My Cancer Story: The Circle


I’ve been touched by your comments and emails thanking me for my honesty in my cancer posts. Many of you wrote that I’m brave to share my story. Nah. I’m not really that brave; I just like to tell stuff.

But one aspect of the experience does feel extra-personal.

Within hours of my diagnosis, I saw a circle closing in around me. A real circle. No joke. No figurative talk. I saw it. Many times. It looked like the circle above.

The circle closed out everything in my future but the cancer. No new house. No grandchildren-to-be. No travels to Prague or Costa Rica. No finishing the novel my agent has been patiently waiting for.

The circle squeezed out bad stuff too, stuff not related to cancer. No thoughts of old hurts or unresolved issues. No worries about projects left uncompleted or what ifs looming ahead.

There was no space. The circle was that tight.


After my surgery, I heard good news. Really good news! The cancer had not spread. Within minutes, I saw the circle open up. Even now, I can close my eyes, put myself back in my hospital bed, and watch it grow.




For the first two or three weeks, only good drifted back into the circle. Then, as a bit of post-op funk sank over me, some negatives drifted back in too.

The other day at  a Duke alumni event, I met a wonderful cancer survivor. (I’m finding that all cancer survivors are wonderful, with stories to tell and intriguing lessons learned.) I told her about my circle. She nodded her head. “Yes,” she said. “I saw it too.”

Like the beckoning white light when we die, maybe circles represent some universal experience with the Big C.

But you know what?  I love round things like polka dots and happy faces and the moon and pie. But I don’t want to see a circle around my life again. Not a tight one, for sure, but not a bigger one either.

No circle, no black lines, letting stuff in or keeping it out.

No limits.

Just life.

Happy FaceThe American Cancer Society’s website has some  excellent resources on dealing with the emotional side of cancer. Check it out here.



29 thoughts on “My Cancer Story: The Circle”

  1. Great post! I hadn’t heard you mention this before. When we are given news like this, I think our mind shuts down to everything else because we have to focus on the task at hand–dealing with something big like cancer.


  2. A tightening circle is an interesting concept, but an opening circle is well so opening and inviting.
    Because I had cancer that did spread I think of it as a lurking shadow. Will the lurking shadow reappear this year? Is the lurking shadow the cause of a symptom or is it just a seasonal allergy? You get the idea.


  3. I hear ya, girl. With me, I saw a tunnel — long and dark. Ultimately, I came out of it, but it was claustrophobic, scary and black. I’ve always had a fear of heights (and ferris wheels, but that’s a different story), but this tunnel was a new one for me. Fear. That’s what the circle is, and that tunnel, as well. One of the hardest things to do is to visualize what you want, and the big C takes away that power. It takes all you have to fight back. Some of us do it with the support of friends and loved ones, like you did. Some of us do it by going deep within, deep inside that tunnel, and finding our way out alone, like I did. But you’re here, and so am I. We’re the lucky ones.


    1. Yes. So glad to be alive and hopefully recovered. I saw the tunnel some during menopause. Definitely works as an image. Would be fun to figure out some positive thoughts involving the image of a tunnel. Mystery? Adventure? Not sure. Going under the Harbor Tunnel in Baltimore when I was a kid was always both fun and scary.


  4. It’s interesting that the letter “C” (as in the Big C) is a circle with a piece missing. hmmm…. Not sure what that means, if anything. Just a thought.

    I do absolutely believe in the mind giving us images to get us where we are supposed to be.

    Quick story:

    I had a hard time after my rather painful divorce many years ago. Every night when I went to bed, a large heavy bag of some sort would descend over me and just lay there, hovering over me. I could physically feel its presence, the pressure, and I could see the shape. In the morning, it would lift back up to the ceiling. After countless tearful, prayerful nights of trying to figure my life out, what went wrong, what happened, etc. etc., I finally said one night, choking through my tears, “Take this thing from me. I’m through trying to figure things out. I’m done.” I went to sleep, and when I woke up, the bag had disappeared. It was the beginning of my healing process. Letting go was my answer.

    I’m glad your circle opened wide for you. I hope this healing process brings you great happiness!


  5. What a beautiful expression of this intense experience with the black circle. But what I resonate most about what you said is, “But I don’t want to see a circle around my life again. Not a tight one, for sure, but not a bigger one either. No circle, no black lines, letting stuff in or keeping it out.”

    I really think that we need to be able to “see” both the positive and the negative in our lives, almost something like the yin/yang symbolism in Chinese philosophy. And in Gestalt psychology, there is always “figure” and “ground” and some things come to the front, and some things recede into the background. But, when you achieve wholeness, they are “one” in our perception, and the confining lines disappear.

    When we can embrace both, the definitive black lines may suddenly cease to be visible.

    As you said, “No limits. .. Just Life!

    Peace, happiness, and here’s to Smiley Faces!


    1. Yes. It’s taken me years to be able to have negatives and positives swirling around in my brain and yet feel happy. (Actually not sure I am there yet but much better than I was years ago.) An intriguing concept.. Thanks for your insights!


  6. This is a fascinating post. I have heard of people seeing the light when faced with a near death experience, but never a circle. I will ask the cancer survivors I know if they had a similar experience. So glad that you are on the mend.


  7. It must be pretty normal to envision our lives contracting as we age, but to know that our mind can filter out the bad in a crisis is awesome. I once had a very realistic “death” dream of darkness engulfing me in a car – the circle of light from the headlights was getting smaller and smaller. I woke gasping for air…then I divorced my first husband who had been driving!


      1. Yep, in real life I did. The dream only helped to clarify my true feelings. I was 19 when we married, divorced 4 years later – women’s movement was young and I knew I didn’t want a house and children with him…first “irreconcilable differences” defense. previously one had to prove infidelity


  8. I experienced something kind of similar after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2015. I was having a nap (after my surgery) and all of a sudden, I experienced such a dark & black hole (almost). I hardly know how to describe it, but it was the blackest hole or tunnel and it scared me so much. I was so afraid that it was a peak into Hell. I never want to see that again. Anyone else have an experience like this or something similar???


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