Breast Cancer Awareness month takes on a whole new meaning for me this year. As many of you know, I was diagnosed with what I like to call a “touch of cancer” in April of this year and it has been quite a journey. When I was first diagnosed my two biggest questions were “What does this process involve?” and “How do people deal with this?” One of the most helpful things for me in answering these questions was to hear the stories of others. So, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month and the many other women faced with this question, here is my story.
It began with a routine mammogram, as so many stories like this do. Two days later, I received a call asking me to come back for more pictures. This obviously made me a little nervous, but I know many people that have gotten “call backs” which have turned out to be nothing. I resolved not to give it too much thought and went into “keep calm and carry on” mode. When after 12 (yes 12!) more pictures they told me I had to come back the very next day for a biopsy, I knew that cancer was a real possibility. After the biopsy they scheduled an appointment a few days later for me to come in and hear the results in person. It was definitely the scariest doctor’s appointment I’ve ever gone to in my life. My husband, Doug, and I went in and I was diagnosed (I’m being specific here because there are so many different types) with invasive ductal carcinoma. This is a good diagnosis; it was a small stage 1 breast cancer. My friends and I had been saying “if it is cancer let’s hope it’s the "Sheryl Crow Cancer” and this is pretty much what I got. Still…I was wracked with fear, anger and blame. How could this happen? What did I do wrong? I’ve always exercised and thought I was eating healthfully. Although I was surprised, perhaps I shouldn’t have been because both my mother and her twin sister are breast cancer survivors and I’ve learned that about 230,000 women are diagnosed with it each year. After the diagnosis the next part happened so fast: two weeks after the biopsy I had a lumpectomy and two weeks after that I began radiation.
I healed from the surgery fairly quickly and was able to get moving a few days afterwards, beginning with walks and taking it day by day from there. I am still working with tightness in my arm and chest (which may be with me for life) but have completely regained strength. I tolerated the radiation well and was able to maintain most of my usual activities. There are a lot of options these days when it comes to care, both for cancer and general health and I learned that I had to be proactive in gathering information. Perhaps even more importantly, I really had to trust my instincts because I didn’t have time to waste questioning whether I was making the right decisions or not. As a side note for people navigating the breast cancer labyrinth, I highly recommend that you make sure to bring someone with you to important clinical appointments. Not just for support, but also to help you take notes, stay present and decipher the information given. The technical information can be truly overwhelming even without the emotional component which can get in the way of clearly hearing and processing the information.
Once this new reality had sunk in, I had to reassess how I was taking care of my body and mind. I have always eaten healthfully, but now I am even more conscientious about eating organic and whole foods. I get pounds of local produce delivered on a regular basis, and have cut most processed foods from our diet. We eat a lot more vegetarian meals in our house and juice vegetables daily. My family has taken this journey along with me, and all of our diets have improved.
Dealing with cancer has a remarkable way of boiling things down to their essence so that you can see more clearly what is important and what is not. For me the priority has come down to relationships; relationship with self, family, friends and community. I have learned that even the people closest to you don’t always know how to react and they may need guidance. It’s difficult to know what to do for someone in need but it’s also really hard to ask for help for many people including myself, I have learned how to offer a specific help rather than offering general help for the people in my life that now need it. I have gotten better at asking for help and being direct about my needs. The process of needing and asking for help has actually strengthened my relationships and helped me view my community in a new way.
I have begun to spend time meditating. I’ve found a great resource in Yogaglo where I can find guided meditations that fit my time and my needs. I have been working on getting quiet and listening to my body and to my inner voice. It is definitely not easy (a Dailey Method class is much easier than sitting for meditation!) and it really is a practice. I believe that we know more than we think we do and when we pay attention we can save ourselves a lot of frustration. I have made an effort to have more compassion for myself (which was absolutely necessary while going through this process) and to more truly and actively appreciate my body for all of the amazing things that it does right rather than focusing on the cancer. One byproduct of compassion and gratitude for self is compassion and gratitude for others. I have found that this has positively affected many people in my life and my relationships with them.
Professionally, I have been doing more of the things that I love, excel at and that support the Method. For me that means focusing on teaching classes, teacher training, workshops and continued personal education. This process has forced me to become better at delegating so that I am free to concentrate on the things that energize me and invigorate the Method. This has enabled me to bring a whole new level of energy and awareness to TDM, which is so exciting! I am in debt to this Method and to this community; TDM has not only been my passion and livelihood, but it has also played an important role in my physical and mental healing this past year. Taking classes and allowing myself to take comfort in the amazing community that we have created helped me to feel healthy and strong as I was going through this process that had potential to make me feel just the opposite.
Now that the whirlwind of treatment and decisions has passed, I feel that I am both able to address the issue in a more public way (hence this post!) and to consider what good has come out of this experience. There have been many positive ways that my life has been enhanced by this experience and I say this with the full knowledge that I am one of the lucky ones, and because I am one of the lucky ones I feel a responsibility to take these unintended lessons and weave them into the fabric of my life and work.
This week all of our Studios are holding a donation only 90-minute class to support a couple of Organizations that are close to our hearts: the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization and To Celebrate Life Breast Cancer Foundation. I hope you will consider joining us for class or offering a donation so that together we can make a difference.