Finding Your Stillness

When you’re first diagnosed with breast cancer,  your mind starts spinning like a caffeinated hamster on a wheel. When I was trying to decide between a mastectomy and radiation for my ductal carcinoma in situ, there were times I wished I could unscrew my head, shake out its roiling contents, and screw it back on.

If I could give only one piece of advice to people trying to figure out what to do, it would be this: Find a way to your stillness so you can make the decision that’s right for you. Not me or 20 other people–you. And just like deciding on a course of treatment, only you know the best path to that still place.

For me, music really helped calm that constant internal buzzing. For you, the answer may lie in meditation or prayer. Other than weddings and funerals, I haven’t set foot in a church for more than 30 years, but I did occasionally pray that I would make the right decision. I also prayed for calm.

Doing things with friends also helped keep the noise at bay, although I would caution you against too much busyness. I cancelled a family vacation while trying to figure out a course of action, because it just felt right in my gut. I needed that time for reflection.

My goal was to reach a place where I wouldn’t be second-guessing myself later, and I never have going on three years out. Whatever it takes for you to reach that place, just do it. It’s not fun to be alone with the contents of your head, but you will need to find that place of stillness. It’s the only way your inner voice, or intuition or whatever you call it, can make itself heard.

A corollary to the internal commotion is feeling like you have to make a decision right now. Trust me, you don’t. With DCIS or early-stage cancer, you’re not putting your life at risk by giving yourself time to think.

Thanks to a mastectomy I’m essentially cured, although I have a standing date with my oncologist every six months and I’m taking daily Tamoxifen to prevent cancer from showing up in my other breast. But the noise in my head and time pressure are back, for reasons completely unrelated to my health. More on that next time.

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7 thoughts on “Finding Your Stillness

  1. Jackie what you say is so true! I do believe that many times women with DCIS are rushed into irrecocable decisions too quickly and they need to be told that in many cases taking a week or so before you make these decisions is perfectly ok. You may need time to take in what is happening and use this time to mentally prepare yourself as best you can for the treatment road ahead of you. Of course this doesn’t suit everyone – some women just want the cancer out of them as soon as possible and that is fine, but others, like myself needed to be told it was ok to take a little extra time.

    I also agree that going within to that still quiet place which resides inside us all is hugely valuable to her state of mind when undergoing treatment – and beyond. This isn’t always easy but for me the simple act of a lighting a candle is a very helpful aid to going within. That and tuning into the rhythm of my breathing. For those who struggle with meditation or quieting the mind, I suggest simply sit in silence for ten minutes within the next 24 hours. Light a candle if you can and as you strike the match to the flame, offer up the intention of doing this practise daily to light the flame within you.

  2. Jackie, I totally agree people need to take a step back, mull things over, process info and then make decisions that are right for them. My doctors always reassured me I had a pretty large “window” which allowed me to do that, which was a good thing, since I also had to wait for genetic test results to come back before deciding upon treatment. People who want to rush you should be avoided. Of course, you can’t put things off too long either, but somehow just knowing you can take a bit of time is comforting. Good reminder here, Jackie.

    • Thanks, Nancy. You’re right, you can’t put it off too long. My oncologist told me to take my time but not take too much time, and booked an appointment to make sure I wasn’t stalling 🙂

  3. Wow Jacks. This post took me right back to that first appointment with the oncologist. It was just so incredibly overwhelming, it was almost like having an out-of-body experience. I still feel like that sometimes. That all of this is happening to someone else. Whenever I need that “stillness”, my hubby and I tend to retreat into our own little world. “Nesting” seems like the wrong word to use, but I can’t think of a better word to describe our process. Without any outside distractions, somehow we manage to nut through everything and then face whatever it is with clear hearts. I must say though, it doesn’t really get any easier. But we know what we need to do to get there.

    • Anna, thank you so much for your insightful comments. It is so beautiful that you and your hubby are able to find that stillness together. I am sorry it doesn’t get easier and I understand why it doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t), but I’m so glad you have each other.

  4. Oh, yeah, that noise is incessant and hard to ignore. But you are so right – it doesn’t matter what’s right for anyone else, or everyone else, what matters is what’s right for you. I’m glad you’re able to proceed without the second guessing. Most of us have that on one level or another. There’s a lot to be said for making peace with your decision.

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