When It’s Not Benign: A Mindful Journey through Breast Cancer
Living in the Open Question
I received the call late Friday afternoon. “I’m sorry to give you this news, but you have invasive carcinoma in your right breast.” The doctor who’d performed the biopsy was talking about next steps, an MRI, meeting with a breast surgeon, choosing a mastectomy over lumpectomy.
I was thinking, “shit!”
The thing is, I’ve had two prior biopsies on this same breast in the last 15 years. Both benign. So, when I felt the lump, had the mammogram and sonogram, my brain focused on the same result. Part of it was wishful thinking, and why should I think anything different? My ego would like to think it has some control over this. But they wanted me to have a biopsy and it was on my calendar before I walked out the door.
I was OK with all of it until talking with my doctor the following Monday. I could hear the concern in his voice and it was the first time I heard anyone say abnormal and malignancy in the same sentence. I let him know the biopsy was two days hence.
That night wasn’t a restful sleep, especially not after a few glasses of wine. I know better, but in the moment, it felt easier to be with a glass of red. As I journaled the next morning, I found myself bursting into tears, releasing emotions, moving on with my morning, and repeating this cycle a few more times.
I was grateful for the next day, biopsy day, as it was a step closer to an answer. Laying on the table, I told the doctor that I still thought it benign and that whatever the lump is, it wants to be removed from my body. He didn’t agree nor disagree.
He wouldn’t and couldn’t commit to an answer, and logically I knew this, but my ego still had to prod for an answer. I’m grateful for the thoroughness of the procedure. 5 samples rather than 3, vs. the 1 in my prior biopsies.
We talked about Maui and the other Hawaiian Islands until he needed to zero in. It’s amazing to me what the body can do, as the scar tissue from the first biopsy bent the tip of the needle and even he was pretty amazed. When he went in for #5, I asked my scar tissue to soften and I felt an ease within my body as I breathed into it. Success.
I left with a bandage, feeling pretty good, found a Rueben sandwich for St. Patrick’s Day, and later a stroll along my favorite river walk.
Two days later, I received the call.
One of the things I teach my clients is to live in the open question. It’s a foundation of our work where we get to explore in a state of curiosity, and to be with what presents itself in the moment. The journey of coming back to who we are takes so much longer when we’re not present.
I don’t know where this will lead. On my walk the night of the call, I started going into the what-if’s, and that only got my adrenalin running, my mind racing, and it reminded me of how I don’t want to be in this world.
My life used to be one of swinging wildly from one end of the pendulum to the other. The energies of what life brought often blew me from one side to the other. Mired in the past, my stories, focusing on why things had happened to me, or future tripping about all of the possibilities and permutations of what could happen. It’s been through my own healing journey that I’ve learned to more quickly come back to center, rather than focus on what’s around me.
I’m not sure why now, and this I am exploring. I’m in a place in life that when something presents itself, I look. Somewhere in this there’s a gift, perhaps multiple, something more for me to understand, and definitely things to release. I’ve asked Spirit for guidance and through my journaling and meditations things are being revealed.
Interesting too is that most days I pull oracle cards for myself, and six of the last seven days, I’ve pulled Peace. The message of this card is freedom from attachment, radical acceptance, and that everything in my world is exactly as it should be.
The old me would have gone into blame. The sugary processed foods that were a normal part of my diet as a child of the 60’s and 70’s, the other things I consumed into my body including years of birth control pills, and the ways I’ve mistreated it, taking it for granted. I could also blame it on working on Wall Street for 27 years, the stress I put myself under while trying to prove myself, working ungodly hours for that godly paycheck. Marriage to an alcoholic and the associated stress.
But other than the foods of my childhood, and even then, the choices I made were mine and at the time aligned with where I was in this world, mentally and spiritually. To point a finger at my younger self, to spin myself into a frenzy to try to figure out the cause, or to point a finger at a job I chose to stay in, or a partner I married puts me in victim mode. It takes me out of alignment and only serves to waste precious energy.
One thing I do believe is the toughness of my scar tissue is a direct reflection of the stress I internalized. When we don’t have an outlet for our emotions, they go within and do untold damage. Until the damage shows up as a lump or something else.
The old me would have pushed through, which kept me disconnected from others and myself. I’m not letting fear take over as I would have, and I’m doing my best to not numb out. To not swing with the pendulum. Being present isn’t always easy and when I find myself on one side or the other, I’m quicker to bring myself back.
This diagnosis doesn’t define who I am. There’s a deeper softening within that’s allowing me to be with the experience.
We learn from each other and as I’ve benefited from others, there’s someone else out there who will benefit from this.
My intent with this series is to share as I navigate the unknown. To understand the deeper questions as they arise, and to mindfully be with this journey through breast cancer, however long it may last.