10 Years


My oncologist, the saintly (though rigorously scientific) Dr Yi reminded me this week that it has been more than ten years since the last treatment I received for lymphoma.  I learned not so long ago that that is an especially meaningful benchmark for survivors.  Or as Jill Bolte Taylor prefers to call them, trimumphants.

A cause for celebration surely.  But also an occasion for awakening.  For seeing (once again) how very mindless I am!  Which in turn serves as a teacher.  Pointing me back to my practice.  To my breath.

Next month I am off to participate in a Practice Teaching Intensive at UMass Medical School– birthplace of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to continue being trained by some of the best, and perhaps returning to NJ as a “Qualified” MBSR teacher.  I have had strong formal practice for more than 12 years, putting in time on the cushion that some marvel at.  The volume of thoughts in my mind over the course of the day seems to have markedly dropped, and it’s not uncommon to hear adjectives like calm and peaceful used to describe me.

And yet…

much like the movie Inception, it took only the kernel of a notion to be introduced to pivot me squarely in its direction.  And 180 degrees from the present moment.

At my last annual checkup– and the previous– Dr Yi had pronounced me ‘cured’.  The very fact of the designated time until the next appointment indicated that.  Weeks ago I completed a full physical from my GP which would have disclosed any abnormal blood cell levels.  I have been in excellent health and tossing off yoga classes, some strenuous, practically daily.  But I had been just slightly off the past few days.  Most notably a marginally swollen gland beneath my jaw.  After making the follow-up appointment after much procrastination, and only then, did I begin to consider that this sensation might be signalling the return of the cancer.  This was, after all, the primary symptom location in this body– neck.

As the appointment neared, and the sensation persisted, I became increasingly convinced that this was the case.  Given a few days I was obsessed by it.  Despondent, depressed, resigned.  I always knew this was a possibility I told myself, and now it had come to pass.  I could not help but probe the area with my fingertips for telltale enlarged nodes.  I braced myself for the foreboding words from the expert confirming my fears.

They never came of course.  Instead we old friends (I know him so well that I could identify him by the manner in which he opens the door) bantered about our sons, and he asked for business cards to give his patients who may be interested in beginning a practice.

There is a school of psychology known as the ‘Three Principles‘.  Never quite able to give it sufficient study, it has always seemed a cousin of mindfulness.  It states that we live entirely in the experience of our thinking.  As a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness I know we are indeed able to experience the richness of the present moment including witnessing the thoughts themselves.  But after being stuck so securely to such a sticky one I remember how much vigilance is needed.