When someone you love is beating breast cancer at an early age, it’s the greatest thing in the world.
That’s happening in our house right now, and I’m quite impressed with the recent advances in cancer treatment and surgery. In fact, they’re mindblowing, especially when you see them up close. Treatment is more preventive, surgery less invasive. Plastic surgery is particularly amazing– they now do it as part of the surgery to remove the tumor, not months and months later. This helps the survivor to feel like herself; there’s no need to go through months of dysmorphic depression (although post-operative depression is hardly unusual). It will be some time before the survivor will be able to execute a Downward Facing Dog or Tree Pose (she’s under the influence of wonderful narcotics to knock out the post-op pain), but already I’ve seen how her own idiosyncratic spiritual practice is aiding in her recovery.
What about similar practices for those helping the person recover? I’d call them a must. If you already spend half an hour a day doing yoga and meditation, you definitely don’t want to cut it out. If anything, you might want to consider doubling it, if possible. From the moment you hear the diagnosis, you’ll be under considerable stress right along with the patient; you may not even realize it. You may find yourself lashing out at people for no reason at all; small irritations may become magnified and your responses to them out of proportion. It’s next-to-impossible to recognize the impact your psychological stress is having on you while you’re in the midst of it. That’s why an ongoing meditation practice is so important.
I recommend Thich Nhat Hahn’s book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. In that book, Thay goes into detail on how to manage anger and other storms of strong emotion, all of which are amplified when someone you love receives a life-threatening diagnosis. Let’s face it: that news can make the most habitually serene individual more than a little pissed off at the universe. At the heart of the book’s advice lie the old stand-bys: conscious breathing and making meditation a part of everything you do. When you’re helping somone recover from cancer surgery, you’ll be more useful if you make a point of becoming a veritable meditation machine. Practice medication scheduling and administration meditation (“Breathing in, I prepare today’s medications. Breathing out, I know I can stay on top of administering these meds on time.”); food preparation meditation (“Breathing in, I prepare a nourishing meal for the patient and the rest of the family. Breathing out, I know this food will nourish everyone’s compassion and wellness.”). And so on, covering every aspect of recovery.
Cancer is the plague of our time, but we’re making progress. My dream is to see a vaccine for it across the board in my lifetime, for it to become as curable and manageable as tuberculosis and other once-deadly diseases. If you share that dream, there are two websites you need to visit: http://www.cancer.org/ (The American Cancer Society…leading the way to transform cancer from deadly to preventable) and http://ww5.komen.org/, the website of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. From that highly useful website:
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Susan G. Komen is the boldest community fueling the best science and making the biggest impact in the fight against breast cancer.*
Join the fight to make cancer a fully preventable disease, and please don’t neglect your practice while you do. We’re all more useful to whatever cause we’ve aligned ourselves with after we’ve meditated.
* From http://ww5.komen.org, the website of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure®