Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Curiosity Saved My Life

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it has saved my life…more than once. A few weeks ago, during the week of my 61st birthday I received a message from my bones. My sternum and 3rd rib began throbbing, broadcasting a message of the return of cancer. Although the exact content of the message was somewhat cryptic, it’s general theme was perfectly clear. In 2013, I wrote, “I promised to listen, and now I hear an unexpected language spoken in a strange tempo that sounds like the static blur of a shortwave radio transmitting a distress signal from a faraway place in the night.” Cancer has called out to me again, has gotten my attention, and has sparked my curiosity.

Although I admit to initially being a bit freaked out, I was/am mostly disappointed. It was like that chopped steak moment I described in my blog entry on November 5, 2009. https://bonniegintishealth.blogspot.com/search?q=chopped+steak This isn’t what I expected! We all go through our lives thinking we know what’s going to happen next, and when the unfolding reality doesn’t match our interpretation, judgment, and conclusion about life, we react in ways that are often not helpful. Each moment is uncertain. What makes us so arrogant, to think we know what’s going to happen next?

When I catch myself doing this, I have a mantra, “there I go again.” I can’t force myself to stop feeling what I feel, but I can become aware that I’m feeling something that may or may not be real or true (whatever those things mean.) I can put a little space between me (whoever that is) and what’s happening. In that space, I can choose where and how to pay attention and how to expend my precious energy.

Once I let myself have a good cry, like bad weather, my emotions passed. Then I dropped down and felt the sadness of loss where it landed in my body, and I leaned in and listened with curiosity. I let go of being afraid, and discovered that I am very interested in what’s actually going on. Being curious is about recognizing novelty and seizing the opportunity it has to offer, without judgment or making a story. Curiosity often leads to buried treasures.

Whenever you get bored, you’re not paying attention. There’s always something to spark curiosity. I got curious about the pain in my chest and responded by asking my doctor to move up the date of my annual PET scan from December to October. I got the message from my body, and the really curious thing is that the messenger, the pain, went away in a few days, and nothing ever showed up on the scan in the area that hurt. But responding to the message of the sensation led me to find this tiny new cancer growing in my breast in time to do something about it before it spread.

It's not about whether to pay attention but how to pay attention. It’s possible to be attentive without curiosity. I can glance over the surface of things and miss what’s important, or I can ride the fine line between positive thinking and denial and completely miss the message.

I am committed to a life of curiosity in which I fully participate in the present moment. This allows me to become sensitive to what's actually happening regardless of how it differs from the past, or from what I expect the future to be. The best we can do to resolve the past and prepare for the future is to savor the possibilities of what can be done in the present moment. When we encounter a problem, we often go to quickly into “problem-solving” before we’ve been informed enough to have insight into the necessity of the moment.

On a mundane note, I have a Plan A, B, & C. Plan A is my switch back to another estrogen blocker. It's no big deal; just a different pill once a day. We will re-evaluate in 4-6 months to see if it's working. I'm addressing some new approaches to diet and supplements to boost my immune response. As I type this, the pathology people at UVM are comparing my recent biopsy to my original 2009 biopsy to see if they can learn something about the character of what I'm growing. It won't make any difference in the short-run, but in the long run, I might need to understand the difference (or lack thereof) between version 2009 and version 2017, and implement another plan. 

We have a new window facing the woods and the rocky ledge behind our house, and although I could never recommend that anyone have construction at home while going through a biopsy, now that it's over, I can say, "it was worth it." Watching the birds, the squirrels, and the plants change each day is endlessly enjoyable and feeds my sense of connectedness to the natural world. I'm curious about the medicinal value of window-gazing.