In 27 days I will celebrate one year of remission.
Today, I reflect on one year since I got the telephone call.
At 8:58 AM my doctor left a message that did not pop up on my phone for at least another 20 minutes.
I was at work, and my office is in a cellular black hole. I was unable to listen to the message through my phone. I had to call my voicemail from a land line. I learned that I had cancer via voice mail.
I’ve left the voicemail unheard, like this, since, that day.
I remember looking at my desk, that space between my keyboard and the edge, staring at the wood as I listened. He gave me the pathology report results, and then gave me some names and numbers of oncologists to call, and of course asked me to call him back if I wanted.
I remember taking a very deep breath. I had a moment of overwhelming helplessness. Didn’t know what I should do first. I didn’t want to call my husband or my family. I tried to think of a way to get through this without telling anyone. I realized that was going to be impossible. I decided to take care of business. I think this all happened in 16 seconds. I called and made an appointment with the first oncologist he had recommended and then called my doctor back.
So began something I had not signed up for.
Looking back, I can honestly tell you that in so many way this has been the darkest year of my life.
I try to hang on to those moments that gave me moments of brightness, but it’s some of the hardest most desperate hanging on I’ve ever done…
Especially during those times when recurrence, in spite of a “98%” survival rate (which is the same as any of us pretty much) becomes that focus on the knowledge that I am on that low end of that 98% spectrum and a swirling mess begins. I wish I could invoke my husbands Austrian pragmatism and just eschew that as silliness.
Actually, there is a part of me that can. What ends up happening is that I have conflict.
So, since I have dedicated October to mindfulness I want to explore how I can manage this conflict. I hate feeling the way I’ve felt this past year. This article gives some clear steps on how to do that:
- Whenever you become aware of negative thoughts and emotions arising, rather than ignoring them, or setting them aside for later, identify, acknowledge, and honor them.
Identify: As a result of my cancer diagnosis; I am scared. I am angry. I am sad. I feel lonely. I feel ugly. I feel unloved. I worry that it will come back, every little pain or ache can bring that worry to mind. I feel unworthy. I feel like crying. I feel tired. I feel selfish for being so sad and upset about these emotions. I feel let down. I feel like family is a joke. I am heartbroken that my mother chose to defend my aunt and berate me just a few months after my surgery when I was trying to find the good things in this. I’m angry that my aunt was a crybaby about my not thanking her enough. I feel like friends can bring greater value in times of stress (and this haunts me). I feel weak. I feel like a failure. I feel judged. I feel helpless. I feel like something I considered vital was beat out of me by this cancer, and by those I love. I am heartbroken to realize I no longer think I’m a kind person. I miss the pre-cancer me.
Acknowledge: I clearly can see that these are all related to my diagnosis and experiences relating to all that has happened to me in the past year.
Honor: I have tried to do this, this is where I am stuck.
This past weekend I was at a leadership retreat where we did an exercise in which we had to picture us as an 8 or 9 year old.
I was told to picture that little girl in front of me. And tell her that I loved her. That she was bright, and kind, generous, and beautiful… loved. I was to caress her cheek, and hug her. I was to tell her she was valuable, important, strong, and brave.
2. Become very clear on what the specific upset is by identifying the exact thoughts that are bothering you. Are they self-judging, bad memories, or anxiety about future events? Any thought that causes dis-ease in you, regardless of past, present or future is applicable.
3. Next, indentify the specific emotions that arise in you as a result of said thoughts. What do they feel like? Is there tightening in your chest? Is your stomach turning or is there a throbbing sensation in your head? Again, any emotion that causes dis-ease is applicable.
4. Once you’ve clearly identified the thought(s) and emotion(s), close your eyes and explore the imagery they subsequently create in your mind (once you’re familiar with the practice, you won’t always need to close your eyes—i.e., if you’re driving, or in public you can still do this.) Do the thoughts and emotions create colors, shapes, figures? Are they abstract or clear? The important thing is to let your thoughts and emotions create the imagery while you simply become aware of what they are.
5. Breathe. We’re at the half way mark and I’d like to offer you a sincere congratulations on completing the first half! Our natural tendency is to suppress these uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, often telling ourselves that we’ll deal with them later—but honestly, does later ever come? Unfortunately for most of us, it never does. So even just by taking the time to become conscious of, and identify these unpleasant thoughts and emotions is a huge step! Let’s not stop there however, because here’s where the really good stuff starts to happen.
6. This step is where everything begins to change! Once you have the mental images of what your thoughts and emotions look like (and even if there’s no image at all, this practice still works), picture yourself holding the image (or lack thereof) in the same way a mother holds a newborn baby. Picture the image of your painful thought and emotion wrapped in a warm blanket, being held with very loving care closely to your heart, your chest, as you extend it very sincere compassion from your heart center. (You can also use the imagery of wrapping the thought/emotion in a warm blanket and placing it in a baby carriage, and rocking the carriage back and forth.)
7. Next, mentally (or verbally) say to the image that you know it’s there and you promise to care for and hold it with compassion until it’s ready to go. Do your best to say these words from a very sincere place in your heart.