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.
Survival > Existence,