I am a strong, authentic woman who really does make an effort every day to show up congruently with courage and vulnerability. And most of the time I believe that I am doing a pretty good job in that department. I place personal development high on my list of priorities, as it makes me a better woman, partner, friend, coach, businesswoman and leader. And yet there are just some things that are difficult to deal with…this week was one of those times.
Since getting sober, I also started to get well. This means taking care of my physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellness. So as part of this I take myself off for the advised annual check ups. The stuff that we all dread, and sometimes because of that we slip into some sort of denial and postpone and delay. However, I do believe in the marvels of modern medicine and have had a couple of health scares in the past so I make the appointments and hold myself accountable for my own (physical) health. Alright, it takes me a bit of persuasion to get to the gym regularly…
My last few mammogram experiences have been a little scary, because of the last three before this one there were growths and I had to undergo an FNA (fine needle aspiration) on two occasions. And erring on the side of caution my doctor recommended that it’s better to know rather than not. And both times the results were benign and on we went. This year when I went back, there had been a bit of growth in the lumps and the doctor suggested that I undergo the FNA once again.
The words lumps, too much vascular activity, growth and lab testing immediately creates all sorts of fear. No matter which way I tried to look at it I was scared. When I arrived the following day the doctor called me into his consulting room. For me being called into someone’s office creates all sorts of anxiety and has since I was a young child. The strange thing is that I have never really been in trouble with any sort of authority figure over the years. Even seeing the metro police stopping drivers on the side of a highway makes me double check whether I have my seat belt on and glance at my license disk.
So in my pink hospital gown, he informed me that they were going to perform a core biopsy because he was concerned about the growths and wanted a definitive answer on whether there was a problem. I like to think that I can sense people’s general energy and I was pretty sure I was feeling something verging on genuine worry. I’m not going to go into details about the procedure other than to say the medical staff were loving, kind and supportive throughout. Okay, my brain was not happy about what was happening, but 5mg of Valium and I was back on track.
The thing about any sort of investigative procedure is that the tissue samples (in this case) need to go to the pathology lab and that means waiting. And that’s the worst part of it all. Monday to Wednesday this week were horrendously emotional. I vacillated between overwhelming fear and enormous strength. There were moments when I was already dead at the hand of some aggressive form of breast cancer and others when I was quite logical and present and exploring what my next steps might be if the tumours were in fact malignant as I was medically advised they might be.
There were times when I felt as though there was no way anything of this kind was going to be my story and others when I felt emotionally hopeless and unable to control the tears. I know how to bring myself into a present, grounded state of being…it’s all part of my personal work. And yet there were hours over the week where I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, unable to breathe or think.
The truth is I have always been scared of death and it’s something I really don’t like to think about at all. So when faced with a situation like this which brings mortality front and centre, I am confronted with my single greatest fear. I get it – we all die. But if I got one wish I am clear that I would ask to live for 1,000 years. I reckon by that time I would have done and seen everything I want to. It’s not adult or reasonable, but hey. There’s a Woody Allen quote that has stuck with me since I heard it in high school, “I’m not scared of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
So it’s not the thought of being sick or weak that bothers me, it’s just that thought that after that there is nothing. And while all these thoughts are careening around in my head, I have already made up the end of the story for everyone I love. How they move on without me and get on with their lives. This is of course exactly what I want from my tribe if I am not around, yet I feel immense sadness that it could happen. I’ve made my partner promise to honour my life in that case by getting on with his, and the thought of this makes me cry just thinking about it. So this was my week, with all sorts of waves of sadness, fear, anger and anxiety. Interspersed with moments of calm where I am so focused on wellness and strength that there is nothing that is going to get me. No matter what the outcome.
I don’t really sleep; I can’t really eat (that’s an extremely rare thing for me); I don’t want to be alone; I cannot focus on work!
I am a not a person who sees the worst-case scenario normally, but as you can hear this was not one of these instances.
And after a few calls back and forth with the doctor’s assistant, I get the call to say that although I do have tumours in my breast and they have frightening, impossible-to-say names, they are in fact benign. And that was the second time in my life I nearly fainted. The relief that ran through my body and mind was intense. I cannot explain how uncertainty is my biggest trigger other than to say there is nothing that puts me more into my flight-fight-freeze state than not knowing. This is where my personal work is…
I need to be present and grounded in my life to achieve the things I want to achieve. I need to be mindful and responsive if I want to get the most out of my personal and professional space. So I work towards a quiet mindfulness and presence in my life, and when I am not able to achieve that then I do take the opportunity to learn from the experience.
So, today I am so grateful that I am healthy and that I am able to move forward. I am grateful for the people in my life that have loved and supported me this week. Times like this remind me of how loved I am and how many wonderful people I have in my life. This is a time for me to refocus and move forward in a present and mindful way, remembering to pause and breathe when life gives me challenges to learn and grow from.