Issues in Breast Cancer: Meditation for The Action-Oriented

The following post is the first of a series resulting from preparations for a forthcoming breast cancer conference panel discussion on survivorship.

Mediation is a popular “prescription” handed out to patients for stress management, especially in the oncology setting. As an oncology nurse navigator, I encourage cancer patients to try meditation. I’m also a breast cancer survivor, and realize that for those of us who thrive on productivity, practicing meditation is comparable to a form of torture. Before the diagnosis, I enhanced my feelings of productivity by checking off tasks from lengthy to-do lists I made every night for the following day. “Take 15 minutes to sit quietly and find out how you’re feeling” was never on one of those checklists. However, as a cancer patient I discovered busy-ness sometimes functions as protective mechanism that prevents connection to our feelings.

Shaving My Head oil on canvas by Julianna Paradisi
Shaving My Head oil on canvas by Julianna Paradisi

Chemotherapy induced fatigue allowed me to sit still and learn to quiet my mind. Meditation formed a mind-body connection promoting the healing process.

Here are some tips for the action-oriented to incorporate mediation into their cancer healing experience:

Start a journal. An over-abundance of random thoughts is a barrier to a quiet mind. Don’t fight it! Writing is a meditative way to process thoughts and identify feelings. Avoid buying fancy blank books that make you feel the need to write something profound. Buy a cheap 81/2” x 11’ lined composition book, the kind used in high school instead. Daily, set a timer for 15 minutes and write whatever comes into your mind, even if it’s  “I don’t know what to write” over and over. Recording random thoughts on paper helps declutter your mind. Other methods are filling the book with inspirational quotes, or start a gratitude journal by listing everything you are thankful for each day. With consistent practice your thoughts will sort themselves out into recurring themes, illuminating your deepest feelings.

Create a vision board. Divide a large piece of poster board into three sections. In the first paste images from magazines or newspapers representing past memories and things you enjoyed. In the middle section, choose images representing your life now. For the last section, choose images representing your hopes for the future: Include pictures of clothing, hairstyles, home furnishings, activities, places to travel, and the type of people/relationships you want to fill your life. I find most people are readily able to list things they dislike, but have trouble detailing what they really want. You can’t steer towards a goal without a clear image of it. This exercise can be done using Pinterest if you are digitally inclined rather than analog.

Walk a mediation labyrinth if one is available in your community. Some hospitals, spiritual centers, and churches have them. It’s a great way to get outdoors and practice mindfulness at the same time.

Consider counseling. A therapeutic, “paid for best friend” who knows how to ask the questions leading you to discover the answers to your life’s questions can be well worth the investment of time and money. Treatment for breast cancer is as emotional and spiritual as it is physical. Addressing your emotional and spiritual needs aids the healing process.