When something "bad" happens to us, we often second-guess the reasons. Eight years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the first thing I did was start beating myself up. I must have "caused" this disease myself. In my mind, I went over a litany of things I could have done wrong, a list that escalated as I learned more and more about the disease.
With every study on the subject, with every piece of research, with every book, and with every speech by a breast cancer expert (Dr. Susan Love of Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, Dr. Christine Horner, author of Waking the Warrior Goddess, and Sat Dharam Kaur, N.D., of The Healthy Breast Program are all amazing women putting extraordinary effort toward prevention and cure, and are my personal favorites) I listened intently, then pointed a finger of blame at myself.
Was it the wine I drank at night while I was writing or laughing on the phone with my girlfriends? (But why, I wondered, did two of my best friends who drink far more than I not get it?)
Was it the grief I held in my heart for years after my mother died? (Holding in sorrow and grief, I discovered through my yoga studies, is a great way to make yourself sick.)
Was it the stress of raising three boys and loving them so fiercely that I perpetually feared for their lives? (I love motherhood, but I learned how to worry relentlessly from my own mother.) Stress lowers the immune system, I am told, and makes us more susceptible to diseases like cancer.
Was it the cigarettes I smoked when I was a teenager (and beyond)? Was it the meat I ate before I became a vegetarian? Was it the lack of exercise in my life before I started practicing yoga? Was it caused by rejection, or envy, or concerns about money?
Did I get breast cancer because I didn't eat enough pomegranates, cruciferous vegetables or mushrooms? (All, I later found, protective against cancer.) Or was it because as a child I consumed white bread, candy, and drank non-organic milk? Perhaps it was because I didn't know how to slow down my breathing. Or maybe it was because I didn't get enough rest, lack of Vitamin D, or not enough (or any, actually) green tea (I've always preferred coffee).
Maybe it was caused by fights I had with my husband. Or by men in my past who hurt me emotionally. Or by my own judgment that I wasn't good enough. Maybe...it was caused by guilt. Or by guilt's nasty close cousin, blame.
Or perhaps, it was caused by so many things all coming together in one perfect storm that there was nothing I could have done to have changed the outcome. Maybe it was caused by something that I had no control over, like the air or the water. Whatever the case, and without wishing this disease upon anyone, in the end breast cancer changed my life for the better.
It taught me to live with gratitude in the now. And because of this disease I cleaned up my act. Breast cancer inspired me to take better care of my body and soul.
If you have a serious disease like breast cancer, I hope you won't beat yourself up as I did. Replace your negative thoughts about yourself with affirmations, try to follow a healthy life style -- and know that you're doing the best that you can. I believe now that I was intended to learn some big lessons from this disease, and I did.
And importantly, I have learned to give guilt and self-blame a one-way ticket out of my life. If you're a survivor, I hope you have done (or will do) the same.