Before cancer, I rarely sat still. My calendar was full and I was always looking for the things that needed to be added, squashed really, into an already packed schedule. Before cancer, I had a law practice that was always changing and multiple employees and an office to run and deal with. Before cancer, my husband and I had two little boys who were probably over-scheduled as well. Before cancer, our weekends as well as our weeks were full.
And then, in 2017, at 38, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) and was told that the median life expectancy was 2-3 years and about 28% lived for five (5) years. My initial medical oncologist felt that I had a chance to live that long because I was diagnosed with bone only metastases, which can provide some additional time based on statistics. Just think, a bone breaking doesn’t typically end your life, but if your liver fails, that’s lights out.
I quickly figured out that those statistics weren’t a prognosis for me per se, but were a guideline, data that showed a larger group of people.
But we were scared out of our minds.
With all of the down time I suddenly had after closing my office and moving away from our busy lives, I found myself seeking something to do. I wasn’t used to sitting still. I wasn’t used to having time that wasn’t full of something. I wasn’t used to not having a to-do list a mile long and many things to accomplish in each hour of each day.
And so one of the activities that I turned to was yoga. Yoga helped (and helps) me physically in that my flexibility has been severely compromised due to treatments and surgeries, especially the insertion of titanium rods into each femur. Yoga also helped (and helps) me with strategies to calm my racing mind. I know that a big part of the fact that I struggle to turn my brain off is personality and my experiences, professional and otherwise, but it’s also due to the anxiety of having been diagnosed with such a serious illness. Having never dealt with much anxiety in the past, this has been a very new experience for me.
I’d tried meditation in the past, especially when I had a hard time relaxing or going to sleep after difficult days or before a big trial or hearing, but I just never got the hang of it. I also didn’t stick with it and meditating never became a habit or a routine. Now, I often have to meditate to get through a scan or prepare to walk into a doctor’s office or the infusion center.
I also lean on some pharmaceutical help, for ongoing mood stabilization and also for those episodic experiences like a scan or walking into the infusion center for chemo when I know I’ll be miserable for days. It’s hard to describe how much mental toughness is required to simply comply with the treatment that is needed to keep the cancer at bay. Meditation has become a major part of my toolbox in managing the experience of living with MBC.
For me, Meditation isn’t something that can be picked up on a whim, it is a discipline and a practice that requires focus and routine. As I’ve utilized meditating more and more in my experiences with MBC and the health care system, I have found more and more benefits. It’s not for everyone, but it is definitely something that has helped my quality of life.