Exactly What I Did To Heal My Body & Mind After A Double Mastectomy
I have always been an adrenaline junkie and a total daredevil. The outdoors always seemed like one big playground to me—the ocean was always a place for me to exercise or for adventure. From surfing to wake boarding, the waves were tools for movement. Long runs along the beach and volleyball in the sand. The last word I would have used to describe the beach would have been tranquil—I was all about the action.
I also was never a slow-it-down kind of girl. Yoga was never my thing, and I'd barely heard of meditation. And in my opinion, long walks were a waste when I had the ability to run. Then, I found out I carried the BRCA 1 genetic mutation and had my preventive double mastectomy. That changed everything.
As if I was preparing to run a marathon, I trained relentlessly for my surgery. I never skipped a workout. I ate as healthily as I could. I drank more water. Nothing has ever motivated me more. I dug deeper on my squats. Ran that extra mile. It was pedal to the metal every single day.
Then, all of it stopped.
After my surgery, I was bedridden for weeks. I could barely move my arms or get out of bed on my own, and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I was just lying there all day, every day, in pain and lost in my thoughts. I had made the biggest decision of my life. Typically when I had something this major or heavy on my mind, I would burn it off at the gym or lose myself in a cycling class. But with this, I just had to lie there thinking about what I had just gone through. It made me anxious and depressed for the first time in my life.
After a couple of weeks, my doctor told me I was finally able to move around a little. I was allowed to go on walks. The last thing I wanted to do was spend more time inside, so I headed outdoors to what had always made me feel at home: the beach. I thought I was in for some light exercise, but I ended up getting so much more.
Most mornings, I would try to head to the beach first thing in the morning after taking a wellness shot, like turmeric or wheatgrass. At first it was frustrating not being able to dive into the waves or run along the shore. I was being so hard on myself, angry with my body for taking so long to heal. Why wasn’t I able to lift or run? Why was I still in pain? Why was I feeling anxious and sad? I didn’t know how to quiet or slow down my thoughts. Emotions would race through my mind without clarity. I kept thinking about what I wasn’t able to do versus focusing on all of the things I had opened myself up to being able to do in my future.
The waves and my healing journey.
One morning, with my toes in the water, I sat along the shore and thought about the way the waves felt as they washed over my feet. I thought about how they felt when they started to retreat. Over and over, I let myself focus on that feeling. Then I thought about the sounds of the waves. Eventually I was able to sit there for 20 minutes, either with my eyes closed or while I looked out at the horizon, and just feel the waves and hear them wash over me. Slowly, day by day, I started to feel my anxiety retreat. "This too shall pass," I would repeat to myself with every deep breath I would take in. A shift in perspective was all I needed to be able to open myself up to deep physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.
Staring into the waves and the expanse of the ocean was pretty powerful. "Anxiety and pain ebb and flow like the waves" I would repeat to myself. They come and they go. Without them, we would never truly be able to appreciate our calm or happiness. I came to realize that the ocean was a great leveler for me. It completely stripped away those feelings of being temporarily disabled; it made me realize how temporary those feelings were and that soon enough my limitations would be lifted and I would be able to begin working toward building my strength again. It helped me find alignment, and I discovered the importance of Reiki—being an open channel for love, light, and constant flow with the universe.
Shifting tides and embracing change.
Just as the waves and tides are constantly changing and shifting, my body was changing and shifting. It didn’t matter if the waves were big or completely flat; it was all about perspective and realizing that both were beautiful in their own way. It helped me accept my now-flatter chest and appreciate the beauty of my scars and ever-changing body shape. In the upcoming weeks I would begin getting fills in my expanders, and my body would change again.
It was always difficult for me to meditate in complete silence, so being at the beach helped me silence my anxiety and taught me how to quiet my thoughts. The waves breaking and crashing against the sand created the perfect rhythm for me to quiet my thoughts. It was the first time I have understood what being in a mindful state really means. I was able to be focused yet relaxed, thinking about how I was feeling in that moment rather than worry about things in my past or future.
Everything about being at the beach brought me an almost indescribably calm and contentment; it felt as if my pain was being washed away. Feeling the sand between my toes and breathing in the fresh salty air lifted my spirits. The more sun and the more time at the beach, the less sadness I would feel. On the days that I couldn’t make it to the beach, I would meditate first thing in the morning with the help of a wave machine in the background. On the mornings I didn’t meditate, I felt like I had more pain, discomfort, and anxiety.
With every day I spent by the water or meditating in the morning, I found myself worrying less, feeling less pain, and allowing myself to slow down and recover. Now, when I feel the anxiety creeping in, I put on the waves setting on a sound machine and practice breathing in deep breaths. This too shall pass, I remind myself, as I feel waves of relief wash over me.
Love Paige's story? Read up on how yoga helps breast cancer patients sleep.
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