Finding space to breathe

Sometimes hearing people talk about “mindset” and thinking positively when going through a tough time makes me want to give them the finger. When I was in the middle of treatment or just after surgery, I thought, what do you know? You’re sitting there with a perfect life and telling me to think positively? It made me angry. I would try to work on my thought patterns and be “positive” during the depths of cancer. Sometimes it worked and I could have moments of clarity, hope and faith. Other times, I dropped a lot of F bombs and cried. And cried some more.

What I’ve learned on the other side of things, during the “life after cancer” part of all of this, is that it is a constant process. There’s never an end point to working on this. Some moments, I’m like freaking Buddha - clear mind, calm and peaceful. Other times, I swing from Charles Manson to Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. It can feel like completely different people live inside of me. What’s changed now is my response. I’ve learned my response is everything. It’s okay to feel like 20 different people. It’s okay to rage and cry and be angry. I can’t just “be positive” - that’s not realistic nor does it serve me to try to achieve that. Instead, it’s how I choose to respond that changes everything.

My dear friend and mentor, Ashley Graber, was the first person to teach me that I had some power and control in my response. She shared with me Viktor Frankl’s work and quote. “ Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Learning that I have a choice was a game changer. It has also taken time and is something I work on daily.

You might be asking yourself…..How does this apply to health and life after cancer? I believe health is the whole picture - mind, body and soul. I know that can sound trite sometimes, but hear me out. When I fall into rage and anger or even sadness and shame, I feel it viscerally. My body responds. I get a tight throat, sick to my stomach, worn out, headaches. It doesn’t mean I won’t feel those things, but I use them to signal to me to choose how I respond. Sometimes it means I need to take a nap and not talk to anyone. Other times, I really need to reach out to a friend and share where I am. For me, fear manifests either as anger or sadness in me and the response in my body is so strong, it takes over. There’s a lot of fear during and after cancer. I used to try to fight it, but now, I understand it is a part of going through cancer and I choose how I respond to it. Instead of being swept away by those feelings now, I remember Viktor Frankl and find some peace in the space to respond. It helps me move through it physically AND mentally.

I honestly feel like I could write an entire book about this topic. That’s not my goal for today. Today I just want to open up this idea. It doesn’t mean we are always great at it but it’s a start. The more we acknowledge and recognize this tiny bit of space, the more empowered we are to move forward. I invite you to notice how you feel and see if you can find even the tiniest bit of space. Even if in that space all you’re able to do is take a few deep breaths, that’s a win in my book! Sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed by emotion, I go to the bathroom and just breathe deeply. I lean into the space that a few deep breaths give me and can move forward from there. For whatever reason, we are created to feel and our bodies respond. Being curious about our feelings and our responses, being open to exploring this and understanding it is a lifelong process has changed my life completely.

I would love to hear what you think. Does any of this resonate with you? Are you willing to try to lean into that response time even with a few breaths? Please share your comments, thoughts, feelings. I would love to connect and hear from you!