It recently came to light for me after undergoing a double mastectomy that maybe if I’d ‘gotten things off my chest’ more often, I’d still have a chest. No history of breast cancer in the family and somehow I seemed to get it in both breasts. How can that be?
Louise Hay claims in her book, “You Can Heal Your Life”, that breast cancer comes from anger and resentment (and your mother too but that’s a whole other topic). I’m not sure that cancer has an emotional cause but as I look back on my life leading up to the cancer diagnoses, I can see that I harbored a lot of anger and resentment for so many events/people/situations in my life. The more anger and resentment I felt, the more I stuffed it away thinking it would mysteriously go away. That’s what passive aggressive people do, no? On the surface it did… for the most part. Only to rear its ugly head when pushed into a corner and then POW!! Watch out! Those explosions caused, even more, stress to my body because I would feel guilty and ashamed of the outbursts. It was a vicious circle. Round and round I went unable to get off the hamster wheel and packed and suppressed it all. I hear this so often from my coaching clients who come to realize the impact it had on their health only after a life-changing diagnosis.
But where did this “holding my tongue” and fear to speak my truth come from? I can recall many instances when I was silenced as a child especially during my 12 years of Catholic School where strict nuns used rulers and boat oars to reprimand and silence. After all, children were seen and not heard. It’s a wonder I ever spoke at all. I continued that theme well into my adulthood and into my career where tight-lipped and reticent was the norm.
I have thought that my cancer diagnosis was a wake-up call…a gift in disguise. I woke up to see life through a different lens. What I once thought was important, now seemed insignificant. Finding my voice and sharing it was freeing. I guess I didn’t realize that there was an in between. That sharing a feeling didn’t necessarily have to be a confrontation but more of a conversation. It also meant letting someone in or worse, showing your vulnerability! Oh no, not that. Vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Or so I thought. Showing vulnerability is allowing someone to see who you really are. Now that’s scary! But after a long, winding road, what I’ve learned is, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it’s the only way to be if you want to honor who you really are and be true to yourself.
So as I reflect, I realize I wasn’t being who I really am but someone hiding behind a mask of who I thought I was supposed to be…continually looking for praise. Hiding behind a persona I created to protect the scared little girl who didn’t think she was good enough, smart enough, or worthy.
When I finally started to peel away the layers and show my true self, people didn’t run away in horror as I had imagined. As a matter fact, they stayed and better yet, they liked me more. So you mean to tell me I am more accepted and liked for the person I truly am rather than the person I hid behind and pretended to be? And to think I had to figure it out in my 50s and not my 20s? Yeah, yeah, I know, better late than never. If I could have lived my life believing in myself and honoring my true self, I may not have lived my life differently, but maybe I would have lived it with less fear, less worry, less insecurity, and less shame. Why do some of us need a life-changing event like cancer to be the bat to the head that wakes us up? I am grateful for that bat. The wake-up call I needed. My breasts may still be gone but the scars are a reminder of the battle I faced and emerged a stronger, awakened version of myself that has found her voice and not afraid to use it.