“You have such a good attitude,” “You’re so positive” and “I can’t believe you’re so positive” are comments I hear often from medical professionals and people who know of my experience with two bouts of cancer and a heart transplant. Sometimes I feel like a broken human being and in those moments I cry, I lament “why me?” I can really dig in to morose thoughts and negative statements. Cue the sad Tori Amos music.
Being positive takes work and it’s like a mental diet-it takes practice, diligence and its not easy. I have to jolt myself out of the negative moments. I have to work on “coming around,” drying the tears and seeking out the positive aspects of my life, or the fact that I am even alive.
Most people are inspired by listening to motivational speakers or mindful people. I remember being held captive by seeing Maya Angelou storytelling and reading her poetry. Spellbound. Unfortunately, I wish it was as easy as seeing or hearing a vibrant speaker and having their good juju rub off on me.
Instead, I go to therapy and practice achieving mindfulness and a positive outlook. I think of my various coping strategies as “tools,” and I need a variety of tools in my tool belt. Perhaps practicing the art of patience is my most valuable and likewise, difficult skill to maintain in my quest to have a positive outlook.
Prior to transplant, I was fortunate enough to lose some weight, I reveled in the attention and questions, “how did you do it?” Leaning in for a conspiratorial whisper, “you want to know the secret?” Seeking the panacea weight loss cure, I would disappoint my listener by saying, “there is no secret…it’s diet and exercise and it sucks.” It takes time, effort and every meal, every bite you don’t put something into your mouth is a mindful choice. I need to listen to my former self, because I currently have 50lbs to lose (thank you post-transplant steroids) and this is a good reminder to myself.
Mindfulness. That’s what it’s all about. Being mindful of your body, mind and spirit is how I’ve overcome such adversity. I’m like a Jedi trained in mindfulness. Since my first bout with cancer at 15 years old, I’ve been training in guided imagery and mindfulness. Goodness, I even obtained a master’s degree in clinical social work, so that professionally I could teach others coping skills.
I like to listen to YouTube videos and the app CALM, which has free guided imagery and audio stories to help you sleep. Interesting how close the word mediation and medication are…
Imagery of the lake and the beach sustain me. I paint elaborate scenes in my mind, pictures and sounds that help me endure painful procedures.
I hate bone marrow and cardiac biopsies, both of which you are awake for during the entire procedure. The bone marrow aspiration involves a drill into your back to draw out solid bone marrow. The nurse said that once you numb the skin the bone marrow draw is not painful. I absolutely disagree and to the nurse who told me is wasn’t painful can suck it! I had to do breathing exercises and visualize being on the beach to get through this terrible event.
Same with cardiac biopsies, which are uncomfortable and anxiety provoking because they take a tube and go into your neck (or groin) and take a sample of your heart tissue. During these procedures, the cardiologist will play Pandora music and ask for my favorite band (I like Red Hot Chili Peppers during cardiac biopsies). I’m also pretending to be on the lake with deep blue water and emerald green trees.
Being positive takes works. Therapy has helped me to develop these skills and when I can’t do them on my own, video and audio stories carry me through to the other side. A good sense of humor and ability to laugh at death has also helped me overcome difficult times.
A now I leave you with lyrics from the Red Hot Chili Peppers for no particular reason other than I like the band. 🙂
“I heard your voice through a photograph, I thought it up and brought up the past, Once you know you can never go back, I gotta take it on the other side” -Otherside by Red Hot Chili Peppers