The Gift – Debbie H.

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“I am honored to have the opportunity to be included in this inspirational project.  It gives me great pleasure to share with you the many gifts that have manifested in my life since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. When I received my medical diagnosis a spiral of negative thoughts began to overwhelm me. “What’s going to happen next? How will I pay my bills if I can’t work? How will I tell my friends? My loved ones?” I felt caught in a web of inertia — a tire stuck in the mud.

In the past I had experience in using “thought-reframing” techniques to minimize anxiety. Fortunately, a few weeks after the cancer diagnosis I was able to find the courage and will to challenge myself, “I’m going to do an experiment and see if such techniques will work with a challenge as profound as cancer.” Fortunately, I was able to take control of my emotions before I allowed fear and anxiety to gain a foothold. I began practicing a wide variety of calming techniques ranging from recognizing negative thoughts and replacing them with more productive and empowering ones, to incorporating a mindfulness practice into my daily routine. The expression of gratitude, repeating meditative affirmations as well as allowing humor were key ingredients in healing and dissolving fear. Once I set foot on this particular path of awareness my road of treatment was paved with clarity, strength and acceptance.

When I began to embrace the power of good in the universe and slow down and listen to my inner guide, something magical happened in my life. For the very first time I learned be gentle and nurture myself. Releasing old ways of thinking is not easy but with dedication and persistence I was able to break the self-imposed glass barriers which limited beliefs about myself as well as others. We all have the ability to transform ourselves and our lives.

Cognizant of wanting to be passionate about being the best person I could be, every person I came in contact with provided an opportunity. This was true for face-to-face as well as electronic communications. I was able to respect, empathize and be fully present with others. I made amazing new friendships, rekindled old ones, and strengthened relationships. New opportunities presented themselves daily. I began writing a book called “Clear Connections” which documents mind techniques and how I embodied ways of releasing stress and minimizing my fears.

I was invited by a researcher at NYU School of Medicine to participate in her study titled ‘Improving Clinical Practice to Empower Breast Cancer Patients: Reducing the Risk of Lymphedema’ (The Optimal You through the Optimal Lymph Flow Program’). The study focused on self-care strategies in reducing the risk of Lymphedema, an unfortunate outcome of breast cancer treatment. The distressing condition is associated with chronic limb swelling caused by a disruption in the lymphatic system. Being part of this patient-centered educational and behavioral program empowered me to voluntarily teach the knowledge I gained to other breast cancer survivors. Additionally, I became inspired to motivate others through writing. A patient-perspective article titled “Reducing the Risk of LE after Breast Cancer Surgery” was published in The Journal of Lymphedema (JOL) in 2011.  Managing lymphedema has been challenging in my career as a flight attendant because of arm swelling resulting from changes in cabin pressure. I now encourage individuals with disabilities in the workplace and currently represent my airline’s disability initiative program. An inspirational video called “Reaching Blue Heights” can be found on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/106223213 featuring my story.

In my journey I was so fortunate to have found Y4C (Yoga for Cancer) developed by a breast cancer survivor Tari Prinster.  This particular yoga has provided me with an awareness that is now part of each and every move I make and breath I take. Through Tari I was introduced to the Foundation for Living Beauty. It is difficult to find the words to express the gratitude and undying love I have for this organization and all involved. All I can say is attending the “Goddess Wellness Retreat” sponsored by The Foundation for Living Beauty in November of 2014 was like landing in the arms of a million angels.

It doesn’t take a bout with cancer to be a strong and powerful warrior. Coming to know the profound connection between our mind and body and embrace our scars (whether they be physical or emotional) gives us strength of character. Obstacles and limitations mean nothing. Situations are neutral and it is our own thoughts that give them meaning. For it is not what happens to us that matters, it is what we become through experience that is significant. I continue my passion through writing and soon hope to gain a publisher. My mission in life after cancer is to continue to be empowered, shine light where there is darkness and share my gift of wisdom with others.”

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