Practical advice and personal wisdom from a four-time cancer survivor.

I’m climbing out of hell

January 15, 2016 by Julie Negrin

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It’s dank and depressing at rock bottom. The mud that oozes through my toes smells like shit and I’m either too hot or too cold. There is no light, just stale black air – the same shade of nothing whether my eyes are closed or open.

I want to breathe the fresh succulent air of a life outside doctor offices. I want an entire week without being poked with a needle. I want to escape this deep grief that shackles me to this gloomy cave. No matter what I do, I can’t shake it loose.

Is this my life? This unbearable rain cloud pouring down inside my chest, my mind, my heart? Will I ever get strong again or am I trapped forever in this genetically mutant body that doesn’t work?

I cry. I wail. I curl up in a tight little ball to stay as dry as possible as the loud, teardrops keep falling from above me and inside me. I can not live like this, I can not live like this, I can not live like this, I’d rock back and forth trying to soothe myself.

I try meditating. I try taking a Xanax. I try binge watching TV. None of it distracts me from this tiny, miserable hole.

My body grieves. My mind weeps. I spend hours staring at the wall, or what I can see of it.

After months inside my tiny prison, my eyes adjust to the darkness. I notice small grooves etched into the cave and realize it resembles a rock climbing wall.

I don’t like rock climbing. I’m not built for it. It scares me.

But I can not sit here for one more second. I feel the lethargy of grief seep out of me. I’m now antsy, ready to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING to ease the pain of this wretched abyss.

I step one foot in the wall and my fingers search for a ledge. I start to slowly climb. I’m a terrible at it. But I keep at it anyway. Instead of focusing on everything I’ve lost, I’m now concentrating on moving upward, forward, away from where I was. One foothold at a time. After awhile, my hands are cracked, bloody, exhausted. When my body screams STOP, I find a small shelf to huddle in for the night.

I hear a noise close to my perch. I squint to see better. I can’t believe I didn’t see this before but other people are climbing alongside me. Were they near me when I was crying at rock bottom? Are we really alone down there or is it just an illusion?

Now I’m distracted by my own journey upward AND connecting with the other climbers.

Through 140 character messages. Watercolor paintings I draw on the sides of the wall when I’m resting. Leaving quotes to inspire whoever is climbing up after me. It feels easier now. I can see in the dark. My arms and legs are more agile, my body is stronger.

I can see some light now. It’s faint and intermittent but it’s there. The weird thing is that I’m used to blackness now. I’m not afraid of it anymore. As much as I long for the light, I realize how much strength I’ve gained by learning to see in the dark.

I know the smallest thing could knock me off the wall. It might devastate me. I will feel despair times one million. But I’ll know my way around rock bottom. I’ll know there are others in the dark I can sing to and with. I know that I can handle however long I’m supposed to be there. And I also know I have the strength to climb back out.

But for now, thankfully, I’m not there anymore. And I’m not quite at the top yet either. I’m just sitting on a little shelf, painting, scribbling down writing ideas. I’m also creating a map. Instructions on how to survive down below – and how to escape.

It makes the journey so much easier for me. Knowing that if I make it out, I might be able to help others find their way out too.

I can do this.

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Categories: Cancer, Healing, Recovery, Spirituality

13 responses to “I’m climbing out of hell”

  1. Agi Day says:

    Julie
    This is truly fantastic. What a great writer you are. What a vivid description of what you are experiencing at every minute ment.

  2. Agi Day says:

    I meant to say at every moment

  3. Linn Stewart says:

    Julie, I’ve been a friend of your Mom since childhood and, though I’ve never met you (I also know your Dad), I want to tell you what a courageous woman I think you are. One of my daughters-in-law has also battled cancer and, of course, I am aware of what she went through. She also wrote a blog which she said really helped her, as well as those sharing her pain. I think of you often as I think of Saralyn. May you reach the light at the end of the tunnel and live a full and happy life.

    • Julie Negrin says:

      Thank you so much for reaching out Linn!! I hope you’re daughter and the rest of your family are doing well!!

  4. Anne Dillon says:

    A very moving piece. You write beautifully! I wish you good energy and a speedy recovery.

  5. Judy Pace says:

    Julie, I think of you often. I am a sewing friend of your Mom’s, although haven’t seen her for a while. I really related to your very descriptive writing. You are an inspiration to many. I pray for you to remain the delightful sassy and eloquent writer you show here as you regain your health. But mostly I pray for your complete recovery!

    • Julie Negrin says:

      Thanks so much Judy!! I think you are the third person to call me sassy in a matter of days. 🙂 Love it. Hope your family is well.

  6. Alia says:

    You are amazing, inspiring, beautiful & gifted. Keep on truckin’!

  7. Giovanna says:

    This site is amazing. And you are such a gifted writer. This is a fitting platform for you–better than FaceBook. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. You can do this. If anyone can, it’s you.

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  • Hi, my name is Julie Negrin. I’m a nutritionist that’s battled 4 cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once — due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. In the three years since I lost four organs, I've been slowly transforming to "disabled" after living a mostly able-bodied life. I've also had a bunch of other complications including not being able to eat solid foods.... Stick around if you're not afraid of the ugly bits. Much love,

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher

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