Proverbial Time Out
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
— Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism)
There’s a running joke that my friends and I share about my being a five-year old child or, on a really good day, maybe a little bit better at 5-and-a–half years. So trust me when I tell you that this cancer thing brought out my most temperamental five-year old self over and over, and over again. When I wasn’t throwing an internal tantrum or the whine fest which is my most demonstrative, I was instinctively acting out, playing, cracking jokes and holding my breath—literally. I protested this disease and the effect that it would have on my family, my life, my body, my style and my future.
Cancer takes a lot from you. One day, you're a strong, healthy person who doesn’t spend a lot of time at doctor’s appointments. Then, in the blink of an eye, you're not many of the things that you'd taken for granted and previously identified yourself as being. It is devastating. My sense of self and the reality that I knew is gone. Cancer made me feel scared, alone, vulnerable, angry and vehemently betrayed by my own body and incredibly uncomfortable in it. Having arrived in Cancertown by way of diagnosis, my initial and largest fear was having to tell my parents who had just lost their only other child two years prior, (not cancer related) that they may loose their remaining daughter. Once I learned that my diagnosis, which was caught early did not equal a death sentence, my next impulse was to immediately get the ‘hell up outta Cancertown and dodge'!
In the beginning, to keep me focused and my spirits lifted, my team of friends and family did most of the work. I wasn’t quite able. They made sure to encourage me to continue living my life. I was pretty shell shocked and quite numb, but my friends got me out of the house and out of my head. We laughed a lot. Kym and I went out for lunch and cocktails after all of my doctors appointments. She also hounded me to get on dating sites. Which I did. (Kym wasn’t taking ‘no’ and she is usually right—but don’t ever tell her that.) Simple distractions helped me to move through the process of living and breathing, until something really weird happened. I began to get a little giddy. Cocktail lunches with the girlfriends were fun and prior to surgery, I even went out on a couple of dates with some nice guys. While the experience was pleasant it was not at all what I was really trying to think about at that time. In my head, I was preparing to be held up on my couch recovering from surgery, being cranky, away from work, unable to keep up with my practice or usual routines, all with Jackson-Pratt drains hanging out of me for a couple weeks, scars, limited mobility and sick person hygiene for almost a month or longer! ...Seriously??
Then, somehow I began to get a little excited? — STAY-CATION HOLIDAY, BABY! (What a freak.)
I instinctively started to prepare for ‘My Cancer Vacation’...And that is when my fight really began.
On my own terms, I was beginning to accept my fate, mandatory needs surrounding my cancer, recovery, my immediate future and all things beyond the physical benefits of rest, post surgery. My pending ‘time out’ was beginning to sound good because at that point as, I was actually quite tired. Truly embracing that reality empowered me in that moment to move towards healing. The theme was to get better, which would require my stepping back and slowing down. I realized that when a 'time out' is not viewed as a punishment, it could be seen a real gift. If the respite was going to happen, I needed to stop fighting the facts and take some control by devising a plan to get the most out of my rest. And I did.
Like any 'time out', hiatus, escape, getaway, trip or vacation, its important to think about what to do with that time away from your normal environment and routines. Looking back on it now, in preparation for surgery, I went into ‘road trip’ mode. For example, on a road trip, your entire vehicle becomes your travel case, mine was my apartment but most specifically my couch where I would rest for almost six weeks propped up on pillows. It was all a blur and happened so fast, but I instinctively made a plan, ordered a bunch of books from Amazon.com, reinstated my Netflix account, stocked the house with supplies, and placed everything within reason an arms reach from my couch position so all would be ready when I was. Then, I finalized flight arrangements to Barbados.
It was exactly one month after my diagnosis while I was being run through my series of scans, (3D mammogram, an additional sonogram and MRI), that one of my dearest friends lost her mother to lymphoma. This amazing woman had had breast cancer years ago. In her lifetime, her strength had touched so many people not only as a result of her own journey with cancer, but by being an extra special human being in her family and community. Her funeral was weeks before my surgery, so I adjusted previously planned airline tickets and dates already in place for Barbados, so that I could attend the services. I mourned, loved and laughed hard with friends. The vast numbers of people who came to the funeral to express their good-byes and to celebrate my friend's mother was an overwhelming testament to how much she lived, and was loved. I stayed for ten more days, worked on my tan, meditated, practiced yoga, eased into the acceptance of my sudden cancer reality, truly started to rest, then prepared to come home. Soon after that, my focus began to clear. As I moved through a place of acceptance, I began to feel my way towards the center of my own cancer experience — and what I learned quite intimately, is that cancer is not at all for the weak.
Barely two weeks after returning from Barbados, the cancer was cut right out of my body and reconstruction was begun in tandem. Gone. It all went well. The next day, I was already recovering at home on my couch fully experiencing my little cancer vacation where I rested, began to read through my stack of encouraging self-help books, meditated, binged on Netflix and some TV. I was determined to play and grow from the experience. During this bizarre little cancer cruise and vacation, I wrote entertaining emails to some friends, and was entertained by visits from others. Kym had become my official and motivated cruise director. She, along with my other gal pals, Caroline, Marie and Betty formed a respectable, stellar and loving crew. Each of these women as well as my staff and teachers stepped up to play a huge part in keeping me positive, motivated, feeling cared for, and sane. My parents also offered great support, loving guidance and cooked meals. I also have a great yoga community that had no idea that they were playing a very sweet and important role in my recovery. Everyone helped to keep my rudder in the water keeping me and my journey on track towards the most positive results. Though I never felt particularly strong then, or at any other time of my life, it is post diagnosis, post cancer and currently in treatment, where I have finally begun to feel the humility and undeniable evidence of personal inner strength— and for now, I settle into a tiny bit of peace for myself.