I was reclined in a dark brown leather chair surrounded by three young female nurses in hospital scrubs. My body was in a strangely semi-relaxed state, and I had a clear tube, twenty four inches long, coming out of the upper right side of my chest. I could hear people talking to me, but it sounded more like mumbled background noise. The only words I could hear were the ones playing in my head. The sounds were from the eighties band the Talking Heads. I imagined hearing the following words repeated with a funky beat:
“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?”
That is a description of me being treated with chemotherapy drugs to ensure that my breast cancer did not come back. That was me doing what was needed to “show up” for myself, but more about that later.
Let me tell you about myself. I am a wife of 15 years and a mother to 3 young children. I am a health coach. Yes, I am the person that people come to see to get healthy. How could I be the one with cancer? I thought I was healthy. I ate better than most, ran ½ marathons, practiced yoga and even meditated.
When that six letter word that packs a punch…cancer…was said to me my world changed from worrying about getting my kids to their afternoon activities to whether or not I was going to live. The idea that I might not be part of my family for the ski vacation that we were planning, or be there for my daughters dance recital, or my sons upcoming robotic competition was just too unbearable.
When I started out on this cancer journey I didn’t realize that cancer would change my life in a good way. I had no idea that having breast cancer was going to force me “show up” for myself and not just do what’s expected. What did it mean to “show up” for myself?
For me showing up meant taking charge of my own body and making decisions that empowered me and felt right for my body. I quickly realized that I didn’t want to treat my breast cancer the “normal” way; I wanted to be able to make all the decisions, I didn’t want doctors to make decisions for me. Showing up meant interviewing 6 surgeons before choosing who was right for me. It meant telling my oncologist that I didn’t want to do the traditional type of chemotherapy that he told me I needed. I was in charge of seeking out doctors that offered treatments that were right for me.
Showing up meant digging deep and doing things I never thought I have to do and listening to what my body had to say to me. It meant, opening up my eyes to different cancer treatments that were out there. I was forced to open up my heart to slow down and not think about the future. I learned compassion for the sick patients around me. That’s what showing up for your health looked like for me.
I showed up for myself by living in the present; it wasn’t easy. It was my 15 year old son who reminded me of importance of not living in the future. We were in the car together and my mind raced to what I needed to get done so I could spend the next day at chemo. Tears were rolling down my face and pure panic was the only emotion I could feel as I was mindlessly driving my son to karate class. I sounded like a child as I blurted out at the stop sign that I did not want to go for chemotherapy the next day. He turned to me and said, don’t think about it now, because right now all you are doing is driving me to karate. He was right. I had a life to lead right now. And right now I was not on my way to get my treatment; I was lucky enough to be sitting next to my 15 year old son.
I decided writing was a way for me to heal from cancer. I wanted to share with my family and friends what it was like for me to have cancer. As I wrote the universe had a strange way of encouraging me to move forward with a book. I would write something in the morning, and then I would run into someone later that day who reinforced something I had just been writing about. I would hear stories about friends who were struggling to find their way in the health care system. People who didn’t know I had cancer would comment on how great my hair and skin looked. Friends would ask me questions about radiation treatments. Someone actually asked me if my breast was black and charred from it. Right then, I heard the universe confirming that it was important for me to write a book.
I am constantly reminding myself to sit back and take note of that I show up for myself on daily basis: When I take time out of my busy morning to make myself my healthy smoothie– that this is showing up for myself. Deciding to take fistfuls of supplements instead of one simple but toxic prescription pill– that is showing up for myself. When I don’t yell at my kids for tracking sand onto my clean floor, that’s showing up for myself. When I let life unfold itself and then adjust accordingly that is me showing up for me.
Christine Egan is the author of “The Healthy Girl’s Guide to Breast Cancer,” which is part memoir and part guide to revealing the all-too-true story of cancer in this country with a healthy twist. Rest assured- this is not a cancer story; it is a story about health and wellness. Her book can be purchased at amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies are available at http://www.ChristineEgan.net