“I actually hope it’s breast cancer.” That is seriously the thought coming to mind as I stare at myself in the mirror over my bathroom sink. I am naked from the waist up except for a large maxi-pad like bandage covering my right breast where the radiologist drilled a very long needle into my “extremely dense breast tissue” multiple times to extract enough of a specimen for a biopsy.
I am not sure who I am staring at any longer. I look exhausted. I am alone. I am grey. There are tears streaming down my cheeks and the only thought that comes to my mind is, “I actually hope it’s breast cancer. I need a break!”
I put my robe on and go lay down in bed. It is February 16th and chilly outside, but I can’t take a bath for two weeks because of the punctures in my breast. So, instead I crawl beneath the covers and try to warm and nurture myself with down blankets and pillows. Uncharacteristically, my dog Saki jumps up onto the bed beside me and I am so grateful for his presence that I can’t possibly deny him. I cannot roll onto my side to hug him, so I simply reach a hand out and place it top of his body and become one with his unquestioning, but all knowing rhythm.
How did I get to this place in my life? Where I could actually consider something as serious as breast cancer to be a welcome gift? The answer to this question comes in fits and starts at various points along my journey. But, looking back on it two years out, I see that the answer was right there all along, in the rhythm of my little dog’s loving energy. I only needed to open myself to LOVE to see the powerful truth that was screaming out at me from deep within.
You see, for years I had been running myself into the ground – traveling all over the country for work, rarely saying “No” to special projects, pushing my body to its physical, mental and emotional limits, and rescheduling important doctor appointments due to work. It seems to be the sign of our times, to push our bodies to the point where they start to break down and offer up puzzling symptoms for which doctors have few answers. Throughout 2009 I endured the loss of about 60% of my hair, inexplicably low platelet counts, bizarre temperature swings throughout the day accompanied by headaches and chills, and strange rashes and allergic reactions. No matter who I consulted, there were few answers. So, since the doctors had few, if any answers, let alone an actual diagnosis, I felt I had no true reason to ask for help, slow down from the the hectic schedule I was keeping, and turn inward and take care of me. After all, what was there really to take care of?
I had gotten to the point where I was having crazy fantasies that all of these conditions were some strange never-before-heard-of disease that would make people rush to my aid to support me, take care of me, love me. It was hard to be honest with myself about these fantasies. There seemed to be a deeper message hidden within, but just what was it?
Fantasy Come True
Well, on February 19th, 2010 my “fantasy” came true when I was diagnosed with stage III “invasive lobular carcinoma,” an unusual form of breast cancer. But, even though that part of the fantasy materialized, the other did not. Surprisingly, the world didn’t stop. My name didn’t make headlines. Heck, it didn’t even make a subject header in an email. My “knight in shining armor” didn’t show up. People didn’t rush to my side to swoop in and take care of me. Instead, my doctor said “You got this.” My best friend said, “I feel sorry for that cancer. It picked the wrong person to mess with.” My mom asked me if I would cook my “famous pasta” for them and some friends the next night and a couple of weeks later asked if I was still going to be able to do their taxes. Life went on. And… so did I.
“But I just want to be taken care of!!!” something was screaming deep from within. And still I wasn’t listening, yet.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t taking this lightly, nor was I in a state of denial. Large, HUGE parts in fact, of my psyche were screaming at me to check out or give in… To sit back and give in to the doctors telling me how powerless I was. To give up my rights of debate and saying “NO!” to their invasive treatment ideas. To crawl into bed and do nothing, which I did at times when it all became a little too overwhelming. But, then I came to a realization that this cancer wasn’t something I was supposed to do something “about.” Rather, it was meant to be something I was to do something “with.” Reading books like Suzanne Somers “Knockout” and Kris Carr’s “Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips” inspired me to look at my “situation” as just that, and only that, a situation. It was not a death sentence. It was not something to battle, to fight, to fix or even a situation that had to come with its own “empirically accepted” prescription for eradication. A question within began to form shape…”Had cancer come into my life FOR me. And, if so, just what was I going to do WITH it?”
Learning to Love
As the doctors implored and oftentimes threatened me about the need for me to undergo chemotherapy and radiation and laid out invasive treatment plans that came with their own scary host of “contraindications,” the voice within grew louder. “I just want to be taken care of!!!” it yelled. And then it finally hit me! Cancer wasn’t here to hurt me! It was here to show me how to take care of me! It had shown up just in the “nick of time” to come to my rescue and save me! And, with this powerful insight, I became resolute that I wasn’t going to poison, burn, load myself up with pharmaceuticals or hurt myself any further! Cancer had come into my life to help me learn how to love and take care of myself, so that was exactly what I was going to do. But, what exactly did that mean?
I admit, I had to look it up. Strange things come up when you Google “How to love myself” and different variations thereon. Trust me. I didn’t get very far with that approach, so I downloaded some promising books on my Kindle and started researching. But, while they provided some ideas and some great theories, they all had pretty much the same thing to say, which was “Love yourself.” But that was exactly the problem! I didn’t now how! So, they weren’t much help.
It’s sad to say that I’d spent so much time beating myself up in my life that I had very little idea what loving myself really meant. It took awhile to discover. I asked many people their thoughts on the subject. I continued to research it in various ways. Then one day, while I was out hiking in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, a very loving, yet powerful voice spoke so clearly to me that I thought maybe I had run into someone on the trail. The voice said simply this, “How do you show your niece or nephew you love them? How do you feel when you are loved by a significant other in your life? What if you treated yourself the way you treat them and they treat you?” So brilliantly simple. So clear. And so began my journey of learning to fall in love, with myself.
Putting it into Practice
Fortunately, I was out in the middle of a very long hike, so I had some time to really muse over this message and look at ways I could put it into practice. I came up with many scenarios where I had to be brutally honest with how poorly I had treated myself in the past and look at ways I could have been more loving. Simply put, it comes down to letting go of the harsh words of comparison and admonishment, and using instead loving words of support, kindness and affirmation. There were many areas I came up with where I knew I could do a better job, a few examples are provided below.
Taking care of myself. This was a tough one because I had plenty of doctors telling me about my “reduced chances” of survival if I didn’t have chemotherapy, etc. But, deep within myself I knew that taking care of me meant to “do no further harm.” So, instead I chose to feed myself with nourishing whole foods, I detoxified my diet immensely, I gave myself permission to languish in much needed naps and times of rest when I needed them, I began to really listen to my body and what it needed, I turned to my heart more than my head, and many more things. I am not perfect. Occasionally a bad habit slips in here or there. But, that has been another lesson within itself, learning to love my unique imperfectly perfect self.
Relationships. The “Voice” asked me the following question, “If your necee (who is 7) came to you and told you that a young boy at school didn’t want to be her friend any longer, would you tell her, “Forget him. You were wasting your time in the first place. He’s a jerk!?” Or even worse, would I tell her “You never should have liked him anyway. He’s too good for you. He’s way too cute and you’re really just not in his league?”
“Of course not!” I responded. “NO WAY in a million years would I ever say things like that to her!”
And then the “Voice” asked me again, “But, isn’t this what you have been saying to yourself?”
Ah! Caught! You guessed it! I have always been so quick to beat myself up and do my best to make one party right and the other wrong (with myself usually in the running for the winner of the “wrong” title) that I have failed to step back and simply accept the situation with loving gracious kindness. So, what would I tell my niece (and myself) instead? Probably something along the lines of, “That’s okay sweetie, that’s what happens sometimes. The important thing is that you know this is not about you. He is just going through some growing pains and making some selections for himself that have nothing to do with you. You can still choose to be his friend, but it sounds like you might just want to focus on the great friends you do have and not worry about him right now. I love you! Do you want to do some arts and crafts or take a nice hike?” Ah… so much better.
Body image. This is a tough one for many of us. Why are we so darned hard on ourselves? What would I do if one of the first things my significant other said to me in the morning was, “You know, you really need to fix that cellulite on the back of your legs! And while you’re at it… you might want to get a tummy tuck… and some botox in that line in your forehead! What about those 10 pounds you still have to lose… and…” You get the picture. How long would this person last? In any of our lives?
You got it – ZERO seconds!!! But yet, spoiler alert, we live with this person every minute of every day right in our very own head! Much closer than a significant other would ever be. So, why do we let the stick around?
So just what would my significant other say to me in the morning and every minute of the day to make feel truly and wholly loved and appreciated? Something along the lines of, “Good morning! God, you’re beautiful! I just love waking up to you!” They would lavish me with words like “You’re amazing!” and “I just love the way you think!” and “I am the luckiest person in the world to be with you!”
These are the things I say to myself now, even when I am staring into the mirror in the very bright light of the morning without having showered, brushed my hair or my teeth. “God you are beautiful! You are really the most amazing person on the planet! I just love you so much!”
Yeah, every once in awhile I hear a little “that cellulite’s still there… and so are the 10 pounds.” But, then I shine the light of my love and that little voice and help it feel loved and appreciated as well.
Work. This one I have to share just because it’s so darned cute. This past Christmas I was painting some wooden figurines with my neice and nephew. I relished in watching them paint with wild abandon and imagination. What resulted were the most colorful dinosaur and frog I think anyone has ever seen on this planet (without the assistance of psychadelic drugs anyway) and they were BEAUTIFUL! The uninhibited passion with which they chose their colors and layered their paint was inspiring. And I had nothing but unending words of praise and encouragement and love for them and their work. But, as I looked at my own Santa Claus, and the slight imperfection in the right eye vs. the left, I was amused to find myself so critical of my work while appreciative of theirs. So, I picked up some “non-Santa colored” paint and just went to town. The “whiskers” in his beard looked suspiciously more like fleas or chimney soot and he had way too much glitter in his hat for a “jolly old man,” if you catch my meaning. And he was beautiful in his perfect imperfection!
I could go on examples of the many ways I have learned to be more loving with myself, but hopefully you have gotten enough of the idea in a way that will allow you to apply this practice in your daily lives. I don’t know why is it so hard for us to be as kind and loving with ourselves as we are with others. Or why it is so easy for us to treat ourselves like we would never allow another person to treat us in a million years. I have heard it has something to do with our inherent survival instinct. That we are physiologically programmed to identify what is bad or wrong vs. what is right or good. I think the important lesson is that we make a choice FOR something.
Choosing to Love
I chose not to fight or battle against something, but instead to journey towards something… Love. And that has changed everything. I did not have chemo, or radiation… and I chose not to take any of the drugs they told me I absolutely had to take post surgery to improve my chances of surviving. Again, I wanted to choose ways to take care of myself instead of hurt myself further. I did choose to have a mastectomy. The tumor was so large and painful, it made sense to have it removed, but I chose the least invasive route possible and gave my body and spirit the nourishing foods, time, rest and ,above all, the love it needed to heal. And here I am, two years later to the day, free and clear from any indication of disease, feeling better than I ever have in my life because I learned how to fall in love with myself through the journey of cancer.
Where does this article find you? Are you feeling a little run down? Are you facing a challenging illness? Or are you suffering from a nagging case of boredom and disenchantment with life? If you find yourself facing such challenges, I implore you to look within and ask yourself, “What is my body trying to tell me? Where can I be more loving with myself? How can I be taking better care of myself? How do I want to feel loved?” Ask yourself these questions as you would a small child and answer them from the same perspective. And most of all, be as open, loving and accepting as you can of what you hear.
Disclaimer: This is an account of my own personal journey with disease. I had to make some very tough decisions around my treatment plan and sought much counsel both from earthbound beings as well as the heavens. This article is in no way intended to advise anyone to refuse necessary medical treatment or make decisions that may not be in their medical best interests.
Kelly Hansen, ACC, CPA, is a Certified Executive Coach and Holistic Health Coach. She specializes in working with her clients to start living lives of choice, acceptance, and, most of all, love. Through her loving help and guidance, they learn to move TOWARDS things vs. fighting or running away from that which is. They learn to love themselves, be there for themselves and take care of themselves FIRST. They learn to lead thriving lives filled with wellness, passion and joy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org