The haunting had begun two months prior. There was something wrong with my breathing. Having lived with manageable asthma, I knew this was different. I couldn’t explain it sufficiently, but I was off.
As the weeks went by, I ran through a slew of appointments: Primary Care doctor, asthma and allergy doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, and finally, a mental health counselor, because I couldn’t stop thinking of my own death.
Nobody could find anything physically wrong with me. My lungs were fine and the continued breathing difficulty I was describing didn’t quite fit with what happens with classic anxiety or panic attacks. The pain on the right side of my mid-back was viewed as a possible overuse injury or as a result of a massage that was too deep.
From early January through early March, when people would ask how I was doing, I would answer something to the effect of, “I’m okay. I’m trying to figure something out, there’s something going on, but I’m working on it. I just need to figure it out.” I started canceling anything extra on my calendar. I just wanted to be home. Friends were getting increasingly concerned by my behavior change. I was nervous. At times, they could see that there was a frantic or uneasy look in my eyes. They saw my chest heaving in discomfort. Fear had entered my world and had a firm foothold in my psyche.
Upon waking each morning, I hoped I’d magically returned to normal during the night. Instead, the mysterious new way of being remained.
One evening, I was alone in my house and a wave of panic and desperation washed over me. I remember breaking down and pleading to whoever or whatever might be listening, “What is WRONG with me? What is happening? Please, please, help me understand! What do I need to do? Tell me! Help me! Please! I KNOW something is wrong with me!”
A week later, I started my day with a routine mammogram.
When I got back to my office, the phone call came. They found something. In BOTH breasts. The right side was the one that was more concerning. I had to go in for a magnified mammogram and ultrasound.
I told a couple of close friends. They shared their own stories of being called back, trying to allay any fears.
But, I now knew. They’d found the source.
You see, my annual imaging was overdue by three months. I had delayed it because I had been attending the parade of other appointments about the erratic breathing and upsetting thoughts. Since I had previously gone two years in between mammograms and did not have a family history, I was not concerned by waiting 15 months versus 12. I had not connected anything worrisome with the mammogram that morning, because the pain was in my back and the difficulty was in my lungs and head. I was just ticking off the “self-care” box of annual appointments.
Interestingly, the pain was on the part of my back directly behind my right breast.
After additional testing (magnified mammograms, ultrasound, core needle biopsy), my diagnosis was medically confirmed.
I did not get too many details – those would come when I saw the Breast Cancer Surgeon.
My first appointment with her brought additional unexpected, and unwanted, information. I thought they would make an excision, and I would possibly need to have radiation. That wasn’t to be the plan.
I needed a unilateral mastectomy.
I summoned my inner strength, gathered my loved ones close, and looked to something higher.
I thought about death. A lot. This also led me to think about life and living. I learned more about what I didn’t want, so that I could begin to craft a more meaningful life on a variety of levels.
I am lucky. I had it worse than some and a lot better than many others. That said, I understand the fear a cancer diagnosis brings, I have experienced orthorexia, life-changing surgery, intense types of physical and mental pain, feelings of “scan-xiety”, medication side effects, and the ongoing fear of recurrence.
After I was diagnosed, I craved information. Although the broad strokes were given to me, the “detail” recommendations for healing work were lacking. I found the stories of others to be beneficial guides. I got a better idea of what to expect, even though I knew that every experience was unique.
In the coming weeks, I’ll share key lessons I learned. I’ll talk about my own experience, I’ll talk about the role of love (love is what it’s all about, people!). I’ll talk about Qigong, Tarot cards, Yoga, a couple of kooky kitty cats, unique fashion choices for a unilateral gal, sonic bowls, and more. I’ll introduce concepts that you might really like and others that you might think are way too out there.
For those undergoing your own cancer experience, I wish you the highest and best.
My hope is that you can find something that resonates with you, something that brings you or a loved one hope, health or a peaceful moment. When considering what might be a good fit, just listen to your gut.
Part of the reason I’m sharing is because I would have wanted to read something like this… an inside view of a portion of what you might experience, which could help you prepare just a little bit more. A map of the territory. This map only goes so far and others will likely be needed for you, but this will be a way to bring light to some of the shadowy unknown parts that you may move through.
Healing means different things to different people at different stages. Taking time to be still and asking what would most enhance your body, mind and spirit’s healing on a morning, afternoon and evening basis may help you regain a little more control.
May you be able to recognize the blessings that surround you amidst this temporary period of fierce difficulty.
So many will be there for you – allow them in.
Geri Ann Higgins, owner of Fully Present, is a breast cancer survivor, Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Yoga4Cancer Teacher, Reiki Master, Tarot coach and Marketing & Communications professional. Learn more at www.FullyPresentWithYou.com.