Here We Grow: Mindfulness through Cancer and Beyond

Here We Grow: Mindfulness through Cancer and Beyond

by Paige Davis

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631523816
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 05/22/2018
Pages: 154
Sales rank: 1,320,117
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Paige Davis is an entrepreneur, writer, cancer survivor, mindfulness facilitator, and meditation teacher, and the founder of Soul Sparks (soulsparks.com),where she leads and facilitates meditation and mindfulness programming for companies, teams, and individuals seeking more patience, productivity, and present-moment awareness. She is a contributor to the cancer anthology I Am With You: Love Letters to Cancer Patients. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen. She currently lives in Austin, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Lump

Days after discovering the butterfly, I have an appointment for my annual physical exam. I've been putting it off for months because of my work schedule. Meetings with investors, strategizing with vendors, and reviewing product development milestones take all my time, energy, and attention. I finally scheduled the appointment and am determined to keep it.

At the doctor's office I sit in a waiting room full of expectant moms and fill out the required paperwork. I've had three sinus infections in the last three months, and repeated cases of pink eye that took a month to finally heal. I attribute the illnesses to stress. I've also lost some weight. I assume this is a by-product of being in a new relationship.

The nurse leads me back and takes my vitals. When I step onto the scale, the number shocks me. I haven't seen those digits since high school. A jolt of pleasure shoots through me. I'm skinny. When my doctor comes into the exam room, we chat briefly about my life since I last saw her a year ago.

"Anything going on, or changes you've noticed with your body lately?" she asks as she begins the exam.

I hesitate for just a moment and then say, "I've had this pain in my left breast ... it feels like there might be a lump there. And sometimes I can't catch my breath." A wave of panic floods me at this admission. I've been keeping these symptoms at bay, refusing to acknowledge them even to myself.

The doctor presses her fingertips into my breast tissue. I wince as she probes the area I told her about. "How long has this been here?"

"I noticed the pain four months ago when I was getting a massage." I can't bring myself to tell her I felt it a year ago. A master at magical thinking, I had convinced myself it was nothing. My good friend and college roommate Courtney had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Surely the odds that we would both have it were next to impossible.

The doctor frowns. "It wasn't here at your last exam. See this dimpling," she points at the area around my nipple, "that's something we want to pay attention to. We should get you scheduled for a mammogram."

I can't get my head around her concern. I'm only thirty-eight years old. I try to recall the statistics on breast cancer. I'm pretty sure I've read one in eight women gets the disease.

I leave the doctor's office around 10:00 a.m. with an order for a mammogram. I freeze, unsure what to do next. I have a busy day planned but instead of driving to the office I head toward Whole Foods Market. I am suddenly craving a green juice, as if ingesting something healthy might somehow change my physical well-being in an instant. As I drive, I call to schedule my mammogram. The first available appointment is a week away.

I park the car, hang up the phone, and enter the appointment in my calendar. I move to open the car door but burst into tears instead.

I cry the ugly kind of crying, the sort that verges on hysteria. I don't consider who might see me, or what they might think about a grown woman sobbing in the grocery store parking lot. I am too busy fighting off the fear.

I am the healthiest person I know. I'm dairy free. I haven't eaten red meat in over twenty years. I meditate thirty minutes a day, every day. I'm somewhat manic about it, which probably defeats the point, but whatever. I do yoga. Sure, I'm watching the clock most of the time and waiting for corpse pose at the end. And yes, I enjoy a drink a couple of nights a week and an occasional smoke with Herb Green, but all in all, I live a healthy lifestyle.

As we say in Texas though, this isn't my first rodeo when it comes to the Big C. My rather stereotypical Jewish family speaks only in code and in whispers about life-threating diseases. Saying the word aloud makes it real, and I'm not ready to do that yet. I've lost two of my aunts and three of my four grandparents to different forms of the Big C. My dad's cousin, who was like an uncle to me, died from it just six weeks ago. My heart pounds as I recall all of those funerals, all of those people who were so dear to me, all gone.

I need some perspective. I call my middle sister Missy. She and our eldest sister Megan are always the ones I call when I need a confidence boost. As the baby of the family, I avoid the pitfalls of competition or envy that define many sister relationships. They both adore me, and I look up to them. I'd moved to Austin to be closer to Missy and her husband Mark over ten years ago. She is my emergency contact in every sense of the word.

"Hi, want to meet for an early lunch?" Despite my growing fear I adopt a nonchalant tone.

"What's wrong?" Missy always knows when something is going on with me. I start crying again. Between sobs I explain that I have to get a mammogram.

"I'm coming with you," she says immediately. "It's gonna be OK."

In a small voice I hardly recognize as my own I say, "It's in a week. On Valentine's Day."

CHAPTER 2

The Mammogram

I spend the night before my appointment with my boyfriend, whom I've been seeing for about six months. I pick up Thai food from my favorite local spot and plan a cozy night at home.

It's the day before Valentine's Day, and he arrives with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I've told only my sisters and parents about my mammogram and wasn't planning to tell him, but I'm horrible at keeping a secret. As we enjoy our pad thai and a bottle of wine, I end up telling him about the lump, and that I'm having a mammogram tomorrow.

I'm not upset when I share the news. I am profoundly calm. I sense his fear but don't have the capacity to meet it. Our relationship is still very new. Dealing with the possibility of a life-threatening illness seems like an impossible reality. I assure him I'll be OK, and we enjoy our evening together with heightened tenderness, all too aware that tomorrow everything could change.

* * *

When the nurse calls my name for my mammogram the next morning, I hug Missy and walk back into the imaging room. The room is brightly lit, with pictures of cheery bright flowers on the white walls.

I change into a gown and head up to the mammogram platform. The technician asks me which breast has the lump. We will start with that one.

She flattens my left DD breast into a pancake. It isn't pleasant, but I have a high tolerance for pain. She repeats the same process with the right breast.

"OK great, I think we got it," she says. "Stay here ... I'll be right back."

I wait, literally twiddling my thumbs, for about fifteen minutes.

When she finally returns, the technician says, "I'm so sorry hon, we need another image of the left side."

After the second pancake flattening, she takes me to an internal waiting room. I watch as the technician consults with the doctor. Several other women who arrived about the same time I did are told they can get dressed and leave. I'm determined not to make much of it. I force myself to become engrossed in General Hospital, playing on the TV. It's been almost twenty years since I've seen the soap opera but Luke and Laura are still characters. They're having a reunion, and I quickly get caught up in their drama as if I've been watching daily.

Another nurse comes in. They'd like to take an ultrasound. I follow her into a dimly lit room that feels like my very own chrysalis, especially after she places a cozy blanket over me. Recalling the butterfly from a couple of weeks ago, I wonder if it felt a similar wave of uncertainty as it patiently waited to emerge.

The technician comes in, explains the ultrasound process, and performs the exam. I probably should be worried, but I'm too fascinated by the technician's ambidextrous skill as she manages the ultrasound wand with one hand and types on the keyboard with the other, all the while capturing various images of my breast. Click, click, click. She seems ultra focused.

The tech finishes and tells me to sit tight. "Can I get you anything?" she asks. Wow, I think, they are really considerate here. It feels as if I'm getting the VIP treatment.

When the tech returns, the doctor is with her. I know immediately that it's serious. I watch the grave expression on the doctor's face as she repeats the ultrasound.

"Is this cancer?" I blurt before I consider whether I really want to know.

"Due to the size and nature of the tumor, I do think this is cancer." Her eyes shine with empathy. "I'd like to perform a biopsy."

I can tell she feels horrible. In any other situation, she would likely just review the scans and call in the results without having to interact in this emotionally intimate way. But I've confronted her, and she's forced to answer. She shows me the healthy cells on the screen, and then areas of gray that are likely cancer.

A manic rush of thoughts floods my mind:

My cousin is getting married in six weeks. I bought a fabulous new dress. Will I get to wear it?

Will I have both boobs?

Will I have my hair?

A sharp needle prick brings me back into the moment as the nurse gives me a shot of lidocaine to numb my breast tissue. Tears well up and I'm sobbing again, the same way I did in the car in the Whole Foods Market parking lot. I lie on the exam table, sobbing into the deafening silence. The doctor lets my sister come in while we wait for the numbing agent to kick in.

Missy grabs my hand. "Oh sweetheart, you're going to be OK," she assures me. The blank look on her face tells me she is confused and shocked, too. I am not comfortable being the one in need of support. I want to comfort her. That is what I know how to do.

When it's time for the biopsy to begin, my sister leaves and my sobs subside. As the needle enters my breast, I close my eyes and focus on my breath, tracking it as it moves, in and out, in and out.

I flash on the meditation retreat. One of the facilitators had said that the true benefits of meditation like focus, connection, and presence start to show up beyond the seated meditations, in the times we don't even know we need them. I've meditated every day since that retreat. Thank God for my practice, I think as I continue to breathe.

A sense of peacefulness moves through me. So much of life is outside of my control. Given my Type-A tendencies, this is difficult to grasp. Yet, because of my meditation practice, I am able to be in the moment, to stay present without getting caught up in fears about the future.

When the biopsy is over, I continue to follow my breath with my attention as I head back to the internal waiting room. I'm so glad to find my sister waiting for me. She has befriended a few of the women in the waiting room, and they all seem to understand what's going on. All of them look at me with compassion.

While I know the biopsy results need to confirm it, that's when it hits me: I have cancer.

My sister and I leave the office and walk out to the car. I feel a little wobbly, like I've had too much to drink. I'm about to open the car door when I stop dead in my tracks. I hear a faint yet clear whisper in my mind: You've been in training for this your entire life. This is your moment.

All of the personal growth and spiritual exploration I've undertaken in the previous twenty years swirls in my mind. I flash on snippets of memories: reading Bernie Siegel's Love, Medicine and Miracles at age thirteen, my psychic acupuncturist Nubby teaching me about chakras, Pilates training, the meditation retreat.

That still small voice is right. As if I am being shown the door out of the spiritual closet, I know cancer is going to be my most profound growth experience yet. It is time to open my transformation toolkit and get to work.

I feel giddy, inspired, excited, and relieved. This lightheartedness in the midst of such a dark hour is confusing. But I can't deny it; I am going to take on cancer through a spiritual lens that I have been crafting my entire life. It is as if all my curiosity around God, humanity, and the universe is being crystallized into a force far greater than I can imagine. I feel enveloped in a vast universal love, what some people call grace.

Yes, I think, this is who I am.

Somehow I know that I will be guided each step of the way. I can't make sense of it, but it feels more real than anything I've ever known.

Then I get a text from my boyfriend. How'd it go?

Not good. It's cancer. Just like that, the lightheartedness disappears.

I've said the word.

Now I've done it.

Now it is real.

CHAPTER 3

Spiritual Flashback 1.0

I grew up Jewish in Tulsa , Oklahoma. Besides my sisters and me, there were only five other Jewish kids in our school, two of whom were our cousins. While I appreciated the cultural aspects and family togetherness that Judaism offered, I didn't relate to the spiritual elements.

I can barely recall the significance of my Torah portion at my Bat Mitzvah. My most vivid memories of that day center around the pink Laura Ashley sailor dress that I adored, and praying that I would not get an uncontrollable case of the temple giggles my sisters and I were notorious for.

I found my spiritual connection through Oprah. At age thirteen, I wasn't her target audience but I watched the Oprah Winfrey Show religiously every day after school. I related to Oprah's intrigue and line of questioning, intended to appease skeptics and call forth seekers. In college I scheduled my classes around the show, and at my first job I arranged alternative working hours. Anything for my spiritual fix.

Oprah's spiritual programming was sporadic at the time, but I soaked up the wisdom of Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Carolyn Myss, Christiane Northrup, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, and many other progressive spiritual teachers.

One day, Oprah's guest was Dr. Bernie Siegel. He had written a book about the power of the mind-body connection to heal diseases such as cancer. He believed that we all have a healer within, and that tools like visualization and talking to our bodies can have a profound positive impact on healing. He talked about a field of study called psychoneuroimmunology that identifies the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.

Then he said something I'll never forget: "Life is not a performance."

Dr. Siegel explained that when you aren't true to yourself, your immune system gets confused. That's why people get sick. He was in the business of teaching peace of mind and helping people live authentically.

I was captivated. I needed to know more. I begged my mother to take me to the bookstore so I could buy his book with my allowance. While most girls my age were reading Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, I read Love, Medicine, and Miracles.

I revisited the book three years later around age sixteen, when my Aunt Sandy (my dad's brother's wife) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I spent a lot time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins who bookended me in age. Aunt Sandy and my mom alternated driving us all to tennis lessons, cheerleading practice, and Hebrew school. We ate Sunday dinner together every week, either at our grandparents' or at the Sleepy Hollow restaurant, notorious for its fried chicken, green beans, biscuits, and mashed potatoes.

Aunt Sandy's cancer is the first "bad thing" I remember happening in my sheltered childhood. The day I learned of her illness, she was having a hysterectomy. I insisted on going to the hospital with my parents and the rest of our extended family. About fifteen of us took over the waiting room at Hillcrest Hospital, the same hospital where I'd had my tonsils taken out just a few years prior. Aunt Sandy had brought me my favorite lemon custard ice cream from Baskin-Robbins.

The surgery took what seemed like hours. We kept busy, playing cards and eating snacks. It felt like just another family gathering, only it wasn't.

Ultimately we learned that the news wasn't good. Any time I was having a bad day, my parents would take me to the local Quick Trip for a Coolie, a drink akin to a Slurpee. The sweet treat always helped ease any pain or discomfort. When the doctor announced Aunt Sandy's prognosis, I did the only thing I knew to do, I ran out to the closest Quick Trip and got Coke and cherry swirl Coolies for the entire family.

A few days passed. No one told me much, but the adults' fear and uncertainty were palpable. I was an empathetic child, and I soaked up all their unspoken emotion with an overwhelming sense of helplessness. I had a strong urge to help my aunt get well. I returned to the bookstore and bought a second copy of Love, Medicine, and Miracles and gave it to Aunt Sandy. I don't know if she ever read that book or if it had any impact on her. I recall her telling me that it was challenging to concentrate while going through chemo. She seemed thankful when I gave it to her, and she was sweet to listen to me as I shared many of the ideas and techniques while we sat together in her study, where she rested after her chemo sessions.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Here We Grow"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Paige Davis.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Part 1 Mind

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 The Lump 5

Chapter 2 The Mammogram 8

Chapter 3 Spiritual Flashback 1.0 13

Chapter 4 Diagnosis 17

Chapter 5 Spiritual Flashback 2.0 23

Chapter 6 Cancerland 28

Chapter 7 Preparing 36

Chapter 8 Let's Party 40

Chapter 9 Oh Happy Day 45

Chapter 10 Surgery 51

Part 2 Body

Chapter 11 Recovery 61

Chapter 12 Chemo 67

Chapter 13 Chemocation 78

Chapter 14 Chemo Homestretch 88

Part 3 Spirit

Chapter 15 Survivor/Thriver 95

Chapter 16 Purification 102

Chapter 17 Reconstruction 107

Chapter 18 New Normal 114

Chapter 19 Moving Forward (Kind Of) 122

Chapter 20 Now What? 132

Acknowledgments 138

About the Author 141

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