Kim Dowling’s Journey of Faith
No one can predict how they are going to react to bad news. In years past whenever I heard tragic news about someone, I’d think, “I can’t imagine…” and then would continue on with my invincible life. Until one day, the tragedy happened to me. At the age of 36, with three children under the age of 3, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which I was told had spread to my spine and for which there was no cure. I would be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life and my life expectancy was only about 2 to 5 years.
In the time since, I have found that this devastating diagnosis has helped me to discover parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. It is really where my spiritual journey begins, and helped me arrive at a peaceful place.
I have always gotten through tough times with perseverance and determination. My father, though raised Catholic, denounced God and religion after serving in Vietnam. I was raised an atheist and told throughout my childhood that I, not God, was responsible for what happens in my life.
Ironically, I went to a Catholic college. But as a Biology major, my science classes fit more into my logic than religion courses. I needed to see it to believe it. I decided I would take the scientific approach to life. I didn’t need religion.
Unfortunately, the devastation of the terminal diagnosis was too much for me to handle alone. I felt as if I was floating around in space with nothing to keep me grounded. I cried at the thought of how this would affect my children. Although terrified inside, I made life as normal as I could for my family, but carried a black cloud over my head: Would my one-year-old son remember me? Who is going to help the girls plan their weddings? Will I die at home or in a hospital? Do I want the kids to see me like that? Who will my husband remarry? Will that woman love my children and treat them like her own?
I went to a yoga class led by a two-time cancer survivor who found strength and comfort through yoga and meditation and wanted to give back to others in need. And right now, I was in a lot of need. She shared her daily mantra and recommended that we come up with one of our own. I was so desperate at the time that any relief for my pain was welcome. Her mantra thanked God and sounded a lot like a prayer to me. For me, addressing God at this time of need felt very hypocritical. So I came up with a mantra that made sense for me.
During one of the classes, we evaluated the balance in our lives. I knew right away what had always been out of balance: my spirituality. I was the center of my world. I had never viewed myself a small part of something bigger. I was always trying to control everything. However, this time, I felt so out of control. What I desired now was inner peace.
I began to meditate, quiet my mind, and listen to myself. Walking through the woods surrounded by nature provided a sense of peace. Yoga provided strength and wisdom. I aligned myself with people who supported me. I tried slowing down and minimizing distractions.
My husband and I wanted to surround ourselves and our children in a community of supportive people. This church is the most comfortable that I’ve ever felt in a religious environment. I have met wonderful people and believe strongly in what it teaches my children. My hope that is it will provide a solid foundation for them to take into their adulthood.
Although, in most people’s eyes I am living a tragedy, I have managed to find happiness, peace and gratitude. Without cancer affecting my life, I’m not sure if I would be appreciating it so much. I have found the balance I didn’t once have and I am happier as a result.
Meanwhile, I am a work in progress. I look to my mantra, which I continue to say every morning, to give me courage and hope. It has developed into: “I have the strength to do this. My mind and my body can do this. I live each day to the fullest and live a long, healthy and happy life. I listen to myself and I follow my heart. I have inner peace. I am healthy, I am well. I am cancer-free.”