Guest post by Allie Northern
When I first heard about mind body medicine, I was eager to partake in the classes. Each week we would learn new mindfulness techniques to bring us back into our bodies and out of the racing thoughts and anxious feelings that had consumed many of us.
Meditation, guided imagery, writing, yoga and deep breathing. All taught to hopefully offer some relief from the pain that cancer had brought to each of our lives. Bodies, minds and spirits all affected.
As I look around the room during class I notice that this is truly the face of cancer. Whether it’s in the eyes, voices or postures the effects of this tiring disease had worn on us all.
As the yoga teacher comes in one evening and instructs us to move into relaxing and supportive poses, I stretch my neck and quickly become aware of my altered body, for me there is no movement here anymore. Muscles that used to be so free and limber are now solid and covered with scar tissue.
The drive home from class my body shakes as tears flow and I mourn what used to be. Each and every woman’s face from class comes into my mind as I recall the beginning of a Helen Keller quote, “security is mostly superstition.” I wonder if Helen initially spoke these words to someone who had been affected by a life altering illness? Before receiving a diagnosis her statement’s truth was experienced in a much different sense. A diagnosis takes away any planning; all day to day routines, all interactions with others forever altered. Doctors will no longer use the words “cured or cancer-free.” You do not get that security back. Once treatment is complete, the only solace you receive are in the words “in remission”. There is no security in the word remission, hinting forever at the chance that cancer will reappear.
When I get home, I look up the rest of Helen’s security quote…. for a quote to be famous there has to be a larger message than that. As the Internet pulls it up I read slowly …“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
Recalling stories shared in our weekly group I realize how exact Helen is, so many of us live healthy, we exercise, eat right, avoid smoking; in Helen’s words we are avoiding danger yet we are still exposed to cancer. Just like the leaves that fall from the tree, change is about the only guarantee.
Every Monday night as class comes to a close I think about all of the change that cancer had brought to our lives. In some of the most beautiful moments of the evening, tears are shed and followed by the realization that some of the changes have a silver lining. The material things have lost their value, relationships are deepened and more authentic, our own needs are expressed and our voices heard by those around us. When you are really aware that life may not exist tomorrow, love is expressed much more easily because there are words that can simply not risk being unsaid. This is the daring adventure that Helen is speaking of, living a life of truth and wonderful amazement at each new moment you have.
Even though the classes have come to an end, every time I take a deep mindful breath I recall the beautiful faces of those 5 women who shared their experiences and helped me to further see that holding the sadness and grief really was no safer in the long run. Security does not exist in nature I think as I look at the trees on my morning walk, so why should I hold on instead of embracing the change?
“Seasons are changing, it will all be ok,” the wind whispers, as the first leaf falls.
Allie Northern is a past participant in Wellness Within’s Mind Body Group Skills Class.