22 Tarot Lessons from My Cancer Experience

22 Tarot Lessons from My Cancer Experience

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

A cancer journey — from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment to recovery — is daunting, terrifying, exhausting. And it’s an opportunity for a total revival of learning who you are and how you continue to live your life.

Due to a long-term relationship with Tarot, I often view situations and people through this lens. I have also used it to expand my thinking, creatively problem-solve, get inspired and search for wisdom in a non-traditional way. Receiving a cancer diagnosis was one of the scariest experiences of my life. I knew that working with these old friends could help guide me in a direction of deeper self-reflection and empowerment. Humans are meaning-making masters; I trusted this familiar tool to identify key lessons and help me navigate along the way.

The Fool card kicks things off in the Tarot journey. It’s important to note that we experience many journeys through life – sometimes we hop around and sometimes we get stuck and hang out for a while.

Here are 22 lessons I learned with Tarot as my guide. Take (and share) what you find beneficial and “discard” the rest.

fool

The Fool: The morning after my surgery, I went through my deck to see what my recommended way of being was going to be. Coincidentally, it was the Fool. This card is O. Nothing. Fully present in the now. Form has not yet taken shape – it is all possibility and potential. I chose to embrace the highest and best of the Fool’s energy.

Key Lesson: LIFE CONTAINS MANY JOURNEYS. PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER AND KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

For your benefit, I shall work my way through the rest of the journey in chronological order.

magus

The Magician: The Magician is one of my favorite cards. It’s about using all the tools at your fingertips to make things happen. I had a lot of wellness tools in my toolbox and I certainly needed to welcome some magic in my life. What tools could I use during this healing journey?

Key Lesson: PERSONAL “MAGIC” IS IN YOUR HANDS.

 

hp

The High Priestess: Embracing this goddess element was integral – silence, journaling, reading, meditation, time alone. The gifts I received through my daily meditations were meaningful in ways I never could have imagined pre-diagnosis.

Key Lesson: HONOR YOUR INNER WISDOM.

 

empress

The Empress: This was the healing I received from my literal mother and also about letting go of the feeling that I was indulging when I was resting. I no longer view healing as an indulgence or feel the need to justify resting. It is a necessity to SLOW things down. This was a huge lesson in the much too busy, over-scheduled world of my recent past. My body needed the internal sweeping and reconnecting that occurs; I had to relearn that nurturing myself through rest was an essential building block in my recovery process. Additionally, I learned that when I started to worry about things I couldn’t control, a walk outside could swiftly shift me into a different frame of mind. Daily walks in nature soon became an important part of my healing plan.

Key Lesson: NURTURE YOURSELF, INSIDE AND OUT. ALLOW MOTHER EARTH TO HELP.

emperorThe Emperor: Structure was important. Surgical drains had to be measured and recorded. Pain medicine had to be taken. Nutrition was key, especially the protein intake to ensure that tissue was being repaired at a good rate. I engaged in daily exercise to keep my lymphatic system moving and immune system strong, plus non-negotiable scheduled times of quiet meditation to rest my weary, worried mind.

Key Lesson: EMBRACE THE IMPORTANCE OF RITUAL.

hiero.gifThe Heirophant (also known as the “Pope” card): I engaged in learning from multiple areas of healing traditions and channels. I read all types of books in my personal sanctuary space (my living room) and immersed myself in the healing element of music, playing instruments such as singing bowls and drums. I also utilized the ability to “tune up” the inside of my body and relax my nervous system through chanting, toning and singing.

Key Lesson: GATHER INFORMATION FOR PLEASURE AND WELL-BEING. LEARN, THEN SHARE WITH OTHERS.

lovers

The Lovers: This card positions Archangel Raphael, the Angel of Healing, above both the masculine and feminine aspects of one’s personality. The card is about choosing wisely and uniting both sides of yourself – your animus (masculine side) and your anima (feminine side). Instead of viewing the removal of my breast as a loss of my femininity, I embraced it as a healing step to banish a threat and unite both sides of myself in a deeply profound way.

Key Lesson: CHOOSE WISELY WHEN FACED WITH TOUGH DECISIONS. HONOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF; UNITE BOTH SIDES WITH HEALING.

chariot

The Chariot: You may think you are heading in one direction, but you cannot control what life throws at you. I had quite a bobble after I had been feeling overly confident in my progress, having seen too many visitors for too many days in a row and not resting enough. The consequent fatigue resulted in a “mental spiral” in the wee small hours of the morning. It was a setback, and good to receive this wisdom earlier in the healing process.

Key Lesson: THE POWER OF FOCUSED INTENTION IS GOOD, BUT REALIZE THAT YOU CANNOT BE “PERFECT” IN OR “FULLY IN CONTROL” OF YOUR PROCESS.

strength

Strength: You are more powerful than you know – designed from some of the strongest survivors in your DNA chain. The most important aspect of this strength is the deep reservoir of mental stamina. This is sometimes expressed through tears, sometimes through anger and sometimes through humor. Deciding what the most optimal healing approach is for you is a display of strength. This may not be about curing. It may be more about grace and peace or being okay with letting go.

Key Lesson: INNER STRENGTH IS INFINITE

hermit.gif

The Hermit: I allowed myself time to retreat, re-center and re-balance. Sometimes I wanted company, sometimes I wanted to curl up in the fetal position. Sometimes I wanted to have deep conversations and sometimes I only wanted to talk to my cats.

Key Lesson: KNOW WHEN TO RETREAT

 

wheel

The Wheel of Fortune: The period of reflection where I kept asking myself, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” When one thing falls off the “wheel,” it makes room to allow for change to come into your life. This could be as simple as a new way of looking at or responding to the change. Things were changing whether I liked it or not. It was best for me to be flexible and adaptable and let go of unrealistically wanting to go back in time.

Key Lesson: CHANGE IS CONSTANT

justice.gif

Justice: Weighing decisions that need to be made. Looking at cause and effect. Wondering, “Why did this happen in the first place?” Trying to figure things out, realizing that you may never know, and learning to be at peace with this fact.

Key Lesson: BE A NON-JUDGMENTAL OBSERVER… AND BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF

 

hman.gif

The Hanged Man: No movement. Uncomfortable position. The dreaded waiting period of being stagnant and in the midst of the “messy bits.” The pain was not abating, the mind was not stopping, arm mobility was not improving. I had to let go, BE PATIENT and work on “being with” discomfort.

 

Key Lesson: GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE or SURRENDER TO BEING UNCOMFORTABLE FOR A TIME.

death.gif

Death: Thanks to Hollywood, one of the most misunderstood cards in the deck. AND, being number 13 surely doesn’t help! In reality, it’s more of an organic ending to a situation followed by a new chapter – or day – dawning. Right after diagnosis, I repeatedly pulled this card – and one time the card literally popped out of the deck and hit me in the face! As any Tarot reader knows, Death is not physical death. It means transformation and transmutation. Stepping back and urging myself to “calm the f*(^ down,” I was able to receive the card’s meaning. I was no longer who I was when this began and I would continue to become someone different through different stages to come. Transformation was occurring on multiple levels every day – in fact, in every hour and in every moment.

Key Lesson: YOU ARE THE COMMON DENOMINATOR BETWEEN YOUR OLD AND NEW FORM.

temperance

Temperance: Getting in the groove and seeking a more fluid way of being. Perfect balance is an illusion – and if, by chance, attainable, not long lasting. Harmony, such as what is found in nature, was the more healing answer.

Key Lesson: EMBRACE A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND A LITTLE BIT OF THAT. MODERATION IS KEY.

 

dev.gif

Devil: Oh my, this card is another doozy. Obsessing, not able to break free from the chains of the situation. Fear and anxiety are unwelcome visitors throughout this process. They “gift” you with mind spirals, which you can feel chained to, especially in the middle of the night. Stay away from the Internet at this time, you’ll just go down rabbit holes and feel worse. Remove the mind clutter and focus on what you know for sure, what is real right now and connect with someone you love. Heartfelt hugs and a listening ear do wonders to minimize and smooth out panicked energy.

Key Lesson: DON’T GO ONLINE AT 2AM. HUG ANOTHER SENTIENT BEING.

towerThe Tower: Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. In my opinion, this card is the most alarming and challenging. It means that a sudden, unexpected change has occurred that will rock your foundation and affect your whole world. There’s opportunity for major growth afterwards, but when you are in the midst of Tower energy, you cannot even entertain that concept. As they say, the only way out is through – allow others to help you through.

Key Lesson: ASK FOR HELP DURING THIS PERIOD OF EXTREME DIFFICULTY.

starThe Star: Stirrings that you are on the right track to healing. Little signals of rebirth and regeneration. Listening to and learning from other patient stories, yet finding your own North Star to guide you. One interesting phenomenon I experienced was “phantom boob” – it felt so strange and strong that it was actually still there. I sometimes had to look down my shirt to confirm! I now know this meant that healing was continuing to knit things together under the surface… an unnerving, but positive sign.

Key Lesson: RECLAIMING PERSONAL POWER, POSITIVITY, AND WHAT IS POSSIBLE.

moonThe Moon: Worries of side effects from the treatment. Worries of recurrence. Worries of death. The moon brings out our biggest primal fear: the dark, the strange, the unknown, the wild and not being able to see what is hidden from us. One useful way to harness your physiology is to take some slow, measured, mindful breaths. It is the fastest way to naturally alter your state.

Key Lesson: RECOGNIZE AND MANAGE YOUR FEARS.

suncardThe Sun: Baby steps. Beginning to feel more energy and confidence. Breaking through barriers, looking at situations through new eyes and being more direct. Vitality returning. During this time, I started to surround myself with more vibrancy – moving away from my predominately black wardrobe and selecting more colorful pieces of clothing and art, planting flowers that were every color of the rainbow and eating more life-giving fruit and vegetables.

Key Lesson: CLARITY AND ENTHUSIASM RETURNS.

judgJudgment: Seeing the world from a higher viewpoint. Knowing that you never see things the way you did prior to diagnosis. Life is divided into “before cancer” and “after cancer.” Learning to live with uncertainty. Walking has always been healing for me, especially done outside. One evening, I had the most bizarre experience of my body “walking” me home. This observational awareness was impactful in a way that I cannot sufficiently describe with words. As I curiously witnessed my body moving through space, as if on automatic pilot, I thought both of the vulnerability of the physical form and the power of awakened moments.

Key Lesson: DISCERNMENT AND LIFE PURPOSE – LOOK TO A HIGHER PURPOSE, MEANING, CALLING

worldThe World: Feeling whole again. Masculine and feminine united. Dancing with all of the elements. Respecting the vessel of the body. Months had passed. It was late summer and I had been out in my gardens all day, hands in the earth, moving rocks to and fro, watering, weeding, admiring and soaking in all the natural beauty and sounds. I remember going inside to my kitchen sink and looking out the window at all the different shades of green. As warm water ran over my hands, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt true peace and contentment.

Key Lesson: SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION – SYNTHESIS – COMING TOGETHER

Which leads us, once more, back to the starting line – The Fool: Setting foot on your next path in the recovery process – returning to work, starting your individual treatment protocol, learning to embrace a new way of being, understanding that everything is temporary, the importance of being present to enjoy the now and embrace the wow of being here in the first place.

Yet another journey begins.

Note: The cards shown above are from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck.

Next Up: Cool Tips for Hot Flashes

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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 http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com

Exercise: “Get into the Groove…” and Move!

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

I used to exercise to offset the intake of wine and nachos.

A few extra step aerobic classes or Tae-bo sessions and, “Voila!” back to normal.

Alas, that stopped working MANY years ago.

Now, I exercise – or, I prefer to say, “move,” to get lymph flowing and better balance my immune system.

Some of my favorite ways to move:

Walking – This ranks as “best in class” for me. Especially outside in nature. I’m a fast walker and can sometimes move into something that looks like “wogging,” a combination of a walk/jog. Yep, I look ridiculous. And, yep, I feel super alive. But, I enjoy slow, too.

Last August I “loped” around NYC for the entire day, racking up over 35,000 steps and seeing a ton of Manhattan!

fitbit

My “half marathon” around NYC!

Rebounding (Mini Trampoline) – I do this one in short bursts. I weave it in to help me have a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) style of workout. I do a combination of two minutes on the treadmill, two minutes on the trampoline, two minutes of strength training, rinse and repeat… My Fitbit records it as a Basketball workout, which always strikes me as funny because I’m 5 feet tall.

Qigong – I started this peaceful practice when I was healing and continue to incorporate it into my morning and evening routines. I also add the moving and breathing techniques to many of my yoga and meditation classes.

Yoga – Yoga reduces my overall stress level and allows me to appreciate the state of my body on that particular day and point in time. It slows down my racing mind and increases awareness of how interestingly my body fits together. The final relaxation, or

xenasavasana

Sweet Xena (RIP) had the best savasana evahhhh!

savasana, is the cherry on the sundae! When I was younger, I used to skip it. These days, I take a yoga class BECAUSE of those final minutes of sweet stillness. I learned about yoga4cancer when I was recovering from surgery. A friend gifted me with this book and I followed the exercises as I healed. Now, I’m a certified teacher in the y4c methodology.

Cardio Kickboxing – This one is fun and brings me back to the glory days of Tae-bo. I feel strong and have fun doing it. There’s inspiring music, light weights, and I can constructively get out any latent aggression. S*^%*^o)#@%^r!!!

My cancer diagnosis prompted me to appreciate my body and love it more than I ever had before. I was so sad and scared at first, but then became so grateful for how well my body healed and continues to heal. The medication I am on has hurtled me into early menopause (THAT’s a future post – Oh, boy!). I’ve watched the scale steadily increase over the past few months and it’s been hard not to freak out. Both my oncologist and oncology naturopath explained how my body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do – it wants to offset the drop in estrogen by adding fat. But, fat can increase chance of recurrence, so I get stressed. But, stress can increase the chance of recurrence, so… I now focus on figuring out how to “be” with this new way of being. In the meantime, I move daily to balance my immune system. I eat nutritious foods. I meditate to reduce stress. I honor sleep. I practice gratitude for my body and work on navigating the changes I’m going through as positively as I can (and I carry a collapsible fan in my purse).

What helped: The Steps to Wellness Program at The University of Vermont Cancer Center. This program is open to any cancer survivor. It’s a 12 week supervised group exercise program which includes educational workshops on lifestyle management. The American Cancer Society recommends either 150 minutes of moderate exercise (that’s just 21 minutes a day!) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise – or a blend of both – each week to help prevent recurrence and optimize recovery and overall health. Strength training is recommended at least two days a week.

What I wish I knew earlier: After many months, the weight gain WOULD eventually stabilize. It’s slooooow coming back off, but it’s finally beginning to occur.

Some things you can try right now:
Get up and go! Pick something that brings you joy. Like to dance? Try something like Zumba. Like to bike? Hop on a scenic path or try indoor cycling at a place like REV. Like being on the water? Try a kayaking adventure. Choose something FUN that you’ll welcome doing. I have been attending a Monday night Pilates class at Peace of Mind Pilates for the past nine years. An added bonus from this weekly ritual? I’ve formed forever friendships.

kayak

Have fun in nature with friends!

Break it up. It takes seven minutes to walk from my cubicle to the end of the parking lot and back. It clears my mind and always makes me more productive. If done three times in 8 hours – BAM! – 21 minutes of moderate activity.

Practice gratitude. Gosh, our bodies are freakin’ amazing. Think about it. That wonderful heart of yours has been pumping since you came into being. Your eyes are taking in this text and your brain is translating what it means. Maybe you’re listening to music, the sounds of nature or the laughter of someone you love. Or you’ve recently wrapped your arms around someone special – or petted a beloved animal friend. Perhaps you enjoyed an aromatic and delicious dinner. Your body is the vessel that carries around the unique spirit that makes you YOU for this precious slice of time. Walk, run, jump, play, and celebrate the body you have! Cherish it. Love it. MOVE it.

What are some of YOUR favorite ways to “move it, move it?”

Next Up: 22 Tarot Lessons from My Cancer Experience

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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 http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com

De-cluttering

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

I just moved from a comfy, customized, closed-door office to a cubicle.

The past week has been all about adaptability and flexibility. Although I do miss my sweet office (and my dear door!), I’m actively choosing to focus on the many good aspects. Our whole team has more space to spread out, there are beautiful walking trails nearby, I’m exploring new dining options and my total commute time has shortened by a half hour – that’s a reclaiming of two and half hours of personal time each week!

De-cluttering played a crucial role in making this a more successful transition.

wisteriaposter

The trompe l’oeil effect of this garden path opens up my small space.

Moving from a large, uncluttered space with lots of file cabinets and storage to a cubicle in a wider, open floor plan revealed all the unnecessary STUFF I had packed away over the past 10 years. There were outdated files, photographs, “old fashioned” Day Planners and calendars (why was I keeping these?), greeting cards, a “past due” pharmacy of over-the-counter pain relievers, old makeup, deodorant, nail polish, receipts and $1.27 worth of pennies.

I re-homed a couple of pretty posters and potted plants with some friends, temporarily placed my beloved meditation chair in storage and chose one framed picture of my old view (replete with a rainbow!) for my new cubicle shelf.

Our attachment to stuff can be paralyzing. I was 90% ruthless. Yes, a few unnecessary things followed me, but they are tucked away in the bottom file drawer. I have a lot more desktop space, which feels good.

De-cluttering has always helped me feel better.

Before this move, the last “de-clutterpalooza” I engaged in was right before my surgery. I had done the “Remove twenty items every day for one week” approach and it felt really good energetically. Since I was going to be in my bedroom a lot post-surgery, I focused on de-cluttering the tops and drawers of my bureaus, rearranged wall-hangings and furniture and made my closet a “walk-in” again – instead of a “stumble-over-something” one.

cubicleshelf

My cubicle shelf with my old view of Ira Allen Chapel. Good times.

For me, having more openness helps in a space. I grew up in a house with cathedral ceilings and an open living room floor plan, so the preference for airiness is hard-wired. I currently live in a colonial with lower ceilings, so there’s less room to play with and it can get crowded pretty fast.

Remember these five words to reinvigorate the energy of any space:

Re-gift. Recycle. Remove. Release. REPEAT.

I still miss my office, though.

What helped: Clearing out and rearranging my bedroom and closet space made it into a sanctuary.

What I wish I knew at the time: If I followed the twenty minute suggestion below, I could have cleared out even more with the time I had off for healing.

Some things you can try right now:

  • Twenty things per day for a week. Try getting rid of twenty items a day. It sounds like a lot, but you will be amazed how the average Joe and Jill can do this easily. If you’re having any trouble finding items, visit your basement or garage.
  • Twenty minutes at a time. This is a doable chunk of time. It’s more than fifteen and less than thirty. If you want to go longer you can, commit to at least twenty. I promise that you will make a noticeable dent in your stuff!
  • Give something away. Is there something you love, but has been sitting in the basement or garage? See if a friend or relative might use it. If not, bring it to the local Goodwill or hospital thrift shop.
  • Look into Feng Shui. “The art of placement” is a time-honored approach to de-cluttering, streamlining and enhancing your living space. Vermonters, we have a wonderful local resource – Lydia Solini. Learn more about how Lydia can help you reclaim your space.

What has worked well for you when it’s come time to let go of a beloved item?

Next Up: Exercise

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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.

Chakras & Chanting

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

I talk to myself a lot.

Out loud.

I’m sure I’ve received the “side eye” many a time over the years. Thankfully, I don’t care what others think about my doing this anymore.

You see, if I’m talking to myself, I’m either:

  • Problem-solving
  • Giving myself a pep talk or
  • Calming down fears

So, I’ll continue doing so.

I’ve now layered on chanting and healing sounds as a technique to increase well-being and reduce stress and pain, so the “side eyes” will likely increase tenfold!

After my mastectomy, it was hard to sleep comfortably and to lift myself up out of bed when I woke up. You don’t realize it, but your breasts are similar to “kick stands” when you lie on your sides. Without one of the “kick stands”, side sleeping was painful at first. Also, using either arm to prop myself up hurt due to the crisscross nature of the negatively impacted pectoral muscles. That’s where vocalizing through pain was helpful.

I used chanting as an audible lever to help me position myself and also for momentum as I engaged in the Pilates Roll Up to a sitting position. I had been taking Pilates for years and, WOW, did the Roll Up come in handy! I did not have to turn on my side to get up. I just pretended I was a zombie.

As for the chanting, I told my husband not to be alarmed by the volume. It probably sounded worse than it felt, but I had to be loud in order to garner the most effective results.

Good thing he can’t hear very well in one ear.

Embracing Body Wisdom from the Bottom Up

With so much of our time focusing “neck up”, we often miss what our bodies are trying to share with us. We pay attention when things start to go wrong. It’s usually been a long tail to get to that point.

harmony

Strive for harmony – it’s more realistic than balance.

Chanting “up” the chakras can be an enjoyable way to regularly tune in to your body and increase overall awareness. The extended exhale of the chant relaxes your nervous system, harmonizing mind, body and spirit.

Chakra is Sanskrit for “wheel.” These “wheels” layer over major nerve centers of your body. Since your body is your vessel for this lifetime, it only behooves you to get to know it better.

  • Where is it closed off?
  • Where is it strong?
  • Where is it vulnerable?

Chanting can positively impact these areas of energy.

We’ve all experienced heart chakra energy shifts. When you’re surrounded by love, your

heart

LOVE is what it’s all about, people!

chest area (and, in some cases, your entire being), feels open and light. When you are hurting, this area actually pains you. In the past, I have placed my hand over my heart to soothe it and to “hold” it together, “containing” the pain while pressing my hand firmly over my heart.

Your Root chakra is negatively activated when you feel threatened, unsafe – it typically brings elimination problems. I know many of you have been there! Basically, it’s clearing you out to make you lighter to run faster (to get away from that tiger).

Sacral chakra embodies sexuality and creativity – giving birth to enjoyable things that light your fire. Sacral chakra is riding high when you are in a flow state.

Solar plexus work can enhance your confidence and self-esteem. A great example of “leading” through this area is the “Wonder Woman” stance (or, like I have often said, the “car salesman” stance – talk about confidence and resilience!).

Throat chakra represents communication: speaking up, vocalizing your truth and sharing wisdom. It is also about knowing when to stay silent until the timing is most optimal to present a novel idea and having it “land” most effectively.

Third eye (where the base of the nose meets the skull) is all about inner knowing and finding answers when we take time to be still.

Crown chakra is your connection to the AWEsome, which I often encounter in nature, in meditation or prayer and witnessing unconditional acts of love. It represents the mystery from whence we came and where we shall return – the essence of which is so hard to comprehend.

It is believed that chanting can strengthen and realign the chakras. I have heard chakras referred to as energetic “pools”, while meridians are energetic “rivers” that move throughout your body. The art of acupressure and acupuncture harnesses and redirects meridian energies.

When you engage in focused chakra chanting from the base of your spine upward, you give your body a literal “tune” up. By the time you reach the top of your head, you’ll have a nice “buzz” on. This relaxed state can more easily slide you into a meditation session or just enable you to feel a little more zen in whatever activity you feel like engaging. I’ve done it as a nice transition after work, before going out to spend time in my gardens and prior to a peaceful walk in nature.

A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

chakrachartwbijas

Take five and try chanting the Bija mantras up your body right now! LAM, VAM, RAM, YAM, HAM, OM, OM…

“Mantra” translates roughly to “mind vehicle.” A mantra can be your breath, a sound, syllable, word or phrase that can be used as an anchor to return to when your “busy mind” bubbles up. You can bet your bottom dollar that it will! It’s because it’s protecting you. Give thanks! The best approach is to say, “I hear you” and then go back to focusing on your anchor.

I discovered the “Bija” mantras (which are syllables, not phrases) on my first trip to Sedona. Up until that time, I was either chanting the vibration of Om (AUM), corresponding vowel sounds or certain mantras that appealed to me based on what I was moving through at the time. I loved the simplicity of the Bija mantras and their effect. Bija is Sanskrit for “seed,” as a syllable is like a seed of a word.

I also like to do mini chants when I’m feeling stress about something at work or in my personal life. I pick a Bija mantra or Qigong healing sound and use this “vocal” approach as an instrument to restore personal harmony. At the very least, regularly engaging in this type of “sound” work can reduce stress and increase overall relaxation – a key way to enhance your health and well-being. Now, that’s something to make some noise about!

What helped: Chanting the Bija mantra YAM (heart and chest area) helped manage pain and get me out of bed more easily. I also meditated every afternoon and sometimes used the sounds to minimize pain I was experiencing.

What I wish I knew at the time: Qigong healing sounds. I was naturally discovering them, but knowing they existed would have been even more useful.

Some things you can try right now:

  • Be more vocal. Try the simple Qigong Healing Sounds and notice how they make you feel.
  • Take a few moments to give the Bija mantras a whirl! Here is a more descriptive summary of the Bija mantras, plus you can chant along to a fun “beat box” video version!
  • Align accordingly. Here’s a simple way to reset those whirling centers of personal empowerment: Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine can help invigorate you “head to toe” in just a few minutes. You’ll feel better right away.
  • Learn more about chakras. Curious to learn more? Consider reading Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by medical intuitive, teacher and writer Caroline Myss.
  • Tune in and give thanks. Take time to regularly check in with your overall sense of well-being and give gratitude for all your body has been doing for you since your first heartbeat. xox

What are your favorite sounds to make?

Next Up: De-cluttering

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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 http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com

Birdwatching

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

The songbirds were more vocal, bringing literal “cheer, cheer, cheer…” with the warmer weather. Vermont has to go through sticks, dead leaves and lots of mud to get to spring, but at least our fine feathered friends signal when we are heading in the right direction.

I had taken the day off. With my surgery the next morning, I wanted to tie up loose ends in order to feel grounded and centered by nightfall. Mom and I planned to spend the morning decluttering closets and the afternoon shopping for button-down and zip-up tops. It was recommended that I wear them during recovery, since I wouldn’t be able to get my arms overhead for a while.

As we stepped into my car, I heard the distinct, “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie” call of a male cardinal right above my head. I’ve always loved cardinals. I looked up and said to my mother, “That’s a good sign.” She agreed. We humans are meaning-making beings and I was taking in all the positive signs I could get.

The next morning, he greeted us again. I told my family that he was “cheer-ing me on” as we headed to the hospital. Hey, doses of humor are helpful.

A while later, I arrived in the pre-op bay. I put on my hospital johnny and socks and got onto the bed. On the wall to the right of me was a framed picture of a male cardinal. Was he following me?

The day after surgery, I went downstairs to my living room. I had turned this into my

cardinalfriend

View from my rocker: Mr. Cardinal perching

downstairs “sanctuary space” where I could meditate, read, journal, relax and visit with friends and family.

I sat in my rocking chair (read why rocking is so good for you HERE!) and in less than a minute a male cardinal flew onto the holly bush directly in front of me. I let out a little laugh and smiled. I spent a few moments admiring his beauty until my two indoor cats came into the room. Within moments of their arrival, they headed straight to the window to let out their own unique chirps and chattering.

As days moved into weeks, I enjoyed seeing (and hearing) more birds arriving with the warmer weather. In addition to the cardinals, there were chickadees, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, evening grosbeaks and many more. Buds and blossoms were bursting into being. The season of renewal and new beginnings perfectly aligned with my healing.

In the mornings, the dawn chorus would temporarily wake me, signifying another day

dieselbywindow

Diesel wondering where his scarlet friend went…

had arrived. For the first couple of weeks, I’d drowsily listen and then fall fast back to sleep.

I began walking right away, as per my surgeon’s instructions. I alternated stillness and movement to harmonize optimal healing. Short walks turned into longer jaunts. Hills were added. The birds graced me with their musical serenades, aerial acrobatics and architectural creativity.

I once heard that the most important thing we have in common with all of the creatures of Earth is our breath. We are all breathing right now. We are Life. Try and be a little more present in yours today. I know that I certainly will.

What helped: Watching birds through the window and on my walks. Listening to the dawn chorus and giving thanks for the new day ahead (before falling back asleep!).

What I wish I had at the time: If I had a bird book or guide, I would have been able to identify even more of my visitors. 

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Set an “early bird” intention. The next time you wake to the dawn chorus, ask yourself how you are going to choose to move through this new day. If you want to go back to sleep right afterwards, that’s fine, but set an intention. What will you add to make the day ahead better? What will you remove?
  • It’s a busy world. Take time out to be still. Listen to the peepers, crickets, birds and squirrels. Taste the wind and feel the sun’s warmth on your face. Notice and appreciate the different types of beauty in your environment. Remember the movie (but real life!) wisdom of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  • Be curious about what’s going on in your own backyard. Who’s visiting? Who are the day trippers and who are the night owls? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Can you aid them in any way? Click HERE to learn about bird-friendly native plants in your area.
  • Go outside and benefit from the pleasing and stress-reducing effect of nature’s fractals. Really take in what surrounds you through sitting still in your backyard or moving on a mindful walk or jog.
  • Road trip! Visit a local Audubon Center or nature center and learn more about our high flying friends. Here are some educational events (nature walks and workshops) in Vermont.

Next Up: Books

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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 http://www.FullyPresentwithYou.com.

 

Biopsy & Breast MRI

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

Modesty goes out the door as you begin the diagnostic phase.

Top on, top off, top on, top off.

funbeads

FUN!

It was like trying to get beads during Mardi Gras, but, obviously, way less fun.

Instead of beads, you get pink gel ice packs.

Biopsy: The core needle biopsy determines if what appeared on your breast imaging is benign or malignant. It also determines type and grade of tumors.

I had no clue what to expect with the biopsy. Yes, I got the brochure. Yes, I read it. No, I still didn’t comprehend how it would feel or how I would feel, emotionally and physically. Thankfully, I had great support from the entire team. A couple of them were focused on going from one room to the other to ensure exact location of tissue extraction, and another told me that her main focus was on supporting me.

The tissue sample removals were not painful, as they had numbed the area.

gel packs

Not fun… but, definitely comforting and cooling. :)

Unfortunately for me, I had to have more taken than normal due to a large area of suspicious tissue. Most people have much less taken and move through the whole process smoothly and uneventfully.

After a while, I started to get dizzy, clammy and nauseous. I was calmly instructed to tighten my abdomen, legs and arms. This tightening technique quickly helped reorient me to successfully finish. I have had this type of reaction over the years with difficult blood draws (small veins, ugh!), so as I was leaving, I asked the people in the room what happened. Someone explained that I was basically having a vasovagal response (beginning to feel faint).

Every patient is unique. I later learned that what I experienced was quite rare. But, it made me curious to learn more about the simple tightening technique and if it could help me in future situations.

What helped: Most importantly, the team-approached care, knowledge and calm demeanor were reassuring and healing.

Also, since the tightening was so helpful, I went and looked it up afterwards (described further below).

What I wish I knew at the time: The simple tightening technique. Apparently, my physical reaction is not a common one. However, I’m actually glad it happened again that day, because I learned first-hand how to stop it/slow it ahead of time. I had never been given that information during the previous experiences, so I’m actually grateful! I have since used the tightening ahead of and during some situations. Most notably throughout my extensive pre-surgery prep and return blood draws.

Something to try:

  • The tightening technique! Practice simultaneously crossing your legs, tightening your arms, bringing your navel in towards your spine and clenching your rectal muscles. Hands can also be in fists. Try this a few times. Another approach is to lie back and stick your legs up in the air. Click HERE to read more about why this technique works. When you are in a stressful situation, try this to slow down/counteract the fear reaction. You may not ever need it, but it certainly won’t hurt you to know about it. Find more examples of techniques HERE.

Breast MRI: The Breast MRI provides better “intel” for the breast surgeon, so there are no surprises on the day of surgery.

What helped: On my way to the Breast MRI, I received a text from a friend (a breast cancer survivor) recommending PADDING, all in caps. I didn’t understand, so she clarified, “Each boob hangs, so padding for your sternum is helpful. I also could have used some under each hip. You feel okay at first, but 45 minutes is a long time on that machine.” She was spot on.

What I wish I knew at the time: The technologists are not allowed to tell you anything they either see or don’t see. I was trying to “read” her face/reaction/between the lines and I really shouldn’t have. Your provider is the only one who shares the results with you.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Ask for an IV nurse, if you have small veins or a history of difficult needle insertions.
  • Find a hydration balance (enough to help with vein plumping, but not too much where you’ll have to go to the bathroom during the MRI)
  • Ask for extra padding for your sternum and hip areas
  • Guided meditation (Radiology may have this available for you to listen to beforehand)
  • Fearful of being in a tight space? Focus on making your exhale longer than your inhale. The longer exhale relaxes your nervous system.

 Next Up: Birdwatching

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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.

Arnica Gel & Additional Jottings

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

For three days after my surgery, the hematoma above the surgical site hadn’t budged. It actually seemed to be slightly bigger. My husband joked that my boob was growing back. Although his comment brought a genuine laugh, by the time I went online at 2 A.M., it was no longer funny. I read references to blood clots, stagnant blood being a breeding ground for additional cancers, and more!

I counted the hours until my surgeon’s office opened. I had remembered using arnica gel years ago and asked her about giving it a whirl. She listened to my fears and worries, suggested patience (ha!) and since I wasn’t pregnant (ahh, nope...), said she was fine with my using it topically, as long as I didn’t put it on any broken skin.

puck

I’m a hockey fan, but come on now…

What helped: Arnica gel! In less than 24 hours the “hockey puck” had a sunken hole in the middle. Within days, it had practically disappeared. It also swiftly cleared the big bruise on my hand from the IV insertion.

What I wish I knew at the time: If I started using topical arnica gel right after surgery, I could have seen progress earlier and avoided the panicked reaction. Yet again, I implore you: DO NOT GO ONLINE AT 2 A.M.!

A couple of things you can do or think about right now:

arnicagel

A little dab’ll do ya!

  • Read about the healing aspects of topical arnica gel. It’s been around as a medicinal plant since the Middle Ages, so there’s a lot out there. You can find some good history here.
  • Consider getting a tube. If you don’t have arnica gel in your medicine cabinet, think about adding it for those unexpected bumps and bruises.
  • Remember: Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t ingest or put on open wounds and test out a small spot first to ensure you don’t have skin sensitivity. Always read cautions first, of course! It definitely helped me, however, and might help some of you.

Additional Jottings

  • Acupressure points – Acupressure points are great for relaxation, reducing nausea, helping with headaches and more. I like to tap or gently use my middle finger to circle the point on my sternum, which is for emotional well-being. You activate this through yoga’s prayer position (Anjali mudra) when you place your hands together and press the knuckles of your thumbs into your chest. It puts pressure on the thymus gland, which is known as the happiness point. Learn more about the benefits of acupressure here.
  • Acupuncture – I have been a longtime receiver of acupuncture for asthma flares and vertigo-related issues. I found a couple of sessions helpful post-surgery to reduce anxiety and re-balance my system. Acupuncture is now covered by many insurance plans to assist with the many side effects of cancer treatments, most especially chemotherapy-related. Here is a good article on the topic by Hartford HealthCare.
  • Ayurveda – Ayurveda translates to “The Science of Life” in Sanskrit. Its approach of balancing body, mind, spirit and well-being obviously has great appeal for me. I recently read a book by the well-known Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad. If you’re curious about learning more, he has a lot of good information on his website. And, for those living in Vermont, you may be interested to learn that we have an Ayurvedic center right here in Williston!

Next Up: Biopsy & Breast MRI

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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.

Appointments

These field notes came out of my cancer experience. Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you. Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

Your “Cancer Club” pass comes with a slew of fast-tracked appointments. The jarring diagnosis opens the floodgates to multiple specialists, techs and additional diagnostics. There is so much information coming at you chock-full of unfamiliar medical jargon and scary terminology punctuated by a strong and serious sense of urgency. Many times I would see the doctors’ mouths moving, but not comprehend what they were saying. I could only hear the voice in my head repeating, “You have cancer!”

What helped: Making a list of questions and bringing a friend and/or family member to the appointments with me. They also took notes and asked additional clarifying questions.

What I wish I knew at the time: How much better I would feel once I had a “plan”. Prior to developing one, I was filled with the fear of the unknown and felt rushed and scared. Portions of the plan were concrete and others more fluid. Just knowing one existed and was team-informed elevated my courage and confidence.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

Select and bring a special notebook or journal to appointments that keeps all your questions, answers, doodles and affirmations in one place.

journals

Journals galore! 

Take a moment. Before going in to your appointment, close your eyes and slow down your breathing. Think of how you want to feel during your appointment: Focused? Clear-headed? Informed? Strong? Secure? Decisive? What is the most important aspect of what you want to take away from this appointment?

Capture for later. Ask the provider if they are open to your recording the appointment (or portions of it).

Ask. Listen. Ask some more.

Write down how you feel physically and mentally in between appointments. Highlight or circle things you’re curious or worried about. Sometimes you forget something you wanted to bring up and only remember it once you’ve left! Having it in one place means you can easily flip back a few pages and capture that bit of information.

Embrace the power of the doodle! Doodling is proven to enhance focus. A lifelong doodler, I can attest to having a feeling of comfort and being less distracted while doing so.

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Write your notes in cursive for better retention – studies show cursive strengthens working memory and comprehension. Good things to have at your appointments!

Be clear. Prior to walking out the door, repeat the action steps/recommendations between this appointment and the next. Don’t feel funny asking for clarification if you’re still unsure about something. This is YOUR time. Get what you need.

Next Up: Arnica Gel & Additional Jottings

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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.

Anxious Moments

These field notes came out of my cancer experience. Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you. Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

As someone with asthma, it was no surprise that anxiety was affecting my breathing. This was most strongly felt during the period between initial diagnosis and the long “hurry up and wait” period of additional testing. The pain and tightness in my chest sometimes made me think I was having a heart attack and I would often find myself gulping for air.mindspirals

What helped: Moving! Even just a fast walk down my work hallway took the edge off. More effective was moving outside in nature and tapping my sternum as I slowly inhaled, held for a number of beats, and slowly exhaled. Icing on the cake? Adding in a daily dose of full-spectrum tincture of cannabinoid (CBD) oil.

What I wish I knew at the time: Searching online at 2 A.M is not helpful. DON’T do it! I’d end up down a rabbit hole, which would result in an adrenaline spike, making me feel even worse.

I recently got into audiobooks. They could have been useful for educational purposes on my drive to and from appointments – or in the middle of the night.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Think about a time when you were anxious and how you transformed/toned down or eliminated that feeling – what makes you feel safe? What makes you feel loved?
  • Aromatherapy – There are many studies about the role of lavender reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Try a spray, an oil or a roll-on and see how it can help. (Please be careful with using certain essential oils around your pets, however.)
  • Bang (or listen to) the Drum! There are many documented studies of the
    purrfectdrum

    My purrfect drum!

    health benefits of either playing or listening to the drums. I like this drum. It has a good sound and is fairly inexpensive. If you’d prefer to listen, go to YouTube, search for drumming and strap on a pair of headphones. My personal favorite is David & Steve Gordon’s Meditation Drum – It always relaxes and takes me away for a while.

  • Breathe in, breathe out – Check out these easy-to-follow breathing techniques. Some are relaxing and decrease stress and some increase energy and focus.
  • Consider learning more about cannabinoid (CBD) oil – there are capsules, edibles, salves and tinctures. I used a full-spectrum tincture under my tongue in the morning and before bed. Please note that if you have to get tested for work reasons, you’ll want to check on how CBD could affect results.
  • A mind spiral would begin and I’d clap my hands and say, “STOP!” I would always think of Cher’s character in Moonstruck after Nicholas Cage declares his love – “Snap out of it!”  Sometimes it worked!

Next Up: Appointments

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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.

Healing in Progress, A to Z: Affirmations

These field notes came out of my cancer experience.  Some information is not cancer-exclusive, however, and may be useful for some of you.  Try or share what resonates and discard the rest. More to come!

Written by Geri Ann Higgins

I have said affirmations over the years, but they took on new power and meaning after my diagnosis. My favorites to this day include, “I am healed and I am healing,” “My body is a garden, the weeds are already disappearing” and “I am safe and I am loved”.hearttree

I would say them throughout the day – in my office, walking to my car, in an exercise class… but I said them most when I was in bed. Post-diagnosis, sleep can evade you. Even a frequent meditator like me could not prevent the mind spirals. But talking to myself? Doable.

I would hold my head in my hands in the comforting neurovascular hold – this is easier in bed with pillows helping to prop you so you can really relax.

Place one hand over your forehead and cradle the back of your head with the other. Take a deep breath in and then sigh heavily out. Repeat a couple of times. Bring your breathing back to a normal, relaxed pattern and begin your affirmation. Every time you feel yourself starting to fall into a mind spiral, slowly take in oxygen, hold for a few seconds, and then audibly sigh out. Return to the affirmations.

You don’t need to do the neurovascular hold with your affirmations, but it can help reduce stress even more. The neurovascular points are located just above the middle of your eyebrows. The warmth and pressure of your hands prevents blood from leaving the forebrain, interrupting the flight or fight response. I liked to layer it on!

affirmationnote

Some “pocket positivity” from earlier this week!

What helped: Saying affirmations while in bed during the wee hours of the morning. Although insomnia is not your friend, using that time to repeat the affirmations became a meditative mantra that eventually lulled me back to a state of rest. I also found them empowering prior to and during diagnostic tests and difficult blood draws (I’m a stingy blood giver).

What I wish I knew at the time: I did not realize that I would not be able to place my arms and hands above my head post-surgery. I was so focused on other things, I did not think of the different ways that I would be impacted by my post-surgical range of motion limitations. To increase range of motion, view this helpful intro and 15 minute routine by breast cancer survivor and fitness trainer, Miranda Esmonde-White.

Some things you can do or think about right now:

  • Create your own affirmation or mantra for whatever you’re facing today – make it positive, emotionally powerful and, most importantly, easy to remember.
  • Consider recording yourself saying the affirmation(s) and listen to them. I liked to do this before bed.
  • Try the neurovascular hold, as explained above.
  • Use this alternate hand placement if you have limited arm range of motion: place both elbows on a desk or table. Look at your open left hand. Turn and place it over your forehead horizontally OR with the base of your hand in line with your eyebrows and fingers pointing into your hairline. You’re still covering the neurovascular points/forebrain this way. Place your right hand over the back of your head (the occipital lobe area). Add in your affirmation!

 Next Up: Anxious Moments

Medical Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Medical advice must only be obtained from a physician or qualified health professional.

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.