When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I remember other survivors describing to me that I would start to look at my life as "before cancer" and "after cancer." When I first heard people speak of this, I thought to myself surely it can't be so simple. But the further I move into and embrace my new normal, the more pronounced this line becomes.
As my two-year cancerversary approaches, I am grateful to be feeling good and embracing so many exciting new chapters in my life. The doctors say I am "free from evidence of disease" (evidently remission is not the go-to term these days). I even have a few days where I don't think of the cancer. At the same time, I find myself in a constant and almost obsessive state of reflection desperate for some recollection of the actual moment when it all changed. Because I am certain it has.
As a result, I find myself remembering such random details of the days leading up to my official diagnosis. For someone who is not at all detail-oriented, the most finite of memories are coming back to me. The exact seat I was sitting in at the doctor's office for my annual exam where the lump officially came out of the fog of denial and into focus. The email I sent right before they called my name -- it was to our public relations partner approving a media placement. The outfit I was wearing that day -- my favorite oversized cream turtleneck sweater, skinny jeans and boots, my red ones. Where I would go to dinner that night -- Tex Mex sounded good.
They called my name. They weighed me. I had lost 10 pounds since the previous year. I of course thought that was surprising but amazing. The hot yoga at work perhaps? I wasn't even trying to lose weight -- oh well. The truth is, I didn't even recall the lump until my doctor started that part of the exam and asked if I noticed any changes in my breasts. "Oh yeah," I remember telling her, "I had actually felt this lump in my left breast." She felt it. Her face tried to play it off, but she made the comment that we should get it checked ASAP -- she literally said ASAP and I remember thinking that's weird she would say that. That along with the weight loss evidently was not an ideal combo. I still don't think the thought of cancer was something that crossed my mind. At that point I was the healthiest person I knew. Life before cancer was still my reality.
I got dressed and took down the name of the mammogram facility. I remember feeling confused and a little numb. I was supposed to go back to work, but found myself driving home. I stopped at Whole Foods for lunch. I parked the car. My sister called to see what I was up to. I lost it and started hysterically crying in the Whole Foods parking lot. What a cliche I remember thinking to myself.
That was the moment -- or at least the first of the many moments to come. Deep down I knew. My sister said she would go with me to get the mammogram -- and I let her. Further evidence that surrender was taking hold and I was about to venture into lands where doing it all on my own simply wouldn't suffice. A week later on Valentine's Day, the official diagnosis occurred. And with it, further moments, heart wrenching, heartfelt, and meaningful moments.
We all have these moments where life invites us to wake up -- consciously wake up. Sometimes we embrace the invitation and other times we don't even recognize it. The invitations that usually catch our attention typically come at extremes -- momentary catastrophic or ecstatic life experiences. But really, the invitation is there in every moment.
Through my meditation practice and teaching others to embrace these moments, I often find myself encouraging people (and myself) to feel whatever feelings come up. There is a misconception that it is all rainbows and unicorns when we start to practice meditation. The truth is, when we set aside time to be still, those emotions that have been locked away finally have some space to be expressed. As so many of my great teachers have shared -- you gotta feel to heal.
Two years later, I find myself emoting more than I ever have. Sometimes it is very difficult and sometimes it can be absolutely joyous. But it is always healing and with each cathartic release I feel more spaciousness to let life flow.
Life before cancer was full of details and memories. Life after cancer is full of moments. Especially, the in between moments, where the true gift of being present and awake is always available to us. No invitation needed.