Archive for October, 2011

posted by Amy on Oct 22

Instead of blogging I’ve been working on school work, mostly. I’ve also been posting on a forum for people who have HER-2 positive breast cancer. Today there was a thread responding to a magazine article about breast cancer survival statistics. One woman whose recovery does indeed appear to be miraculous wrote about positive thinking. Another wrote eloquently about living in the now. Several others talked about loving life, being spontaneous, and being grateful. I wrote the following contribution to the conversation (plus some editing and embellishing).

I do think there’s a mind/body connection, but I don’t think we either give ourselves cancer or cure ourselves solely with prayer/meditation/positive thinking or the like. However, I do think it’s quite possible to kill myself with negative thinking, with giving up, with saying “what’s the use?” And it certainly can’t hurt to harness the power of the mind in service of a physical outcome that we prefer.

Except for one thing. I would hate for anyone who “fails” at that to think she did something wrong or she just didn’t want it enough. That is just cruel. And it’s horribly unfair.

On top of all the miseries of cancer diagnosis and treatment, cancer patients are supposed to be cheerful and positive. I think the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) pressure to do that comes from society’s uneasiness about death and dying. It’s almost like I have to pretend I don’t have an incurable illness so other people can go on pretending they aren’t going to die. I have decided I can do them (and myself) more good by learning how to live as fully as possible.

I try to live in the Now¬† (thank you, Eckhart Tolle and Jon Kabat-Zinn) and to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, wonder and joy. I realize the latter is helped a great deal by the fact that I don’t feel sick. The days I do get gloomy or grumpy are usually correlated with some physical complaint. So there’s another mind/body connection.

For me it’s a matter of submitting to and accepting my own mortality and being happy, grateful, joyful and fully human not just in spite of that fact but because of it. It is my creatureliness that makes me who I am. It is this body, this mind, this spirit, this history, this unique expression of creation that is me, myself. Inevitably, mortality is part of it.

The author of the article is concerned about seeing her daughter graduate from high school. I sympathize, but nobody ever gets “done.” My “do” list, my “bucket list,” my hopes for the future, will be interrupted at some point, even though I will always want more. But I realize I can’t let my wanting more blind me to the life I have now. I used to be very driven and goal-oriented. Then I noticed that every time I hit a goal I felt let down. That’s because I kept thinking that realizing the goal would make me happy, and it never did. Happiness is not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got. “I would be happy if ______ [fill in the blank]” is never true.

The Psalms often talk about the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Being thankful for whatever happens is easy when it’s smooth sailing, excruciating when you just got your heart ripped out. I have had to force myself to say “Thank you, God” in situations that I could see absolutely no upside to, and that I had, moments before, been begging God to change. When I submit, when I quit fighting, when I say “thank you,” it really is a sacrifice. I lay my ego on the altar. I lay my certainty down. I lay down my righteous indignation. And I crawl into God’s lap and cry. Then comes the peace that passes understanding. There’s no earthly reason to be thankful for misery, and I’m not, but I’m thankful that nothing can come between me and God’s love, and I’m thankful that God will never abandon me.

The key to happiness and wholeness is to Be Here Now and be thankful–to radically accept my situation and quit wishing it weren’t so or imagining that if I were in charge of my fate I’d design a better one. My ultimate destiny was set the day I took my first breath. It is certain that someday I’ll take my last breath. OK, so now what?

I listen to guided imagery for healing. (As I said, I figure it couldn’t hurt.) When I first heard one of the affirmations, when I was newly diagnosed and still freaked out, it was quite off-putting. But now I love it. It says something like, “More and more, I know that I can heal myself and live or I can heal myself and die. My wholeness is not determined by my physical condition.”

I am whole, healed, accepted, loved and perfect in my imperfection, in my finitude, in my fragility, in my humanity. There’s really nothing to be afraid of, and there’s everything to gain from seizing the moment and loving it as completely as I can.


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