August 26, 2007

with even mind

I reached a new state last week - one I've never known, it's colourful, it's peaceful - it's aware of fear but is more aware of joy - mostly it's a place of certainty, although I'm not sure of what.

I've reached the state of equanimity.

Getting hit with a diagnosis of breast cancer was like being thrust through a portal to a place I didn't want to know, never wanted to visit, let alone live.

As those first few days passed, I found myself begging and pleading to know how to get through the fear and anxiety. If I could conquer it, control it, I would be helping myself, no, in fact I'd be leading myself beyond this frontier of diagnosis. I couldn't go back. Life wasn't that way anymore. There was no way back. I had to move forward - but I didn't know where.

So bearing the dent of the two-by-four that the diagnosis slammed into my forehead - like a passport - I felt my way forward. No path, no directions, no map.

Strangely, bits and pieces of the path dropped in front of me. Just when I thought I was stepping off into mid-air, there would be another piece.

This is my path.

First piece - my Steve.

Then there's my friends and family.


So in the beginning, I felt what I felt when I felt it.

People layered me in survival stories - the grandmother who had advanced breast cancer in her 40s and lived to 93, the mother of three who had stage III, lymph-node-positive cancer who is thriving now.

Of course others just told me stories of whole families felled by death. I learned to look at them dumb with wonder. And then found myself bursting with laughter when I re-told the stories later. There's a whole blog to come about the stupidest things people said to me.

One colleague told me her aunt had it and lost six years of her life. She didn't remember anything - not even her niece's wedding. And yet she has beaten it (she made it through the crucial five year mark). My jaw dropped.

I went home, grabbed Steve by the arms, looked into his eyes like my life depended on it and told him, "There is no way this is going to own me. This isn't all of me. It's a small part. I can't live with the feeling of being hunted for the next five years. I am not going to give up feeling what's going on right now. I am not going to lose the present. Don't let me lose sight of that."

"I promise," Steve said.

The next day I bought a charm bracelet in support of the Run for the Cure.


Over the years I've dabbled in meditation. I have never taken a course. I only ever taught myself about quietness of mind - and like everyone I'd sit, close my eyes and my mind would start up a full discussion about how great it was to be in a quiet mind...and how not quiet my mind was...and then I'd sigh, forgive myself, and start over.

I did it now.

I even bought books - Meditation for Beginners - and found Meditation for Dummies, I'm not kidding, at the library.

It's working.


I have been seeing a psychotherapist for a few months, by chance, dealing with anxiety stuff, trying to understand where it comes from, trying to gain some balance between my heart and mind and soul about what I want in life and how I got here. Jan helped me look through childhood wounds (as first my Dad left, then my brother ran away, then died in a car accident) to see how I've coped since and how I haven't.

She asked one day what I saw inside - what the pain looked like. And I described a slit, ragged, stony, and through it I could see blindingly bright flowing lava. It moved so fast it took my breath away. I told her the lava wasn't the problem...that lava was the core of me, the essence of me, the truest part of me. But the slit...she's a wound I said.

And to the edge of the wound, on her knees looking in was a little girl. Me...of course, the girl of those years. When Jan asked me what I would say to that little girl if I could - I blurted out without hesitation, "Oh little one. You're fine. You're wonderful. And I love you so much. Unconditionally." And I cried.

Jan buys big, big tissue boxes.

That was a few months back.

I still, not exactly talk to the little girl, but am "present" with her - reassuring her, helping her feel safer. There is such love in that and forgiveness.

During that first week of coming to grips, I went to bed one night. I rolled on my side and said to her through the air, "Hey little one." She looked up at me. "You were so resilient through all that stuff. I need you now. I need your strength. I need you to help me."

She held out her hand - without hesitation. I grabbed it. She smiled and came to me. She just walked into my arms for a hug - and has been near me ever since. She plays, she dances, she reads, she sleeps, she sits in my lap and lets me hold my arms around her.

We, she and I, seem to have come full circle.


My Mum has been wondrous. She's been here. She survived colon cancer at 46. She's 80. So she gets my irritation at people's fear. My irritation at their bone-headed observations. She gets my need to laugh. As always her core of iron inspires me.


Two weeks after my diagnosis to the day - a friend went for her own biopsy. It came back positive. We're now cancer patients together. I was unnerved. I felt icky. Her cancer is larger and more aggressive. I couldn't put my finger on it - but I felt guilty for being luckier. It was hard to take. They have whipped her into the system. She will be through her surgery this week, while I'm about to go in and talk about my surgical plan.

I brought it up with Steve. He said, "You have been given the gift of perspective. And you have someone who truly understands what you're going through."

I felt a great weight lift.


The same day I heard about my friend I had results back from my MRI and ultrasound tests - my other breast is behaving itself. And the MRI didn't show up any surprises. The twinges of aches, the thought that with every passing minute the cancer is getting a tougher and tougher grip on the rest of my body - my doctor told me is totally normal to feel - but I'm fine. There is no sign of it outside the breast.

I felt another great weight lift.


Everywhere I turn, people tell me how lucky I am to have the surgeon I have. Even my co-diagnosed friend, who ironically works in the breast cancer field, told me during her diagnosis process she called her favourite contacts to find out who she should see here - and one name came back at her, my surgeon. Another colleague of mine had her. A nurse who didn't work for her, but respects her enormously, told me how lucky I was...and the surgeon's senior fellow told me how she's been through thousands of operations with her, and she's unbelievable.

I'm in good hands. Another weight...gone.


Now...the knowledge. I couldn't face the research. And yet, I'm a researcher/producer by trade. My day job is to find and research stories - and I've spent years digging passionately into science and medicine. But my body and brain went on strike when I went near the books my surgeon gave me. My stomach tightened. I turned the books over so I couldn't see them, then buried them under home decorating and food magazines.

Out of sight...out of mind...Not so much.

Steve was going to read up on it for me - a need-to-know basis only.

Then last week I dug into Wellspring's website - a cancer care support centre. Then I went to the Dragons Abreast team website. Then to the Canadian Cancer Society's website. Then the National Cancer Institute's website - both the patient's info and then the health professionals' info. Then onward to the primary research articles and by midnight I was perusing the journals on PubMed to see what they're finding out about various chemo treatments.

I was on the couch, laptopped and square eyed, and I laughed as I said to Steve, "I'm back."

He asked me what I meant. I told him I was researching. He smiled at me, with his whole face, eyes twinkling. "I'm glad. That's what I've been waiting to hear."

It was instinctive not to research until I was ready. And something just told me I was ready.

I tore through another book this weekend - The Breast Cancer Survivor Manual.


Then I found out last week - my friends are harnessing their energy and creating a team for the Run for the Cure on September 30th. How can I repay their love?


My place of joy has rooted itself. I have love, inside and out. I'm happy. By the end of the third week I gripped Steve's arm again and said, "Is it right that I feel normal again? Am I denying something? Do I have my head in the sand? I feel normal."

And he reassured me that all this emotional work is paying off in huge dividends, bigger than I knew possible.

Any news, good or bad will be what it is.

And I know I'm feeling normal, my black humour is in full swing.


These are the disparate pieces that led me here. As I said, I wanted to reach a state of equanimity. And after a few days I thought I'd better look it up to be sure it means what I think it means.

Main Entry: equa·nim·i·ty Pronunciation: "E-kw&-'ni-m&-tE, "e-kw&- Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
Etymology: Latin
aequanimitas, from aequo animo with even mind
: evenness of mind especially under stress

Hahm Sah - I am That.

And I'm here.

Now if I could only trust that that's what this is.

1 comment:

Julie said...

Lots of good news here -- your MRI, your doctor, your state of mind. Most especially your state of mind.

I'm cheering from the sidelines.