The Mindfuless Technique I Use During Radiation Treatments

Photo: Jovo Jovanovic

I am not a mindfulness expert. I definitely practice it and I read about it, but I defer to my dear friends and colleagues who are experts in the field and devote much of their time to teaching people how to live in the present and express gratitude—even when no reason for gratitude seems apparent. They are great teachers and mentors, and I am always honored to share their wisdom with my patients.

Mindfulness is greatly missing in our daily lives. We spend way too much time worrying about something that happened in the past and way too much energy struggling with decisions that may affect our future. We also become obsessed with the "why me?" or the "why NOT me?" We have to be able to give ourselves permission to just be what we are: human. We all come with our own biases, prejudices, standards, and expectations of others but also of ourselves. This precludes us from being grateful for who we are at the core and how far we have come despite the many obstacles we face.

We don't need to be resilient. We don't need to be brave. We just need to be. That is what mindfulness is.

When we become mindful, we allow our inner spirit to be at peace with where we are at the moment. We can then take the time to see beyond the obvious and note the many things we can be grateful for that surround, support, and nurture us through hardships—be it family, friends, strangers, your warm bed, or the sun rising outside. It's easy to be mindful during happy times (What bride is not completely present during her wedding day?). But it can be challenging to find the stillness to appreciate our lives in the midst of hard times. Veering our minds from negativity, worry, and anxiety takes practice. The good news is that with enough focus, we are all capable.

I recently had to undergo focal radiation for recurrence of a pesky brain tumor that won’t take no for an answer. "Bring it," I thought. But when I was placed on a cold metal table, with a hard wicker face mask drawn tight over my face and tacked to the table underneath me, and then asked to lie still for 30 minutes lest other parts of my brain get zapped, my penchant for mindfulness was up for the judges of the universe to decide.

I asked for meditative music to be played while I lay alone in the cold radiation room. The music was merely a distraction from the gunshot-like noises and the squeaking of the arm of the machine as it made it way to the various plotted points of my head and forehead to deliver the appropriate biologic dose of radiation.

With the music playing, and my head attached to the table, and the fear that was instilled in me to lie perfectly still, I focused first on my breath. I took deep breaths in and deep breaths out. And I would count "one, two, three, four, in" and "one, two, three, four, out." When I felt my respiratory rate begin to calm and fall into a rhythmic mode, I checked in with my body. Underneath the warm hospital blanket provided, I connected with different parts of my body starting with my toes. With each connection, I felt release of muscle tension and a feeling of relaxation orchestrated with the rhythm of my breathing.

With my breathing in check and a relaxing of my muscles, I kept my eyes closed and peered through my third eye. At first there were swirling shapes of blackness and whiteness. I followed them around my field of perception until they coalesced into a shade of darkness. I allowed myself to go deep into this darkness.

This proved challenging at first as it required a deep focus, and I unfortunately was not sitting comfortably in a quiet, aromatherapeutic meditative room. But I persevered!

Thoughts tried to enter my mind, but I simply allowed them to pass through as if they were moving vehicles. I trusted that the darkness would encompass me and keep me safe, and I relinquished my control and anxiety to the stillness. I entered a world of calm, peace, and contentment with the realization that I still had a whole lot to be thankful for. My treatments seem to fly by, and each treatment became easier as my mindfulness reduced the panic I initially faced.

After each session, I made an effort to describe my experience in my journal and list three things I was grateful for. On one day I even listed I was grateful for the unseasonably good weather that allowed me to travel to my appointment without delay. This writing activity gave me time to focus not on my tumor but rather on those things that made me smile—even if it was just a hint of one.

My future is still unknown, but we all face our own unknown futures. My mindfulness practice will help me face whatever future obstacles may be in my path. So start your practice today!

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