My friend Nan responded to my recent e-newsletter.
“I’ve had a recurrence in my other breast. I had a lumpectomy and am taking medication. Don’t tell anyone. You are one of the VERY few I’ve told – not even my sister or any family members and almost no friends either. ”
Nan and i are b.c. sisters. Such a surprise. We met each other at the Nurse Navigator’s office in our small-town hospital 5 years ago. All we had to do was look at each other to know. No words needed to be spoken. But, of course, we did speak.
No small talk of “What are you doing here?” There’s only one thing any woman is doing there, walking into or out of the Nurse Navigator’s office. We cut straight to the chase. “When’s your surgery?” “When’s yours?”
Even though Nan is “only” a friend of a friend, and i don’t know her that well, she has felt like a sister since that one moment. We went out to lunch last week, where i heard her whole story. You might think i was acting compassionately, but really, it was self-interest that prompted me to ask her out to lunch. Now i understand her more deeply. Like a sister.
And i’m not telling anyone because it’s her story to tell. I can only tell you mine, and the bottom line is that i feel at peace with her decision.
Although the sub-title of my book is Surrendering to Life, for some people the word “surrender” feels like pouring gasoline onto the inner fire of trauma. Surrender to that? I did surrender and look where it got me!
I am not talking about surrendering to toxic relationships. You know what to do with toxic relationships: Get the hell out of there! You have that in your power. Go! Get away! Do not look back. Every time you look back, you run the risk of being drawn magnetically back to the toxicity.
Surrender does not mean practicing idiot compassion. Surrender does not mean I should be able to deal with this. Dealing with it means leaving that situation in the dust, leaving it in the past tense.
I am talking about surrendering the story, surrendering the second dart of mental anguish about what happened. Yes, of course, we have the emotional pain. Stay right there. Stay with the first dart. No story allowed. Continue reading “Surrendering to Life #6”
My friend who notices the early warning signs of depression tells me that one of the precursors—anxiety—is a liar. Oh, yes. No matter what anxiety tells you—the scenes of something bad; the mind not knowing, yet wanting desperately to know, to know, to know; the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff—anxiety is a big liar. Just take a look at this present moment. This very moment. Continue reading “Anxiety is a Big Liar”
As I was walking into radiation five years ago for my intake, Katherine passed me going the other direction.
The radiation department at Cheshire Hospital has its own outside entrance and parking lot. If you’re walking down the radiation hallway, you are not going to meet stray people. You’re going to meet people who are there for the same reason you are.
“Katherine!” I exclaimed “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I have bladder cancer,” she said. “What about you?”
“I’m here because I had a lumpectomy two months ago,” I said. “I’m getting my tattoo marks for radiation today.”
“I don’t think I’m going to do radiation,” she said. Continue reading “Bundle of Energy”
I gave a copy of Breast Cancer Meets Mindfulness to my friend Lenore. A month later, she admitted she hadn’t been able to open the book because—she eventually realized—she felt she might get cancer if she read about cancer. She thought, irrationally, that cancer might be contagious.
When she shone the light of reason on that subterranean belief Cancer is contagious, Lenore was able to realize the ridiculousness of the thought that was driving her emotion of Hunh-unh. I don’t want any of that. Get me out of here. I don’t want to read about cancer. I don’t want to think about cancer.
She was able to relax enough to open the book, which she now thinks is a gem.
Lenore’s superstitious belief might explain why some of our friends drop off our radar screen when we receive the diagnosis of cancer. Those friends who don’t call, don’t write, or don’t visit may fear the “contamination” of a cancer diagnosis.
Shunning is an age-old practice of creating social distance for one reason or another. This distance really says more about the friend than about the person with the cancer diagnosis.
When friends drop back, this is our opportunity to practice self-compassion toward our self as we miss that dear friend. And it’s an opportunity to practice compassion for the friend who may superstitiously think that cancer is contagious.
The first day of our yoga retreat in Puerto Rico, the teacher gave us this mantra for the day: “I am safe in the core of my being.”
That’s a nice affirmation, but it is true? I want to believe that thought, but do i really feel safe in the core of my being?
When we say in our metta phrases “May I feel safe,” what are we wishing for? What are we praying for?
Safety is a lack of fear, a lack of worry, a lack of anxiety. Safety is safe in the present moment.
Some people use the phrase, “May i be free from inner and outer danger.” Most of us live in peaceful situations. We are already free from outer danger for the most part. It’s the inner danger of our own minds that we need to keep an eye on.
What are your most dangerous thoughts? Write them down, and let me know.
I’m on a yoga retreat in Puerto Rico. Our theme today is “I flow with the river of life.” Oh, yes. Things are so much less difficult, life is so much easier if i just go with the flow.
Yet i have spent years of my life (and maybe you have too) fighting against the current. I want a relationship that has ended. I want one of my relatives to be a different person than she is. I want my supervisor at work to smarten up. I want things to be different than they are. I-want-things-to-be-different-than-they-are is a sure-fire recipe for stress and suffering.
I don’t want cancer = stress
I don’t want to die = suffering
I don’t want…. (fill in the blank with your own I-don’t-want), and that equals unsatisfactoriness too.
Now do a thought experiment. Think “I have cancer.” and try not to have an opinion about it. Try not to have a judgment about it. Can you say “I have cancer” like you say, “The sky is blue”?
Of course not, but give it a whirl. And keep whirling the mind back to this moment of blue sky and a warm house. Sitting at your computer and reading this blog. Period. That is all. This is this moment of seeing-hearing (internally)-touching and maybe smelling and tasting. Give the mind a rest for half a second and notice the flow of life this moment.
Mary’s family responded to her diagnosis of cancer “like they had received a death sentence.”
Actually, we’ve all already received our private death sentences. It’s called birth. What’s the cause of death? Birth. But most of us have failed to notice this cause-and-effect, so when we are startled into this recognition, it can be shocking. Wait a minute! I’m not ready for this!
We think of birth as a joyous event. Profound joy overcomes the new parents and may extend to the grandparents. It’s an altered state for which there are no words. Words seem extraneous to the direct experience of the birth of a baby.
Yet everyone who is born will die. Later, or sooner. Death is guaranteed. The time of death is uncertain, however, so we can proceed as if death doesn’t exist. Or it’s so far over the horizon that we can ignore it.
A cancer diagnosis can sound like a death sentence. But it can also be a wake-up call–waking us up to our one wild and precious life.
Mary, who recently had a mastectomy, said that when her husband and adult daughter first heard the news that breast cancer had returned 20 years later, “it was like they had received a death sentence.”
When your main supports have the wind knocked out of them, what do you do? Just at the time when you need them, they are out of commission—hit hard by the news, which sounds like a death knell. Mary was shaken and aggrieved by the re-occurrence of breast cancer (in her other breast), and her family was traumatized.
This is the time to call in the emergency supports—the friend who is a nurse, the friend who is a therapist, the friend who is a hospice volunteer, the friend who is good in an emergency. The whole family needs support, each one probably needing something different.
Ask for help. Build a team that is larger than the close circle of your nearest-and-dearest.
Your main supports need some care and tending so they can get back on their feet and support you. People love to help, but they do need to be asked. Ask.
You yourself would be happy to help a friend. Your friends are happy to help you. Your friends love you.