Many, many thanks for all the love I’ve received after my recent post about my cancer diagnosis. It makes a huge difference to feel such support, and I appreciate it enormously!

I want to share this update about my decision-making process, and what I’m learning about myself as I navigate it. It’s been a very insightful experience.

I have 8 days to decide between a lumpectomy + radiation, or a mastectomy, to remove the tumor in my breast. (The prognosis is the same either way, so my surgeon says the choice is up to me.)

I don’t much like the idea of radiation but, for some reason, a mastectomy has seemed like the most awful thing in the world. Even worse than having cancer. My rational brain knows this isn’t true, but it’s not the one in the driver’s seat. My limbic brain has been running the show, and it’s felt very real for that part of me.

I’ve been working to try to diffuse the activation I have about possibly losing my breast, so I can make a better decision about which surgery to have. I want to be able to see a mastectomy for just what it is—no more, no less—rather than having my vision distorted by the fear I’ve been carrying around it.

In the “Flat and Fabulous” Facebook group last week, someone posted a photo of nine women who’d all had double mastectomies. They were topless, arranged like a Vanity Fair photo shoot, and of all ages and types. Each had a radiant, beaming smile on her face.

When I saw the photo, a belief that I didn’t know lived in me suddenly became visible. I realized that I believed that being happy after a double mastectomy was impossible. At some level, I thought that life changed for the worse, and stayed that way. Forever.

I didn’t *know* I thought this thought, but these smiling women made this unconscious (and untrue) belief conscious. Until that moment, I didn’t have a slot in the filing cabinet of my mind, that could simultaneously hold “mastectomy”, and “smiles like that.”

But here they were, indisputably happening together.

In my academic world, this mental short-circuiting experience is called a disorienting dilemma. It happens when two things that we’ve believed to be mutually exclusive are suddenly seen to co-exist. A big part of me believed that it was impossible to be both happy and breast-less. These women proved that wrong.

That photo cracked open an old, limiting internal structure, and made new, expanded possibilities available. An either/or suddenly became a both/and. I can have a mastectomy and I can be OK. Both can be true at the same time.

The story we carry about something determines how we experience it.

This is my life, but this is also my work. As a death doula, much of what I do is to help people expand their unconscious, limiting (and usually culturally conditioned) assumptions about death and bereavement. With a more spacious, healing story, new things become possible. We find a more spacious, healing ways to meet the experience. This was exactly the medicine I needed.

Seeing that photo, and hearing the stories of women who are happy, healthy and thriving after mastectomies has dissolved the unconscious fear-grip I had about what that surgery would mean for me. I still don’t love the idea, but now I have a more healing and spacious story about it. I can look at that option in a clear-eyed way, and consider it without reactivity.

My next project is to look at what’s true about radiation, versus what I fear about it. Then I’ll be able to make the decision that’s right for me.