Breast Cancer, Breast Love, and everything in between
I’m considered high risk for breast cancer and a few weeks ago I (reluctantly) heeded my doctors advise to finally go and get a mammogram for the first time in over five years. As I imagine many women are, I was absolutely terrified about this decision. Having your breasts squished flat as a pancake while a beam of radiation is directed through your delicate breast tissue is uncomfortable at best and (in my mind at least) potentially risky. Before, during and after the appointment I wrestled with intense fear bordering on panic. Fear of cancer, fear of surgery, fear of hospitals, fear of medication, fear of illness, fear of death.
I also had the blessed experience of facing all those fears, diving through and under them and looking deeper, and finding a soft, tender, grief – a profound and bittersweet empathy with the hundreds of thousands of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. It broke my heart wide open.
After two weeks (TWO WEEKS!) of waiting, fearing, worrying grieving, waiting some more, empathizing yet again, feeling my heart break over and over and finally realizing I would ultimately have to just TRUST my body, that even I DID HAVE CANCER I could still TRUST MY BODY and it would somehow all be okay (thank you mindfulness practice, thank you healing practitioners who teach me these things) I got an email from my doctor at 9:30 on a Tuesday night. Surely, I thought, she would not email me at 9:30 on a Tuesday night if there was something to worry about. Or would she? Turns out, when I gathered the courage to open the email, my doctor’s one-line message was “Your mammogram looks good.” And that should have been the end of that. But it wasn’t.
I was overwhelmingly relieved. I felt so grateful for my health. But I also felt traumatized. All of that fear focused on my breasts. The squishing. The radiation. The incessant searching for lumps. The wondering if every little sensation could be a sign of something. My breasts have changed from a soft, beautiful and wonderfully feminine part of me to a risky anatomical anomaly that must be inspected and screened if I am to avoid being killed by them. And I know I’m not alone in this with mammograms routinely scheduled every year or two for many women.
Now, it is October, and I see there are pink ribbons all around and scary and terrible statistics are easier than ever to find. 1 in 8 of us women will get breast cancer. How is this possible?! Why our beautiful breasts? My heart aches for all my sisters who have suffered and lost their lives. How can we live with this knowing, these numbers, these mammograms, and not be overwhelmed and immobilized by fear and grief?
My answer, for myself at least, is to make October not only “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”, but also, and at least equally if not more importantly, “LOVE MY BREASTS MONTH”. When facing mammograms and fear I will pay less attention to looking for lumps and more attention to selecting a lovely herbal massage oil (Susun weed has some suggestions here) and using them for health and life promoting self breast massage (Some instructions are here). I can’t take breast cancer out of the world (I would if I could and I pray that it will be gone someday) but I can stop allowing it to create panic in my mind.
Ladies if you’re in Auburn California or in the surrounding areas and would like some support around breast health, I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned. I also have some herbal oils I made for self breast massage and would really love to share them with you. I have more than I could ever use, so please let me know! A wonderful benefit of regular breast massage is that you will become so familiar with your own breasts by doing this for yourself that you will notice any significant changes before your doctors or even a mammogram would. May we all be blessed with healthy breasts and learn to love them well!