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My Awakening

originally published at The Underbelly

On Dec 2nd I will celebrate my 4th year as a breast cancer survivor. That is the day I was diagnosed in 2013, and the date I use to commemorate my cancerversary. I’ll never forget the moment I got the call. It was 10:02am on Monday morning following the most stressful Thanksgiving weekend of my life. I spent the holiday knowing there was a strong likelihood that I had cancer, based on the preliminary tests. I just had to wait for the labs to confirm it.

I can remember the feeling in my body the moment I heard the words. I can still hear my doctor’s voice as she delivered the awful news. My biopsy came back positive. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. In other words, I had breast cancer. I hung up the phone, and asked my husband to call my mom. I wasn’t ready to speak the words to anyone outside of us. I emailed my employer to deliver the news, and inform them that I would be taking the rest of the day off. They were very understanding in the beginning, and I was grateful for that. I also appreciated that I was working from home that day.

As I look back on that morning, it feels like a bad dream. One where my whole world turned upside down. In that moment, in my home office, it felt like the room started to spin. I started to scream, but I don’t think any sound came out. I started to cry. I remember stomping my feet on the floor, kind of like a toddler having a full-blown tantrum. That was me when I found out I had breast cancer.

It was probably the first time in my 39 years of existence that I didn’t stop myself from feeling anything. I didn’t hide it. I didn’t stuff it. I didn’t push it away. I didn’t try to be strong, or put on a happy face. I didn’t try to think positive thoughts or pray. Instead, I just allowed myself to completely unravel and melt in the moment. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, or the journey I was about to embark on, but I know now that this diagnosis was my awakening. This was the beginning of a new layer of my being, and I would later learn that there would be no going back.

I spent the next several days scheduling appointments and planning for additional tests. Getting diagnosed with cancer is no joke. You’re thrown into a crash course, and everything moves very fast. At least, it did for me. It felt like I jumped on to a high-speed train, and I was hanging on for dear life. After those first few weeks of body scans and more biopsies, I received good news that my cancer hadn’t spread. I’ll never forget that appointment. It was on Christmas Eve.

Eventually, the chaos surrounding my diagnosis started to simmer. It wasn’t necessarily easier, but there was a plan in place. That was something I could work with. As I sat with my new awareness I started to have an overwhelming sense that all of this was happening for a reason. I had no idea what the reason was, but I knew it was going to be big. I couldn’t explain it, but I just knew that this experience was somehow going to change my life.

Prior to cancer I was a stressed-out workaholic, desperately trying to keep myself from unraveling as I juggled my family and my career. I traveled regularly for work. There was little time left for me. I had two little kids who needed me, but I was either angry or exhausted most of the time. I was obsessed with losing weight, but I didn’t take care of my body. Instead, I punished it with unhealthy rituals. It was a dark time in my life.

In the 4 years since my cancer diagnosis there has been a tremendous amount of change. I left my corporate job. That company has since gone out of business. I studied energy healing, and have learned Reiki. I introduced a regular meditation practice into my day. I studied to become a life coach, and started my own business. I have learned to like my body, and appreciate it for all it does. I have learned that I can manage my thoughts, and feel my emotions. I ended my 30 year habit of emotional eating, and now I get to help others do the same. I even relocated with my family from New York to Georgia.

So much has happened. It’s been a crazy few years. I love the life I am creating, and the woman I am becoming. My identity completely changed as a result of my cancer diagnosis. Cancer changed my world in more ways than I ever could have imagined, but I wouldn’t want to go back. I have a new appreciation for my body, my life, and everything that comes with it. I know that I am lucky. My cancer was caught very early. I didn’t need chemo. Not a moment goes by when I don’t realize how blessed I am. It’s emotional when it’s time for my annual MRI and mammogram, but I suspect it always will be. I still believe that cancer was my awakening, and I’m not going back to sleep.

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