I keep reading that people who have had cancer are now better people: they know what’s important in life, focus on the positive and appreciate every moment.
Here’s what cancer has done for me: uncovered all my unresolved pain, given me a ball of anxiety that has set up permanent home in my stomach, caused me to waver in my confidence and made me feel even more vulnerable than I was before. (Recall, I am the person who transferred out of nursing because I wasn’t tough enough. Plus, I’m a Pisces, astrology sign of the super-sensitive).
That’s some silver lining, cancer! It is more like an ugly brown lining! Thanks a lot cancer!
Obviously I have a wee bit of personal work to do. I remain shocked how cancer care in this province totally disassociates the mind from the body, and how mental health isn’t integrated into the medical care. So I’m pretty much on my own with taking care of my mind.
Here’s one thing I’ve discovered that has helped so far: breathing.
Meditation is a practice that can take a lifetime to master. My sister-in-law referred me to The Calm Monkey right after my surgery. I dragged myself to one of Wendy Quan’s sessions, sore and particularly raw. I left feeling a bit better, with a couple of counting practices that I actually used under the radiation machine to calm the f*ck down. I also attend the cancer agency’s weekly relaxation classes (Which I’m grateful for. Please don’t cancel them!). There I’ve learned you can trick your body into feeling like it isn’t under stress, even when it is, just by breathing.
I’m not into woo-woo stuff, but meditation has been scientifically proven to help with stress. (Look, it is even sanctioned by the Mayo Clinic). Mindfulness is a practice, so it takes practice. I think of it as a little gift of self-compassion. I’m such a newbie that I have no actual meditation advice to give. But if you are feeling stressed and anxious for whatever reason, here are a few articles that have helped me:
Surely you have three minutes to spare? Try this.
New York Times has a super Meditation for Real Life column. How to be mindful with a barking dog! How to be mindful while holding a baby! These are sweet and easy to do.
My friend Louise Kinross has published a great interview in Bloom about how mindfulness helps with depression and stress in families who have adult children with disabilities.
The Calm Monkey’s blog posts have suggestions for beginners.
Now everybody does cancer differently. Everybody does life differently, too. But whatever you do, however you do it, my friends, don’t forget to breathe. Inhale. Exhale. It is a good place to start.