A shift in perspective affects how I live with cancer

Today a friend asked me a question. 

Knowing your incurable cancer is stable, he says and pauses, “and this might be too personal. But with your cancer, I want to ask what one thing do you think helps you?

Of course, I have an excellent medical team and ceaseless well wishes from others. He was asking if there was something else. 

There is.

“I decided to love it,” I reply.

This past weekend I saw the movie Another Earth. In it, the main character Rhoda, tells a story that explains what I feel. You can listen to her tell the story by clicking here. She says:

Do you know the story of the Russian cosmonaut?

So the cosmonaut—he’s the first man ever to go into space. He goes up in this big spaceship but the inhabitable part of it is very small.

He has this portal window and he sees the curvature of the earth. For the first time. The first man to ever look at the planet he’s from. And he’s lost in that moment. And all of a sudden, this strange ticking…is coming out of the dashboard. He rips out the control panel, and he tries to find this sound. To stop this sound. He can’t find it. He can’t stop it. It keeps going.

A few hours into it feels like torture. A few days go by with this sound and he knows that this small sound will break him. He’ll lose his mind.

What’s he going to do? He’s up in space. Alone. In a space closet. He has 25 days left to go with this sound.

Well, the cosmonaut decides that the only way to save his sanity is to fall in love with this sound. So he closes his eyes and he goes into his imagination and then he opens his heart. He opens his eyes. He doesn’t hear ticking anymore. He hears music. 

And he spends the remainder of his time sailing through space in total bliss. In peace.

What I love about this story is the positive paradigm shift. A change in perspective.

That's what happened to me. I had a change in how I view my illness.

Have you heard the phrase “drop the storyline”? Pema Chodron often uses it. 

It means that it doesn't really matter what happens--an irritating noise, an unhappy child, loss of a loved one, pet or home, a move, an illness. Upset, discouragement, despair, frustration, disappointment, fear. Basically, those feelings are all the same in a way and shared by humans worldwide. Those feelings brings us an opportunity to embrace a bigger possibility.

A possibility to change how to work with difficulties. 

I cannot change the world or what happens. Or the fact that I have an incurable cancer. However, I can change how I choose to see and respond to it.

Deciding to love my illness means that rather than see cancer as a monster, I embrace myself with gentleness. All of me, even my cancer cells.

That brings ease and space for new thoughts. I now see my precious body, including the cancer, as the beautiful house of who I am.  For this, I am deeply awed and grateful.


  1. Congratulations on your remission and I wish you all the best.
    I came across your site after watching 'Another Earth', a stunning film.

  2. Thank you. And more thanks for posting. When I'm feeling less that positive, I remember the inspired experience I had watching Another Earth. I like that describer: stunning.

  3. Do you know if this history is true or it was made to the film?
    Thank you!

  4. Elia,

    I wonder about the historical aspect of this story, too.

    Cosmonaut Gagarin was famous and traveled worldwide after his April 12, 1961, 108 minute long flight--the first into space. I can imagine him talking about what he saw from space and stories being shared by those who listened.

    The flight was not without challenge: the service module did not separate from its capsule on its return to earth and he ended up parachuting into the sea. It was uncomfortable (high heat, fire cloud around the capsule) so perhaps that aspect of his experience became the opportunity to shift perspective.

    Director-writer Mike Cahill and Brit Marling (actress) talk about the cosmonaut story in an interview. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/aug/05/interview-mike-cahill-and-brit-marling/

    In it, Marling says, "We took a lot of poetic license [about the cosmonaut story]. I think the real story is different and we wanted to try and twist it a bit to make it about if there's this aggravating sound and you can switch it around and make it music, which was so right for John (male lead in Another Earth) and change the thing that life is so much about point of view and if you can change your point of view, then the thing that is your greatest source of annoyance for you can become an inspiration instead."

    Thanks for asking and visiting.

    Warm wishes,