Lately I’ve had a few strange coincidences take place. And while most of them don’t “mean” anything immediately apparent, I think that even a random, seemingly meaningless aligning of events can serve a purpose, even if only to remind me that everything is falling into place whether I agree or not. And so, I shall now detail these events for the entertainment of anyone who finds such things as fascinating as I do.

1. There’s a website where people add funny captions to pictures of pets, and I visit it a couple times a week because it really does crack me up sometimes. Animals are cute, and people are funny, so sue me. Anyway, the submission below  was hilarious to me, but at the same time I had a quick thought of  “I never thought of yogurt as something a dog would like”. The next day, I saw a commercial I had never seen before, for a special yogurt made just for dogs.

2. I was sitting at the pharmacy waiting for a prescription, and was reading a Time magazine article about Tom Hanks. There was nobody around, as I had arrived at a slow time of day for them. About halfway through the article, a woman walked up to the counter and said “Picking up two for Hanks, please”.

3. I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my family…yeah, we play it…and one of the questions was about Skylab, the United States’ first space station. During a moment of down time in the game, I picked a card from the middle of the deck just to see what questions were on it. The first question my eye fell on was another question about Skylab. The odds of this seemed pretty slim to me.

4. The same day of the Trivial Pursuit game, my mother had been telling me about a guy she used to know named Pat Riley. One of my questions was to name a certain basketball coach…and since Pat Riley was the only basketball coach I could think of, I guessed him and said “yeah Ma, you were just talking about him, haha…” (it’s not the same guy). A short while later, a different sports question asked how many championships Pat Riley had won with the LA Lakers.

5. Driving along one day recently, I was flipping the radio stations. “Wild World” by Cat Stevens was just starting, a song I love and proceeded to crank up. The first car to pass me in the opposite direction after finding the song had a license plate that said “CAT 15”.

6. At work, I was talking to a co-worker who is also a very close friend…we were wondering about the history of the building our office is in and what year it was built, but we couldn’t find it on the website we were looking on. We eventually said screw it, and moved on to something else…

Fast forward approximately one hour, and a local police officer stops by to say hello to us. We work for the state, and sometimes have to interact with the police, so it’s not uncommon for them to stop by and say hello once in awhile. However, this particular officer, we had never seen before. He proceeded to tell us that he used to work there from 1976-81, and chatterboxed away about the history of the building. He told us it was built during WWII, and the pine trees surrounding it were planted by Yale University in the 60’s to test how different pines reacted to that particular soil…and that a man by the name of Garfield had once run the building for years, and there’s a legend about “Garfield’s Ghost” roaming the building.

Now that was especially interesting to me, since during an overnight shift I had very clearly seen a shadowed figure in the second floor window looking down at me in the parking lot, in a lucid/out of body type experience.

So not only did this cop show up to answer our questions about the building…literally, he just pulled into the parking lot and started talking, we didn’t ask the guy a thing…but I got a very cool lead on a ghost experience I’d had there a year before.

All of the above coincidences have happened within the last month. But probably the strangest coincidence to happen to me took place a little over a year ago. And so I save the best for last.

7. For some time, I had/have been basically obsessed with King Philip’s War, a conflict that took place in New England before America was even America. The story of this war had been heavily on my mind, since I live and drive on some very specific battlegrounds every day. I feel the energy of this conflict very strongly at times.

One day, I was driving along a main street, at about 15 mph since traffic was a bit congested. A UPS truck on the side of the road took it upon himself to pull out into oncoming traffic…that being me. The impact sheared off my passenger side front panel, destroyed my tire, crushed the A/C components, and the g-force sent my rear-view mirror flying off the windshield and into the back seat. Needless to say, I was sore for a few days.

a violent manifestation

The coincidence comes in the following….(or IS IT a coincidence?). When I filled out the official accident report, the name and address of the UPS driver were already filled in. This driver lives on…are you ready…King Philip’s Road. Making this even stranger is the fact that it’s in a city 20 miles away, and that a few weeks before, I had been in that city and driven past King Philip’s Road. At the time, I thought to myself “Hmm, let’s take his land, kill his people, and then name a street after him…”

So to sum up that particular incident…I had been feeling very mentally, emotionally, and spiritually impacted by the history of this violent war…again, living and driving on its battlegrounds my entire life. And then one day, a very violent and physical manifestation of this war literally impacted me.

I’ve always believed that our thoughts can and do create our physical reality, but after that one, I am 100% convinced of it.

Survivor: Nahhh…

Last year at some point, a friend sent me an email telling me that the American Cancer Society was looking for stories from cancer survivors for a book to be sold for charity, and that I should share my own story with them. My first reaction was a quiet chuckle to myself, followed by the response to my friend: “and say what exactly?” Because my story isn’t your typical cancer tale, actually very far from it. My friend answered that I should just write what happened to me and how I feel about it, and not to compare. So here it is.

My experience with cancer began in mid-February 2007. I was sitting at work talking on the phone, and poking around absent-mindedly at my neck. For a long time I had been periodically feeling around my neck, much like a woman periodically examines her breasts, because it always stuck in my head that my grandfather discovered he had lung cancer from finding a lump in his neck. Having been a smoker, although a very light one, I got in the habit of checking my neck as I got older. Go figure that I end up finding a cancer that is unrelated to tobacco use, which was confirmed to me by three different doctors. Of course, smoking doesn’t help anything health related, period…but a part of me was glad to hear that the more likely cause was the fact that dentists didn’t cover your neck when they took x-rays in the 80’s and 90’s

The lump I found was the size of a small grape, and wasn’t easily felt. It required coming in at a certain angle that only seemed possible using my right thumb. So I wasn’t surprised when I went to my primary care doctor and he told me he couldn’t feel anything unusual. To his credit, he ordered a thyroid ultrasound anyway, and I received a call from his office on March 26th that he’d like me to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. For some reason, I became very emotional at that point and had a shitty afternoon of worrying. Even though there was no biopsy yet, I think I instinctively knew where this was all leading.

At my first appointment with the specialist a few days later, I asked him if there was something on the ultrasound that indicated a malignancy to him. He replied with a fast “yep”, and proceeded to explain something to me about “hot nodules” and “cold nodules”… I then waited for another month, with that “yep” in my head the whole time, this time for a needle biopsy on April 30th (not as bad as I thought it would be), followed by the official diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer on May 10. I received the call while at home, trying to take a nap in preparation for the overnight shift at work. I can still hear it, “Unfortunately, the results came back positive for papillary carcinoma.” I paused a moment, half-asleep… “For what? Does that mean cancer?…It does?….Oh….okay…what should I do next then?” He told me that surgical removal would be all that was necessary, which took place one month later on June 11.

It’s hard to explain how dirty and contaminated my body felt for that month from diagnosis to removal. I wanted to turn myself inside out and take an alcohol bath. I was relieved at having such a good prognosis, but feeling fine with no symptoms while having cancer is a clashing of two very different worlds. Because seemingly nothing has changed…except everything has very much changed.  Suddenly there was what I call a “cancer gloss” over everything. It was very literally on my mind every single waking second. Driving to work…holy shit, I have fucking cancer…Taking a shower…I can’t believe this shit is happening …Watching a movie…this is bullshit, it really is….Brushing my teeth…I hope I live to see the wedding we just started planning ….checking my email… there is a cancer in my body, and I want it out. And mornings especially were such a joy…I would wake up, and for a few seconds it would be a great day, and then…oh yeah, that’s right, I have fucking cancer

According to my kick-ass surgeon, the removal of my thyroid has cured me. I have declined to have a follow-up radioactive iodine scan to check for lingering cells, as he (kick-ass surgeon) said he didn’t think it would be necessary. Being a professor at Harvard and one of the top doctors in lymph and node surgery in Boston, I trust him to know what he’s talking about. All of the surrounding nodes tested negative, and that’s good enough for me….most of the time. I’ll admit there are times I still find myself considering this scan, and wondering if I’m screwing myself by not having it done, but as of this writing have yet to make the appointment.

Now almost three years later, I still have a hard time with what this was supposed to mean, because I believe that everything that happens in life serves some kind of purpose even when it’s not immediately apparent.. I had cancer, and I did not spend one night in a hospital. I spent a few groggy hours waking up after surgery, got sick a few times on the way home, had two weeks off from work to recharge, and that was it. I had some trouble sleeping for awhile, that was the worst of it.

And that’s where it gets a little complicated for me when I get an email asking for stories from cancer survivors…because what I really feel like is this:

Artwork from zombiescantdance.com

It’s been 2 years and 9 months, and at least once a day I hear or see something about someone dying of cancer. Whether it’s been in my own family, or on the news, it’s everywhere…try counting how many times you hear a reference to cancer in a 24-hour period. And each time, I have to process the fact that I am now a member of a very esteemed club, but in no way feel that I deserve that distinction. Stand me alongside the woman with one breast and no hair…and what have I gone through? A same-day procedure, followed by a couple weeks of feeling tired and foggy…that’s not an ordeal, it’s an inconvenience.

My mother suggested that I give back to the community, which I attempted to do, but ended up running from it instead. I went to the Cancer Center at the local hospital, and signed up to volunteer what I thought would be answering phones and handing out pamphlets. Then the woman in charge told me that part of volunteering would include going to the waiting rooms and talking to people there having their treatments. This is where I froze…what could I possibly have to say to these sick, weak, people in front of me? I had no idea what they were going through.

At best, I can relate to the social aspect of having cancer, because it truly is the “elephant in the room” once people know about it, and it’s not comfortable. For a while, I didn’t even want to be around people (with very few exceptions) because I was convinced that everyone was just looking at me and wondering if I was going to die. And nobody ever brought it up, which didn’t help.

Actually, that’s something I learned from this…if someone I know is ever diagnosed with cancer of any kind, I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to look at them and say “Holy shit, cancer…this really sucks…how are you dealing? What’s going on? What are they telling you?”…. And having said that, I want to be clear that I don’t have any resentment towards anyone in my life for their silence, because until this happened to me, I probably wouldn’t have known what to say either.

I think what this experience did was make me look closer at my priorities in life. I quit my job 6 months after the surgery, after asking myself ‘what if I weren’t so lucky?’ and wondering what regrets I might have. One of them was that I hadn’t yet found and pursued my creative self, even though I have been creative for most of  my life. As it stood,  I was working at a job I was very frustrated in, for a  boss who was completely absent and ineffective. My discontent with my situation at work was very deep, and had already been festering for close to a year before I was diagnosed. I had been at this job for eight years, five of them as a seasonal employee, and three of them as a year-round employee. So this was a big change and a difficult decision in many ways. The job itself was enjoyable and I got to meet and talk to a lot of really nice people over the years, but the circumstances at the time were screaming at me that it was time to move on. In hindsight, there were probably ways I could have gone about things differently, and perhaps made more of an effort to stick it out, but what’s done is done

So that was how I started 2008, with a lot of free time on my hands and a very supportive fiancé who encouraged me to find my passion in life and figure out what it was I wanted to do. And when I say “do”…what I came to realize was that what I “do” to earn a paycheck does not necessarily define who I am…and that it is possible to find meaning in life outside of the 40 hours a week we devote to paying our monthly expenses.

I got really bold and ventured into online sales, had some small success, and then flopped miserably…but it was kind of fun to try it. Then I discovered one of my true passions in life, which had always been there, but been kind of dormant, and that is photography. So I spent some money on a professional camera and discovered how to see my world in a new way. I now have over three-hundred pictures for sale online in various print media, and while I am not yet earning a livable income with this, I know that day will eventually come as I continue to hone my skills and learn new things.

In the meantime, I had an opportunity to return to the job I had quit, 6 weeks after I left…just go back, and pick up where I left off, easy as that. It was a chance encounter that presented this opportunity, and I weighed the offer very heavily because of that. I strongly believe that all things happen for a reason, and this chance meeting seemed to be telling me “go back, you weren’t supposed to leave’. But eventually, I declined the offer to return. In hindsight, it was a ballsy move that I might go about differently now, but I have no regrets because unless you have a time machine, regret is pretty much wasted energy.  Not to mention my replacement is currently experiencing the same frustrations as I did, to much the same degree.

So it would seem even more strange that I still had another opportunity to return to the job later that summer, only now as a seasonal employee. I had been a seasonal for 5 years before moving into the year-round position in 2004, and when I was asked to come back in that capacity once again, it sounded strangely appealing. My role would be different, while my job duties for the most part would stay the same. And I was right, and it was kind of nice to watch someone else now deal with the frustrations that had helped push me out the door. I am now returning for my third season since initially quitting. We do what we need to do…but I’ve learned how to live while I’m “doing” it…and that seems to be the key to reconciling my 40-hour self with my personal self.

In writing this, it has occurred to me that what I’m feeling is perhaps a form of survivor’s guilt. Why am I so lucky? What about those who aren’t? I’m certainly not complaining, just to be clear on that, and I suppose I could just as easily ask, why not me? It’s a strange place to be…

And that’s my story…I don’t know if I’m going to send it to the American Cancer Society for their book or not, because it still doesn’t feel like it would fit. But it’s been nice to sit down and attempt to write it.