Drawing by: Neil Tackaberry
I wish someone told me the real truth: that I was perfect just the way I was and exactly where I was in my life. Hindsight gives us 20/20 vision. But wouldn’t foresight be more practical? Before cancer, I was a blur to myself. I had this inner judge who constantly looked at the time on her large wristwatch. She would furrow her brow sternly, as if to say, “Hurry up and get your shit together or nothing will ever become of you!” Fleeing from one job to the next, I was perpetually striving but always behind, never feeling accomplished enough.
Suddenly life stepped in, grabbed me by the throat, and shoved me against the wall. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Ksenija Djordjevic, whom I worshipped and with whom I had many mind-numbingly blowout fights, was the smartest, most powerful woman I knew. A beautiful writer and dedicated teacher, she had a passion for words, fiction, and poetry that was infectious. A seeker of truth, my mother always followed the beat of her own drum, but when she became sick she transformed into an obedient patient, believing 100 percent in Western medicine.
Pronounced almost dead after her first round of chemotherapy, she lay in a coma in ICU. She had septic shock, her kidneys failed, and her heart stopped. Bewildered, I cursed anyone who dared tell me to prepare for the worst. “Prepare to save her life and do your job,” I snapped back at the doctors who seemed so full of shit to me.
The relationship between my mother and I was wrought by our family’s struggle with addiction. She held the reins of our family with an iron fist and she provided safety, order, and discipline in our explosive family. And perhaps prophesying my own future battle, my mother’s cancer wiped the slate clean, and we became a seamless team. I looked out for her. As always I tried to influence her with my natural food and medicine approach. As usual she didn’t pay me much mind. I was breastfeeding my three-year old son glued to my hip, and I had started a film production company with my husband. Nothing was going well. I put my armor on and went to battle with the sole purpose to save my mom’s life.
Photos: Care of Dunya Merell Djordjevic family Archives
“Suddenly life stepped in, grabbed me by the throat, and shoved me against the wall. My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”
Photos: Care of Dunya Merell Djordjevic family Archives
After fully recovering from the chemotherapy and her cancer not once but twice, my mother lost the fight to the “chemotherapy experiments,” as I called them. There was no Plan B. When the chemo failed her, my mom finally conceded. “Please give me a shot and get me out of here,” she requested matter-of-factly.
“Well, that’s legal in Oregon and Switzerland,” her doctor quipped. “In fact, my own mom went to Switzerland for that.” He made it sound like a great vacation choice.
“I’m not taking you to Oregon, Mom!” I said.
My mom followed her doctor’s guidance to her end. The next day, without warning, the hospital nurse gave her some “really strong pain killers” and she never woke up. Devastated and bewildered that I had lost that battle and my mom, I was completely in over my head. Nothing made sense.
One year later, cancer knocked again when I got my second wake-up call and was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. After hearing the diagnosis I felt my brain snap instantly: “I am not following your footsteps, Mom. Time to do things my way!” My life flashed before me, and in my mind’s eye I saw all that led up to this. I saw the fork in the road as clear as day.
Like flipping a switch I went from an angry person to the best life coach you could ever find. I began to listen to myself and did exactly what I always wanted to do. Cancer had given me permission to act on anything I wanted. I used tools from Al Anon, my Kundalini Yoga training, and hours of research to open myself up to my sixth sense. I received life-changing books from strangers, like Knockout by Suzanne Somers, which led me to an alternative oncologist who put me on a year-long vegan diet and coffee enemas.
“My life flashed before me and in my mind’s eye I saw all that led up to this. I saw the fork in the road as clear as day.”
I was in the best shape I’d ever been. I rebooted my immune system and learned how to process stress. I ate only the highest quality, fresh organic fruit and veggies. I grew my own edible gardens and began installing them for friends (www.mylittleorganicgarden.com). I sat in Al Anon meetings learning how to handle close relationships that drove me crazy and to “detach with love.”
I missed my mom, and I had turned into a spiritual warrior. I got more support than I’d ever had from women who understood. Mothers and friends shared their stories with me and I felt happy to have found my tribe.
The dictionary definition of the third eye is: “The third eye (also known as the inner eye) is a mystical and esoteric concept referring to a speculative invisible eye which provides perception beyond ordinary sight.” I surrendered to my higher power—it was loud and clear!—and found third-eye perception. I started teaching Kundalini Yoga. Teaching Yoga is my healing time. I chant, pray, meditate, focus on the third eye point, and breathe with my students. I call it as my personal 20/20 lens.
Today I live without regrets. I share my household with my father, husband, and son and feel boundless love and compassion bursting from my every cell. I forgive my old self for not knowing any better. I forgive my self-abuse and arrogance. I forgive my loved ones, who do the best they can. I’m surrounded by love and friendship, and most importantly I have become my own best friend. I love and honor my life and its balance.
July 11, 2016, was the five-year mark since my cancer diagnosis. I see my mom sending me a wink of approval and telling me to do another rewrite! Life is awesome when you have 20/20 vision. Deep breath … and exhale. Sat Nam.