurring daymare (like a nightmare, but you are awake and shivering) that calamity strikes and finds me utterly alone, helpless, and blubbering. So, of course, many times in my life, calamity has struck and found me alone, helpless, and blubbering. Fear something enough, and you can be assured it will find you—probably more than once.

I’ve been sitting with the discomfort that comes when you see yourself behaving badly, and living in an imaginary nightmare of your unconscious choosing. Truth is, of course, that I am not alone. I have my husband and friends. Yet, I feel myself completely alone in the ceaseless exhaustion of this move. I am, suddenly, no longer a capable 61-year-old. I am a terrified, trembling two-year-old, hoping Mommy will come a save me. But in the real world, Mommy is 90 years old and six hours away.

I have faced worse in my life than this move, worse in spades, and yet this move has felt like the hardest thing I have ever done. I was utterly spent before I packed my first box, and it went downhill from there. And worse, I was watching myself come undone and could do nothing to save myself from my own undoing. I kept asking myself, “Why are you suffering so badly in this?” And I had no answer. I could not reel my galloping emotions in and settle myself, no matter what I tried. Green Therapy has been hard to turn to, as the days have been wicked wet and very nasty. Even in rain gear, I could not find the solace of Nature. I could not find the solace of ANYTHING.

On Sunday night, Carter and I were talking about my terrible state of mind, and he said, “Susan. You are a strong women who can take on a great deal and cope with it. And when it all becomes too much, finally, you crumple. I’m worried about you. I wonder, how did you deal with cancer so long ago and not become totally undone?” I stifled the urge to say that moving is much harder than cancer, and I said, “I don’t know. I think I handled cancer as well as I did because I was younger and stronger in every way back then.”


And then I went to the dentist on Tuesday for a teeth cleaning and asked him to check out my lip, which had been ceaselessly chapping for two years. He had no interest in the lip, but asked if I’d noticed the red blotch on my cheek, near my wisdom teeth. Of course I had not. I stopped looking into my mouth for signs of trouble years ago. Why court disaster? Cancer was a long, long time ago.

I walked out of the office with an appointment to see an oral surgeon next Thursday. Sitting in the car, heading back to the hotel, I was plunged back into October of 1988, when I was diagnosed with metastatic head and neck cancer. And itt was like no time had elapsed. The feelings assaulted me, blanketed me, drowned me: It’s back. You may die this time.

Cancer—or the threat of it—does that to you, upside-downs your perspective on every little thing in an instant. Suddenly, you are looking out of an entirely different set of lenses. How you feel about everything: the day, the circumstance, food, the dog, your husband, your face, autumn, everything looks different.

And then, just as suddenly, everything shifted again. Incredibly, unbidden, a deep sense of peace came over me. Relaxation flooded into my muscles. Thoughts came:

In your life, daughter, right now, the only thing that could touch your misery and fear was this gift: the threat of death. Now, see how beautiful and precious the world is.

In your life, daughter, you have never wanted to lose the perspective that cancer gave to you, but you have lost much of it over the years. Here it is, this gift to you: See the world new again. See the exquisite beauty in each moment.

In your life, daughter, you called cancer your greatest gift. Here, it hovers above you again. Will it settle on your shoulders or not?

In your life, daughter, right now, count the blessings of the past 25 years of post-cancer survival. See the bounty of those years, and the gifts you have had the time to bring into the world.

Here I sit, in this sweet and quiet hotel room, Carter snoring next to me, and I am stunned. There is not a shred of anxiety in me about the move, about when the house will be complete, or about the biopsy results. Not right now. Not in this moment. I’ll bet those moments will come, but why court disaster?

Perhaps I’m a woman who does best when my survival is at stake. I don’t know. I know that I feel a kind of laser focus today, and that I awoke this morning without the biopsy on my mind. How can this be? How is it that, at the end of my rope, a boulder falls on my head and I feel as though I’ve found my footing again?

How crazy wonderful that the world is so utterly mysterious: The things that sink us, the things that buoy us, the things that save us. All, mysterious.

Yesterday, I made an appointment with a doctor who took a punch biopsy from my cheek. We’ll see. We’ll see!


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  1. Ann says:

    Thinking of you, Susan…

  2. aletheia mystea says:

    Hey Susan, just read this and my heart is with you…we are traveling very much the same roads right now with moving….what you wrote here about the moving, describes how I feel….I realize that you and Carter moved from your Indianna abode to, Washington in a rental, to a hotel waiting on your house. This move for me is transitional after being settled for 6 yrs. with Desi, then Desi leaving. I have completely plotzed this week…all my resolve, fortitude, crumbled with one inane situation after another. Today, I read your words, a lifeline again.

    As always thru the years, your words have spoken right into my heart and soul, lifting me up, over and over again….thank you for writing these. my heart is with you and Carter….as we are all together….many many blessings be upon you all ways…A

  3. Cindy says:

    Love and good thoughts sent your way, Susan!

  4. Debby says:

    My heart joins with all your other readers, family, and friends as we hope together for wonderfully positive news for you! Sending you love and light, with much gratitude and hope!

  5. Susan, I feel like I am getting to know you as I read your wonderful book, Animals as Teachers and Healers. You surely teach us, your readers, with your beautiful writing talent. That talent brought you to the place of calm that you experienced in writing to yourself as “daughter”. May those words continue to comfort you; draw on them when needed. Sending love and prayers your way that all will be well.

  6. Ann Patton says:

    Susan, I am praying for you, have asked that a good Angel come and be with you, protect and comfort you. I’m sending much love as I know many others are doing and ask that it helps heal you. You have been courageous and brave for so long, facing so many, many challenges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be scared. I’m inviting all your readers to reach out and join hands and keep you warm and protected in a circle of love. Know that we appreciate all the blessings you have shared with us and our voices ring througout the universe asking for your healing. You are not alone; we are with you.

  7. Stef Swink says:

    Years ago when I thought my world would end (it did) with the diagnosos of sinus cancer in my beloved mate (later husband), I read your books, laughed and cried, and found my footing again, in a new world. Your amazingly raw and authentic writing still touches me to this day, especially today and your most recent post.
    Thank you for sharing who you are and how you navigate this mysterious journey. I too have new lenses today after reading your story. I feel a similar surrender as I hear the voice of my new beloved on the phone – wondering if this call is the end of his job and if that means the new house we are buying will still be ours.
    Ah, life – love, loss, cancer, jobs, homes and surrender. I’ll take the wild mystery tour with all its up’s and down’s anyday (well, most days) – and am grateful for friends like you whom I’ve never actually met, but love dearly non-the-less.
    Prayers of continued gratitude and peace to you,
    Stef Swink

  8. Ann Gurka says:

    Susan, You are an inspiration. My prayers are with you!

  9. Stella says:

    Susan I so look forward to all your posts. Your gentle wisdom has been an inspiration time after time after time. And so it is now as you face the challenges and changes in your life. Your thoughts serve to remind me of what is important as I face big changes and challenges in mine. Bless you, My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family both human and animal.

  10. Pam Templeton says:

    Susan, you are an inspiration, you are strong, you are loved.


  11. susie Ryan says:

    Dear sister Susan,
    We will send healing from our Crone Circle next full moon.
    Your Why Buffalos Dance book saw me thru 6 months of alternative treatment for my stage one cancer Adventure.
    Know in your Heart ther are many Sisters, and Brothers with you in our prayers and good intentions.
    Walk in Beauty, Susie Ryan

    • Susan McElroy says:

      To all of you kind and generous souls: Thank you! Your words have helped to brighten my day and keep me at peace in my heart. Today, we’re finalizing our moveout from our rental house, finally. Still no clear word on the new house completion, and no word from the doc’s office, so we are floating today, but not outwardly traumatized. I’m not one who likes floating. But I’m pondering ways to make peace with it. Just relax, my spirit says. Hmmmm, working on that!

  12. I add my prayers to all the others here who,like me, have come to understand themselves (finally!) through Susan’s books. I think this is a fork in the road for her and maybe some of us. To examine how we want to live. Blessings to this caring community of souls.

  13. Karen says:

    Much Love, Susan;
    As usual, your writing is timeless, and so apropos. I whine about my burdens, all the while unaware of how miniscule they really are in comparison to others’ realities.
    I am thinking of you whenever the sun shines bright on our green hillsides, whenever the rain refreshes my small chunk of the world, whenever the breezes bring new smells of impending summertime, and every time I catch a whiff of woodsmoke…………and the 10yr. anniversary of the Okanagan Mtn. Fire.
    From it all, there is renewal…………beginnings and endings entwined. You are loved, supported, thought of, and cared for…………more than you can even imagine.

    Much Metta……………

  14. Terri Gargis says:

    Dear Susan — You were collecting stories of encounters with animals for your book, “Animals As Teachers & Healers,” when I sent you the story of my son Aaron meeting up with an angel in Doberman form (page 56 of your book). FOX TV picked up the story and Aaron was flown to Hollywood to help narrate this story on one of their TV specials on animals (I forget the name). Being in the book and being on FOX TV were blessings to Aaron and made this mother proud. Aaron died at home on August 6, 2011, from a brain hemorrhage (age 34). Five months before that, his father died. Whatever lies ahead for you, please know that you gave Aaron and me something very special. I’m praying for your heart to find peace and your body to be healed.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Terri, I remember Aaron’s story so well! I am so stunned and saddened at your terrible, terrible double loss. My heart goes out to you and your family, and I’m sending prayers of peace and healing your way, as you are sending them to me. We make a circle. I believe we all make a circle…

  15. Carter says:

    Death is stalking each of us at every minute and may strike at any time. Knowing that truth we may use death as an adviser. Not in the sense that death will actually voice suggestions on our way. When we know in our core that every act, word, thought or inaction may be our last we must make that moment count. When we think that every act may be our last we call upon our personal power to make our actions impeccable. Death sits on our shoulder to remind us it is there and in that sense it advises us to be our best at all times.

    Don Juan Matus

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Yes, I read once that kings of ancient times sometimes had a person sitting next to them during celebrations to mark their greatness, and this person whispered into their ears that death was sitting on their shoulders.

      Many, many teachers have advised to live each day as though it were the last, but I don’t think you can get into that frame of mind until you are really up square against death. One cannot imagine this. But the teaching is correct. Death is a potent teacher, opening up realms of beauty and wonder closed to us in the shallow busyness of daily life.

      Thank you, Carter, and thank you all for your support. I feel I am at an important crossroads of some kind. It is a special time, and good to have friends out there on the journey.

  16. kathey says:

    Susan dear, thinking about the things that were flattening me and the things that were strengthening me got me through this past weekend. Thank you for those words. Living in this physical plane is just darn hard. And hard to step back and get perspective on it when embroiled in what causes suffering. Finding peace is what we have to do, however we can in whatever will feed us back to happiness. I wish for you to eat nourishing foods, to swallow emboldening juices, and to breathe in as many fragrances of spring as you possibly can. And behold your wonderful self, Susan.

  17. marie says:

    Thinking and praying for you dear Susan. I “discovered” you and your beautiful books when I was battling cancer years ago.


  18. Marie says:

    Dear Susan,
    How are you doing Susan?


    • Susan McElroy says:

      Marie: The biopsy came back negative. Just some cheek trauma, perhaps from biting it in my sleep? I’ve been wanting to blog “the rest of the story,” but we are deep in mid-move with boxes everywhere and contractors all over the house and yard, still. I thank you for asking me how I’m doing, and reminding me that I’ve left a lot of dear readers hanging about this! Promise I will write more soon. I so miss writing, and am looking forward to those quiet post-move moments when I can reconnect with my extended family of kindred spirits. Blessings to you, Marie, and to all of you who wrote such encouraging words. Don’t know how I’d have made it without you!

      • Marie says:

        Susan, thank you for taking the time to reply. Moving and renovating is very demanding physically and emotionally.
        Take your own sweet time to post again. We’ll be here, we’re not going anywhere. I am so very happy for you and for us.

  19. Nancy Kelly says:

    Wonderful! I am so happy for you!


  20. kathleen quelland says:

    That is great news, Susan! Can’t wait to hear about your new digs! Have a blessed housewarming!

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