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Longing for Carefree Days: Grateful After Breast Cancer

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I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2015. I share my learning that jolted me back on track to a new life. This is my fifth posting.

The sun was shining non-stop during July and August in Stockholm. Facebook was filled with pictures of the perfect holiday. As the initial feeling of shock was calming down, I started to long for carefree days.

Carefree days. What a wonderful taste these two words have.

Carefreeness is a state of mind, but I longed to be carefree on the savanna in Kenya. I have travelled to many wonderful places in the world, but nothing beats waking up in the Masai Mara as the sun rises, putting on a fleece sweater in the chilly tent and drive slowly into the wilderness. Watching a herd of elephants elegantly swaying across the savanna, spending a lazy hour taking photos of a cheetah preparing for a hunt, seeing the curious zebra or hearing the lion roar -- that is pure bliss.

I used all my energy to make a trip to Kenya happen. I had to travel within the next days in order to be back for the scheduled radiation therapy. The flight to Nairobi would allow me to go straight to the domestic airport. I could arrive in Masai Mara the same day. I felt elated. I was doing this. I would escape from the cancer summer.

But then the noise of scattering glass came from my hallway. My framed zebra photo had literally jumped from the wall and landed on the stone floor. The small photo of an emu antelope was hanging on a corner of its frame. I laughed out load; clearly, I was not supposed to go to Africa! It was of course a bad idea. I was still on anti-bio tics after an infection and my energy level was low.

I could not escape. The self-pity arrived. I had to work hard to leave the dream behind and focus on gratefulness. The medicine for a bad mood is always the same: gratitude and awareness of the now. Africa is still there and I am so lucky because I know I will go there again.

The Wisdom Age
I had entered menopause two years ago and after much reluctance, I decided to take estrogen pills. The heat waves, the insomnia, all menopause related issues immediately disappeared.

I stopped taking estrogen the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over night, the problems came back. Only now I had to live with them. Estrogen can never again be an alternative for me.

Thus I needed to change my mental picture of menopause. It was part of me. I could not spend negative energy trying to ignore it or complain about it. I reached out for advice to a range of wonderful women and was introduced to the work of writer and MD Christine Northrup. Her informative and inspirational book 'The Wisdom of Menopause' was a great read and also served as an encyclopedia for later reference.

As a medial doctor, she explains with authority that 'our brains catch fire at menopause' and prepare us for a new stage in life. "Sparked by the hormonal changes that are typical during menopausal transition, a switch goes on that signals change in our temporal lobes, the brain region associated with enhanced intuition."

She also introduced the idea that heat waves can be interpreted as a release of what we no longer need in our lives. This really resonated with me and I now embrace my heath waves.

My Transcendental Meditation teacher Lise referred to being 50 as the 'Wisdom Age', a time when un-finished business will surface to get another chance for closure. She challenged me to discover how I could use my wisdom. How would I work differently? 'How can you do less but achieve more?' she asked. It was very intriguing and I started to understand that menopause was a door opener to a different life for a wise woman. I like the concept of the Wisdom Age.

A Head-Less Day
In order to become aware of the wisdom, I asked Lise to teach me how to listen to my body. The body gives us messages all the time, but we seldom understand its language.

Lise suggested doing a 'head-less-day'. The idea is to let your body decide all actions, if not for a day, at least for a few hours.

I tried and failed miserably.

- Close your eyes and ask your body: what do you want me to do now?
I waited for three minutes before I decided that my body did not have any opinions whatsoever. I might try this exercise again when my body is less toxic. Morphine and anesthetics might not be ideal for clear, internal communication.

The link between body and mind should get a lot more attention. Consider the many years of scientific research on the effects of TM mediation, like for instance that TM is found to be twice as effective as other techniques to combat stress and anxiety.

I am grateful for both the traditional and the alternative medicine but ideally, these should go hand in hand. I am one whole person, body and soul. It would be good to offer health treatment from this perspective. That would be good for the wise woman.

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