Announcements of the imminent arrival of SPRING surround me. Songbirds sing in the trees, pastel Easter wreaths decorate neighborhood doors and I insist that, yes child, it’s time to put away your (pretty) reindeer winter snow boots that you love to make space for running shoes in the closet. And though spring seems to be dragging her heels in the weather department – winter is still blowing her brisk breeze into my weary face drawing out this looooooong covid winter – I am fully immersed in spring cleaning: both of my soul and of my house.     

Part One: Spring cleaning of my SOUL

I’ve really enjoyed, or whatever you want to call it, practicing Lent this year; it’s not something I typically do, but the collective hardships of covid apparently boosted its popularity and when I received invitations for Lent reflection in my inbox, I began engaging.  

Lent is the remembrance of Jesus’ suffering and a time to intentionally empathize with that suffering. It’s the part of the christian easter narrative that reminds me of what Stockdale, in his paradox, calls getting real about the “brutal facts of our reality”. It’s a scraping off of the polished veneer we often place on circumstances in order to make them “presentable” to the world and even to ourselves. It’s about looking difficulty, hardship and pain straight in the eye. It’s uncomfortable, but necessary, in order, as the other half of the Stockdale Paradox declares, to maintain hope that we will prevail in the end. 

 I’ve become a recent student of actually feeling my feelings. Through learning about Enneagram I realized I’ve been shoving my feelings aside for as long as I can remember by disregarding them; they’re inefficient, inconvenient, and messy. Moreover, I’ve been numbing them – and not even realizing it!- by being busy, busy, busy and trying to outrun them. However, processing my feelings including the “negative” ones is quite necessary to authentically engage the heart of Lent: pressing in to the awkwardness of suffering. These past 40 odd days have been good practice and have resulted in a beautiful depth to life that gives meaning, connection and joy – exactly what I’ve been seeking post cancer-diagnosis. 

Furthermore, the book When the Body Says No by physician Gabor Mate which I recently read, illustrates how unfelt feelings can dramatically and negatively impact physical health. In particular Mate notes cancer and auto-immune diseases. As such I have a responsibility to excavate my feelings in my pursuit of optimal health and longevity in order to take ownership of my health and my future. My grim glioblastoma prognosis is associated with many difficult feelings- you know the ones we don’t like to feel: sadness, grief, shame, fear etc.. I’ve found the season of Lent ironically refreshing because Lent gives me permission to feel all these “negative” feelings. 

Moreover, feeling all my feelings allows me to set aside the exhausting rah-rah cancer ultimate battle warrior rhetoric for a more realistic – and gentler- journey approach. This lent I set aside being an optimistic, cancer warrior and allow myself to sit in the grief, devastation, terribleness, and disappointments of what being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer means for me. It’s been therapeutic and absolutely essential in order to keep on living this life that often feels like a lonely, overgrow, pathless wilderness. 

It looks something like this:

I find myself struggling to be vulnerable in relationships. I’m very practiced at armoring up, putting forth a strong front and not needing anyone. (I talk about all of this in-depth in my upcoming memoir) But what I really want now is to be vulnerably in love with my amazing husband. To be mushy in love, intellectually in love, physically in love. I know it’s possible, I get glimpses of it when I let my guard down and open up vulnerably. 

What I am finding is that when my husband, Ryan, and I sit in our despair together, greater love blossoms between us. It happened last weekend, as we were waking up slow. Ryan rolled over, wrapped me in his arms and I melted in. (I’m glad I didn’t have the urge to wriggle out of his grasp, which all too often I do when my mind races with all the “to-do” items on my list.)  I relaxed into his arms as he embraced me and declared, “You are amazing. I love you so much.” Minutes later, he told me how the day prior his employee had been back at one of their client’s houses which Ryan had done some work in 3 years ago. My husband is friendly, outgoing and open so he had shared our story of my cancer and dismal prognosis with his clients. Now, returning to their house 3 years later, these clients were inquiring how Ryan was doing, assuming I had passed away. Huh. Exhale. Of course. I paused to let this sink in and remembered encountering my former patient on the river trail just a few months ago.

 “Hi, Mr. Dueck!” I greeted him. He looked at me in consternation. I thought he didn’t recognize me.
“I used to be a Pharmacist at Walmart” I said.
“I thought you were dead” He remarked starkly.
“Nope, I’m very much alive!” I responded, wishing him a good day and continued on my run, grateful for how very alive I felt.


Ryan and I are living this amazing and strange alternate reality rippled with the undercurrents of the grief – and love- of knowing

I like Lent this year because I am finding the shininess of living my best life now to be too much lately. No matter how hard social media tries to deceive us, life is not always shiny. Often it is lack-luster and grievous in its reality. It is refreshing for me to sit here and feel this grievous reality this lent.

I sat at the kitchen table last weekend in the aftermath of waffle brunch, kids puzzling on the living room floor and my husband cleaning up. As I sipped my cold coffee grief struck, I want to grow old with my husband! The thought cut deep as I realized in my hustling for my health – pressing into the mind-body connection and fostering a sense of agency, embracing what I can do to maximize my health (which is good, but…) – I’ve been trying to work my way out of the vulnerability of my glioblastoma diagnosis. 

Lent calls me back into the reality of this dark disease and what I want is to be vulnerable in my husband’s arms; disarmed, agendas set aside for the rawness of love. That’s what I want and that is what the permission of Lent to sit in my grief offers me this year. 

There is freedom here to be present, rather than rushing, rushing, rushing towards a future that may not happen. There is freedom here to be exhausted, to be broken. Moreover there is freedom here to find the most intimate love I’ve ever received- both human and divine.


Barn’s burnt down —
I can see the moon.

Mizuta Masahide


Join me next week for part 2 of my Spring Cleaning journey where I explore how cleaning my house sparked the importance of imagination (If you haven’t already, sign up on my website for blogposts to be delivered straight into your inbox). Both cleaning and journeying are much better alongside friends. Thanks for joining me!