Being present in the moment
In February 2006, I was experiencing pains in my breast. They were brief, sharp and alarming pains, but they lasted only one day. After that, they faded to a very dull, almost imperceptible ache. In fact, I forgot about them for a week. Then, I was walking into a store and another sharp pain hit me, causing me to grab my breast in shock. I decided I couldn’t walk around grabbing myself in public, so I made a doctor’s appointment.
It would have been very easy to forget about those pains and, if I had, felt almost nothing further for months. The pains were momentary. Quick. Hit and run. There were no lingering feelings after I had the pains.
After my cancer diagnosis, my surgeon told me the pains were from the tumor breaking through the milk ducts. Breast cancer (my kind) begins in the milk ducts, then spreads out into the surrounding breast tissue or into the nipple. He said most people never feel the pains I felt because they are usually over quickly and easy to ignore.
After I made the doctor’s appointment after that day at the store, I nearly backed out. The pain was instantaneous. In other words, it was gone long before I ever picked up the phone. So, as another week went by and I waited for the appointment, I started to feel rather silly. Was I imagining this problem? Should I be spending time and money to have my doctor tell me I needed to have less caffeine or to drink more water?
And as the day of the appointment drew nearer, I started to feel a specific heaviness in the area of my breast where the tumor ultimately was found. At the time, though, I had no idea there was cancer there and my thoughts weren’t even in that category. At worst, I assumed I had some sort of mastitis – an infection of the milk duct that nursing mothers often get.
I had this vague sense of heaviness. I also felt this odd, transient feelings like I had breast milk leaking. It had been 2 ½ years since I had breast fed, but I checked repeatedly to see if there was milk leaking. I thought I might be going crazy.
Instead of ignoring these unusual and vague symptoms, I tried to listen to what my body was telling me. I am ever so grateful that I was going through a “phase” of my life in the year or two prior where I really tried to “listen” to my body. I would sit in silence and try to be aware of any sensations I had. Was there tension in my neck? Why? Was I holding my neck funny or was I holding stress there? Did my toe hurt? Did I need a new pair of shoes or did I need to stop cramping up my feet? And so on.
It was, in fact, during one of those moments of quiet that I felt the heaviness in my breast. Once I noticed, it became like the paper cut that you don’t feel until you see the blood. Suddenly, the throbbing fills your mind. The heaviness in my breast was the same way. I knew it was significant, but I didn’t know why. I tried examining myself multiple times and even asked my husband to try to find “something” there. We couldn’t feel what would later be found to be a major tumor, set deep inside my breast.
When I saw my doctor, I was apologetic for being there. I almost cancelled that morning because my daughter was home sick from school. However, I could not get the heaviness out of my mind. I figured it would be a quick appointment, my doctor would tell me everything was ok, and I would be on my way. So, I took my daughter with me.
I told about my symptoms: the sharp pains that were only with me on two separate, short-lived occasions; the strange sensations of breast milk leaking; and the overwhelming heaviness.
My doctor did an exam. She didn’t seem to feel anything. Then, she asked me where the heaviness was. I pointed to the area. She pressed her fingers in hard, put her full body weight into me and said, “Oh, yeah. There it is.”
There it is.
Right where I said it would be, even though I had never felt it.
There isn’t much mystery for me about why this happened. I had been trying more and more to pay attention to random issues in my body, to stop major problems before they started. I had just happened to start working on quieting my mind and, in this case, had taken the time to do it, to try to “hear” what was wrong. I didn’t get an answer. Didn’t get a neon sign flashing “breast cancer” in my brain. But I got a quiet little message that my breast did not feel right. It felt heavy. In fact, it was heavy. There was something growing there – extra fluid and cancer cells – that shouldn’t have been there.
I know people who have developed this kind of presence in living their lives. So, instead of, like me, stopping and feeling their bodies (when that should be a natural state of being for us all), they are utterly present in every moment. I’m trying so very hard to live that way. I get better at it all of the time, but I’m a long way from perfect centeredness. (Although I’m sure that’s a fairy tale concept I just invented.). Even now, I have a worry on my mind that I have chosen to let go, yet it keeps creeping in. I can do nothing about the problem. I have done all that I can, which was probably more than I should have tried to do. And I spent a lot of hours worrying about the unsolvable nature of it (because I would much rather solve it). I can distract myself from it, but when I sit quietly and little thoughts creep in, here it comes.
I want to be able to let go of the things that need to be let go and to sit with the things that need me to sit with them. And I want to know which is which.
I’ve come very far in releasing worries from my life – those poisonous time-suckers that eat away at you and for which the outcome is never anything you could predict anyhow. I can’t tell you how much it has freed me to do this. I’m much happier, healthier and peaceful. I kind of want to take it to the next level – whatever that means!