I have kept this blog going for 7 years since my diagnosis for a reason. Processing and healing takes time. There is also the heavy realization that many more people after me would face their own cancer diagnosis. Perhaps reading my story will help people not feel so isolated and alone. Maybe it will help the newly diagnosed integrate what is happening, to find encouragement and see that there is a trajectory of healing. We all have our own unique situation and healing path, but we share in the many feelings a cancer diagnosis brings… the fear, anger, sadness, the struggle to sort out logistics, developing a care team, communicating with family and friends. We all look for glimmers of hope. We stoke a fighting spirit, that well of inner resilience and reach for wholeness.
In these last few years since my own cancer scare, too many friends have been diagnosed. I have had to say goodbye to some, too early, too soon. Many others go through the movements of surgery and treatment, and we celebrated as their hair grew back in, as vitality and future aspirations came back into focus. The wheels of life to continued turning.
Once a friend asked me, “How do you prepare emotionally for surgery?”.
This is such a great question. There is so much you can do. Most importantly, finding the people, practices, activities and rituals that speak to you, that give you grounding and meaning is the place to start. Here are some things that helped me prepare.
- Take photos. You could schedule a photo shoot or have someone close to you take a few pictures. My before pictures were just for me, a way to remember what my breasts looked like before the double mastectomy. There is so much feeling in my face and eyes.
- Write and write and write and write. Obviously for me, this was a huge tool of processing what was happening to me. Try writing a love letter to your afflicted body part. Try writing a letter from the perspective of your body part. I wrote a dialogue one time where I was having a conversation with my breasts. It was intense, but opened up a well of feeling that needed to come up to the surface. Then there is this blog. Writing my blog served two purposes initially. It was a lifeline to my family and friends, so they could stay informed about what was happening with me, and afforded me a privacy buffer. It also served as a pressure release valve and way of helping my mind assimilate what was happening. I wouldn’t just write a blog post and be done. I would write it and read it over and over a dozen times. Each time I read it, a layer of stress and pain would discharge, would soften and release, little by little.
- Let it OUT! Break sticks, throw rocks into a stream or river, scream into a pillow, cry until you are red and snotty. My default mode is to get busy, to get into problem solving mode. This is helpful to a degree, but is also a very clever way to avoid dealing with your feelings. Make time for these feelings to come up, knowing you won’t get lost in the void. I once described to a friend my fear of falling down the rabbit hole of emotion, that I would never be able to get back out. I promise you will not get lost. You will find yourself. As an added bonus, after a good cry, there is the temporary endorphin rush, a calm euphoria that will settle around you.
- Have a small party, ceremony or ritual. The night before my first surgery, I gathered with a few of my closest girlfriends for a “Farewell to Nursies” party. (My little boy had affectionately named my breasts, “Nursies” when he was a baby.) We shared a potluck, and everyone wrote their good thoughts, prayers and wishes for me on beautiful little squares of colored paper. I brought them with me to the hospital and had them to read again later while healing from surgery and going through chemo. My girlfriends made a gorgeous healing totem for me, by attaching beautiful stones, crystals and trinkets onto an embroidered belt. I hung this in my bedroom so I could see it while resting and healing after the surgery. My favorite part was when my girlfriends surrounded me, put their hands on me, gently rubbed my head and arms, held my hands. They prayed around me quietly, infusing all their love and good intentions for a successful surgery and held a vision of my ultimate healing.
- Simplify your life. Be kind to yourself and take time. You know that saying, “One step forward, two steps back”? If you rush the healing process, you are only going to make things harder. If you have ever prepared for childbirth, think about the way that you insulated your life, slowed down and made time for a “babymoon” period. Your healing is going to be like this. It is nice to have a vague idea that in 2 weeks or 6 weeks or 3 months, you’ll be back to doing x, y, and z. But stay present to now. Now is not the time to be leaning forward, putting unrealistic expectations on yourself. You will not be the same, but there will be a new normal, and that will change as time goes on. Start now to make way for this quieter time, allow yourself to rest and prepare for your best possible healing.
The things that brought me healing and comfort did so, because they spoke to who I am. Do what is right for you. I would love to hear in the comments section how you helped prepare yourself emotionally for surgery. We are here to support each other in our healing and growth, and your feedback might be exactly what someone else needs on their road to healing.
I wish you inner peace, and to be surrounded by calm and circles of support.
I’m here holding a vision for your highest healing. ❤
Melissa Eppard lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY area with her young son and husband. She came through a hereditary breast cancer scare in her mid 30’s. After feeling the gap in support for the younger cancer survivor, she has dedicated her practice to helping other younger survivors find the path through the pain, and rebuild their lives in those first few years after a diagnosis. www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com
If you would like some support right now, email Melissa@MelissaEppardCoaching.com for 5 Tips to Manage Survivor Stress.