By: Kelsey Newman
I am a survivor of breast cancer and carry BRCA1. I was diagnosed June 10, 2020. After learning of my genetic results after my cancer diagnosis, my mom (a 25 year stage IV fallopian tube cancer survivor tested positive for BRCA1 as well as my younger sister. If only we got tested earlier! We had no idea. It’s been quite a journey but I’ve made it through a lumpectomy, chemo, radiation, risk reducing total hysterectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy (currently 9 days postop). I am thriving! I have my preventative double mastectomy next summer.
People often ask me how I managed to seemingly remain calm and strong through chemotherapy and radiation and all of these medical treatments. Something my dad told me really helped. He said, “Just get through each moment one by one. Right now, sit in the chair, position it, watch the nurse take out the blood pressure cuff, answer the questions. Do this for each moment. “ And so that is exactly what I trained my mind to do. I surrendered to the moment. I did my best to not fight it and resist. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared especially the first time getting a new chemo or full of dread knowing exactly what kind of side effect I was going to have to deal with this go around. If the moment was painful, it will pass. So, my moment by moment instructions became habit and habit became routine and routine became comfort. For someone who has been plagued with anxiety and depression in some degree or another, THIS was a huge triumph for me living exactly in the moment. Not a moment in the future where anxiety comes alive being afraid of what could happen, what if this and what if that or depression; caught up in the past. Each time for chemo, I wore something comfortable, I put on a special bracelet that made me feel powerful JUST for chemo, I went to the bathroom, said to myself in the mirror each time, “Let’s do this, one more down!”. I got in my chair, made myself comfy, put my earbuds in, watched the nurse do HER routines one by one, same thing each time. As I watched drip drip goes the poison into my veins, I imagined it wiping away any potential cancer cells. I took control because having cancer makes you feel like you have none. As I listened to my music, I felt like I heard every single note being played. There was such a richness to this, so satisfying and eventually lost myself for a few moments in those notes all the while knowing what was happening but choosing where I want to put my focus, moment by moment. I used chemotherapy time to meditate, to quiet the racing thoughts, to enjoy being alive, hearing, smelling, seeing the trees sway outside. I watched old videos of my children that showed me I have lived and I will fight to live more for them. I soaked up each move they made. It doesn’t mean I didn’t have many fuck-you-cancer-moments, poor-me, this-really-sucks and now-I’m-going-to-cry-in-front-of-the-nurse-times, but in this place of a weird comfort space, I found my confidence building doing this alone and deciding on my own how to fight it. I was practicing mindfulness. I surrendered to the moment not the disease, not to the fight, but to reality, to now.
It’s been a week since I finished those treatments and I am trying to carry this throughout the rest of my life and upcoming challenges, but now I know I need to carve out more habits in my new life so that can become routine and comfort. Even day by day things like, “Ok, today I don’t really want to get out of bed, my bones ache from this stupid drug that is probably helping to save my life, but just get closer to the edge of the bed; take a sip of water, take a deep breath.
Get up and stretch; you will feel better.” Take action and do. As my wise ole dad has always said to me in times of great challenges, “Go wash your bowl Kels”. And so I did and so can you moment by moment. Surrender.