On Wednesday, April 20th, I was released from the hospital after my double mastectomy. Before leaving, I successfully completed the staff’s requirements for discharge: (1) walk by myself — I was rocking slow-motion laps around the hospital the day after surgery, (2) go to the bathroom on my own —Well, you know that story and thank the heavens that that part of my body started working again, and (3) give myself a shower — This took some creativity ~ especially with the drains & limited range of movement ~ but hey, when obstacles arrive ~ creative inspiration is born.
I was wheeled out of the hospital with my stuffed donkey and flowers in hand, and entrusted to my two primary caregivers: Sweet Hubby Travis and Superwoman Mommy. The hardest part was finally over. Or was it?
The first 10 days of recovery had many ups and downs. There were moments of “fuck this shit, I’d rather die than feel this pain anymore” and moments of “wow, I have never felt this loved and supported.” The whole experience turned out to be quite an invitation to look at stressful thoughts that hold me back from self love.
My Relationship with Medicine & Pain
Medicine (in the form of drugs) and I have had a bipolar past. Sometimes I love and appreciate it. Sometimes I fear and curse it. Before this whole cancer thing, I had the privilege of experiencing years of intense migraines. I tried numerous alternative approaches for healing — acupuncture, homeopathy, emotional clearing, different cleanses, various diets, yoga therapy, meditation, sex/orgasms, chiropractics, osteopathy, natural hormone therapy, essential oils, & a few other ways I’m too embarrassed to mention…some things occasionally brought relief, but nothing was lasting. Over-the-counter medicine really did help, especially if I took it right when I first felt the signs of a migraine. But I still really, really resented taking it. And prescription meds scared the crap out of me.
Then I found a 6-week course with Certified Facilitators that dealt with the topic of “Pain & Illness” using The Work of Byron Katie.
The course allowed me to fully explore my thoughts around medicine, illness, doctors, pain, blame, fear…it was life-changing and laid the groundwork for how I was able to walk into a cancer diagnosis & treatment with more peace & clarity. My core beliefs were:
Medicine is bad for me.
I want the pain to go away.
I can’t handle it.
The pain will get worse.
The pain will last forever.
Through bringing these thoughts (and many others) to inquiry, I discovered just how much more physical pain this mental activity brought to my body. When I believed these thoughts, I was full of terror & panic; I’d start frantically searching for a “forever” cure…my body would tense up ~ especially in my neck, jaw, forehead, & shoulders. My breath would shorten or even disappear. I would start to see me having to cancel the rest of the activities of the day, or maybe the week…all of the things I love to do just vanished. I felt like a victim, life was unfair. I saw images of the future as being in a lifetime of pain & agony ~ death being the best option. I would get easily angered by others, especially when they offered advice or tried to help. They haven’t had pain like this – they have no idea what they’re talking about!
I’m sorry, but how could you NOT get a migraine believing all of this shit!?
Without the thoughts, I noticed that I became more curious about the first sensations felt before a migraine. Pain now became a sensation. I also saw the story “I’m going to get a migraine” and it was met with “can I absolutely know it’s true?” Don’t know. Not yet. I was then fully available to take care of myself in the moment, which often looked like laying down in a dark room with an ice pack over my eyes, breathing, noticing & relaxing any physical sensations of tightness in my body. I’d notice I would reach for medicine or not. And often did. When I took it, I invited the medicine in with love and gratitude. I saw it as a healing, friend. Whether it worked or didn’t, wasn’t my business. I was just doing my part. I focused on the present moment instead of getting caught up in what might happen in the future. I became a witness of the thoughts that floated by. Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know. It felt simpler, kinder. I recognized that all along, I had the wisdom to take care of myself.
The turnarounds were truer…here are a few examples:
Medicine is good for me. Rather than be in days of pain which can send a “fight or flight” stress response in the body, medicine often alleviated the pain within 20 minutes. It allowed me to spend the rest of the day doing things I love. My body felt calmer and more peaceful. My thinking about medicine is bad for me. Yes, seeing it as an enemy – especially after taking some – only created more stress and panic in my mind & body.
I don’t want the pain to go away. I began to see pain as a gift – it’s a teacher. Actually, it’s my greatest yoga teacher. It helps me to slow down, get in touch with my body, breath, & take care of myself. It introduced me to many different forms of healing and I’ve made life-long connections with others. It has helped me to become a more compassionate yoga teacher & person ~ I now have a reference point for intense pain. Plus, I know exactly what to do if a client has a headache or migraine…I’ve been told my hands are magical 🙂
I can handle it. Well, I can because I did. I always have. There has been absolutely NO proof of me ever “not handling it.” Now, “handling it” can take many forms: going to a doctor, taking meds, breathing, sleeping all day, freaking the F out, crying, netflix therapy, movement, stillness, complaining about it, it’s all welcome.
The pain won’t get worse/the pain will get better. Yes, it always has done this too. And at times when it’s not my experience, it shows me to take a different direction ~ go back to the doctor or try something new. I always find that time heals which leads to my next turnaround…
The pain will not last forever. It NEVER has. Nothing is permanent. But the mind will say it over and over again. I often love to repeat the mantra, this too shall pass.
These realizations were monumental and I truly began to experience pain and medicine as a gift, a privilege. And the pain in my head turned out to be way worse than the pain in reality. Bonus…I started to get migraines less often and needed less medicine. Pretty cool side effect of doing The Work, eh?
I have a friend who didn’t want to take medication. And I said, “God is everything, but not medicine?” God is medicine too. So today she sees it’s a privilege to take medicine. She knows that whether it’s working or not is not her business. The medicine says, “take once a day.” That’s all she has to know. It’s written on the bottle. ~ Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change the World
Finding Self Love
So with this foundation of inquiry and having made friends with medicine, you would think I would have floated through recovery in complete bliss. Yeah, I kind of thought that too. Plus, I was sort of excited to take hard core pain meds. As someone who never experimented with drugs (other than mary jane), I was pretty curious about what it might be like…I heard words like “euphoric” ~ cool! Cancer bonus!
Well, I didn’t breeze through it. Every single thought mentioned above came back with a vengeance. It was like, “Oh really, you think you got this pain thing down? You think you’re totally ok with medicine? I’ll show you biotch!!!” The physical pain I experienced in those first 10 days (in certain moments) was so freaking intense that I could not see the possibility of anything other than…ouch…it hurts. help. ouch. it hurts. so bad. fuck this.
And then I noticed something underneath, which was even more painful: I felt like a complete and utter failure. I shouldn’t be in so much pain. I should be handling this more peacefully. When I took medicine, I hated myself. When I didn’t take medicine, I loved myself. My love was completely conditional. The thoughts kept multiplying until…
I had no choice but to surrender. Surrender “working on myself,” “being evolved,” “being peaceful at healing.” Fuck it. Take the drugs. What? Those drugs weren’t working? Increase the dosage. Go back to the doctor. Take different drugs. Sleep. Cry. What? It hurts like hell to cry, sneeze, or cough? Good. Do it anyways because that’s what’s happening. What? Your mind is distracted and doesn’t feel as much pain while binge watching Netflix? Awesome. Watch more.
Why can’t all of this be self love? Why can’t this be spiritual too?
So once I got over myself, which is really me getting over my thinking of how I should be in this recovery thing…I not only was able to love myself more, I also had some other discoveries…
- Even though I had pain, there were so many things I was capable of doing! I could go on walks, eat amazing meals, spend time with my family, crack jokes, sing karaoke, have deep heart-felt conversations, post messages/pics on facebook. Even though it took about 90 minutes, I could get myself ready for the day – shower, put on clothes, make-up, cleaned my drains. The pain (again) turned out to be worse in my mind, than in reality.
- On day 10, I decided to take over-the-counter Midol for my pain because the hard core stuff just didn’t seem to be working as well as I thought it would. This is what had worked before for migraines and what do you know – it ended up being my MIRACLE DRUG. It alleviated my chest pain within 30 minutes and for the first time in 10 days, I felt so much relief and hope.
- I completely reconnected with my inner child. I loved asking someone to hold my hand. Cuddle me. Pet me. It was my favorite thing in the entire world. And guess what? Someone was always happy to do it. And if I was by myself, I cuddled my donkey and blanket. Yes, I’m 34 and I freaking loved being a baby again. Still doing it to this day (and I’m not in pain).
- I got to witness my superhuman-caretaker-of-the-year mom in full force! She gave me my meds on time, cooked for me, cleaned the house, held me, helped me vent & cry, and was truly there for me in my darkest moment. This moment was when we realized 5 days worth of meals had yet to exit my body…constipation was one of the medicine’s side effects and I stupidly refused to take the poop drugs in the hospital (hey – I totally rocked handling this side effect with all natural stuff during chemo)…let’s just say after an evening of agony, tears, doing yoga over a toilet, bargaining with God to please just let me poop…mom came to the rescue with a morning enema. I mean, seriously – is that unconditional love or what? (I can see my mom and husband cringing at this very moment…did you really just make that info public? Yes, I did. Because it’s now hilllllllllariousssssss.)
- I learned to depend on & appreciate my husband more. I’ve prided myself on being an independent, do-it-all myself kind of gal and this whole experience started to shift my relationship with my husband. After my mom left, I had some major anxiety about how in the world we would survive. I had also taken 4 weeks off of work which financially concerned me at times. I worried that I would become a burden to Travis and this recovery time would put a huge strain on our marriage. It was a great thought to question and without the thought, I got to hear Travis’ heart and how it was his honor to help me in this way. Letting him do things for me and pay for things was his way of loving me. I love that he thought he could do everything for me on top of working full-time and taking care of our Godson. I let him and I also began to outsource which meant….
- I said YES to help from others. I was unable to have full use of my arms for weeks so when others asked if I needed help, I said YES…can you bring me lunch tomorrow? Yes, can you please bring your adorable dog over for dog therapy? Yes, will you go for a walk with me? Yes, can you do The Work with me? People are so kind. They want to help. It feels good to help. I know this because that’s how I feel when I do things for others. It’s why I love my work so much. Well, it was time for me to say yes to being on the receiving end. After all, “let yourself be pampered by others” was in the doctor’s orders.
- I got really creative & resourceful. I discovered that I could open the fridge and dishwasher with my feet! My core strength was used to sit up and lay down. I could cook simple meals if Travis left the frying pan on the stove. Travis put morning juices and nut milks in smaller bottles I could lift. I also live in walking distance to fantastic restaurants and Whole Foods. Instead of using the breathing device given to me by the hospital to expand my lungs (which totally looked like a penis pump), I got into singing karaoke on Apple TV’s “Sing” App. (PS – apparently I have a love for disney songs…Frozen’s “Let it go” and Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” became daily rituals for lung expansion allowing me to toss out the penis pump.)
So yes, there was a lot of self-discovery during recovery and it still continues – I am now 8 weeks out and am feeling pretty darn good. So if you’re ever in pain or finding yourself in a situation when you need to lean on others, here’s my advice to you:
Stop trying to be holy and take the drugs, yo.
Question your thoughts about pain.
Say YES to help.
Let yourself be a child again.
Notice the blessings and all of things you CAN do.
And this is all still a practice for me too. Let me know what you discover. xoxo