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The Prequel: Body Sense

Do you know ‘in your body’ that you have cancer?

It isn’t completely true to say that it was a routine mammogram. I doggedly followed up with the Montfort Hospital around its scheduling. My first appointment ‘offer’ was May 22, 2016, revised to April 22. “Not soon enough”, I said, “this isn’t just a routine mammogram; there is concern.” This despite my correct view that I had only a cyst in my right breast, and had dismissed a change in my left months before as simply a thickening of my breast tissue. The human capacity for denial (in the mind) is endless. The body however as it turned out, had a much clearer sense of things.

The final date booked for my mammogram and ultrasound was January 22, 2016. The day before, I sat in a Departmental meeting at the University. I felt bleak, very bleak (more bleak that such meetings generally conjure in me). After the meeting a colleague and friend dropped into my office and found me bleak. I had just written out an accounting of my life and career from a depressive point of view. I told her I was scheduled for the mammogram next day and that I feared it would indicate cancer; that this mammogram felt different than the many which had preceded it. I went to bed that night wondering if this was the last day that I would know myself as cancer-free in body or experience.

Next day, as I sat on the small bench in the breast scanning area at the Montfort Hospital, waiting for my ultrasound and the ‘extra pictures’ that the mammogram technician had told me were necessary, I said to myself “Yes, I’m willing to be in: in the group of breast cancer women, in the experience of cancer.”

When the radiologist spoke to me, confirming this body sense, I felt the cold draft of fear along my efforts and fears, I had cancer.

I also responded with stoicism and pragmatism. Cancer was not in my control after all but how I perceived and responded to it was in my control. To the Stoics as I’ve since learned, acceptance meant “accepting the facts as they are and then deciding what you’re going to do about them.”[1] Sorting that out and acting accordingly became my theme and focus in the next steps.

[1] For a general overview see blog postings on The quote is from Ryan Halliday, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016)

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