This is Part One of the Discovering My Truth series, entitled The Journey Begins.
I am a male breast cancer survivor. You see, breast cancer does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity invader. Yet looking back, I realize that I am a completely different person from the one I was before my diagnosis.
What unfolded was a remarkable journey of healing – a passage filled with many twists and turns, challenges and discoveries, and a self-transformation that led me to what I had lost.
Prior to my cancer’s discovery, I was a man going through life’s motions: teaching elementary school, paying the mortgage, paying the taxes, gardening, dating, spending time with family and friends. But underneath the façade I carefully presented to others, and even to myself, was a man consumed by inner turmoil, a person steeped in doubt and fear.
This personal inner tempest was fueled by notions of who I thought I was, who I thought I should be, intense body image struggles, and a deep-seated belief in not being good enough. I had cut myself off from love because I couldn’t love myself. I held on tightly to anger, resentment, and hurt, oblivious to the toll it took on my body and psyche.
What I did not understand was that I was searching, yearning for something more, something to fill an emptiness within. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was unable to find its pulse because I had no idea what was missing or what caused the vacuum I sensed.
Then in January 2007 I was blind-sided with a diagnosis of male breast cancer. As I grappled with the concept of a man getting breast cancer, my inner thoughts went on a rampage pounding the walls of my being. This is a woman’s disease! How could I have breast cancer? Why is this happening to me? The words reverberated to my core, but gradually reality took hold and in time I was to understand how the Universe, this wonderful higher power, works.
With my cancer diagnosis, fear was in the driver’s seat, denial was riding shotgun, and I was the perfect passive passenger letting them take me where they thought I should go. I gave full authority for my healing to my doctors, the drug-Tamoxifen, and fear.
The year following the discovery of my cancer was a whirlwind. I had numerous surgeries, and had to decide to have radiation or undergo yet another surgery to remove my left nipple. I learned of my BRCA 2 gene mutation.
I saw more doctors and underwent more mammograms. I developed a burgeoning resentment of the drug’s side effects. I also experienced the ending of a dating relationship. I struggled with recurring thoughts of how I would be viewed physically- not only by others, but by myself as well.
With fear running the show, I was unaware that each day I was giving away more of my power- more of myself.
I coped by falling into a routine: seeing my doctors, completing the bloodwork, taking the Tamoxifen, suppressing my anger and resentment, worrying if the cancer would return, and focusing, no, actually living for that magical five-year mark – the point at which I would be considered in remission, the time when I would no longer have to acknowledge cancer’s presence. I was completely engulfed in a fog of denial and I was putting my life on hold. Not exactly a path to embrace!
In 2009 after my partner Tim and I connected, we moved to an old farm in Washington County in upstate New York. This wonderful old farm became my sanctuary – my escape from the stark reality before me. I easily lost myself in projects around the house, designing and planting gardens, entertaining, doing chores, and exploring the open fields that surrounded our home with our dogs, Polar and Macy. It was here in this peaceful refuge that I could forget about the cancer “me.”
Yet deep within my being was a stirring, an awakening of a subtle shift, which began with my introduction to yoga and Reiki. As I delved deeper into each healing therapy, I experienced a gentle caressing of that inner void – that place where something was missing.
Yoga and Reiki gave me a sense of internal centeredness and a peacefulness I yearned to attain. Slowly over time and with the guidance of these two healing practices, I began to open up to the emotional release they offered. But the rigidness of my past behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs kept alive an inner hesitation which prevented me from fully exploring and deeply experiencing the gift before me.
It was going to take something more profound to bring this shift to light. I would not have to wait long to discover that the Universe had its own plan.
The Journey continues in Part Two of a Three Part Series; Drifting into Darkness
Michael is the author of: Healing Within: My Journey with Breast Cancer. He lives in Greenwich, NY.