Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Opposite of Doubt

In class last week, my yoga instructor said to set an intention for ourselves.

"Breathe in your intention. Hold on to it and make it your focus throughout this class. As you exhale, let go of something that's no longer serving you."

I inhale deeply: healing, lightness, faith.

I exhale slowly: doubt, darkness, disease.

I move through the familiar postures, try to ignore the tightness in my hips (where I'm told we hold emotional stress). Releasing into seated forward fold near the end of the hour, my nose rests on my shins. As I grab my feet, I notice how much my soles are peeling -- a consequence of the chemo. I am relaxed here, folded into myself, breathing deeply and repeating my mantra over and over in my head: Get out, get out, getoutgetoutgetout.

This cancer is not me, not welcome here. It is an anomaly: I'm not obese, not a smoker, and cancer does not run in my family. I'm not obsessive about it but I try to eat healthily. I don't have much of a sweet tooth (save for dark chocolate), and I rarely eat red meat. I practiced yoga until I was 7.5 months pregnant and the poses became too awkward to be useful. I've run two marathons and raced on the cross-country team in college. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy just 8 months ago. My body is strong.

Of the major risk factors for developing breast cancer listed on The American Cancer Society's website, I meet the criteria for three: I am a woman, I started menstruation before age 12, and my first pregnancy was after the age of 30. I look for answers as to how else this could have happened. I definitely drank more than three drinks a week in my twenties. But so did everyone else I knew. I wonder if my makeup or deodorant contains parabens, which have been linked to cancer. I should be checking labels more closely. How much plastic have I been exposed to in my life, before everything was BPA-free? My head spins with the possible ways I could have made myself sick. Chris reminds me that if they knew what caused cancer they'd have a cure. He tells me this is a random mutation. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.

I have never doubted that I will beat this, but I still have moments when I'm scared out of my mind. I don't know how the two emotions coexist, but some days the fear is palpable -- fear about having to be vigilant in monitoring for recurrence for the rest of my life, fear about the statistics for advanced cancer, confident that I will watch my boy grow up. I feel that fiercely, almost violently. I am not leaving him.

The other night, I read a story about a woman who didn't beat breast cancer. She had two young children. I am sure she wanted to live; any mother would. I don't know what makes me certain my story is different than hers, but I'm holding onto it and making it my intention.


  1. Thank the universe for yoga. . . wish I had had that refuge when I was in Leukemia Land. Keep breathing and try, try not to be afraid. You can do this. Incredible numbers of cells divide every day, and some of them make mistakes. We can wish those cells hadn't slipped under the radar, but one of them did. You are a survivor, and you will thrive again. You can do this.

  2. When I had MRSA, I only suffered for a week. I went to the doctor after complaining to my parents that I felt terrible, couldn't keep anything down, and was in an unbelievable amount of pain. When I saw the woman who is still my primary care provider today, she said, "If you had waited any longer to take care of this, you would have died." I can laugh about this with you now, saying, "I thought it was just a gnarly pimple!" but finding out how vulnerable you are at 18 was a completely life-changing experience.

    That incident led to my obsession with every little bodily nuance I experience. The frequency with which I visited doctors and hospitals grew exponentially. I remember pacing my living room floor, feeling my throat tighten and my chest constrict and being so sure that this was it. It was only a year ago, in fact, that I convinced myself I had MRSA again, and my doctor told me that it was just an ingrown hair.

    Shortly after that time, someone very close to me asked me if I knew how strong the human body is. When I sat back and thought about it, I remembered all the times I'd fallen, sprained something, been poisoned by something I are (or drank!), had the flu, or any other combination of illnesses, infections and general unpleasantries. Humans are strong. And even though you have this unwanted visitor in your body, and even though you have some due diligence to perform when it leaves you (because it WILL leave), you're strong. Because you're a person, and a mother, and a wife, and someone who puts up with some of the fussiest clients on the planet, and someone who gives her cats feline antidepressants and all of that takes a tough dame.

  3. What a beautiful and inspiring intention. Well written, too.