Usually I find clarity in stillness-meditation, being outside in nature, or being on the boat in the water someplace. But recently I got a heavy dose of clarity wrapped in a very unexpected package-my routine mammogram. I will start this story at the end, letting you know I'm ok. And I know now that no matter the outcome, I would've been ok, but the eventual biopsy was negative for cancer. The lesson was positive, though, and it's why I want to share it.
The beginning of the school year always means one thing for me-my annual mammogram appointment. I always go right away, wait for results, and I'm in and out in record time, no issues. This appointment was different, and to be honest I had an uneasy feeling that morning when I drove in. I had the first scans & sat to wait for results, only they came to tell me they needed more pictures. Then more. Then just one more. Then an ultrasound, where the radiologist came in, put her hand on my arm and quietly said, "I'm so sorry".
I didn't ask what she was so sorry about. The faces of her and the tech had said enough. Clearly they found something that looked like cancer. I felt panic descend over me, a squirrel trapped in a box feeling, but outwardly I think I looked calm. I was taken into a room where you get set up with a surgeon for an appointment and to be honest, by this point I felt like I was walking through molasses. I was there, but not really. While I sat in the waiting room between all the scans, I had been fighting back tears, and seeing so many others around me doing the same was overwhelming. I found myself using the strategies of grounding myself, and the using breath techniques that I teach in yoga & meditation classes to keep myself together. That's what struck me the most-I was literally finding out -from the inside out- how these grounding and breathing techniques REALLY work-not just when random anxiety shows up, but when your life gets turned upside down in a literal instant and you think you might scream, or run, or completely lose it.
When you schedule with a surgeon, it's only the consult to decide what will happen next. He was amazing and funny and took the edge off of my anxiety about the situation, but he showed us what they found-a 7mm mass the size of an eraser head, said he felt I would most likely keep the breast, most likely wouldn't need chemo, and that we most likely found it early enough. Still, no one actually said it was cancer, but they kind of said everything else around it. The biopsy was scheduled, it took place, & we waited for results. Thankfully it was the best Friday afternoon phone call to receive. I'm very aware that not everyone gets a great phone call after a biopsy, so while I was thrilled, it wasn't lost on me that this is not everyones outcome. I feel so deeply for anyone who gets the news we all pray we don't get. This experience has brought a new level of empathy and compassion to me I didn't know existed. If this has been your experience, know that you're now part of my thoughts, daily.
I want to share this with you because while I spent 2 weeks in mentally in a not-so-great-place, I moved through it with my most amazing husband by my side, using techniques that are simple and effective. I taught my usual classes, made dinners for the family, and acted like a normal human who wasn't freaking out on the inside...here are my take aways that I hope help you too, if you are faced with something similar.
And above all else? Go for your mammograms. Don't put it off, worried of what they might tell you. If you have women in your life, suggest to them that they go. Ask them when they go next. Don't let them slip through a crack. Finding something early is key, and you're doing yourself a favor being vigilant about your health-if not for you? Then for your family, and your kids who are watching ever so closely how you take care of yourself-or don't.
Nine ways to be your own guide
1.Practice in times of calm prepare you for when the sh*t hits the fan. This was my number one take away, because if this type of work isn't done while you're calm first? Your body and breath doesn't have the "muscle memory", and it will require a lot of your brain power to focus. Let's face it, when it's all hitting the fan? There is not a lot of time to think about theory or things you heard might help you. Do yourself a favor and literally devote 5 minutes a day to yourself to practice 1 technique. You have 5 minutes in your day. Give them to yourself.
2.Ground yourself. No, I don't mean take away your own iPhone and go sit in your room (unless that sounds appealing, then go for it). I mean connect yourself to the present moment. Anxiety creeps in when you start playing the what-if game, when you start going too far into the future. Remember, I had to have multiple scans that day, and each time was followed with sitting quietly in the waiting room-a process that took several hours. That room was full of anxious women, some visibly shaken, or quietly crying. It's very easy in those moments to play the what-if game. You start wondering what they found in your body, wondering why the lady across from you has tears running down her face-what did they tell her? Will they tell me before I leave that everything is terrible? This is a rabbit hole we just do not need to go down, because guess what? In this present moment, everything is fine. You are here, you are breathing, you are present in this moment. Even if something is going crazy in your body, you're ok. Bringing myself back to the present is what kept me from the descent into what-if. So I needed to come back into my body, fast. Since I was sitting in a chair, I first noticed the weight of my body in the seat. Grounding down through my sit bones and from that space, feeling the spine get tall, feeling the extension through the back of the neck. Then I pressed my feet into the floor, first lifting all 10 toes, and slowly placing each one down, pressing it into the floor as you go. I like to press hardest through my big toes, especially in the moments where I'm coming undone. Repeat this as often as you need to-and because it's not turning yourself upside down in the middle of the room or something, no one will know a thing.
3.Breathe your shapes. If you have ever taken my classes, you know I talk a lot about breathing in "circles and squares". Circular breathing smooths out the breath, while square breathing interrupts the breath. While I was having my many sits in the waiting room, and even while getting the ultrasound and ultimately the biopsy done, I found these breathing strategies helpful. Usually in our lives we try to avoid discomfort and pain, but in a situation like I was in, there was no way around it. The only way out was through, so focusing on calming my breath was the only answer. In circular breathing, I envision a circle, and breathe in slowly for a count of 4, maybe 5 (tracing around one half of the circle), then continuing around the circle for the same 4 or 5 counts with my exhale. Repeat. As you breathe, notice the way the body feels as it fills up with oxygen, noticing the rise and fall of the breath, maybe the sound of it too. We breathe over 20,000 times a day, without a second thought-it's amazing how good it feels to notice the deep, calm breaths we are capable of. Square breathing is one to use when you feel extreme anxiety coming over you. Envision a square that you'll be tracing around. Inhale for a 4 count (trace up one side), hold the breath for a count of 4 (tracing another side), exhale for a 4 count (tracing around another side), hold for another 4 count (tracing back to the beginning of the square), repeat. Sound simple right? Practice it. When things are coming apart, I want you to think, "circles and squares" and the number 4. Easy, and helpful for you in that moment.
4.Tell your ego to step aside. Getting up from the ultrasound table and realizing that things were most likely not ok, I was flooded with panic and a desire to run out of the room. I was also filled with the desire to quite literally, scream. I saw a breast cancer quilt hanging in the hallway and was surprised that it made me extremely angry to see it (and what the actual heck-I love quilts!!). If you know me, you know that I'm not an angry person, not even a little bit. My inner reaction to this feeling of loss of control surprised me. In yoga, I talk about the fact that YOU are not your thoughts. You are NOT your physical body. YOU are the observer of these thoughts, the soul inhabiting this body. YOU are more than all of these parts on their own. While I was feeling this panic, anger, confusion...it was interesting because I felt I was sitting back and watching my nervous system descend into it's sympathetic side-the fight or flight side-and that's not me. Rapid heart rate, panic, wanting to RUN. I'm much more of a parasympathetic girl-calm heart rate, rest & digest side of things. Calm. At one point I heard my inner voice scream-WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME-and then I heard that same voice, in a much calmer tone say, well why NOT you? And I thought oh...I think my ego is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. We like to think that "bad things" only happen to other people, but truly WE are the other people. And frankly the experience is only "bad" because of our judgement of the situation. When I left the hospital that day, it took me time in my car before I could drive. I had to tell my ego to shut up and mindfully focus on my breath, but I needed a bit more than that. It took a little 54321 work to get me fully together.
5.Connect to your senses. As I was stepping out of my ego's freak out mode, I needed to be practical, and drive my car home. There wasn't time to lose it anymore, and frankly, was that helping me? It wasn't. So I used a technique that connects your to the present moment+your senses, 54321. Find 5 things you can see-name them out loud-who cares if people around you look at you funny-my steering wheel, a red car, a lady walking, the hospital building, my purse. Find 4 things you can touch-my mala beads, the steering wheel, my arm, my hair. Find 3 things you can hear-the car engine next to me, a bird, the radio. Find 2 things I can smell-my lavender essential oil I keep in my car, the sandalwood of my mala beads. Find 1 thing to taste-mints in my purse. While it might not sound like a big deal, it was. Simple technique, but it brought me completely into the present, it gave my mind something to focus on, and allowed me to get it together and drive home in a calm state. I promise if you keep this in mind, it will work for you too.
6.Be compassionate. I spent 5 hours at the hospital that first day-lots of time in between getting called back...if you live near me, most likely you can picture the changing rooms with the fabric curtains where you get dressed to go home. As someone sitting there for a long time, and watching many people come and go quickly, I was quietly wishing I was them. Something unfortunate stuck out to me while I waited-while there were plenty of discreet women, there was a handful of women who got on their phones and loudly exclaimed how they were "outta there" and how amazing everything was, etc... with no regard for the room full of nervous people, some visibly coming undone. The staff was so polite, and discreet when letting you know you can go-or if you had to stay, but I was shocked how some patients who were leaving had zero regard for what was happening to others around them. It was a reminder to me of how aware we need to be of people around us, we just don't know what the person 5 feet away is going through. It reminded me while I got good news a couple weeks later, I would forever need to be aware of those who did not get the news they hoped for, and be sensitive to that if I shared this story.
7.Choose to focus on your nutrition. The minute I looked into the fridge after getting crummy news, I looked at it as my new pharmacy. What in here could I have that wouldn't feed cancer? How could I eat more green leafy stuff, and eliminate sugar? What foods are best? Where do I get them? In those first couple days, I drove to Newark Natural Foods and walked the aisles. I was on the verge of tears the whole time because I realized I didn't really know what I needed to add-but I did know I needed to remove more sugar from my diet. I ended up buying myself a gluten free oatmeal cookie, not exactly what I had planned (!) but hey, I was in a haze (and it was actually really good). Luckily I had already begun a workout and food tracking plan through my friend a couple weeks prior, so being more mindful in what I was eating was already creating changes for me (minus that impulsive cookie purchase). While I tend to goto Google for my questions, it was too overwhelming. I found it was easiest to focus on eating less processed food, more fresh foods, and adding way more water to my diet. Don't let a crummy diagnosis be the first time you examine your diet. Give yourself the very best chance to support your body, and literally feed yourself to support your life. Give yourself the best chance to fight anything that's acting up inside of you-but for the love of God, eat a cookie now and then.
8.Shift your mindset & let go of BS. As soon as this 7mm mass was described to me, I felt like it was an intruder. Kind of like a toxic jerk that shows up to your party who wasn't invited. I was seeing how it would want to try to infect all the happy little cells around it, filling it with its toxic BS, taking me over. It dawned on me at one point that this mindset and visualization was pretty crappy. I didn't want anything toxic to take over, I didn't want that 7mm to turn into 14mm. I wanted that eraser head to remember what it was supposed to do in the first place-be healthy and help me. So I decided to shift this image, and envision all the cells in my body as really nice girls at a party who noticed a toxic jerk showed up. They decided to just love on her until she remembered that she was really a nice person deep down, and she stopped acting like a jerk. So instead of trying to fight her off, they loved her, and she decided it was better to just be nice. This visualization is what I would come back to while I was having a very hard time sleeping. I found myself awake for long periods of time at night, and you know when you're already worried, how those night time hours are when your mind can go nuts with the "what if" game. Give yourself a specific visualization to come back to. Keep it positive, even if you aren't feeling positive. Let the visualization be your guide. The mindset re-set will help you see with unbelievable clarity what is really important in your life. Let those things become your focus, and let all the BS in your life, or in your mind, just melt away. There is no space for it when healing is on the line.
9.Be open to all forms of healing. Before my appointment, I was noticing things in my body, in particular when I played my singing bowls in class, or during private sessions. The quartz in my bowls resonates in the body at a cellular level. If that sounds crazy to you, consider the fact that under a microscope, your cells all do one thing exactly the same-they vibrate. We are made of vibration, it's not made up in crazy land, it's real science. Quartz is the best transmitter of energy (notice if you have a watch on...or use a microphone...quartz transmits and amplifies that energy & that's why it's always been used) and when I play the bowls, those tones, frequency and resonance move through you. I believe deeply that it heals when it shifts the vibration of those cells to one of health. When I played the bowls, I had very strong feelings in the affected breast, even before I knew anything was going on. When they told me it was the left side, I honestly wasn't surprised. I decided I would focus on my own healing through using the singing bowls, and also through getting a spiritual reading. The woman I met with told me specifically that I was resonating at a high frequency and vibration-no sign of any disease at all. It was the first time I considered that what 2 physicians had told me could possibly be wrong. I had not considered that before-I saw the pictures, and seemed hard to believe anything other than what I saw. But she was so sure I was resonating health, I decided to believe it was possible. She didn't know that my biopsy was the next day, and while they found the mass, it showed no signs of cancer. Am I saying this is always an outcome? No. But I am saying that being open to various forms of healing will serve you well. It's not denial, it's recognizing that there is more to this life than the western medicine we are accustomed to. And while I didn't plan on writing 9 things to focus on for your healing, she kept telling me the number 9 would start showing up in my life, and here we are.
I learned through the experienence of the waiting game, that you need a couple amazing people to walk through it with you. My husband was beyond supportive, kind, thoughtful, and above else helped me see that no matter what the final result was, that I would be ok. We would be ok. And I could handle it with him. I have undying gratitude for him for all of his support-there really aren't words to express how deeply I already loved him, but it's even more. I am forever lucky to have had him in my life since we were young kids in the 6th grade. And for my sister for giving me all the info she could on getting the best surgeon, helping me dodge my kids questions when I had appointments (they apparently stalk me on the find my iPhone app, hahaha) & checking on me on the regular-thank you from the bottom of my heart. While I didn't want to alarm people before I knew all the details, I needed to share a little. Don't hold all of that heavy emotional stuff by yourself. Find people you can lean on and let them walk through it all with you. You are most definitely not alone.
Here's To Your Health!