duriyah: (Default)
duriyah ([personal profile] duriyah) wrote2013-08-11 01:44 pm

What got me through

It has been four weeks since my surgery. I can lift my arms over my head and do some light weight lifting. I went to a Tai Chi class today for the first time since surgery, and did pretty well. My full-time disability days are coming to a close; I go back to work on Monday.

This seems like a turning point. One chapter of the journey is over, and another is about to begin. The next step will be six weeks of radiation treatments, then after that five years of hormone therapy. I have heard from several people that the hardest part is yet to come. But to me, from my current vantage point, it feels like the most difficult hurdles are behind me. For one thing, the cancer is out of my body now, which feels huge! For another, there are far fewer needles ahead of me than behind me. I think I'll have to get blood drawn every six months, and there's always the possibility of having to go through another MRI scan or biopsy round. But neither is staring me in the face in the next few months!

I have been meaning to write about the things that have gotten me through the journey this far. Now seems like a good time.

First, the non-woo:

1. Tig Notaro. Like, big time. Tig is a stand-up comedian who performed live just days after getting a diagnosis of breast cancer. She had tumors in both breasts and has since had a double mastectomy. Her 30 minute show, called "Live" (with a short "i", as in, to stay alive), was recorded and has now been released as a CD. I bought the download for $5.

An excerpt from the show was played on a episode of This American Life. You can listen to it here.

2. My friends, students, teachers and healers. The response on my Facebook post about the diagnosis was overwhelming. I felt so much love and support, it was just amazing. I was also very lucky to have several women in my meditation and yoga classes who have experienced breast cancer first or second hand and could give me understanding and advice. I am so blessed.

3. My husband. He's been fantastic through this. He's been with me every step of the way, always telling me that everything will be fine. And only a couple of times needing to be reminded that I'm in need of more special care than usual.

4. I already listed the books I have used.

Now, the woo:

1. Prayer and meditation. I generally begin my day with yoga, followed by a few moments of prayer or meditation. But after my diagnosis through the surgery I increased my daily contemplative time to 10 minutes or so. It really helped keep me centered when I had to go to work. Here are some of my favorite prayers.

The Serenity Prayer

Goddess grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I said this one a lot in the beginning, while I was still really grappling with the diagnosis.

The Metta Prayer
May I be safe,
May I be healthy,
May I be free from suffering,
May I live with ease.

This Buddhist prayer was my go-to meditation whenever feelings of anxiety or sadness became too much. I repeated it over and over in my mind during my lunchtime walk or on my way from my car to the office before work. It always calmed me very quickly.

Humme Hum Brahm Hum

I searched hard for a mantra to chant internally during scary medical procedures, as a way to distract me, calm my mind and relax my body. It had to be short enough to repeat on one breath, easy to remember, and pleasant to my inner ear. "Om" felt too short, and Frank Herbert's "Litany Against Fear" was too long. I finally settled on "Hummee Hum Brahm Hum" (from the Kundalini Yoga tradition). The usual Sanskrit translation is "We are we, we are God". The word Hum also relates to the heart center, and one of its meanings is the grounding of Universal Form in the body. So the mantra can be translated to mean "God is in my very being," which I love.

Hummee Hum Brahm Hum also has a lovely tune, which you can hear in this YouTube video.

2. Visualization. Two visualizations came to me during the months before the surgery.

a. One was visualizing my body turned into a flock of butterflies. Most of my body was black butterflies with blue markings. The cancer cells appeared as red and black butterflies. I picked them out of my butterfly body and asked them to fly elsewhere.

Closer to the surgery, the butterflies in the visualization all turned into bright blue butterflies with black markings (think Morpho butterflies). The red cancer butterflies were absent. I took this as a very good sign.

b. The second visualization that came to me was of a sphere, a ball I could either hold or put up around me. When faced with needles of any sort, I put my fear in the ball and bounced it away from me. Or if someone irritated or stressed me when I was at work or otherwise out and about in daily life, the sphere expanded to include all of me, as a shield against the irritation. This visualization of a sphere of power has come to me several times now; I think it will stay with me.

3. Affirmation. Each week, I took a couple of hours out of my weekend for contemplation. This is when I found the mantras and prayers I wanted to work with. I would usually do some gentle grounding yoga to get in touch with me inner strength: Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Tree Pose. Some breath work to calm me.

I also looked for the perfect affirmations for my healing. I will end with a page from my notebook of my favorite affirmations. The symbol at the bottom is the Sanskrit symbol for Hum.