I wonder, have you ever noticed how good things can come out of the most difficult of circumstances? I can honestly say it’s happened more than once in my life. And so I am learning to trust the bigger picture.

The truth of this was again made real to me a couple of days ago. Minus 8 degrees overnight and as we warmed the car to get the ice off the windscreen, I suddenly noticed the ice crystals on the window. They took my breath away. Stunning little mandalas of such beauty. My daughter captured them in a photograph. And I realised that without the extreme cold of the night before, they would never have been created. Out of something as plain as a drop of water, it took the cold darkness of the night for this beauty to be born …

Note to self: next time be very vague about surgery information when boarding a flight.

Irritated as hell I was yesterday. Arriving at the check in counter 3 days after surgery, busting to get home to my family, I simply asked for a bit of help lifting my carry on luggage into the overhead locker. Due to surgery, I said, couldn’t lift. The smiling, oh too caring, check in chipmunk (at half my age, I don’t think she had much experience of real life) asked about my surgery. As I am a trusting person, I answered honestly. Surgery was Tuesday. ‘What did you have done?’ she asked, feigning caring interest. ‘Breast reconstruction’, I said. ‘Oh, just let me look and see if you can fly’… furious, does not describe how strongly I felt! So she checked her very large manual and decided that I suddenly needed a doctors letter to board the plane. They didn’t tell me that when I booked the bloody ticket. So, happy to take my money, but not happy to let me get home. The airline shall remain nameless – they have been wonderful on other occasions and I am not into slighting. And I understand the need for protection against litigation. I offered to sign a waiver, but that was not acceptable. After consulting her medical advisor they said I needed a letter. So, in 15 minutes I had to get ‘permission’ in writing like a small child to board the aircraft home. So humiliating to have one’s right to exercise their freedom to move around their own country overridden. But as ‘patients’ this often happens, doesn’t it. We suddenly lose our basic human rights to make our own decisions. You can tell it has hit a raw nerve. I mentioned how frustrated I was, because if I hadn’t said anything, she would have been none the wiser. ‘Ah, but you disclosed’ she said. ‘And now I have to act on it’. Only because she led me to it. Duped I would call it. And not quite honest. Leaves a bad taste. Steve mentioned it might help to get it off my chest. I responded with humour. No thanks, I don’t want to get anything more off my chest.

And so with a letter in hand (thank you Dr D), I brought my precious cargo home. Two bumps. And I can’t describe how it feels to have some balance back. To sit in my pyjamas, balanced on both sides. A rounded softness on my right side where for the last year and a half there has just been hard bony ribs. Tears of joy. I keep putting my hand on the roundness, just to experience it again. The hardness has disappeared under this lovely round bump. And it’s only the first stage. I am so delighted. A little bit sore, probably a bit like a footballer after a hard game of rugby. Combined with that delightful sensation of the extreme pressure of your milk coming in on the third day. But nothing a few panadol and a bit of rest can’t handle. ‘Brave’ a woman said on the plane home. Maybe a little of this. But I know I’m in good hands, and with faith and trust, it’s easier to be brave, isn’t it…

I am so deliciously peaceful. A few hours past surgery and I feel good. And excited. My breathing is deep and restful and my hands are warm. And I am basking in this moment. I now officially have two bumps. And though new and raw, I treasure them. Dr David managed to do my expansion while I was under. I was never huge. There is a quietness in how blessed I feel. And the special people around me. The love of family and friends and people I’ve only just met flowing to me and through me. My body is responding beautifully. Just a mild pressure, nothing more. I woke as I asked myself to do so. Comfortable and peaceful. I am so in awe of how special we are.  The special abilities we all have inside. How that deeper part of us responds to our gentle directions when we allow it to do so.

Miracles. Yes. They are possible. And they often come in the most beautiful and unexpected ways…

I wonder, have you ever noticed how we are surrounded by mirrors in our lives? Some are a true and clear reflection. While others are more like the foggy ones when you get out of the shower. Or the mirrors with a crack in the glass. You only see a snippet of yourself. A distorted image and not your true reflection. And then there are others like the ones at the fun park or the museum, where your body is stretched tall and thin, or shrunk short and stumpy. And we laugh at these mirrors, don’t we, because we know they are not a true reflection of who we really are. Safe in the knowledge the real us, the true us remains unchanged.

My husband became a true mirror for me the other day. As I took my shirt off, he whistled. You know, one of those appreciative wolf whistles. I could never work out why they have been rendered politically incorrect. They never offended me. In fact, I love them. And they make me feel good about myself. It feels good to be appreciated, doesn’t it. This one took me completely by surprise and I smiled with delight. Because I felt so unconditionally loved in this moment. I find him amazing. He doesn’t see the scars. He only sees me. In the days following I realised at an even deeper level that it is ‘me’ that is attractive to him, the real me inside. The outside bits, although desirable, are not as important. And in reflecting this back to me, he is teaching me to see myself this way. He became a mirror for me of what really matters. A true mirror. And I love him all the more.

The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes”, I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it he says, it’s kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

Richard Selzer – Lessons from the Art of Surgery as quoted in Love, Medicine and Miracles by Dr Bernie Siegel

Sometimes it helps me to remember that cancer is really only a cracked mirror. Just a snapshot of a moment in time. Because it’s not a true reflection of who we really are, is it. And it can be comforting to remember that no matter what happens, our real self, our true self will always remain safely tucked away inside…

I did something really dumb this morning. Like every good working mum on school holidays I was multi-tasking big time. And by the time I had the kids in the car, I was of course running a little behind schedule. As is my custom, I turned the engine on to warm up three freezing kids. An overnight temperature of minus five or thereabouts. The windscreen was frosty. So heavily frosted that the windscreen wipers weren’t making any progress. And so I began to move the car into the sun to help it along. We live on a farm and the drive is huge so I have a lot of room to turn around. Only trouble was I’d parked in the opposite direction the night before. And so as I turned the car slowly, winding down the window so I could see, with the windscreen wipers working furiously, I was effectively driving blind. No big problem when I’m facing the other way. The bump and the breaking of glass alerted me to my grave misjudgement as I hit the low brick wall. No speed, but enough to smash the fog light and break the bumper. Bugger. A small expletive. I got back in the car after examining the damage and smiled at the kids. After all, what could I do except get over it. If only I’d been a bit more patient, I’ll remember this for next time.

And then it dawned on me. Another of those wonderful aha moments. With reconstruction imminent, I suddenly felt like the car was an extension of me. Easily repaired, no harm done. On the other side of cancer, I realised I now have a different perspective. And I laughed. It seems the fear and sadness is done.

I can’t quite believe it’s July already. And in ten days my next adventure begins. I feel my body recoiling a little, perhaps remembering what happened the last time I went under the knife. And the bits I left behind. I must confess I feel a little bit of apprehension. Opening up old wounds. The need to heal again. But it’s different this time. This time they are putting me back together. And today the overriding feeling is calm anticipation mixed in with a dash of ‘little girl’ excitement. In two weeks I get to grow my breast again for the second time in my life. How many people get to do that twice!

And I know the shift in how I feel is because I am surrounded by people who love me, people who are helping me prepare for this surgery. Mentally, physically and emotionally. And there’s so much we can do to prepare, isn’t there. I wonder how many people realise that choosing a doctor with a good bedside manner has been shown to minimise the need for pain relief? Important decisions, aren’t they. Because for a time our physical and emotional self is in their hands. And I want to know what sort of people they are. Positive or melancholy? Gentle or brash. I once had an anaesthetist sing me to sleep in Persian. Precious memories. Later tonight I’ll crack the lid on the jar of supplements to reduce the bruising and inflammation. Building my buffer I call it. Some people, of course, poo poo the idea. So I love it when a doctor actually asks me to take them. Then I really know I’ve got the right guy. Because nutritional support can work miracles with healing too. And I am choosing to be as gentle and kind on myself as I can this time.

And once again I’m spending time getting my head in the right space. Isn’t it incredible that when we’re under anaesthetic, our conscious defences are down and we can actually hear what’s being said? For better or for worse. So just as I have been taught, I now teach other people simple ways that protect us while under the anaesthetic. And I’ve heard it said that mental preparation has actually saved lives…

This morning I made a better choice. I awoke full of busy thoughts competing for attention. Things I wanted to do, things I needed to do, things I’d rather do… A restless mind and I felt agitated. So much so, I almost got up to feed that driven part of me who wants to get everything done now. But something stopped me. A little voice calling out for a much needed rest. My body begging me to go gently. To respect its needs. And so I decided to just lie there and breathe. Gently in, gently out. Deep rhythmic breathing, using all of my lungs. And within 10 minutes, perhaps less, I noticed the change. My mind stopped racing, my body relaxed and I made the decision to nurture myself for the rest of the day. Sure I had things to do, but I chose to do them second to giving myself a much needed rest, rather than the other way round. Propped up on the lounge reading, despite having three kids at home on school holidays. Declining to answer the phone when it demanded attention. A day off from the computer, the mobile, the internet. By the afternoon, I actually felt rested. And the important things had all still been attended to. I just hadn’t pushed.

Isn’t it incredible how our priorities can change just through the simple act of breathing. In slowing down we can better assess what is necessary and what can wait. Because to heal we need to do this, don’t we. Prioritise. Look after ourselves. Make better choices.

Most people don’t realise that the simple act of breathing can switch our bodies from stress into healing. Rapid shallow breathing stimulates the flight or fight response while deep, rhythmic breathing returns our bodies to a state in which we can rest and repair. Just breathing, it costs nothing, and it can change our biochemistry in the blink of an eye. Why aren’t we taught how to use the breath to heal? Most people don’t even think about how they are breathing, caught in the habit of rapid shallow breathing without even realising it. ‘Practise makes permanent’ my friend Peter says and so I make the conscious choice to practise deep breathing at every opportunity. To form a better habit.  Because we are what we practise, aren’t we. Once again it’s all about the choices we make. To be able to say no to demands that compromise our healing. To love ourselves enough to make the right choices that keep us on the healing path…

 With every breath we have a choice – Dr Richard Aplin DC