Cancer: Bald, burnt and tired

“Learning to befriend the dark means learning to befriend nothingness.”

“Our experience of nothingness can be personal or political; they can be at times the most affirming and unitive experiences of our lives and at other times the most devastating and earth-shaking experiences. What is certain is that our nothingness experiences are never superficial. They are always rock-bottom, radical, of our roots.” Matthew Fox

36 radiation treatments after months of chemo therapy, bald, burnt and tired I was dropped off of the conveyor built of cancer treatments. Close to one year had passed since I was first diagnosed with cancer. Grateful, I was ready for my reward, a cruise to Alaska.

Except for feeling self-conscious about my baldness, I was delirious with gratitude. Oh, the many levels of thoughts and feelings that simultaneously occur within each of us are truly stunning.

I asked my daughter if she would mind if I went to the Captain’s dinner without covering my head. Wigs hurt and hats are too cumbersome for dress up attire. She said that she wouldn’t mind at all.

I was surprised to learn it wasn’t the baldness that mattered so much as it was the attention drawn to me by friends and acquaintances in my own community. That frightened me. Made me want to hide. Made me feel ashamed. Among strangers, I was proud of my baldness. My bald head was a badge of honor. It said I had survived, I had made it. I was strong. Cancer defeated!


Make sense did you say?  No, it didn’t make sense. But then, cancer doesn’t make sense. The competing parts that make every individual the person that they are only make sense collectively, but individually, parts only make sense as we come to understand the intent of each part. My spiritual self was in conflict with the vulnerable part of myself that wanted my hair back.

Don’t get me wrong, hair matters. Hair Matters!

I recently heard of a ten year old boy who lost his hair through cancer treatments. He did not want to go to school because he felt ashamed. Then ten of his friends rallied around him. In support of their friend, they too cut off all of their hair. Talk about heroes. They are my heroes.

Hair matters!

Then there is the story of a little dog whose owner had him completely shaved for the hot summer months. When the little dog got home from the groomer, he ran as fast as his little legs would carry him straight under the bed and would not come out for two days.


And yet! Hair seems so incredibly trite in the scheme of life, within the infinite mystery of creation. Are you kidding me? Hair?

Against the backdrop of the Alaska beauty and the peacefulness of the cruise I reflected. Aside from my vanity, what had I learned? What needed my attention? What mattered most?

While I wanted to live, I was also ok with dying. I was truly at peace with dying while at the same time, I felt compelled to review all aspects of my life. Where did I need to make changes?

I knew that I wanted to do a better job of staying present in my own life. Often, I would get caught up in the drama of my children’s lives thereby diminishing my life. I needed to remind myself more often that my children were living out their choices, their problems, and their consequences.

If I were to die, my greatest desire was that my relationships were healed. I wanted my heart to be free of any resentments that may be lurking in the recesses of my heart.

I wrote out relationship inventories searching for places still needing amends or where I needed to ask for forgiveness.

I wrote endless gratitude lists.

I had learned that at some fundamental level I was connected with every living thing including my cancer cells. I loved that I had fallen in love with my cancer cells as I posted in the blog entitled Cancer: The Dream. They were part of nature, part of God’s creation.

God remained a beautiful mystery. Everything and Nothing all at the same time. I knew with certainty that whatever He/She/It was, I was also, like a wave is part of the ocean.

I wanted to be sure my husband knew that he was my best life choice.

From my roots I learned the radical blessing, “To trust nothingness.” To trust the infinite, unknowable mystery. I loved. I accepted. I was grateful!


What have been your rock bottoms, radical experiences?


Did any of these situations force you to let go, surrender, trust?



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  1. Sobbing……………… making, accepting peace with all and nothing of self once again and still…..a wave… reminded by you this day, be in gratitude — rejoicing in sweet humility and joyous peace this day…..amends made still and again…..openings and closures…..

    Thank you Dawn for sharing you with me.
    I love you.

  2. You ask what have been my rock bottoms? I haven’t faced anything like cancer myself. I think I faced one of my rock bottoms week before last when I thought my daughter was going to die that day. She didn’t. Thank God and that infinite connection. Thank friends with prayers and I thank mostly my daughter’s decision to stay. In some way, I think it would be easier for me if it were me, and not my child. Thank you Dawn for your wisdom, reflection and understanding. Love, Helen

    • Hi Helen,

      The situation with your daughter must have been so very scary. I am sorry that both of you had to suffer through that incident. Those kinds of situations are definitely rock bottoms worse than cancer. Personally, it was the “rock bottom” experiences with my children that got me through my cancer experience with relative ease by comparison to others who said that having cancer was the single most difficult experience of their life.

      Love to you, dawn

  3. Brenda McManus says:

    Hello Dawn, I want to thank you for your very wonderful descriptive writing. I just discovered your blog-post through NAMW and love your comment to trust the infinite unknowable mystery.
    My own rock bottom to date has been the radical and devastating effects of incest as a child and how that impacted my life negatively but also caused my own on-going healing journey still blooming in my 71st year.
    All blessings to you for love, life and transformation.

    • Hi Brenda,

      Thank you so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. I see from your comments that we share childhood histories. I am so grateful that it is never too late to receive relief as we are witnessed on our individual and collective journeys.

      Warmest Regards, dawn

  4. Lisa Shindler says:

    Hello Dawn,

    I think “rock bottom” is a moving target and I’ve probably had more than one. Yours, at the moment, reminds me of one of mine. I was in my mid 20’s, living in a studio apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I was working as a bartender in a neighborhood restaurant in the evenings and freelancing as a graphic designer during the day. It was during this time that I learned I had cervical cancer. The good news was that it was in an early stage. The bad news was that I had no health insurance, no family nearby, and few close friends. Fortunately I was able to be part of a study with the University of Washington and in return, get free treatment. (Those were the days…). My low point came somewhere mid-treatment. I didn’t have a car at the time and would walk to my appointments at Harborview Hospital. I’d had surgery and just learned that there was more cancer that they hadn’t removed. I remember back to that afternoon and the heavy dispair that just settled into the bottom of my stomach – part loneliness, part fear, part self-pity, and part absolute emptiness. I happened to be walking past the St James Cathedral and impulsively decided to step inside. I had been raised Catholic, but had not been inside a church in a number of years. The cathedral was vacant. I walked forward, down the long aisle, feeling the coolness of the space, aware of the echos of my footsteps on the stone, and taking in the amazing beauty. I sat down in one of the front pews, trying to clear my mind. I started quietly weeping. The tears just came and came. After some time, I quietly got up and walked back out into the warm, sunny, Seattle day. I felt an unusual lightness in the center of me. I know I was probably feeling a relief from the release of long held-in feelings, but it was a precious gift and a turning point for sure.

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