My friend Duke Tufty, senior minister at Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City, is one of those gifted speakers who can be in front of a thousand people, but still connect with each individual. He shared his thoughts on perspective one spring morning more than 13 years ago. I felt as if he was talking only to me, and I still remember his exact words.
Painful experiences in my life sometimes feel like they’ve burned a hole in my soul, that they overpower everything. My early childhood was fraught with moments of excruciating cruelties, and only through determined effort have I managed to eclipse their bleak shadows.
“What if, for a moment,” Duke challenged, “your mural shrunk. It became a picture window instead of the whole wall.”
At the time, I was willing to consider that possibility. I wanted to let my angst go. So, I visualized my pain shrinking in proportion to Duke’s analogy.
As Duke’s lesson went on, his mural kept getting smaller, from a picture window to a portrait. From a portrait to a post card. From a post card to a postage stamp. And I decided that a postage stamp is a manageable-sized square on the quilt that is my life.
Cancer can be like that mural, too, a monstrosity that hogs up all the space even though most of life doesn’t have anything to do with cancer.
When my husband found the lump in my breast, a rock-hard nugget that demanded all our attention, I guess it was natural for that moment to project itself into oversized status. Those early days, scrambling to find a doctor, wrestling with insurance companies, wrangling with new government policies – all that falderal ballooned into a scene that dominated my view.
I learned I had cancer on New Year’s Eve 2013, the day before Obamacare kicked in, and the new policy rendered our family’s health insurance invalid. My disease, aggressive and life-threatening, demanded immediate care. We were screwed.
So, all of our attention — all of it — was focused on cancer. Now that my active treatment is over, it’s time for a shift.
I listened to that memorable lecture on perspective a long time ago ago. Could I apply those lessons again, this time to my disease?
Triple negative breast cancer taunts its victims with the threat of coming back. Statistically, I am at that moment when my cancer has the highest likelihood of returning, and in my case, if it does, my chances of survival are bleak. So, how do I co-exist with this reality and still enjoy my family? How do I look at my daughter’s preadolescent face, and see a blossoming beauty instead of a potential orphan? How do I keep my postage stamp from morphing into a mural?
One of the points Duke made in his lesson that day was that the perspective I chose to take is entirely up to me. Focusing on dire statistics doesn’t help or hinder my chances. It only makes my life less pleasant than it can be.
Soaking in that reality, I woke up this morning and cooked a lovely breakfast. I took time to write and exercise. I celebrated with my husband when he got our car into the garage for the first time since we moved to our new desert home, a true miracle given the incredible amount of junk we’ve managed to accumulate while refurbishing this house.
Being mindful of these small blessings is all it took for me to shrink my mural. The postage stamp? I’m going to use it to send my angst where it belongs, to a universe more than capable of handling my every need.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.