On Saturday night at a gathering of friends, my husband threw out one of his “Conversation Starters” ~ “What was a defining moment in your life?” As one friend began to talk about her defining moment, I began to think about my own, figuring I would not be able to avoid the topic. Being an introvert, sharing isn’t something I am quick at. I like to think through my responses, or formulate them as I listen to others. Luckily, I didn’t end up sharing it, but I was ready.
Recently, I received a call from the radiology department of our health center where I had had my yearly mammogram. There were some calcifications in one of my breasts and they couldn’t tell from the images whether they were anything about which to be concerned. I needed a special mammogram to determine if I needed a biopsy. I was somewhat concerned as I had just had a sister-in-law die of lung cancer that had erupted about 10years after she had gone through treatment for breast cancer. And another sister-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks after that. However, there was no breast cancer in my family on either side.
I had several choices about how to react. I could have easily gone into a tailspin and allowed fear to reign. This would have been easy as fear descends quickly and without too much effort. I could have been analytical and analysed it, myself, and my reactions until I drove myself crazy. I could have told everyone I knew about this horrible thing that had happened to me. I sat with the news for a moment, feeling the tightening of my intestines and the unease wrap around my throat. I looked out my office window and watched the late October gray sky shift and change and the leaves bounce in the wind. I thought about the spaces in between that give ALL shape, individuality and essence. I took a deep breath and startled as an epiphany invaded my head: All I have ever been promised is this moment, this breath, this heartbeat; everything else is a true gift, a bonus. Life was mine to treasure and live however I chose.
I told only a few people, aside from my husband and the two adult kids living at home. The few I told had reason to know. I wasn’t going to tell my sisters unless there was a need for them to know. And I wasn’t going to tell my mother as it wasn’t something that she needed to hear at that time. I explained my epiphany so that those that knew had an idea about where my head and heart were. I thought it important for them to hear from me and in my voice, through my eyes that I did really believe this. I wasn’t just saying it.
The night I heard that I had some funky readings on my mammogram, I took my run as usual. I allowed myself a few moments of distress and emotion. I didn’t berate myself for having them. Allowing them and surrendering to them gave me the chance to examine the truth of what I wanted to truly be what I would use to keep me strong. It lasted 5 minutes or less. I kicked into a deeper understanding of what living in the moment meant. A cell depth of understanding.
I knew too that a fall I had taken about a year before could have damaged the tissue in that breast as I had thought I had broken or dislocated a rib. An X-ray was negative but wouldn’t have shown tissue damage. I decided to believe that too (as did my husband). I slept well, ate well, carried on my work, and reminded myself and others that, “All any of us have ever been promised is this moment, this breath, this heartbeat.” And every so often, when I felt particularly strong, I examined this to see if I really meant it.
The magnifying mammogram was inconclusive and a biopsy was ordered. An injury was a possibility, according to the doctor to whom I spoke, but not enough of one to forgo the biopsy. Several people offered to accompany me. I was told I could drive myself home and so, I chose to walk the journey alone. I am not sure even now why that was my choice, but it was important to me to go alone. Though somewhat humbling and slightly humiliating, the procedure was okay. I would need to wait 3-5 days before an answer would be conclusive. Normally, I would have been restless, sleepless, agitated, and worried as I waited. My mantra kept me calm and in a good space. I looked for signs of positivity: a rain cleansed autumn colored afternoon for a run with light effervescing from the golden leaves, a double rainbow stretched across the sky, a calm mind.
The biopsy was on a Friday and on the following Wednesday, I received a call from the radiology department. I am sure the nurse that calls loves these calls because the news was good! All tissue was benign! Yes, I felt relief! And joy. But interestingly enough it was more that I felt gratitude for the peace I had given myself the days leading up to the good news. I had not allowed those moments to be stolen from me by fear, worry, distress. I had allowed myself to be present for the gift of the moment. After texting my family, I set out to let my closest friends at work know the outcome.
Though it has been two weeks since receiving the good news, I still carry the mantra and remember several times a day to cherish the moment. In difficult moments, I use it to guide me through. I have offered it almost as a prayer to colleagues and friends as they manage their own struggles. And so, this was my defining moment: Getting to a place of acceptance of the gift of the moment. Though I still struggle to live up to that mantra and the gratitude for each moment, breath, heartbeat IN every moment, I repeat it many times throughout the day and it brings me calm and peace and comfort.
What is your defining moment? What experience has offered you a chance to shift the world under your feet just a little, just enough to bring an outlook that speaks about life differently? How do you move to a different plane to rearrange your view of life?
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