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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The "Higher Risk" Society

I opened my eyes before the alarm clock sounded.  It was unusual to have an extra thirty minutes. With an extended yawn, I wrapped the oversized comforter snuggly around me and rolled back over, desperately wanting to go back to sleep.  It was then that I remembered. 

The day was September 29th

There were years when almost the entire morning disappeared before I caught wind of the date. Once, while mindlessly beating eggs for a Sunday morning brunch, my daughter rushed in with her arms wide open and screamed, “Happy birthday mommy!” Her greeting and comforting hug brought tears of disbelief.  I hugged her for longer than usual and thought, “Oh my god, she’s right! It’s my birthday!” My amazing 3-year old daughter had to remind me. 

This year the date did not surprise me and I knew even while asleep.  I’ve celebrated the 29th day of September for 36-years.  It’s a day I’ve learned to hold in reverence. With each passing year it has become more sacred than the year before.  I honor it with much consideration and attention, for it is the day I was graced with a life to fully experience.     

Lying in bed, I stared blankly at the ceiling.  Shadows danced off the white canvas above me, as the ceiling slowly transformed itself into my mind’s projector screen.  A life story began to play itself on rewind, the last twelve months moving deliberately.  Month by month, I watched the year unfold.  I felt a fleeting sense of pride as I witnessed another significant year of growth and transformation.  Soon the years began to accelerate at a faster pace.  Motherhood, marriage, and finally the far and distant memories of my early twenties – my time of searching and near obsession with self-discovery, self-inquiry and exploration.  Although filled with self-doubt and uncertainty, every turn held the thrill of adventure and every corner revealed a new discovery.  Life was bursting with possibility.  I paused there and wondered,  “Is anything still possible? Or is time slipping away too quickly for me to dream? And, although I feel wiser, how much self-knowledge have I really gained? Even now I'm still constantly questioning what I should be doing; still wondering where I should be, what I should do, and what my next step should be. STILL  ‘should’ing on myself! But, at least now I’m AWARE that, maybe, I've been asking the wrong questions."

The movie of my memory and imagination faded into the present. I sat up in bed as the shadows shifted from the ceiling to the wall and meditated for a particularly longer period that morning.  Eyes closed and hands resting gently on my knees, I focused on my breath.   Hoping that the simplicity of just being would welcome a ray of divine inspiration and a clear and precise understanding of what I need to be doing.

That didn’t exactly happen.  Instead, Dr. Wayne Dyer’s words of wisdom came – “We’re not human doings, we’re human beings.” Our ego has this insatiable desire to be a somebody who is more important the other somebodies – which perpetuates the idea of separateness and moves us away from Oneness.  We have learned early in life that doing something better or earlier than someone else gets rewarded and in turn we are valued.  We evaluate ourselves by comparing ourselves to other “doers” and validate our self-worth by what we do

“If we are what we do, then when we don’t or can’t we aren’t.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

As our physical bodies naturally age, we notice a gradual decline of our physical abilities – unable to do what we once did. Bound by our egos, our worthiness begins to diminish and we slowly spiral into a whirlwind of self-pity, sadness, and hopelessness.  Dr. Wayne Dyer proclaims in his book The Shift, that to conquer this we have to move away from our tendencies to be right or to be better.  We need to release our need to control.  This doesn’t mean losing our drive; instead it is realigning our ambition to a life based on meaning, rather than on possessions or titles.  Detaching ourselves from the need to accumulate, we actually gain more.  Withdrawing the pressure to achieve at any price, we end up feeling more significance and peace in our lives – trusting that we are exactly where we need to be.

There goes that word trust again (see Trusting Our Truth).  Skimming through my life, no matter how many things I’ve wanted to accomplish or managed to achieve –the most challenging and elusive goal is to Trust.  Perpetually I remind myself to “let go and let God.” – AKA – “let go and trust in my inner power.”

It’s amazing what happens once we’re ready to commit to something – as Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe – once wrote:

“Until one is committed, there is a hesitancy, the chance to draw back. The moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred.  Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

 Remembering this helped ease my woes for a few minutes – enough to motivate me to get out of bed and get my birth-day started. Arising, my phone lit up with a few birthday texts.  Reading the happy wishes, I thought, “Where was texting years ago when I could have used these early morning reminders?”

"I’m getting old," I admitted to the drab reflection in the bathroom mirror.  A toothbrush in one hand, I glared at the reflection with the sour taste of youth slipping away.  Gray hair mixed freely with brown, fine lines fanned my forehead (which somehow overnight graduated to full blown wrinkles) and I swore at that moment my eyes sunk deeper into my skull.  With a sigh, and while contemplating my own mortality, I began brushing my teeth.

Yes, slowly I'm inching my way toward degeneration – and in a week I will have my first scheduled mammogram – so there’s my proof (I can be so ridiculously dramatic).   

Someone once said that if you live in the moment you never age.  Something worth considering, right? This is another huge motivator to be mindful and present. But is it really possible to always live in the moment? Of course not.  The aim is to live more mindfully than not.  I’ve come to realize and fully to accept that even if we are fully aware, deep in our core, of our Truth – we still need constant reminders and encouragement.  We need to experience a spectrum of emotions - always.  With time, we learn how to mange them, and we learn to understand them with greater clarity – but we still need to feel them.  We need to notice the sensations and bring our awareness to the physical feeling, the mental changes, and the spiritual Truth.  

A week after my birthday I somehow landed (with great protest) at the Nyack Breast Center waiting for a routine, baseline mammogram.  The number thirty-six was just getting comfortable until I realized it meant an automatic entry to the  “higher risk” society.  It may take a few more weeks to get used to that new status.

After exposing, pressing, stretching and squashing both breasts to the point of complete astonishment – I was sent home with a pink umbrella. “It’s breast cancer awareness month; we’re giving away umbrellas to celebrate,” the tech said as she handed me the pink tube.  I was massaging my mishandled boobs, still in complete disbelief of their treatment, and thanked her saying, “I guess this is the reason why women’s breasts start to sag once in they’re in their forties! Having this treatment once a year will misshape anything!”

The next day the phone call came:

“This is the Breast Center in Nyack.  Is Ms. Vendrame in?”
“You came in yesterday for a mammogram?”
“Yes, is there a problem?”
“The doctor would like you to see you.  You’ll have to come in for a few more pics and a possible ultrasound.”

My knees went weak as beads of perspiration dripped down my back.  I wanted to sit, lay, throw-up, but instead I made my way to the calendar to schedule the damn appointment.  Bile rose to my throat as I thought, “What the FUCK?! Is she kidding me? What the hell does this mean? Oh! MY! God!  I’ve got cancer! But I can’t!  Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family!  I’m still young – right?!? Wait, no, not really young, but still too young for cancer!  I’m a healthy person - I run, I do yoga, I eat organic! No way!  I can’t have cancer.  I don’t have cancer.  But I’m sure she’ll probably be totally vague with me if I ask for specifics.  Why can’t they ever handle these type of calls with a little more heartfelt compassion?!”

“And why is that?  Did she find something suspicious?” trying to keep my voice steady and confident. 
“I don’t know ma’am, she may just need to do a more thorough exam.  I cannot say for sure.  Her next appointment is in two-weeks.”
“WHAT?! Don’t you have something sooner?” Asking a little louder than my steady confident voice of a few seconds before.

We finally negotiated an appointment for a day the following week.  I hung up and realized that there were more than seven days to think about the possibility of biopsies, chemo, radiation, death, and the afterlife. 

Making my way to the sofa, I rested my head on the pillow and stared at the white canvas above.  In my mind’s eye, the universe began to reveal itself in all its vividness and vibrancy - the stars, the moon, the sun, and the earth moving together in a synchronistic dance – with profound and deliberate intentions.

Suddenly what I’m going to do with year number thirty-six really didn’t matter.  Instead, Being became more of a priority.

Part II of the story will continue in the next blog post.  Stay connected.  I look forward to reading your comments.


Anonymous said...

Anxious to hear Part 2. Hope all is well. Age is simply a state of mind.

Momshieb said...

Lovely writing! Hoping for the very best for the follow up exams.
How wonderful that you have used this scary situation to help you appreciate life even more.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. Unfortunately, those mammograms are awfully hard for docs to read, especially if there are no prior films to compare them to. I got called in for an ultrasound too, and had the same reaction as you. I hope it all turned out fine and they have some good studies they can use in your long, long future!
Older people all tell me that no matter how old they get, they always feel the same inside. (And that inside every 80 year old is a 20 year old wondering what the heck happened.) I wish you a long and healthy life!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm in a similar situation. Looking forward to your next blog.

Nessa said...

Hey, don't worry too much. I'm in the same boat. I'm 39 and after having my son 4 years ago, they have been doing routine mammo and ultrasounds on a couple of "areas" that they are keeping an eye on. One is a lymph node, the other a benign cyst. Both of which I am always worried about. Just have to take good care of yourself (which I believe you do well) and live for each and every moment. Hugs. Nessa


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