Welcome breast cancer sisters, family and friends. We hope to make this chapter of your life a little easier, treatment less difficult, help families cope, provide inspiration and guide you to a new place of strength and purpose.

Lifelines and Relaxation Techniques

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Since James is no longer here to help me, I am solely responsible for taking care of the land and the Little House. While I like to think of myself as a tough woman, able to deal with most anything, I must confess I had to call for help today. This morning I found two dead and bloated squirrels in a water tank we keep for the deer. The thought of those little squirrels, drowning in that tank, unable to climb out because the water level was too low, made me feel responsible and sad, and the thought of plucking them out of the water was more than I could handle. I had to ask for help. A neighbor graciously removed the squirrels from the tank, emptied it and then fashioned a ladder out of fencing material so the next little squirrels that come to drink can find their way out. From time to time, we all need a rope or a ladder that enables us to rise from our condition and gives us the hope of a better tomorrow. Goodness knows I’ve grabbed onto every rope I could find in the last four months.

My lifelines have come in the guise of prayer, friends, counselor visits, more prayer, Molly, Sam and Goldie, hypnosis, as well as crying until my face is red and swollen and I can’t cry anymore. I think that’s what Oprah calls “the ugly cry” because we wind up with a face that looks like Boris Yeltsin. On two different occasions I’ve shopped myself silly, only to return everything I purchased, except an outrageously expensive shawl (the shop in Santa Fe only gives store credit), that was hand-woven by blind Tibetan monks and made from 100% nearly extinct Mongolian camel hair. OK… so I exaggerated the blind monks, but what was I thinking? I didn’t even look at the price tag! No amount of new “things” will ever fix what’s ailing me, and I know that. I somehow got caught up in the momentary distraction of retail therapy, but my best therapy has been meeting many of you.

Every week I’m honored to meet new breast cancer survivors. Many I meet online, then subsequently get to know them better through phone calls and emails. Others are friends of friends, who’ve just been diagnosed. I call or email them, hoping I can help in some small way. I’m always amazed at how calm and together most of these women are; how well-informed they are about their cancer and how ready and determined they are to get on with surgery or treatment. Occasionally, however, I speak with women who are thrashing about like I imagine those poor little squirrels in the water tank were, panicking and drowning with fear. For a time, that’s OK because we all do it, but at some point, we must reign ourselves in while we create a different perspective through which to ponder our plight. Unlike the squirrels, most of us have several ladders we can use. In case you don’t recognize a lifeline, here are a couple of simple, yet powerful things you might consider while looking for one.

• Close your eyes, place your tongue behind your teeth and breathe in for a count of four; hold your breath for a count of seven, then slowly exhale for a count of eight. Repeat. If you’ve never done this kind of breathwork before, in the beginning, only repeat the cycle four or five times because it can make you dizzy. This is a powerful way to help us get focused and centered, and if we’re not focused, it’s harder for us to get our emotions under control. If we don’t have our emotions under control, we don’t make good decisions.

Focus on something that has a positive meaning to you. For me, it’s the Twenty-Third Psalm. Every night, after I’ve gotten into bed and am gearing down to go to sleep, I close my eyes and repeat the Twenty-Third Psalm over and over until I’m not thinking about anything other than “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Like breathwork, repeating a “mantra” helps unclutter our thoughts and let’s us focus on the needs at hand.

If you’ve never weathered a crisis, you might consider learning to still your mind before you find yourself drowning. Desperate and drowning are generally not conditions under which we make our best decisions. Like learning CPR, we should be skilled at staying calm before the need arises. What if you put a Post It note on your work phone with the numbers “4-7-8” and practice the breathing exercise several times a day, whether you feel stressed or not? The trick is to concentrate on your breaths and your counting, not concentrate on your breaths AND what you need from the grocery store.

By the way, the Mongolian camel hair shawl is still hanging in my closet. The price tag is on it. I’m thinking about auctioning it off. The winner could donate the proceeds to the charity of their choice as well as becoming the owner of an elegant new shawl. Now that would be empowering for all concerned. Anyone feeling generous? If so, hold up your auction paddles high enough for me to see them!