An Olive Branch

“Hope is not about proving anything. It’s about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us.”
Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

“That’s fair,” my oncologist said as we met in an exam room, six months later. “It is fair for you to be upset about the fact that a biopsy didn’t happen, after four of us told you it should.”

At the patient relations meeting, she’d said something similar at the outset, but no one followed her lead on that. The mediator made great ado about my emotional state, and allowed that the entire experience must have induced panic. But then the conversation shifted to squarely pegging me as an “outlier,” and the firm declaration that “no, there’s nothing for us to learn, here, thank you very much.” During the meeting, the oncologist made no effort to steer things back to her statement.

Clearly, she did not want me to forget that she, in her own way, had tried to understand my position. Surprised, I watched her, without saying anything. She went on to outline the follow up steps she had taken to reassure me – and perhaps herself, too – that there was nothing to be concerned about with the MRI and ultrasound scans.

“I took your scans with me to a meeting with the radiologists. I had another three review the images, and they each concur that the mass is not indicative of cancer. It’s there, but it appears to be a distortion in how the tissue is hanging, now that it is being pulled in different directions by the scars from surgery.”

“I hope you are satisfied that you are in remission.” She seemed sincere, and I wanted to put the whole thing behind me. So I nodded.

We began to converse, the two of us, about our shared history: we had both been raised on farms, and been the first in our immediate families to complete university. Knowing that I had a mother undergoing cancer treatment, too, she discussed the challenges of caring for her own aging mother. It was a shrewd move on her part: the last time I had spoken with her, I’d challenged her to look at me and see my humanity, not just the disease, cancer. Now, she was doing her best to repair our relationship by taking extra steps to reassure me that the scans were OK. More than that, she was asking me to look at her, my doctor, and see her humanity too.

It was actually a relief to be able to see her as a person, not just a source of frustration, or as an extension of the failures of the institution for which she worked. In doing so, she had given me a gift – a way to move beyond myself, an olive branch that reinforced the internal work I’d been doing in the ensuing months as I continued with yoga.

Dealing with the memory of the conflict, and the deep feelings it dredged up each time I thought about it, took a very long time. I continued working with the physiotherapy, massage therapy, and especially the yoga. My body began to rally, ever so slowly, and pain dropped, bit by bit.  I continued to practice kindness to myself – ahimsa – by breathing deeply with each challenging thought. I’d be working on a pose, for example, and feel a renewed sense of loss as I noted the limited range of motion. I’d recall how prior to cancer, and CIPN, I’d been flexible and healthy. As that sadness washed over me, I simply breathed, and held the geometrical pattern of the pose. Yoga was becoming as much a mental discipline as a physical act: noticing the thoughts that floated in my mind, and seeing the emotion attached to each memory or idea. And then, simply acknowledging its presence: Oh, that’s sadness. Or there’s that anger again. Taking a deep breath, and letting these feelings simply be present along with my body.

I wanted to judge myself: Why can’t I just get over it? Or really, just stop, I’d chastise my mind. But that became a new realization that I was judging myself, along with everyone else in this thorny issue. It was a process of building detachment, where I could see and feel, without latching onto the memory or the emotion.

Months ticked by. I sat, I stood, I breathed – reminding my nervous system it could let us both off the ledge we’d been stuck on for so long. And then, one day, another shift occurred – an unexpected, small milestone that quietly presented itself: a tiny step of progress that none of us saw coming.


Photo by Emre Gencer on Unsplash

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