I’m floating in water inside a podlike vessel, engulfed in darkness. I hear nothing except the sound of my breathing and the ripples of the water as I glide my hands across the surface. I’m inside a sensory-deprivation tank, and, according to the people at Float Toronto, I’m about to experience “profound peace and relaxation.”

I’ve wedged a small towel in the door of the tank – it’s enough to allow a sliver of light to get through so I can keep track of the door and get out if I need to. (I’m not fond of enclosed spaces, but this year has been about trying new things and testing my limits.) After floating on my back for several minutes, I decide I’m ready for the full sensory experience. I remove the towel and allow the door to close. I’m plunged into pitchblack darkness.

I take some deep breaths to try to calm my nerves as I bounce gently in the salted water. (The salt changes the density of the water, so it prevents me from sinking.) As I push myself back and forth, from end to end, I feel weightless – like I’m floating through space. The silence is eerie yet calming. I don’t recall ever lying in total silence for an hour, and I revel in this opportunity to get away from the noise of the outside world. “This isn’t so scary,” I think. “I kind of like this.”

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Instinctively, I raise my arm up above me to feel for the door handle. I can’t find it. I run my hands along the walls and still can’t find it. My heart begins to pound. There’s no panic button inside the tank. What if I can’t get out? I have lost my sense of direction; I’m not sure which way I’m facing.

I frantically feel my way blindly around the edges of the tank, until at last I find the door handle. Now that I know there’s an escape, relief washes over me. I’m afraid to let go of the handle in case I lose track of it again. I weigh my options: keep my hand on the handle for the remainder of the hour or let go and trust that I’ll find my way back to it.

And then I make a choice. I let go.
I let go of it all.
Of all the unknowns and question marks. Of all the fear and anxiety and stress. Of all the pain and anger and emotions that have been tossing and turning inside of me since the day I heard the words “You have cancer.”

For a short while, I decide to just be – away from the worrying, the what-ifs, the physical and emotional scars that I always carry with me.

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I float on my back with my eyes closed. I feel a sense of tranquility, and my heart is full of gratitude for having this moment of peace. I don’t know what the future will bring, but in this moment I am alive; it suddenly hits me how amazing that isto be alive.

After a while, the lights in the tank gradually come on and calming music begins to play, signalling that the hour is up. I sit up in the tank and let my mind adjust to the fact that it’s time to come back to reality. I open the door and re-enter the world, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

I know now that I am ready to move on. Regardless of whether my cancer returns or not, I will never fully leave it behind me. It will always be travelling alongside me, a distant memory that I can’t quite shake. I’ve come to accept that. This past year of my #lifereboot journey has been full of adventures and challenges, and I’d like to think that I’ve made huge strides in my ability to cope and remain grounded in the present. But I know that the life ahead of me will still have roadblocks. It might not be the perfect life I once imagined, but it’s my life, and I am excited and grateful to be able to live it.

And whenever I stumble and lose my way, I will remember that door. I will pause, take a moment and have faith that I’ll eventually find my way back, clinging tightly to the handle and pushing it open, anxious but always hopeful about what awaits me on the other side.

Stephanie Gilmnan’s year-long #lifereboot journey
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What it’s like to be a member of the “Cancer Club”