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The Process of Living

by Marylyn Rotzler Dunn

I made it through the process of diagnosis and surgery somewhat on auto-pilot. I was at the radiation oncologist?s being measured and tattooed for the radiation treatments. The doctor, the nurses, and technicians all chatted, keeping the mood light. Then, in an instant, they all were gone, they all ran out of the room. The door slammed and the X-ray machine lowered and hummed very, very close, almost pressing upon me. It took my breath away. I was so completely alone. I wanted to run?to escape, to be with those people on the other side of the door. There is no escape, there is cancer. I understood being alone with a fuller depth than I wanted to accept?but I was alone, this was my fight, my cancer--mine alone The shock of the stark reality lasted seconds, the staff returned and I went back to a semi-auto pilot.

That moment changed me, changed how I thought about cancer, myself, and the future. My prognosis was good, the cancer was diagnosed early, I was healthy otherwise and had a good chance at many more years. Years to do what? I had seen a yoga movement, you lift your hands above your head, and then join them at the palms and fingertips. You draw your elbows down so your joined hands are in front of your chest. You draw your fingertips down and back toward your body and point them to your heart, then you continue drawing them up and out, pointing away from you, out toward the world.

I think that yoga movement is like the cancer experience. Cancer patients can become totally absorbed with the disease, the treatments, the threat, with survival, with a shattered sense of self. Cancer patients can also gain understanding, compassion, sympathy, strength, patience, new insights.

The changes in my physical well-being run concurrently with the changes in how I see myself and the world around me. I can, if I chose to act on the insights, become a fuller person, decide to really Live, not just survive. At birth, I received life, then my primary caregiver gave me tools to survive and live. The cancer experience is like a rebirth: surgery, treatments, and support let me survive and gave me my life again, only this time I have to teach myself to live it. Sometimes I am slow a learner, but just the awareness of the potential is a gift.

Cancer is a difficult way to learn lessons, but the lessons are there. Cancer can make you slow down, clear your view, and process the lessons and Live.

Marylyn Rotzler Dunn from New York City is a five-year breast cancer survivor in July of this year. She is a wife, mother of two sons, and has a passion for photography. Marylyn?s Philosophy: If life is 80% showing up, try to show up 85% of the time.