Françoise Cartau: “I am fighting, not against cancer, but to live. »

- through Fabrice Groult

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After having been confronted with cancer three times, Françoise Cartau decided to deliver a testimony “carrying life and hope”. This outspoken 75-year-old woman is the Union Bouddhiste de France's regional delegate for New Aquitaine and head of the Kadamtcheuling Tibetan Buddhist Center in Bordeaux. As she confides, Françoise Cartau draws from Buddhism “spiritual resources to live. »

Why did you choose to testify about your experience of the disease?

Three times, I have been grappled with, plagued and made to live with what is modestly called “a serious illness”. Through my testimony, which I hope brings life and hope, my motivation is to help people who are, like me, confronted with this suffering and this impermanence, in the sense that we really do not know what tomorrow will be done. Moreover Dagpo Rinpoche, my master with whom we founded the Tibetan Buddhist Center Kadamtcheuling, himself encouraged me in this process. Otherwise, I wouldn't have done it. Three times in my life, therefore, the same deadline presented itself in the face of cancer. The first time, I was 34 years old and two young children. The second time I was 72 years old, then the third time I was 73 years old.

How is your experience different, forty years apart?

The first time, I fought for my children, my husband and my loved ones. I fought because I thought it was unfair to give up so young, when I still had the future ahead of me. It also sparked a very great spiritual revolution because I asked myself the question: “But why me? There was no reason! I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, etc. I felt such injustice. The other two times, having become a Buddhist, I was going to be able to experience whether the answers heard in the different teachings that I had followed were going to bring me satisfaction. Because it was no longer a question of theory: I had my hands dirty. In my eyes, the main thing is still not to pile up knowledge, but to reinforce the answers of Buddhism with the problems (or the joys!) that arose for me. This experience was thus going to allow me to verify, concretely, if I had, in me, the spiritual resources sufficient to be able to continue to live in a stable way. In this, illness has been a blessing.

By this term "blessing", do you mean that the more one understands suffering, the more one awakens to the reality of things as they are ?

I would phrase it differently. I had heard a phrase many times that came back to me, later, in small chunks: “Life is a mosaic. Depending on the lighting, little by little, we see what we had not seen”. Clearly, the fact is the same, but the lighting differs. According to Buddhism, all the voluntary acts that we do, by body, speech or mind, are the construction of ourselves. In other words, there were no acts in this life that I remember that justified my illness. It was therefore going to be necessary to see if the fact of postulating the existence of past lives brought a satisfactory explanation. And then I said to myself: “Okay, I want to pay the debts of my past lives. In the end, it's a blessing since I got rid not only of part of my debts, but also of my feeling of injustice. What I really couldn't bear was the idea that chance or someone else's will were the cause of my illness.

And what about the suffering inherent in illness?

I understood, and admitted, that it is up to me to manage my suffering and that it is not worth adding to it. Because this disease is already suffering. If I think only of her, only fight against her, I strengthen her. However, I have a duty to give meaning to my human life. I must, out of respect for myself, my family, the teachings, my masters, etc. fight not against cancer, but to vivre . It's also about trying not to burden my loved ones by putting my illness at the center of my life. The first time I was sick, the person who helped me the most was my husband. One day, he said to me: “We are going to stop living together. You, me and cancer”. This is how I then found the usefulness on the physical plane to heal myself. And beyond that, so that cancer is not the only driving force in my life.

“This experience – being stricken with cancer – was thus going to allow me to check, concretely, if I had, in me, sufficient spiritual resources to be able to continue to live in a stable way. In this, illness has been a blessing. »

The other two times I tried to rebalance the weight of physical and spiritual suffering. When I went to the hospital, for example, to follow painful and tiring care, I remember that my master had said to me: “Whatever the treatments that you are going to experience, heavy or light, you have to do it. Treat you ". I could then become an actor in my healing. Moreover, I tried not to think, before, at this moment, nor after. I told myself that it was completely negative to anticipate it and dwell on it. Meanwhile, it's something else: You have to put up with it, that's all. I might as well put my energy into life. I also told myself that it was only a part and a moment of me that was leaving. That it was just a moment of my life, not a set. Of course, cancer is sometimes a calamity, but after all, it too is composite, therefore impermanent. Just like suffering. It's part of my path, but it will end.

What other teachings have you drawn from Buddhism in order to lead your fight for life?

I remembered what Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche said: “If there is something to be done, do it. If there is nothing to do, leave. That's all. So I tried to do. Buddhism gave me stability not against illness, but in life. My journey was as follows: accepting the cancer that had imposed itself in spite of me; welcome it; take it into account; finally live with. From now on, it is as if I had a spiritual spine which would allow me to be upright. Thanks to the resources that I draw from Buddhism, I am in remission, certainly, tottering, yes, but upright.

Some people confronted with the disease evoke, they, their faith in human beings and their capacity for life. How does this approach inspire you?

For years I have attended retreats in which I heard from my teacher Dagpo Rinpoche that one of the most important assets was to “possess a very precious available and qualified human existence. I believed in it intellectually, but I didn't have a personal image of it. I was thus a human being, living in a state at peace, a country that respects freedom of conscience, ensures equality between women and men and has an efficient public health system, etc. From a more personal point of view, I was surrounded, I exercised a fulfilling activity – professor of classics – and which made sense, I had the ability to reflect, etc. So I believed in all this potential, but learning that I had this disease made me realize that all this acquired capital was at risk. How could I waste such a treasure? It was only then that I told myself that I had to try to humbly exploit what was so precious. Not through big speeches to teach lessons, but in my everyday life. In summary, I decided to trust what I had been taught, living with the intention of helping the other person feel happy as much as possible. And also to understand his suffering which is, just like mine, unacceptable. For example, I can simply smile to awaken love and tenderness in the other. I recognize that this modest result is very far from the primary ambition of "becoming the Buddha for the good of all beings!" These are small nothings, but they are what build me. This is faith.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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