Whistling in the Dark

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”― Anne Lamott

john-salvino-282508-unsplash.jpgThe biopsy was 2 weeks away.

In that time, I met with my oncologist, who told me very clearly that she agreed with the radiologist: a biopsy was the only way to be sure.

A few days later, I saw my family physician, and she told me the same thing: she’d seen the scans, and agreed that I would need a biopsy to confirm whether I’d relapsed. A biopsy, she said, was the best way – taking an actual sample of the tissue out, and sending it to a lab to be examined, rather than relying on a scan that was, essentially, an interpretation.

I had no problem with the biopsy. It was a simple procedure: local freezing, a sharp pinch, and then off to the lab. I’d had one before and after everything that had ensued, it was one of the easier procedures I’d undergone. Our calendar had a countdown date, where I crossed off each day leading up to the test date.

The time between? That was the intense challenge. I wasn’t a naive newbie at this game anymore. In essence, the whole experience had rolled back the last five years and I was back at the starting point. Except I knew. I knew, only too well, what lay ahead if the news were bad. If this were triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) again? Then it meant chemotherapy again, as that was the only tool proven to actually kill the damned disease. More chemotherapy meant more damage to my nervous system. I lay awake at night, wondering if I would lose use of my legs and my hands entirely. How much pain would I have to live with at that point? My life had become so limited after the first chemo regimen. There were so many things I was unable to do anymore, and even now I relied upon my husband to do everyday chores. Would I become completely, totally dependent upon the care of others to get through my day? I wasn’t sure that I could ever come to terms with living the rest of my life as an invalid – assuming that, if the cancer were back, I’d survive another 5 years.

I filled in my healthcare team, because I knew that the stress was going to show up in my body. My central nervous system was already under a great deal of pressure as it was. But this? The little bit of margin that I had carved out for myself was tapped out.

Yet I had tools, and I wasn’t alone. It was difficult to get a grip on my thoughts – but I could slow that down by paying attention to my breath. Focusing on drawing deep, even breaths slowed everything down. It put my focus out of my brain, and into my belly. It helped to calm the choppy beta brain waves and turn them into the chilled out alpha wave state. My emotional centres stopped firing so much in my brain, and I could spot the compulsive, fearful thoughts that were like flotsam on a river. I could see them, but then refuse to latch onto them, which created little bits of breathing space. Yoga also kept my mind focused on my body, and the practice dialled down the pain symptoms in spite of the stress. My physiotherapist kept sending resources to me about pain management, even as she adjusted the ribcage that was tilted from the tension and scarring in my body. My massage therapist answered questions, and taught me about the connectivity in my body as she worked. With each appointment, each yoga class, I just kept showing up, breathing, and moving without pain to remind my nervous system to find baseline, even now.

And yes, I prayed. I did not want to endure this same battle all over again. However, my prayers were that I would find the grace and strength to meet these challenges, whatever they may be, with patience and equanimity. As I waited, and struggled to stay calm in the face of the unknown, time crawled along.

And then, it was biopsy day.

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