Five years, eleven months, three weeks and 2 days ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It feels like a lifetime ago.
Today my oncologist declared that I was “discharged”, which is code for “don’t come back, we don’t need to see you again”. I didn’t realise, until she said those words, just how much I had been needing to hear them.
When the receptionist asked if I needed another appointment, I answered “No. I am DISCHARGED”, with a little fist pump. Nonplussed, she just said “have a nice day” like she didn’t realise the importance of my statement. Most probably just another day at the office for her. For me, it was momentous.
I was surprised to feel so emotional. You see, I consider that I was “free” of cancer almost 6 years ago, they day they cut the lump out. And I considered myself “finished” with (preventative) treatment 5 years ago, when I had my last intravenous dose of Herceptin at the Peter MacCallum specialist cancer hospital. Yes, I still had twice-yearly appointments with an oncologist. Yes, I had five years of tablets - also another preventative measure – but I was one of the fortunate ones to experience very little side effects. So in my mind, I was done with cancer years ago.
But as I am learning more and more this year (in particular), what we know in our heads and believe in our hearts can be very different things. And my heart needed to hear those words.
As I walked out into the winter sun, I felt so blessed. Thankful to be one of the lucky ones. Grateful for the role this experience played in the fact that I am now living my ideal life.
You see, my life BC (before cancer) was characterized by high stress, often of my own making from the stories I told myself. Stories of self-worth = success, status, title, wealth. I was a card-carrying member of the Cult of Busy, a firm believer that fortune favours those that are doing, not being.
But thankfully I had a yoga practice. Through yoga and meditation, I was (and still am) learning how to listen to my heart. The head is smart. It seeks to protect us from our fears and hurts, from danger and threats. But it’s not always helpful. And it doesn’t always know best.
When we take time to be still, to go inwards, we cultivate the ability to observe our mind and its by-products – our thoughts. Under that watchful eye, the mind becomes quieter. And in the quiet, when the heart feels safe to speak up, we can hear its whisper. Told through the sensations in our bodies and the emotions that we feel, it is the heart that holds our wisdom.
When I listened to my heart, I knew I wasn’t living the life I dreamed of. But I have to credit cancer with giving me the shake up to do something about it.
It’s not uncommon to hear of a “dose” of chronic illness giving life-changing perspective. It’s a shame that it takes that much to give us clarity on what’s important, the motivation to rearrange our priorities, and the strength to align our life in line with those priorities. But I’ll take that gift.