It’s been almost 13 ½ years since I heard the life-altering words, “You have metastatic breast cancer.”
Except for being a woman, I met none of the breast cancer risk factors.
There was no family history of breast cancer, menstruation didn’t happen early, and my first child was born before I was 30; I wasn’t overweight, hadn’t used birth control pills or hormonal therapy, had no radiation exposure, and was only 43 years old.
What the hell?
From the beginning, I was never into wearing hats or socks or shirts, or anything with the pink ribbon that symbolizes breast cancer on it. This wasn’t conducive to healing—for me.
There are millions of women and men who feel differently and I totally support whatever brings a person peace, connection, and joy on their healing journey.
Taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, especially during a health crisis, can look a bit different for each of us. Slowing our roll, looking within, and creating an environment of healing is priority.
We all pretty much know this, right? There’s tons of information out there on the internet, in books, in magazines, and through family and friends. Everyone has an aunt, mother, friend, coworker, or distant somebody who has or had breast cancer.
Breast cancer awareness is not the problem. We are aware. Now what?
There’s no doubt that experiencing a cancer diagnosis rocks our world. There are an endless number of questions:
Will I die? Why? How? Is it something I caused? What can I do now? Will I die?!
What I found most frustrating was the lack of concrete answers. It felt like quicksand. Question after question pulled me in deeper and deeper into a quagmire of terror, dread, and despair. I needed to find a way out.
Letting go helped. It didn’t happen overnight—it was an often agonizing, painful process—but it did happen. Letting go of the questions happened first. Then letting go of needing answers was soon to follow. This allowed space to focus on self-care and healing.
As a population, we talk a lot about healing. What is healing?
According to one of my favorite online sources of truth, Wikipedia: “Healing (literally meaning to make whole) is the process of the restoration of health from an unbalanced, diseased or damaged organism. The result of healing can be a cure to a health challenge, but one can heal without being cured.”
So far, this definition speaks to my heart. “Heal without being cured”—I love it.
Healing without being cured may be a difficult concept to accept—it harkens back to letting go. Healing involves letting go of preconceived ideas of what constitutes healing. For my situation, this meant allowing myself to feel all my emotions, no stuffing allowed. Not only did I need to know what I was releasing, I needed to grieve it, be mad at it, hate it, and eventually love it. The “it” was the f*cking cancer.
Holding onto any of the negative, destructive feelings and thoughts would have killed me—of this I am sure. The cancer was a part of me and I needed to find a way to love it in order to let it go.
So, what’s this letting go stuff all about?
It’s usually not easy, but always (in my experience) worth it.
Buddhist philosophy teaches us about nonattachment—how going within sets us free from expectations ruling our lives. Nonattachment brings clarity, perspective, and a way of looking at the world with more tolerance and compassion. We’re able to enjoy the moment we’re in and not be chasing after future moments or looking back to past moments.
Letting go is a process. I like to think of it as a process of learning to love and accept ourselves in every moment, not just when we’re looking, feeling, or doing wonderful stuff. This means loving ourselves on our bad hair days, when we’ve said something crappy to a friend, when we engage in gossip, or haven’t been “walking our talk.”
We’re human. We make mistakes. It’s okay. Every moment brings with it opportunity to do better.
Since October is designated as “Breast Cancer Awareness” month, it’s hard to get away from all the pinkwashing.
There’s pink ribbons on buckets of chicken, energy drinks, yogurt, and even trash cans for God’s sake! It’s unclear to me how any of that helps folks with breast cancer, and I feel it’s annoyingly intrusive.
The ways I’ve found to beat the October blues may or may not work for you. Hopefully they’re a starting point, a place where you can begin the process of healing through self-care and letting go. Remember, you always have the power and ability to heal in whatever way works for you.
1. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Our breath will keep us in the moment and help our minds not spiral out of control to unhelpful places. It’s always with us ready to support us, let’s use it.
2. Stay mindful of what brings you joy. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for making sure we’re doing what brings us joy and makes us feel alive.
3. Remember you are so much more than a diagnosis. This can feel difficult when we’re feeling swallowed up by doctors appointments, tests, and results, so it’s super important to hold onto memories of when we didn’t have a diagnosis.
4. Meditate. It’s easy to learn and helps us feel more grounded, which allows us to face challenges with more clarity and focus.
5. Let go. Allow ourselves time to fully feel our feelings and work toward releasing them.
6. Move more. Any time spent in action and movement will take us out of our heads. Yoga and dance worked wonders for me.
7. Write about it. Journaling can be super therapeutic. It gives us a space to say whatever we want to say and this can feel empowering and cathartic.
8. Connect with others. We humans are social creatures, so getting out and being around other humans helps us not feel like we’re all alone.
9. Think before buying “pink products.” There’s power in our pocketbooks and we can make an impact by what we choose to buy or to not buy.
10. Practice self-care. Let’s treat ourselves really well. Get that massage. Take a warm Epsom salt bath. Drink an organic fresh smoothie. Go for a leisurely walk. Meet a good friend for a cup of tea.
11. Love yourself. Corny as it may sound, being our own best friend and advocate makes such a positive difference in our health. Show ourselves the love we’d wish to receive. Enjoy our own company.
12. Let go…again. This takes some practice. There are lots of ways to let go. Some ideas are affirmations, organizing, 1:1 therapy, a support group, or visualization. We find what works for us and do it.
“Let things go. Release them. Detach yourself from them. Nobody plays this life with marked cards, so sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Do not expect anything in return, do not expect your efforts to be appreciated, your genius to be discovered, your love to be understood. Stop turning on your emotional television to watch the same program over and over again, the one that shows how much you suffered from a certain loss: that is only poisoning you, nothing else.“ ~ Paulo Coelho