I never wanted to join the Cancer Club. I never wanted to know intimately the difference between stage two and stage four. I never wanted to rearrange clients around my husband's surgery date. But then, it happened.
I heard the words that no one wants to hear: "It's cancerous." And just like that, life took on a new trajectory... one of medical tests, procedures, consultations, surgery, and uncertainty.
After the initial tears, and after three days of dissociated shock, the news settled in. How would I as a wife, a therapist, and a writer who has written for many years about grief, loss, peace, and love handle this journey?
One day at a time. One moment at a time.
When cancer came to call, I wasn't sure if I should slam the door in its face, invite it to tea, or both. For now, the kettle is boiling. I know that there is much to learn from this new visitor, even if I didn't exactly issue an invitation.
When a reader recently wrote to me that my Shortcuts had helped her as she waited for the results of a medical procedure, I didn't realize that I would soon be using them myself for the same reason. I know that many people are in this same situation, and so I offer the following Shortcuts to Inner Peace as tools to stay calm and at peace for yourself and for the sake of your loved one.
White Flag (when you're waiting for results of a test):
Close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Imagine holding a pole with a white flag on the end of it. Let your shoulders relax as you imagine waving the flag to the right and left. Say, "I surrender to what is happing. I surrender to what 'already is' though I have yet to learn it. I surrender to this process."
Joy to the World (when you blow-dry your hair or shave):
As you blow air on your head or shave your face, imagine sending loving kindness to those in need. Say "I wish peace to those who are ill, to their families, to people having surgery, going through chemo, or waiting for test results." Aim good wishes to their caregivers and all who are affected. Let yourself feel connected to all those who have traveled this road before you, those on the road with you, and those who will follow in your footsteps. You are not alone.
Catch and Release (when you're in the shower):
Think of your top three worries. "Catch" each worry/fear/concern and imagine it in the suds. "Release" each one into the water and down the drain. Say, "I release and wash away my worry about the surgery/my fear of the chemo." Know that peace of mind is key to healing and release your anxiety into the current of life and trust it to flow as it will.
Calmly Relaxed (when you're feeling stressed or fearful):
Slowly breathe in and think the words, "Breathing in, I am calm." Slowly breathe out and think the words, "Breathing out, I am relaxed." Focus on the sensations of your breath as you repeat for several cycles.
Big Sky (when you are at rest in your car or walking on the street):
Look up to the sky and contemplate the vast space, details in the clouds, and colors. Imagine beyond the blue sky to our solar system and even beyond that. "Breathe" in the sky, "breathe" in the spaciousness. Know that life is so much bigger than this current concern. As you exhale long and slow say, "The spaciousness above is mirrored within me."
Rest in Peace (when your head rests on the pillow):
List three things from your day for which you are grateful. It's easy to be overwhelmed with negative thoughts when you're going through a crisis. Using this tool helps to focus your attention on positive thoughts. Consider how you're grateful for Western medical care, kind nurses, skilled surgeons, supportive friends and family, a social network of loving compassion, the tender generosity of strangers, a faith that offers comfort. When you focus on the light of gratitude, the light keeps growing.
Although we cannot choose the challenges that come our way, we can choose whether we let fear or love have the upper hand. We can choose to not increase suffering with stress and worry. Cancer is a part of millions of people's lives. My hope is to meet this guest, teacup in hand, with a measure of peace and serenity.
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