In the moments after I wake up from my bilateral mastectomy, one of my first thoughts was, “Am I in pain?” This was my life for about 3 to 5 weeks post surgery.
Some mornings, it was a bit hard to tell. I would slowly turn to one side, testing to see whether I feel a pinch, or any tingling in my arms. Sometimes it was a sharp sting, sometimes it was the slow tightening of my chest, like something very heavy had suddenly been placed there. The pain often made it difficult for me to sit straight up, so I tried to take everything very slowly. I would raise my arm, and twist at the hip, cautiously inching my way up to a sitting position (Plus I had help by pushing the button on the remote control of my recliner). It had only been a couple weeks since the surgery, a double mastectomy, and my body is still in recovery mode.
When everything felt very slow in the morning, every movement was calculated to be gentle, cautious. I would try turning, bending, reaching in several ways before I slowly lifted myself up. When I got out of the recliner, after taking my pain medication, I walked slowly down the hall. Each step, slowly, slowly. Until I reached my destination.
I practice the art of slowing down. I walked over to the couch and sit down, and again build a little fortress of pillows around me.
I tried to relax. I tried to straighten my back, to not hunch my shoulders to protect my healing body, and to let out a few deep breaths and enjoy the fleeting stillness of this moment.
My chest was sore, but mostly it was numb. The most significant area of pain was actually under my arms, which strikes me as strange after a double mastectomy. My mobility was also restricted. I could raise my arms to almost parallel to the floor, but not much higher.
I tried to put lotion on my legs one morning…my left arm did just what it was supposed to, but my right arm was another story. It’s not that I couldn’t move it, it was the pain from the motion, killed me. Just having my arm in a certain position would send pain across my chest and down my arm and over my shoulder.
At work (yes, I was back at work a week after surgery), I stood, at my keyboard and mouse, which were elevated on boxes. If I tried to sit lifting my arms up to my desk…pain. I could not file, or lift even the lightest object. Holding my phone at a certain angle…pain.
I knew it would not go away quickly, but this was not easy for someone who is as impatient as I am. It wasn’t really inpatients…it was being dependent on others to help me. I hated having to ask people to help me do what I use to do on my own. Like tying my shoes… I could not do it…it was driving me nuts. My g-baby finally tied my shoes for me that weekend.
I knew it was because of the sentinel node removal. My arm had pain in it most of the time. A nagging, irritating sort that just drives you nuts. And if I would sit with my arm on an arm rest of a chair…my fingers go numb. That’s my next question for the doctor…this never happened before the surgery, so it has to be connected to it somehow.
Healing took time. I did not mind the slowing down, too much. I really thought it was a good thing. It helps me to focus on each movement, each moment. A cancer diagnosis has the ability to make life feel too fast, too short. So, right then, my gift to myself was to allow myself the time and energy needed to hone the art of slowing down.
Two years have passed. And I have noticed how life moves at such a fast pace. It seems to zip right past us before we can really enjoy it.
Too often, we spend time with friends and family, and we’re not really there with them. Face it, we talk to them but are distracted by devices. We are right there next to them, but our minds are a million miles away on things we need to get done. We listen, but we are being selfish thinking about ourselves and what we have to say. None of us are immune to this. But with conscious effort, we can shut off the outside world and just be present with the person you’re with. This means that spending just a little time with your family and friends can go a long way. It means really connecting with people rather than just meeting with them.
Focus on one thing at a time, the opposite of multi tasking. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back.
Many of us are shut in our homes, offices, cars and trains most of the time, and rarely do we get the chance to go outside. And even when people are outside, they’re talking on their cell phones, texting or Googling something trivial. Instead, take the time to go outside and really observe nature, take a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the serenity of water and greenery. Exercise outdoors (Camp Gladiator is a wonderful group to workout with) when you can, or find other outdoor activities to enjoy such as nature walks, hiking, swimming, etc. Feel the sensations of water and wind and earth against your skin. Try to do this daily — by yourself or with loved ones.
Speedy driving from point A to point B is a prevalent habit in our fast-paced world, but it’s also responsible for a lot of traffic accidents, stress, and wasted fuel. Instead, make it a habit to slow down when you drive. Appreciate your surroundings. Make it a peaceful time to contemplate your life, and the things you’re passing. Driving will be more enjoyable, and much safer. You’ll use less fuel too.
Instead of cramming food down our throats as quickly as possible, which leads to overeating and a lack of enjoyment of your food, learn to eat slowly. Be mindful of each bite you take. Appreciate the flavors and textures. Eating slowly has the double benefit of making you fuller on less food and the food taste better. I suggest learning to eat more real food as well, with some great spices (instead of fat and salt and sugar and frying for flavor).
Whatever you’re doing, be fully present, and appreciate every aspect of it, and find the enjoyable aspects. For example, washing dishes, instead of rushing through it as a boring chore to be finished quickly, really feel the sensations of the water, the suds, the dishes. It can really be an enjoyable task if you learn to see it that way. The same applies to other chores — washing the car, sweeping, dusting, laundry and anything you do, actually. Life can be so much more enjoyable if you learn this simple habit.