Even cancer can be, as we say in my Reclaiming Witch tradition, “witchyasfuck”. In my last blog post, “Lunar Cycles and Healing” I talked about the ancestral legacy of cancer in my family that I have been working as a spiritual practice, and in particular helping my restless ghosts be able to move on to transform into healthy ancestors.
I knew from the beginning this journey would be a powerful experience of my ancestors, particularly those who had died of the same or a similar cancer to what I had grown in my own body, but I was unprepared for the powerful presence of Descendants. In my Reclaiming witch tradition we often invoke Ancestors and Descendants in our rituals, especially around Samhain, that sacred dark and witchy time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. We understand that both ancestors and descendants might be of blood lineage, but also of choice, spirit, and culture.
I was told that the squamous cell carcinoma in my cheek and two lymph nodes in my neck may have spread to my lungs, they needed to do a needle biopsy to confirm that indeed the nodules showing up on the PET/CT scan were cancer, and the same kind of cancer. I went in for the procedure in which I had to lay face down and be moved in and out of the scanner each time as they inserted the needle through my back into my lung millimeters at a time while I held my breath. Then they took another scan to make sure the needle was still on target heading toward a particular nodule. I had been in the procedure for about forty-five minutes and felt like I was calm and getting the hang of the rhythm when suddenly the needle punctured the wall of my pleura, which popped my lung and felt very different than anything had in the previous forty-five minutes. It didn’t hurt exactly but it startled me and I moved enough that it threw off the aim. They had to pull it out and even though I was willing to try again a pneumothorax began to form as a portion of my lung collapsed so they had to stop. Now I had a hole in my lung but we were no closer to knowing what the nodules were.
In the weeks after that they strategized different ways to biopsy the nodules but eventually said trying the needle biopsy again was still the safest way. I went in the day of the second biopsy thinking I was fine, but as soon as I changed out of my clothes into the ever so stylish hospital gown I began to have a good old fashioned classic panic attack - I went cold and began to shake. The nursing staff immediately warmed me up and with my mom at my feet and one of my beloved partners at my head, I eventually calmed down. I hadn’t realized how traumatized I’d been by the first attempt until I was finally able to release that energy through my panic attack. Because I had to be fully alert and awake to control my breathing during the procedure they couldn’t give me any anti-anxiety meds so had to wait until the panic attack had run its course.
Then they wheeled me into the scan room. This time I was clear with them that they needed to tell me when the needle was going to pierce my lung so I wouldn’t be startled. About thirty minutes in I began to feel cold again and that was when a voice inside my head said, “Last time they were only gathering cells for the pathology, this time the research team is also here to gather cells for the immunotherapy study.” That was when I was suddenly flooded with the grateful and strong presence of Descendants, the ones who may not even be related to me by blood but would benefit from research on the cancer cells being harvested from my lungs. At that moment, that moment of gratitude and strength from the future, the needle passed through the wall of my lung easily and they were able to get into the nodule and collect enough samples for both the pathology and the research, and out again with ease.
It is indeed the same cancer, which is good in that if it had been a different kind it would have disqualified me from the amazing immunotherapy study I am in at UCSF. As it is if the immunotherapy works then my own immune system will be stimulated to find the cancer wherever it is in my body and help it finish its lifecycle and pass from my body leaving me healthy and alive for many years after it is gone. I am so excited that Western Medicine’s cancer treatment has finally come in line with things we witches and mystics have known about healing for millennia.
Yes, even cancer can be “witchyasfuck.” Blessings on all our ancestral legacies needing to be worked out, blessings on all our descendants holding us in gratitude and strength if we have the will and courage to face those legacies. Blessings on all your ancestors and all their descendants.