The Results Are In: Yoga and Cancer

“Just relax,” the anesthesiologist said.

Those were the last words I remember hearing before my breast reduction surgery in late June.

While preparing me for the surgery, I was very alert as pumps were placed around my feet to keep blood moving during the procedure. I even marveled at the electrodes placed on my inner thighs for the same reason.

The anesthesiologist placed a neck pillow in just the right spot to support my neck. Having had seven major surgeries in my life, I know about being intubated and how our necks can really be strained. My neck is already creaky, like most middle-aged necks. The perks of being a frequent flyer in surgical suites is that I can ask for an upgrade, i.e., a neck pillow, to prevent collateral damage.
I’ve never been conscious in the surgical suite before elective breast reduction surgery. Usually, in a hospital setting, one is given medication before entering the surgical suite, which makes it all feel like a dreamy state.

Versed is commonly used to begin a procedure, in this case, I was wide-awake, and looked deeply into the eyes of everyone who would be keeping me alive while performing surgery. I told them that I believed in the power of positive intention, and would they please tell me to ‘heal well’ at the end of the procedure. A nurse with black fingernail polish and a zebra surgical cap assured me she believed the same and would do as I wished. I wanted to ask her where she got her matching zebra clogs, but it seemed to vanish from my thoughts as fast as it appeared.
Going back to the beginning of June, I had set a surgical date with a surgeon outside my HMO insurance plan. However, since my middle sister had breast cancer and I had colorectal cancer, I inquired about having an ultrasound breast exam for my oversized, lumpy breasts. 

My HMO sent me to a genetic counselor. Yes, the response from my primary doctor’s request that I have an ultrasound ended up with a “no response” to the procedure; but a referral to a genetic counselor. Those of us that have entered the maze of managed care will understand that a doctor’s referral is no guarantee of a procedure being granted. 

Someone in ‘quality control’ decides if the referral meets the standard-of-care guidelines set by the insurance company. In my case, the ultrasound referral ended up being sent to genetic counseling. It was a three-hour appointment with a geneticist going over my family’s cancer history.

To my surprise, the genetic counselor suggested that my blood be tested for 20 factors related to genetic forms of cancer, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The only problem for me was that I had already scheduled and changed my breast reduction surgery one time. What would be the best course of action for me?

I decided to go ahead with my scheduled breast reduction. I’d wait for the genetic testing results, which takes from two weeks to two months. I decided that, for me, breast reduction would still be my choice, even if I had genes that imposed a 50 percent to 80 percent increase in the likelihood of breast cancer.

Those of you who read my last post have been waiting with me. I wanted to pose a real-time, real-life conundrum. Now, I have to admit that I have kept you waiting longer than I actually had to wait for answer.

About a week after surgery, I got a phone message directly from the geneticist. Getting a phone call from a doctor directly is generally not a good sign. However, the tone of her voice gave me immediate relief. She said she was happy to give me good news about my “very normal” results. It’s good to know that I have achieved the status of normal in some testing! I’ll take those results!

I listened to the message about four times before I erased it. The doctor even sent me a hard copy for my records. I filed the papers without reading them. I have to be honest and say that it took me years to read my original surgical results from colorectal surgery.  Even though I know that information is power, I resist my own best advice. Human nature, I believe, is protective of our psyche. For now, what I heard on the phone is all I need to know. 

I participate in ongoing studies to help the next generation. I have been a participant in the “Sister Study” for over a decade. I have also been answering questionnaires from the “California Teacher Study.” Now, should my genetic information lend insights for me or someone in my family, or others in my situation, the data has been collected.

For now, I’m enjoying wearing shelf-bra shirts in the sticky summer weather. I am looking forward to returning to a gentle yoga practice in a formal setting this week. 
Today Yoga Practice: Positive intention is well known in the Buddhist community. The power of our minds is to be harnessed and trained to lean toward kind, uplifting and loving thoughts.

One simple technique is using a common signpost to trigger a positive thought. Upon awaking, as your feet touch the floor, repeat these words, "Today is going to be full of beauty."

Continue to observe your feet, and whenever you do, repeat your positive intention. You can use any intention that feels good to you. Let me know what you choose. And, tell us about your findings.
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