Cancer

Finding Calm - Even When You Have Cancer

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When you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer,  your mind starts spinning like a caffeinated hamster on a wheel. When I was trying to decide between a mastectomy and radiation for my ductal carcinoma in situ, there were times I wished I could unscrew my head, shake out its roiling contents, and screw it back on.

If I could give only one piece of advice to people trying to figure out what to do, it would be this: Find a way to your stillness so you can make the decision that’s right for you. Not me or 20 other people–you. And just like deciding on a course of treatment, only you know the best path to that still place.

For me, music really helped calm that constant internal buzzing. For you, the answer may lie in meditation or prayer. Other than weddings and funerals, I haven’t set foot in a church for more than 30 years, but I did occasionally pray that I would make the right decision. I also prayed for calm.

Doing things with friends also helped keep the noise at bay, although I would caution you against too much busyness. I cancelled a family vacation while trying to figure out a course of action, because it just felt right in my gut. I needed that time for reflection.

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My goal was to reach a place where I wouldn’t be second-guessing myself later, and I never have going on three years out. Whatever it takes for you to reach that place, just do it. It’s not fun to be alone with the contents of your head, but you will need to find that place of stillness. It’s the only way your inner voice, or intuition or whatever you call it, can make itself heard.

A corollary to the internal commotion is feeling like you have to make a decision right now. Trust me, you don’t. With DCIS or early-stage cancer, you’re not putting your life at risk by giving yourself time to think.

Thanks to a mastectomy I’m essentially cured, although I have a standing date with my oncologist every six months and I’m taking daily Tamoxifen to prevent cancer from showing up in my other breast. But the noise in my head and time pressure are back, for reasons completely unrelated to my health. More on that next time.