My Not So Ordinary World

The Hero’s Journey is a narrative template identified by writer Joseph Campbell. It is said to be the greatest story ever told because it has appeared over and over in some of our most beloved stories and movies such as Jaws, Star Wars, and my personal favorite, Thelma and Louise. It is an overwhelming obstacle assigned to an un-wanting individual who must find the strength to endure and persevere.

It is the stories being told here today and it is my story.

Every hero’s journey begins in The Ordinary World. For me, the Ordinary World included ordinary things such as gorgeous husband, a nice home and, eventually, a couple of kids. Nothing filled me with more joy than traveling, writing and being outdoors, but these were hobbies and not career paths.

Step 2, The Call to Adventure. My Call came in the form of a metastatic, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor that affects 1 in 10,000,000. After the doctors calmed down from the “excitement” of a rare diagnosis, a plan was developed. I was told, the cure was surgery.

Step 3, The Refusal of the Call. So, I had surgery. A ⅓ of my pancreas and spleen were removed. I recovered and even though it didn’t seem to fit right, I went back to my cubicle. This was my refusal of the call. Then last January I went in for my first, post-surgery check-up and was told there were several spots in my liver. I was advised to watch and wait.

Step 4, The Meeting with the Mentor. My instincts and the resurfacing of symptoms told me I wasn’t in the right hands. There are not many specialists for such a rare condition, but through a YouTube video, I found one at the University of Kentucky. It felt good when he told me that not only did he have patients like me, but he immediately had a plan.

Step 5, Crossing the Threshold. This is where the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World. This all sounds so voluntary, but I was pretty much kicked into the threshold. I lost my job and was told I needed to start oral chemotherapy…on the same day. Not exactly the best day ever, but a blessing in disguise.

Step 6, Tests, Allies and Enemies. I started oral chemotherapy, however, after a couple months, I became sicker. I hoped it was side effects from the medicine, but when I went for a check-up, I found out the disease had progressed again.

Step 7, The Approach. “The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge.” It was time to get more aggressive, which meant intravenous chemotherapy.

Step 8, The Ordeal. “the hero confronts death and faces her greatest fear.” I was scared of chemotherapy, but you know how you can tell you’re really sick? When you feel better on chemotherapy.   Eventually, my symptoms lessened and exams revealed the cancer had finally responded to treatment. While my mentor wanted me to do three more rounds, I talked him into surgery with a promise to finish chemo as soon as I recovered.

Step 9, The Reward. Who would have ever thought another surgery, where removing half of my liver would be a reward? It was for me. Again, want to know how you’re really sick? When you wake up feeling better from a surgery where they literally cut you in half. The best news of all, when I woke up, my husband told me they got all the cancer.

Step 10, The Road Back. Five weeks after I had surgery, I resumed chemotherapy and completed my last treatment on Christmas Day. Weeks later, a new round of exams confirmed there was no evidence of disease in my body.

Step 11, The Resurrection or as we’re referring to it here, The 2nd Act. This is also where the hero re-enters the Ordinary World.

With check-ups every few months, I can’t quite say I’m resolved, but I’m on my way. More than anything, I am grateful to be here. Grateful to be feeling good. Grateful for a 2nd Act.

It took cancer to make me realize I was not living my authentic self. I was not meant to spend my time here on earth in a cubicle, stressing out over work I don’t love. Now, I know this and I’ve got big plans. Remember my love of traveling, writing and the outdoors?

I have been writing nearly everyday since the beginning of the year. I even got published and paid, which is something I couldn’t conceive of even in my wildest dreams. I lose track of time finding new, creative ways to transfer my thoughts to paper. I love telling stories and cancer sure has given me one to tell.

Also, since I was diagnosed, I’ve been dreaming of a romantic beach vacation with my husband who has overachieved at his promise to love me in sickness and in health. Can you see my tan? We did that last month.

Also on the horizon – a week of surfing in California, yoga teacher training and writing that book that’s been in my head for years.

However, the part of my 2nd Act that I’m most excited about is fulfilling my dream of completing the El Camino de Santiago. In 2012, I completed half of this 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain that people have been walking for over a thousand years. The journey begins in a little village in France and ends at a cathedral in the western city of Santiago de Compostela, just a few miles short of the Atlantic coast, which was once thought to be the end of the world. While the origins of the walk are religious, people do it nowadays for all kinds of reasons and purposes. My reason and purpose – getting back a piece of my old self that cancer tried to steal. While I was sick last summer one of the things that would make me very sad was the thought of not being able to finish the Camino. For years I’ve been wanting to go back, but some project or the lack of time always seemed to get in the way. It is an understatement to say that I am grateful for the opportunity.

The last step in the hero’s journey is where the hero Returns with the Elixir. Here, “the hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.”

So, 3 days from when I wrote this blog –  this Wednesday, at 8:00 p.m., I’ll be on a plane to Europe.

I’ll be walking, alone, literally across a country, without a map, following yellow arrows and carrying all my belongings on my back for weeks and days on end. There’ll be hours of solitude, dozens of new lifelong friends, lots of yummy food, snorers, blisters, aches and pains. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

I think about what it’s going to feel like when I finally come over the last hill of the 500-mile path and see the cathedral. I’ve been visualizing myself sitting in church at the mass where they swing the giant silver incense holder over all the pilgrims who completed their journey that day. I imagine what it will feel like when I go to the church window to get my Compostela, the certificate of completion every pilgrim craves. One of the questions they ask is where you began your journey. Some people say the city where they were born. Some say the little village in France where they started. Some say where they live now. However, it only makes sense that my answer will be, where every hero’s journey begins – The Ordinary World.