Last week, I was lying in a twisty yoga pose when I felt some new lumpy tissue above my left breast. “Perfect timing!” I thought, since my next follow-up appointment with my breast surgeon was just around the corner. I felt zero anxiety, zero stress leading up to the appointment.
Today during my visit, I had two different doctors explore the lumps with their hands and then they did a sonogram. I noticed thoughts arise my mind, “The cancer is back! This can’t be good!” accompanied by scary images of the future. Yet, I didn’t believe them. I clearly saw that they are not real, in this moment it’s just imagination.
Do you know what I experienced instead?
Pure gratitude for reality. Gratitude for the lumps showing up, gratitude for the trained experts, and gratitude for the sonogram machine that can further investigate what’s going on in my body.
My breast surgeon then said, “It all looks good! See you in 6 months.”
5 Steps to Clear Scanxiety
Do you feel anxious, worried, & fearful when it comes to doctor appointments and diagnostic tests? If so, you are so not alone. Whether you’re simply scheduling the appointment, driving to the exam, sitting in the waiting room, getting your boob squashed, or being rolled in and out of a magnetic test tube…it’s possible to be at peace.
Here are 5 simple steps that have helped me deal with the oh-so-common Scanxiety:
Connect with your breath.
Notice where your breath is in your body. Begin to focus your breath on your belly. Take a deep breath in through the nose, and a nice long exhale out through the mouth.
Touch something solid.
Use your hands to touch something solid – the chair, a wall, the table. Feel the floor beneath your feet, your hips on the chair, or your back or stomach on the exam table.
Notice your surroundings.
Become a witness of what is around you. See the shapes, colors, and textures. Notice the sounds – the voices, the music, the machinery. Take in the smells (ok, maybe not!). Observe the movement of people around you. See the kindness in people’s eyes.
Question your thinking.
If you feel stress, pause and notice your thoughts. “This will be painful…The results will be bad”…and ask yourself these 2 questions from The Work of Byron Katie: Can I absolutely know it’s true in this moment? Who would I be, right here, right now without the thought?
Remember it’s all here FOR you.
The doctors, the nurses, the staff, the needles, the drugs, the lighting, the equipment, the music, the warm blanket…it’s all here for you. To support you. To get a clear picture of what’s going on in your body. To help you heal. To give you the next direction.
And if you try these 5 steps and epically fail…that’s all good too! You are free to freak the f*ck out. There is nothing wrong with you. Forgive yourself. Begin again. There will always be another opportunity to practice in Life School, I promise.
It’s been 2 1/2 months since my final reconstruction surgery. Recovery has had its’ ups and downs ~ physically, mentally, & emotionally as described in my last post about meeting big emotions. Although I technically finished treatment on May 4th ~ it really hasn’t felt that way.
In addition to the crazy places my mind went, all of my follow-up appointments happened to fall during the month of June: my plastic surgeon, breast surgeon, oncologist, & gynecologist, as well as my physical therapist twice per week. Add a CT scan and a vaginal sonogram to the mix…June was rockin.
It helps me to remind myself of WHY I have these appointments. They are FOR me. To support me, to make sure things are healing properly, and to monitor this body so it can continue to be free from cancer. My job is to show up and continue to free my mind of cancerous thinking.
I love physical therapy (aka private yoga therapy paid by insurance).
I was able to work with the amazing Tiffany again ~ she is the one who helped me with cording after my mastectomy. I call her my “Boob Whisperer” as her main goal was to help my boobs become more even by breaking up the scar tissue from radiation. I didn’t realize how much the tissue underneath the skin was affected from radiation until I got my final implants ~ the scar tissue has been pulling leftie up and out.
I’m not going to lie ~ I was NOT cool with my new boobs at first. Leftie was a couple of inches higher and if you were standing to the left of me, my left nipple would be looking straight at you saying, “Hey – I’ve never seen life from this angle before.” Rightie looks pretty good until I flex my pec muscle ~ it then shrivels up into a squashed raisin. I can get self-conscious of it when I’m in certain yoga poses and when I’m intimate with my husband.
I also adopted a daily practice of obsessively staring them down in the mirror, examining their weirdness from every angle, comparing them to my gift-from-God original breasts, and then crying. A lot.
As healthy as this practice was, I realized another approach would be more beneficial for my sanity. Investigating my stressful thoughts about body image using The Work of Byron Katie: “I want them to change. They should be even. I want my old breasts back. They are not attractive. It’s not fair.”
These thoughts weigh heavy on my heart. They block me from seeing the miraculous healing that’s taking place. Can I love my body just as it is? Yes, I can love it in all its glorious weirdness. Do I need to despise my body in order to take action? No. I can do my part from a place of peace – ask the surgeon questions, go to physical therapy, do my home practice, buy flattering bras, be gentle with myself, and commit to my inner work. There’s also the option of a revision surgery in December which was recommended by my surgeon. I’m open. We’ll see.
This is all an ongoing practice for me ~ I am a work in progress. And what’s cool is although there are moments of struggle, I’m still living a very full and happy life.
I am looking and feeling better every day. My energy is coming back. I have NO doctor appointments for 3 WHOLE MONTHS (a new paradigm!). And best of all, my last CT scan was CLEAR!
I learned that according to doctors, I have been in remission for over a year already! The start date is the day I was pronounced with “no evidence of disease” which was after my mastectomy & lymph node dissection on 4/18/16. The words “in remission” and “survivor” don’t really fit for me ~ I prefer “cured” and “thriver” unless there’s proof otherwise.
I have lived in Texas for 17 years and every summer, I have cursed the heat. Last year was the summer of expander boobs and radiation. So now, I’m embracing spending as much of summers in “Not Texas” as possible 🙂
This summer seems to have a water theme! I just went to Vero Beach, Florida to visit my family. Walking the beach, body surfing, kayaking, and relaxing with my family was the perfect transition.
It finally feels like treatment is OVER!
Tomorrow, I’m heading to cancer camp (YES – that’s a thing!) hosted by First Descents in Montana for a white water/kayaking adventure with my friend, Michelle. We met in Spain 10 years ago and she was diagnosed 6 months after me. How funny it is that at one time we were touring Spanish vineyards, sipping Cava, & partying in clubs all night…now we text boob pictures to each other and ask questions like, “How much hair do you have left? How are your boobs doing? Can I see them? Do yours ripple like this?” as well as so many words of encouragement. I can’t wait to see her.
After Montana, I’ll spend a week in Colorado and then in August, a romantic trip to Tulum with my husband. I am so looking forward to this time with him where we can just be a young, regular ol’ couple, in love, in paradise, in celebration of a new chapter of our life. We’ve been through a lot over the past few years.
Self-care continues with daily movement, inquiry, and eating organic, plant-based meals + fish & eggs. I’m mostly free of gluten, soy, dairy, & processed sugar. If I splurge, it’s for pizza, wine, and chocolate…and it’s worth it! More on my lifestyle diet here.
To boost my immune system further, I’ve started to get into medicinal mushrooms like Reishi (which I took as a supplement) and Chaga (which I drink as a tea or add to coffee). I still love acupuncture and go once or twice a month and after my trips, I’ll start massages with an oncology-trained therapist.
People often tell me, “It’s amazing how positive you are all of the time about cancer!” Lol…I love your story of me 😉 And perhaps you have not read my blog. Yes, I have found a way to navigate the cancer journey with peace, grace, humor, & joy. The entire experience has been and continues to be the biggest blessing of my entire life. And guess what? I still freak the f*ck out sometimes too!
Some of the biggest emotional rollercoasters have been felt during this past month AFTER I completed cancer treatment. This took me by surprise…I mean, I’m done – right? There’s NO cancer – right? What’s going on here?
When I was in the middle of chemo, I attended a cancer support group. With my bald head and tiny body, I shared that I was surprised at how well I was doing ~ I felt pretty darn good compared to the stories I had heard and my attitude remained clear and positive. Then the ladies said, “Oh…you just wait until after treatment. You’re going to feel horrible.” Then I went on to hear about how terrible their lives are, the side effects from treatment (which honestly didn’t really seem related to treatment), and how they live in constant fear of a recurrence. As I witnessed their suffering, I could see so clearly that it was in their minds ~ if they could just let go of these stories, this victimhood, they would have a happy life (insert spiritual arrogance here). Why can’t they just see this?
Well, I’ll tell you why. When you’re in the midst of suffering, you are bombarded with a sea of stressful thoughts, images, physical exhaustion, & BIG emotions. A dark cloud looms over you, covering your eyes, so that all you can see is crap here and crap there. You are blind and stuck in a shitty mental movie. How do I know?
I’ve been here. And I’ve come to realize that depression, fear, anger, resentment, loneliness, and disappointment are not a problem. Do you want to know what makes these moments unbearable? It’s thoughts like…
I should be happy.
There’s something wrong with me.
It will get worse.
These feelings will never go away.
These BIG emotions fluttered in and out after my final reconstruction surgery. They were also fueled by the fact that during recovery, I was feeling very disappointed with the cosmetic outcome and also developed an upper respiratory infection that was accompanied by an intense cough…I coughed so much that I threw a rib out of place and vomited a few times. I was whiney, annoyed, and just wanted to get back to my normal life. I didn’t want to do The Work. I didn’t feel like doing movement. I’d curl up into my bed and cry. And then came in the above self-judgment and stressful thoughts.
How do you react, what happens when you believe that you should be happy, when you’re not? I am even more frustrated, ashamed, disappointed. I harden inside and want to close myself off from the world. I see images of the “old Bethany” who was peaceful and free – where did she go? COME BACK!!!! I don’t see the possibility of a happy future.
Who am I, feeling this way, without these thoughts? I’m here for me. I rock me through tears, I ask others to hold me. I feel the support of the bed. I tell myself that it’s ok, you’re doing great, and this too will pass. I am so sweetly connected with myself. These BIG emotions are welcomed and I let myself fully FEEL.
One night, I experienced what one might call an “emotional exorcism.” I was sobbing, hovered over the toilet and vomiting. My body was shaking…I felt 100% completely out of control. There was no choice but to surrender into grief. Grieving for the changes in my body and my life. My husband encouraged me to keep letting it go, which I did for what felt like hours. I awoke the next morning and cried more. I went to Acupuncture and cried through that as well.
And then, a shift.
I began to feel lighter, relaxed, at peace. My smile and sense of humor returned. Life looks sparkley again. I feel like myself again. I have more energy and feel excited and hopeful for the future.
For me, these BIG emotions could not be bypassed. It felt important and necessary for me to really feel them. Let them have a life. Let them move through me. And now that I’m on “the other side,” I can go back to inquiry ~ identify what I was thinking and believing ~ and continue to become enlightened by suffering.
BIG emotions are a natural part of life and the cancer journey. Suffering teaches me humility, connection, self-care, and the power of the mind.
So to the women who I judged at the cancer support group: I am so sorry. You are entitled to feel however you feel. There is nothing wrong with you. How can I help?
There are many ways to deal with emotions ~ venting it out may be the best way for you. For me, it’s often not enough. Feeling my way through it and questioning what’s beneath it is how I find the most freedom. What works for you?
With love & gratitude for ALL of the cancer journey (and that includes suffering),
I am truly grateful and blessed to be someone who can say the words, “I use to have cancer and now I don’t.” My latest CT scan showed no evidence of anything cancery in my body – cancer free baby! Cancer is over.
Or is it?
The truth is cancer has come back many times….in my mind. The fear of cancer returning and returning terminally is a big practice for me. Yes, I’m aware it’s all mental and holy crap – it can take me for quite a ride! It’s like a vampire who sucks the joy out of everything. It’s the voice that says, “Don’t get too excited…What if…?”
And from the many women who I have connected with during this journey – I’m not the only one who experiences this fear.
Back in August when I was on my post-treatment celebration vacation, I attended a retreat in Quebec led by a friend & Certified Facilitator for The Work of Byron Katie, Tom Compton. Tom is amazing. I consider him to be one of those connected, special souls who was put on this earth to inspire others to live a fearless, joyful life, simply by being himself. Life has given him many surprises as well ~ his wife recently passed away from breast cancer.
Hearing him speak of his time with his wife as she transitioned inspired me ~ it showed me how death can be an intimate, heart-opening experience for a family. I also loved seeing how well he is doing ~ he moved to California and started surfing every day. He is happy and has somehow started to reverse the process of aging (he looks 20 years younger than the last time I saw him!).
What I have feared about death is how it will affect my loved ones, especially my husband. I shared this with Tom, and he said “it would break his heart. And then it would break it wide open.”
While I found comfort in his words, I also started to ask a lot of questions.
“How did your wife know the cancer had returned?”
As soon as the words left my mouth, my mind came in with, “EEK! Are you sure you want to know this? The answer is totally going to fuck with you. WARNING!”
And I still wanted to know.
He said that her stomach became very bloated and they found tumors all along the lining of it ~ from then, it was just a matter of time. I felt an immediate pain in my stomach. However, I acted brave and moved on to the next conversation.
So of course, naturally, for the first half of the retreat, my stomach became bloated. It was crampy. I started obsessively feeling it for lumps. Oh shit, this is it.
One of the main reasons I joined the retreat is to confront any remaining fear/unease around my cancer diagnosis. I could see that this was the perfect time for me to experience these sensations. It was happening for me. Throughout the retreat, I did a lot of inquiry on my fear of death, fear of having chosen the wrong treatment plan, and fears of my family suffering.
There was a lot of crying. It felt tender and kind to let the little terrified girl inside of me fully speak – fully express herself. I also felt very held and supported by Tom and the other retreat participants. It became clear that a bloated belly is not a problem – it’s what I’m believing about it that hurts. Cancer returning is not a problem. Death is not a problem. It’s the labels I put on them that create my suffering.
Then one afternoon, I took a bath. I looked at my bloated belly and caressed it. I wiggled my legs straight and began to lean into a forward fold. And then…something magical happened.
I passed gas for about 30 seconds…it was the longest wind relief I’ve ever experienced! I burst out with laughter – farts are always entertaining to me – I grew up with brothers and we have so many fond family fart memories. Did you know you can save one in a jar and give it to someone as a gift?
When I sat up from my forward fold, my stomach was flat and back to normal – my giggles turned into an overwhelmingly grateful big ol’ ugly cry. My fears. My terror. All along, it was just a fart. Then the next day, my menstrual cycle made an appearance after a 3-month hiatus.
So I share this somewhat mortifying story with you for a reason. How often have you experienced fear and it turned out to be absolutely nothing? Or maybe your fear came true, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
Maybe fear is just an entertaining, farty friend, inviting you to get out of your head, let go, and enjoy reality.
If fear still has a grip on you, I invite you to identify what you’re thinking and believing and take it to inquiry with The Work of Byron Katie. I would love to hear what you discover. xoxo
On September 4th, I celebrated my 35th birthday. I think birthdays will officially take on a brand new meaning ~ I’m just so grateful to have one! Now that it’s been almost a year since my diagnosis, I LOVE watching my mind compare this moment to one year ago…right now, I’d be getting ready for my biopsy, and two days after that (September 16th), I’d get the call that would change my life forever.
One year ago, if someone would have told me, “Guess what?!! Those lulu lumps in your boobies & armpit are CANCER and in ONE year, you will have been through 5 months of chemo, lost your mermaid hair, had your natural breasts surgically removed & replaced with boobs-of-steel tissue expanders, and floated through 5 1/2 weeks of radiation therapy…” I would have responded: “YOU CRAZY.” And then if you said, “And even more surprising, is that you will actually ENJOY a lot of it. It will open your heart in ways you never thought possible. It will open doors that you never knew existed. It will give you strength, purpose, presence, and gratitude. You will feel an enormous amount of love and support from so many. It will be one of the greatest gifts of your life.” I’d say, “WHAT? NOW YOU REALLY CRAY CRAY.”
Crazy. Awesome. Beautiful. Life.
So to catch you up…I am officially DONE with all of the major parts of cancer treatment! Radiation was so much easier than I expected. I’ll write a separate blog piece sharing details, but right now my skin has healed well and it feels as soft as a baby’s ass.
Last Friday, my plastic surgeon leveled out my fembot boobs so that they are the same size for once! I have to say, they look pretty darn good. Still indestructible ~ when you hug me, it feels like I am wearing armor. I’m having fun planning out the final surgery which will take place sometime next Spring or Summer. The surgeon usually waits 8-12 months after radiation which allows extra time for the skin to fully heal ~ it can sometimes continue to tighten and shrink. Lots of stretching and I apply a homemade cream w/Frankincense, Lemon, Argan, Jojoba, and Vitamin E oils daily.
I had another ultrasound to check out the cyst on my ovary…I’m ecstatic to report that not only is it nothing to worry about, my doctor doesn’t even see a need to continue monitoring it. What?!!! So that’s done too.
I have begun taking Tamoxifen – a drug used to prevent reoccurrence for hormone-positive cancers. It is a systemic treatment (meaning it treats the whole body) and if there are any remaining cancer cells, it will bind their mouths closed so that they can not feed on estrogen. No food = No life.
I had mixed feelings about taking any type of drug for 5-10 years, so I did my best to explore a well-researched alternative. Each doctor and naturopath I talked with had the same answer: there is no alternative. Because I am young and know this body is awesome at producing estrogen – aka “cancer candy” – it is very important to me to address this part of the cancer treatment plan. The way I look at it, Tamoxifen is the best option available for me now and I’m open to that changing. My oncologist put it nicely, “I don’t like to tell anyone that they will be taking a drug for 10 years…because we don’t know…new research could show up or circumstances may change…let’s just try it out and see how you do.” When I got the bottle from the pharmacy, I laughed out loud when I saw the pills. I was picturing some kind of huge scary, horse pill…it just looks like an innocent, little baby aspirin. So far, no noticeable side effects other than I’ve been getting a little hot flashy at night – and this is also summer in Texas, so who doesn’t?
August was incredible. I gifted myself a month-long sabbatical to celebrate the end of treatment. Zero doctor visits…I was just a regular gal living an amazingly free-flowing life of travel! The trip started with a few days in NYC with my sister-in-law, Annie, and then we joined our soon-to-be sister-in-law, Emma, for her bachelorette party in Brooklyn. We drank wine, ate great food, and danced until 3am! I was pretty impressed this body kept up with the girls!
We had lunch one day at Smorgasburg – an outdoor flea market with about 100 eclectic food tents. I was standing in line for some Vegetarian Venetian wrappy things and asked the woman in front of me if she would take my picture. She asked what brought me to Brooklyn and I told her that I was there for a bachelorette party and then blurted out that I also just finished a year of cancer treatment. She said, “Oh my god – ME TOO!” She just had her final reconstruction surgery and she asked if I wanted to feel them. Immediately, I said “YES!” and within seconds of meeting, I’m feeling up a stranger’s boobs with people all around us. Ahhhhh….I just love how going through this experience breaks down all boundaries. PS – they felt AHHHHHMAZING!
After the high energy of NYC, I took a train to Westpoint to stay with my girlfriend, Krissy, and her sweet baby. We’ve known each other since 3rd grade and had so much fun lounging around, cooking meals, and reminiscing about all of the crazy things we use to do when we were “young.” And how we still feel just as awesomely immature. Time is a funny concept.
Then back to the train to Boston where I stayed with my brother, his fiancée, and my furry Niece. They just moved into a cool new neighborhood and we spent our days walking, doing yoga, and eating yet more amazing food. I abandoned my diet a bit and treated myself to local fresh breads, organic coffee, and some kickass desserts. And oh, pizza…how I’ve missed you. To my surprise, I felt really good! My energy came back although I would often take an afternoon siesta.
I then hopped on a bus to Burlington, VT, where I stayed with my friend, Todd Smith. He is also a facilitator for The Work of Byron Katie and hosts personal retreats at his home – I can attest first-hand that WOW, what an amazing home they have! And He and his partner are wonderful hosts. We ate Ayurvedic meals and at night we took a swim in Lake Champlain under the full moon. It felt cleansing and purifying.
The next day, I moved into the finale of my sabbatical: a week-long retreat called “Love is the Power” led by Tom Compton in Quebec. It was hosted at the country home of one of sweetest families I know – Sarah Maya, Matthieu, and Zia. Another great friend, Susan, helped to organize the retreat. Sarah Maya and Susan reached out to me when I was diagnosed and offered to do The Work with me whenever I needed support – and I said yes. In all of my “People are kind” experiences throughout the cancer journey, this one was over-the-top generous. They all invited me to join the retreat as a gift. And what an incredible gift it was on so many levels.
In such a loving and supportive environment, I was able to explore deep fears around cancer returning, judgements about me choosing conventional medicine
over doing all alternative, the fear of death, and much more. Vegetarian meals, walking meditation, dancing like no-ones watching…and I even led a few morning yoga classes in nature. It was the perfect experience for me – mind, body, & soul. Perhaps I will share more in a separate post (OK, I have a billion blog post ideas I want to write!!!), but one key takeaway I am continuing to explore is “who would I be without the label of right and wrong?” This was an invitation from Tom and it’s definitely taking root in me. I notice so much of my life is lived out of needing to know “the right way” and “the right answers.”
What if it’s ALL right? ALL good? ALL Love?
After the retreat, Susan and I spent a few nights in the amazing city of Montreal before I flew home. I loved hearing French every day and am already plotting my return. Although I experienced sadness to leave, I was also excited to return to my “new” life in Dallas. No more daily doctor appointments – just some follow-ups here and there. Back to a new reality.
A new chapter has definitely begun. And the universe has already given me some really cool opportunities! I was asked to create yoga videos for CanSurround, a web-based tool designed to help with the mental & emotional journey through cancer. The videos just went live today!!! There are three: 10-min Yoga for Deep Sleep, 20-min Chair Yoga for Peace, & 30-min Yoga for Strength, Flexibility, & Presence. I had so much fun creating them with my own cancer experience in mind, and I hope it will help many others move through their journeys with more grace and ease.
I have also been asked to be a Yoga Coach for Reset Retreat, a company of like-minded ladies who create life-changing retreats across the globe. The first one is THIS weekend in Texas Hill Country and it’s sold out! And I just get to show up and teach the yoga!? Click here to read a recent interview I had with the company. It shares how I came to yoga, my experience with cancer, and how I weave in The Work of Byron Katie into my yoga teachings and life.
Speaking of The Work, I also just started my first e-course as a trainer in the Institute for The Work. I am co-training with a dear friend, Robyn ~ another amazing facilitator who reached out to support me when I was diagnosed. Travis and I will also be staffing the 9-day School for The Work in Ojai in the fall. My life is definitely calling me to share this work in many different platforms and I just love seeing what shows up for me.