Friday, August 13, 2010

Cancer and Zen

Hello, friends.  If you're on facebook with me you know that yesterday was the 13th anniversary of my surgery for breast cancer, and of my beginning a daily meditation practice.

Thirteen years!  I tell the story over and over, how I let my annual mammogram slip for months . . . and finally, I don't know why, I went in for it, begrudging the task, one more unpleasant time-consuming task.  And it hurt more back then.  A week later I got a postcard asking me to come in for more films, some excuse about something being unclear.  Uh-oh, I said.  From that point on I was scared and getting more scared.

Indeed, the next set of films were "mag films," magnifying the area they were concerned about, where they had seen a calcification in a certain daisy-like pattern.  The next week my doctor called:  You have invasive ductile carcinoma.  Then it was time to schedule a core biopsy.  Or did that biopsy come before the call from him?  I'm not sure.  I was in such a haze of fear.  I am a word person, and the word "cancer" terrified me.  It still does, some, much more than the acute pancreatitis I had in July, which can kill you, too.  Many, many things can kill you.  Then came surgery, then a month of radiation, five years of tamoxifin, a mild sort of chemotherapy.

Doing my daily healing meditation somehow led me to start reading Buddhism.  I had Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, a gift from Tom in 1981, and I had a  little classic I had often puzzled over, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  But I wanted something more, something I could understand.  I think the first book I bought at this time was Pema Chodron's  When Things Fall Apart. Then I went occasionally to a Zen group in town.  Bought tapes of Buddhist teachers and listen to them while I cooked or ironed.  Went on a retreat one of the Zen people recommended to me.  Became passionate about this new way of thinking about life, began a meditation group in my church. All that.

The cancer itself changed my life.  It shocked me into understanding that I could die - me!  But at this point you have choices to make.  Many people try to cover over the fear and sadness about body change with a kind of positive thinking.  I didn't, or couldn't.  What really changed my life was the decision - the faith - to begin doing a healing meditation, and to struggle to make it a daily habit.
[image:  a resurrection lily in my back yard.  They send up leaves in early summer and die back.  Then in late summer, the long bare stems shoot up with the flowers on them.]


  1. I do not know if you know or not, but you are a DharmaDot. You are at the top this week, and this article appears twice... I am thankful for that and for 13 years of you still meditating.


  2. Thank you - I didn't know, and am privileged to be in such good company.

  3. Hey 13 years of meditation......I amazed........I can'get myself to meditate for more than a minute...........even with my eyes shut I can distract myself......I've tried on so many occasions to make yoga a part of my daily life........but I just end up giving it up after a must be extremely disciplined..........and a cancer survivor as well.........hugzzzzzzzz!

  4. Namaste & Blessings - I just stumbled upoon your blog and am so glad I did! I'll be reading from now on :)

  5. yes, cancer is a wake up call. I know this from experience too. For me, it reminded me to live instead of play it safe, to do today what I preferred to put off 'til tomorrow. As a fellow cancer survivor calls it, it was a health opportunity. you learn first hand about impermanence and working with fear. I don't know how I would have survived without the 4 years of serious Dharma practice I had under my belt and Sangha that I had at that point in time. Thanks for your wonderful, brave transparency!