I just got off the phone with a dear friend of mine who is in treatment for breast cancer. Before getting cancer, she had been a raw foods gourmand, acupuncturist, healer and midwife. She thought she had it all figured out, that if she just did all the “right” things and walked a “righteous” path physically, spiritually and emotionally, disease would just pass her by. It did not. Now she says, “I can’t believe I was ever so arrogant to think that I had such control.” The real trick, she has discovered, is not trying to control everything but to accept with grace whatever your journey might throw your way.

“I am not a cancer survivor,” she says. “I’m just a person on a journey that includes cancer.”

I understand all of what she says because I’ve been there. I was a vegetarian for 16 years, took supplements, did yoga and walked my own “righteous” path. But my clean living was not enough to protect me from getting lymphoma at age 30. I felt for a long time as if I must have done something wrong, that perhaps I just hadn’t been “good enough” to avoid cancer. That’s sad, isn’t it? At a certain point, though, I stopped asking “why” because it’s such a waste of time. I had cancer, and that was just part of my journey.

While I was in treatment, I lost my hair, much of my weight, and my conception of myself as a healthy young woman. I felt like so much of what I had identified with as being me was being stripped away with each passing chemo session. I spent a lot of time feeling as though what was left was a toxic shell of a human being with poison coursing through my veins. As my son had been born just two months before my diagnosis, this became part of my view of myself as a new mother. Let’s just say I had some fears, and many of those fears stayed with me.

To work through some of this, I recently embarked upon a meditation. I went back to that time and felt myself as that dried-out, skinny, hairless, almost alien being. I felt sick. I felt tired. I sunk down into the  lowest point of my experience—a time mid-way through treatment when I was hospitalized for a week due to a perforated ulcer (the drugs had literally bored a hole through my stomach) and kept away from my son and contact with most other human beings because of my severely depressed immune system. I let myself feel it: I had been very close to death. I let go. At this point, I realized there was a light—not external, like the stereotypical tunnel of light that we hear so much about—but a light that was emanating from and intrinsic to me—a new sort of fire in the belly that transmuted the toxins and seeped into every pore and every cell and every vein. This light came from me but was also part of everything else in the universe. I saw myself, still hairless, still rail thin, but now completely ablaze. I realized that all that had happened during cancer treatment was the elimination of—the burning through—all those trappings that I had confused with my essence. The light was my essence. I was light.

I still am.

Then I saw myself in this beautiful state holding my son and nursing him with his bottle, but it was really the light that was his sustenance. While I didn’t have breastmilk for him, it was besides the point. I had the real manna.

So I leave you with this: I eat well, but I am not a vegetarian. I do yoga, but I am not a yogini. I had cancer, but I am not a cancer survivor. I parent contientiously, but I am not a “good mother.” I am light. We all are.