To celebrate my four-year cancerversary, I went on a one week solo trip in the Boundary Waters. I went on this journey with the intention of creating a Gateway Retreat––I wanted to use my time there to let go of things which no longer served me and to come out embracing that which feeds me.

Among other activities, I filled an envelope with small strips of paper. On each paper I wrote a word or words that described my identity––past, present, and future. I took each paper out of the envelope one at at time, and read the words aloud. I thanked each piece of my identity for showing up, for teaching me, and then asked if I needed this anymore. If it was no longer needed, I placed the paper in the fire, saying goodbye and watching it burn away. If it served my journey I saved it, and later made an art piece with those words.

One of the strips of paper said “cancer survivor”. I’ve given up a lot in the last four years since my cancer diagnosis: my job, my career, my income, my health, my body image, my stamina. I went into my Gateway Retreat determined to reclaim myself, to let go of my daily identification with cancer. I wanted to move forward without carrying all that around.

When I put the paper that said Cancer Survivor on it into the fire, it fluttered out to the edge, where it could not burn. I thought that was strange, because all of the other papers had burned instantly. So I put the paper back in the fire. And it blew out again. Okay, I said, I’ll burn this some other way. I had cleansed myself before the ritual with smudge, and I put the paper into the shell with the still-burning sage. It browned a little, but it did not burn. Obviously, this is something I need to keep, this being a Cancer Survivor.

On my retreat I did other rituals that helped me reclaim my body and my life journey. After the fire gave Cancer Survivor back to me, I chose to honor the part of me that was strong enough to withstand the total-body poisoning of chemo. I chose to give thanks for Living, in whatever form that takes, and own the power of healing.