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Image courtesy Jeff Kubina

Mindful Monday - Reflections On My Third Year Cancerversary

Yesterday was April 15th, the third year anniversary of my mastectomy. I know every moment I'm still here is a celebration of life, but I found myself focused on the emotions of the day. I guess I can't help it. My oncology therapist told me I have the emotional memory of an elephant, in that I tend to relive whatever I remember. 

Strangely, last year's anniversary felt more like a celebration. This year, I didn't feel as positive, but I was struck by an interesting thought. As crazy bad a day as it was, it was one of the most mindful of my life:

1.  From the day of my diagnosis in February to my mastectomy in April, I was scared to death of what lay ahead. I needed help dealing with anxiety and found Preparing for Surgery: Guided Imagery Exercises for Relaxation and Accelerated Healing. I put it on my iPod and listened to Dr. Martin Rossman's “Preparing for a Successful Surgery” exercise at least once a day for several weeks before my surgery.  My relaxing place was my front porch, surrounded by beautiful orange day lilies. I knew what I had to do, believed in my decisions and my doctors, but that CD gave me a mindfulness and resolve I never could have found without it.

2. My husband and I left for the hospital early in the morning that day. As we waited outside the pre-op room, I remember feeling a strong desire to run. The fact that I didn't was due to that CD, my husband, family and doctors. Sometimes when you face the primal need for flight or fight, you fight by lying down and submitting. Mindfulness of doing what needed to be done gave me the immense courage it took to submit rather than run.

3. The next thing I remember is lying on a stretcher, ready to go. The anesthesiologist was seated to my left, but I couldn't give him my attention, because my husband was standing at the foot of my bed with a stricken look I hope I never see again. That's when my breast surgeon walked up, took one look at me, one look at my husband and read the situation immediately. She engaged my husband, which distracted and comforted him. I was immediately relieved and turned my attention back to the anestheologist. It's a really good doctor (or, more precisely, "healer") who can read a situation that deftly and respond immediately. I will always be grateful for her act of mindfulness at that moment.  

4. Before I was wheeled into the OR, my husband kissed me goodbye. I'll never forget the look on his face and how alone I felt when I lost sight of him. Then, in the OR, I was scooped up by a surgical nurse whose only focus was taking care of me. She held my hand, gave me constant eye contact, and explained what was happening. I only remember her first name, "Janine", which is my sister's name, too. (Since Janine isn't the most common name and my sister is a nurse too, I thought that was a very good sign and hung on to her every word and touch.) I hope she knows how important her job is, because she meant the world to me at that moment. 

5. The next thing I knew I was in the post-op with an angel in white. Where was I after I lost consciousness, leaving my body to others who I trusted to do their best? You could say I was out of my mind, due to the magic of anesthesia. I wasn't there. But, I think all of us who have faced frightening treatment and surgeries know how very much in our mind we have to be to get ourselves to that place. We know how much courage it takes to submit to helplessness. 

To all of us who have faced surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments, let's take a moment to honor the power of mindfully braving the present, whatever it brings us. I've heard many survivors say, "If I faced cancer, I can face anything." It's true and, as I go into another year post-cancer, I'm going to focus on the mindful power of living each day as bravely as I can.

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Comments

darlene's picture

Happy #3 - woo hoo!!
I will be coning to 1st year annv in june for surgery
I love your blog

Debbie's picture

Darlene:

Thanks so much for the 3rd anniversary wishes!! Congrats on your 1st year anniversary in June. I know that's a big one. Thanks too for loving my blog. I hope to see you here often.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Beegee's picture

Although I have never said,"If I faced cancer, I can face anything," life has taught me how true that statement is. I got through inflammatory bc and all that came with it: chemo, mrm, etc., with varying degrees of mindfulness helped by Jon Kabat Zinn's tape (18 years ago before CDs!), Reiki, friends and family. And recently my husband died suddenly and I am back into "mindfully braving the present, whatever it brings us." I have never been one to extol the virtues of cancer--never once said, "Cancer is a gift." But I know now that I learned strategies and integrated lessons from those years that are enabling me to cope with a new life miles away from the person, place and home that were the loves of my life.

Debbie's picture

Beegee:

I am so sorry to hear of the sudden loss of your husband. I can't imagine how that must feel. I too have never said that cancer is a gift, but I do believe cancer has brought gifts into my life. Like you, I've learned a lot about coping, struggle, bravery, courage and amassing the tools and resources (wonderful, supportive people) who made it possible. I'm so sorry you have to face struggle again, but I am so glad to hear that you are coping with your new life. I wish you many blessings and much strength.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Nancy's Point's picture

Thanks for the reflective post, Debbie. My anniversary is in the near future and I remember it all so clearly. I think I always will. The look of fear on my husband's face that day reminded me (and still does) how greatly his life was impacted by my diagnosis as well. No wonder we don't forget.

Debbie's picture

Nancy:

That day was one of the most emotional of my life. It was every bit as life changing as my wedding and the births of my two children, but I was also scared to death. I can only hope that when I focus on the difficulty of that day, that I also appreciate the love and support I got from my family and medical team. I could never, never have gone through that day without them.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Marie 's picture

I too have the emotional memory of an elephant - never heard it described like this before..but oh boy! is it true. I do think on that point, that the impact of a breast cancer on our lives is the same as any traumatic event - it goes far beyond physical damage. The emotional toll is often more devastating and longer-lasting. It takes time to recover your emotional equilibrium and rebuild your life and the journey to healing is not a linear one, but one that is full of ups and downs.

Debbie's picture

Marie:

I was a bit surprised by my feelings on Sunday. Even three years later, the emotional impact of that one day still causes me pain. Those ups and downs will be part of my life always, I bet. Healing is a full-time, life-long project.

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only elephant. It definitely helps to be part of a loving herd.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

Catherine's picture

Happy THREE year anniversary. These anniversaries can be haunting, but they are nevertheless a positive type of milestone. Congratulations.

Debbie's picture

Catherine:

Thank you and you are so right. The bottom line is that we're still here and that's always a positive, celebratory thing.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

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