This is a blog about coping. How do I cope with this crazy, rare and hard-to-pronounce disease that I never even knew existed?
The first thing I did, before I knew what this was and when I had good reason to be afraid I had breast cancer, was reach out to a few faraway friends who wouldn’t be weirded out be a prayer request. I like to think of them as friends in faith. I do not share their religious beliefs 100%, but I share their experience of the power of prayer and faith. Secular humanists with spiritual inclinations call prayer ‘sending positive energy’ and refer to faith as ‘positive thinking’. Rationalist scientists may refer to the placebo effect. I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all just different languages for the same basic concepts, and I am comfortable communicating in whatever language I have to use. All religions can be distilled to their core essences, kind of like simplifying algebraic equations.
I come from a Christian cultural background, and my friends in faith are practicing Christians of various denominations or non-denominations. I have faith in prayer, positive thinking, creative visualization, or whatever you want to call it. My faith is not rooted in any religion, as I am not a religious person. I have great respect for my religious friends and family members, but I simply cannot commit to any one faith, especially when part of the faith includes certain tenets of intolerance. I am a rationalist, a secular humanist with spiritual inclinations. I am fascinated by the mystical, and I spent a few years of my university career studying religion and philosophy. My creed was “I want to believe.” (Anyone remember X-Files?)
I distilled all my learning and came to the conclusion that what matters is love, forgiveness, open-mindedness and the ability to let go. I cannot be bothered with micro-managerial codes of conduct, and I am a big fan of not judging. Live and let live. Love and let love. Do no harm. Help when you can. Holy books and prophets harbor useful insights, but must be regarded critically. At the end of the day, Star Wars is the closest I can get to describe my beliefs. I believe in The Force, another way of describing God. Dress it anyway you want. I use the Christian language I grew up with toned by the Buddhist, Hindu and pagan accents I acquired in my soul-seeking journeys.
I believe in prayer. I asked my friends in faith to pray for me. Here are some snippets from what I wrote to them before my biopsy:
“I am praying for it to be benign. If it is not benign, I pray that whatever it is gets caught and treated early enough so that I will live a long, normal healthy life. I don’t care if I lose my breast(s). Lastly, if it is advanced, I still pray for healing and strength.”
“Just knowing I have your prayers lifts me up and gives me courage and optimism. It’s easier to remember to have faith when I know I have support and prayer. Isn’t it funny? I can’t help but giggle when I read “lift me up” and “support.” It just sounds so “breasty.” That’s it! I’m going to buy myself a fancy-schmancy bra that will lift me up and support me to celebrate when all this is over. I may even go all out and spring for matching panties!”
“Having friends in my corner and people praying for me makes a huge difference. Finally, I’ve decided to just surrender to faith and keep a positive attitude.”
“I expect to write you next Friday feeling silly for having freaked out over a cancer scare and relieved that it is some totally weird and harmless condition I’ve never heard of! I’ll probably also swear not to ever freak out or worry about something unless I have concrete evidence that warrants it. (Like John does. He is so calm, strong and collected. So rational and practical. He’s my polar opposite, thank goodness!)”
“Hi. Great news! It’s not cancer! Yay! Thank God, and thanks for your prayers. Disconcerting news: the doctors have no idea what it is, so I must have more tests done in the internal medicine department until someone figures out what it is. Whatever it is, it can’t be as bad as cancer. I can deal with having a weird and painful lump when I know it’s benign. No more worrying. Thanks for all your support and prayers. I really was terrified. Lesson learned: Just have faith, trust God, and remember prayer is powerful. Love you!”
“My rational mind tells me that I have done everything right, I am young, and most lumps and bumps are nothing. My emotional mommy mind panics. What if my kids lose their mother? My soul alternates between whispering and shouting for prayer and faith. I feel that if there is even a small chance of malignancy, prayer will nip it in the bud or will give me the strength to overcome it.”
I sit here, two months later, and I wonder if their prayer did indeed have a transformative effect on my disease. What if I really did have inflammatory breast cancer, and prayer somehow turned it into idiopathic granulomatous mastitis? What if prayer made the difference between a deadly diagnosis and a benign yet painful illness? I can’t help having these thoughts, no matter how much my rational mind tries to dismiss them. I am grateful to my friends in faith and to everyone else who has prayed for me, sent me positive energy, healing thoughts, light and love. I may not be able to quantify it, measure it or prove it, but I know that all your good vibes strengthen my soul. I feel the Force within me. May the Force be with you too.