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Breast Cancer and Nourishment of Self

23 Nov

I have written about this before, but it bears repeating.  Breasts are symbolic of nourishment.  In this culture we tend to look upon breasts as symbols of sexual attraction, but obviously breasts were  made to feed babies.  Breasts are first and foremost about nourishment.

Last night a friend handed me a copy of Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body A-Z.  He gave it to me because I was having some back issues, but as I leafed through it, I found the section on “Breast Problems.”  Hay wrote as probable emotional cause: “A refusal to nourish the self.  Putting everyone else first.  Overmothering….”

So, I invite you to ask yourself:  “Do I put the needs of others before my own?”

If you are a woman – and especially if you are a mother, I am willing to bet that often the answer is yes.  And if you are a woman with elderly parents, or if you are a nurse or a social worker, or even if you are married, I bet the answer is often yes.

It seems many of us have been trained since we were very little to look after others.  We may have had younger brothers and sisters to look after; we may have been trained to cook and clean and do the laundry – certainly moreso than any brothers we may have had.   And when/if we married, most of us voluntarily took on the responsibility of most of the housecleaning and shopping and ferrying around of children.  Even in our jobs we may have been trained to take care of our boss’s needs rather than our own.

Even if we are conscious of patriarchy’s presence in our lives and we do what we can to honor the rights of ourselves as women, most of us are nevertheless firmly committed to kindness.  And while kindness is certainly a virtue, martyrdom is not.  And many of us unconsciously cross the line from kindness into martyrdom.

If you’ve had a really rough day at work, for instance, and you’re worn to an absolute frazzle, how many of you will push yourselves to make dinner rather than ask your husband to pick up some take-out or, heaven forbid, even do the cooking  himself?  How many of you will throw something together even if you’re dead on your feet rather than ask the kids to make themselves a sandwich?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t make nourishing our families a priority, I’m just suggesting that sometimes we need to honor our own needs first.  If we are so depleted that we get sick, we obviously are serving no one, least of all ourselves.

I was blessed to have a relatively stress-free life when I was married and raising my young stepson.  However in my fifties, my life got a bit more stressful.  I was working for a hospice organization and had thirty to forty patients to look after.  And then my mom had a heart attack and my dad had Alzheimer’s and so I jumped in to take care of them.  And then, needing money, I took another hospice job and so I was taking care of both parents plus a roster of patients.  Did I take care of myself?  Not so much.  I indulged in comfort food way too often.  Because I also had a long commute, I didn’t have much time or energy for walking or other exercise.  So generally, I was unhappy and exhausted and burned out.

I share this as a gentle reminder to women everywhere.  Be kind to yourself.  If at all possible, structure your life in such a way that you are not overburdened.  And if your choices are limited, make sure that at least there are plenty of release valves.  Figure out a time each day when you can take a short walk.  Or wake a bit earlier so that you can meditate.  And if you absolutely must work outside the home while simultaneously raising kids, if possible, have help around the house.  Delegate.  Negotiate with your partner and older children to make sure they do their fair share of the household chores.  Make sure you have time out with girlfriends during which you can just be yourself.  Try to make room for massages or a yoga class or gym membership in your budget.   Find ways to relieve stress.  Stress is a major factor in most illnesses, including breast cancer.

Like the flight attendants remind us at the beginning of each flight, put on your own oxygen mask before helping your child.  We can’t take care of others if we don’t first take care of ourselves.  And it is essential that we take care of ourselves while we are relatively well or we will be forced to do it when we are ill.

Don’t refuse to nourish yourself.  Don’t put everyone else first.  TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.  Be kind to yourself.  Mother yourself!  And be well, my friends.


Asking the Hard Questions

2 Aug

The Breast Blog #8

Asking the Hard Questions

By Cynthia Greb

August 2, 2011

Tomorrow is my first biopsy.

Now that the shock of “something seems to be wrong with my breasts” has begun to fade a bit, and now that the worry of getting these biopsies scheduled has passed, and now that the reality of a diagnosis is getting closer, I find I am finally ready to look at the harder questions.

  1. Why has this happened?  I’m not talking about possible exposure to radiation after the Three Mile Island incident. I’m not referring to too many years on birth control pills or too much bacon or possible contamination of my drinking water by pesticides and herbicides.  (All of which I believe could have contributed to possible dis-ease or imbalance in my body.)  I’m talking about metaphysical reasons.  Do I have any thought patterns or beliefs or ways of being in the world which may be creating a disturbance in my physical body?
  2. What can I do to get myself better???   Or what can I do to bring myself to a greater state of health and well-being?

And before I address either of these questions, I know I need to address something you probably have been thinking.  Is my focus on the possibility of cancer ill-advised?  Are my thoughts creating my reality?  Am I jumping to conclusions?

These are extremely valid questions.  And believe me, I have been asking them myself.  To be honest, I find myself thinking that nothing is “wrong” with my right breast, which is the one being biopsied tomorrow.  In spite of a dream possibly symbolizing a right-sided mastectomy, I find that I am not worried about the right breast.  If the pathologists report a cancerous condition, I will be a bit shocked.

The left breast is a different matter.  There seem to be very real indicators that something is amiss.  There IS a discharge that does not feel normal or healthy.  In addition, ultrasound technology reveals both a small nodule and a dilated milk duct.  There are certainly benign possibilities for both of these symptoms, but clearly there are signs that I am not in radiant health at this moment.

I truly do believe that we create our reality with our thoughts, our words, and our beliefs.  At the very least, we co-create it.  Not always consciously, of course.  Consciously, would anyone ever ever EVER choose cancer?  Of course not!  However, as one example, I will confess right now that in the past I remember having had the thought – on more than one occasion, that when I die I would prefer it to be something like cancer, so that I would have time to wrap up my affairs and say goodbye to the people I love.  I never wanted to die quickly before the really important details of my life were taken care of.

I hasten to add that I have since cancelled this thought.  Cancel cancel CANCEL!  I am making a new agreement!!!  I want to be a vibrantly healthy person who strives each day to have all her affairs in order and to live in such a beautiful way that when the time comes (way in the future), I can let go of this earthly body knowing that I have done and been all I am meant to do and be in this lifetime.

For almost fifty years I have said and felt “I am a healthy person.”  I have felt it and believed it and felt very blessed by it.  Then in recent years I have noticed (with chagrin) my creeping weight gain.   I had noticed occasional times when I’d become out of breath.  There were a few times earlier this year (at work) that my normally stellar blood pressure had crept up to slightly higher than low-average numbers.  And I’m very aware of a strong history of diabetes and cardiac problems on my mother’s side of the family.  So I finally made an appointment with a doctor (a new doctor – I’ve had so few health problems in my life, I didn’t even have a primary doctor) to try to nip things in the bud and get control of my health before it got too out of control.  I had only one appointment with him before all this “breast stuff” happened.

So now let me return to the question, “Is thinking about the possibility of cancer actually creating it?”  I do believe that what we focus on becomes our reality.  If we focus on “being fat” we will be fat.  If we focus on “being poor,” we will never become wealthy.  If we focus on being sick, we will never be well.  At the same time, I believe there has to be an accurate assessment of where we are before we can shift our thinking into where we want to be.  ie, If we want to be slim and trim, there may need to be an acknowledgement that we aren’t so in the moment.  For instance, I can say to myself, “Cindy, you’re carrying a few extra pounds right now.  What are you going to do about it?”  Then I can focus on eating a lot more vegetables and taking more walks and swimming more.  What I should NOT focus on, however, is “fat thoughts!”  (ie,  “I don’t want anyone to see  me today because I feel too fat.”)  This is a hard one for me, I confess.  I have to be extremely vigilant.  I may not be able to look in a mirror and say, “Cindy, you are skinny!”   But maybe I can look in the mirror and try something like, “Cindy, you  are looking voluptuous today.”  I can focus on beauty instead of flaws.  I can look at my smile instead of my cellulite, my curves instead of my wrinkles.

Okay, so how does this relate to the cancer question?  Clearly it is not wise to continue to think or say, “I might have CANCER!!!”  (Picture that famous painting called “The Scream.”)  This is, of course, a thought that will occur to one faced with “suspicious abnormalities” and two biopsies.  However, it CANNOT be my focus. Instead, as of right now, I am shifting my focus.  Cindy, you have beautiful breasts and a wonderful, functional body.  How can you take exquisite care of them?

One of the ways to “take care” is to do some soul searching and ask the “hard questions” I listed up in the second paragraph.  What are the metaphysical reasons I may have created a less-than-healthy situation in my breasts?


If breasts are about nurturing, I do believe I have been quite a nurturer in my life.  But have I been out of balance in my nurturing?  Have I forgot to nurture myself?

I like to think the answer is no.  Generally speaking, I think I take more time for myself than the average person.  However, if I look a little deeper, I realize that I have not cared about myself enough to, for instance, take more time to prepare good foods.  There are certainly days I prepare incredibly healthy and wonderful foods.  But on days that I work, or days when I’m tired, or days when I’m down, I don’t.  I don’t make my self-care a priority.

I find the timing of this possible cancer scare  interesting.    Two and half years ago, I had moved back to Pennsylvania from my beloved New Mexico (I’d only lived there three years) in order to help out with my parents.  My Mom had had a heart attack and a small stroke.  I was very concerned she wouldn’t last the rest of the year, and I wanted to be with her to help with her care.  In addition, in my absence, Dad had begun to show signs of early Alzheimer’s.  I hadn’t picked up on it during my phone calls, but as I spent larger portions of time with him, it became rather obvious.

So, being the daughter who did not have kids or a husband (at that time,)  I moved in to:  prepare the meals (Mom had diabetes and the neuropathy in her hands had made cooking almost impossible for her,) make sure they were taking their meds, monitor blood sugar levels, take to doctor appointments,  help Mom with  trips to the bathroom, do the laundry, etc., etc.

Suffice it to say, I pretty much gave up my life.  The more I did, the more dependent they became on me – physically and emotionally.  I felt like I was on call 24/7.  Even if I tried to get away for a weekend and go to a friend’s house, they would often call.  I loved my parents, but I was so exhausted, so miserable, so burned out.

I lasted sixteen months.  And then a really bad weekend caused me to collapse in tears upon my sister-in-law.  I wept that I just couldn’t do it any more.  Fortunately she supported me in staying with friends.  The rest of my siblings (who had done more than their fair share while I lived out of state) stepped in to do what needed to be done until we got a reverse mortgage and hired caregivers.

I know cancer supposedly takes decades to grow, but I can’t help noticing that all this is happening only a little over a year after moving out.  I think I became too out of balance.  And whatever is going on now is giving me an opportunity to look at this.

So, that’s my theory on the metaphysical reason why this is going on right now.

Thanks for listening.

(And I’m going to save Question #2 for another day.  Although clearly one answer is:  Find better balance in my life!!!)

Blessings to you.