By Adriana Ermter
In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
It’s safe to say that most of us believe, kind of like the-sky-is-blue believe, that the past, present, and future are the logical chronology of time. Even mathematical equations, which I am terrible at, define time as the measure of the duration that exists between each sequence of these events. So how come when it comes to breast cancer, time is so fucked up? It would be so much more manageable if we, individuals diagnosed with cancer, could just live in the present.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I was in shock, so naturally time felt like it stood still…until the reality of my diagnosis settled in and took over. That’s when I started living in the past, literally, because I dove deep into it, searching for a reason why I had cancer while no one else in my family did. Wading backwards through this murky passage, I questioned the meaning of cancer. My cancer. Despite my oncology team telling me breast cancer is random, I took inventory of my every life-stage. I was searching for, needed a reason for, why I had an unwanted and potentially life-threatening tumour living inside my body.
I pointed my finger at all the vodka martinis and menthol cigarettes I’d inhaled in my twenties and early thirties. Except that wasn’t it. Then, I pondered all of the wrong men I’d pined for but never dated and the ones I did have relationships with and kept close long after their expiration dates. But still, nope. Desperate to find something, anything, anybody to blame for me being me, I pulled an Alice and went down every single one of my past’s rabbit holes, digging for answers only to resurface empty handed each time. Scouring my past was a futile waste of energy, but I didn’t stop until I had surgery and began treatment.
There was something about having an ice cream scoop of my skin, flesh, lymph nodes and, of course, the cancer tumour, surgically removed from my body that propelled me straight towards my future. The permanent indent in my right armpit and side of my right breast, along with the long slash of a scar across my skin felt like a guiding point directing my gaze forward. All I could think about was being healthy again, getting out of bed, off the couch and back to life, my life. These images buoyed me. It was all I thought about during the months filled with treatment, exhaustion and nausea, and then, during the horrible years filled with Tamoxifen and its multitude of debilitating side effects.
I held my dreams of my future self tightly too, fantasizing about how, once I had the energy, I would fulfill a long-held desire of quitting my mortgage-paying, yet unfulfilling, day job with a boss I did not like and branch out as a fulltime freelance editor and writer. How I would seek, find, create and share more joy. I even aspired to meet a great man to date. I spent double-digit days here, in my imaginary world, picturing myself cancer free and carefree. To be fair, a lot of what I visualized for myself back then, has since come true. The lacklustre job is in my rear-view mirror, replaced with my own editorial business fulfilling editing and writing projects I enjoy with wonderful people. After a 20-year hiatus, I’m back poolside too, sharing this joy by coaching competitive synchronized swimmers. I haven’t met the great guy yet, but I feel hopeful. And I can attribute it all to changing my mindset, which is not to be confused with the future fantasizing I spent too much time on while I was in treatment and healing, but rather to the small steps I took each day to realize my wishes into reality.
Taking these daily steps empowered me to leave dreamland and to live in the present. In hindsight, it’s where I should have been focused all along—throughout my entire cancer journey. Being present with myself and candid about my wants didn’t come naturally for me; it took and still takes constant care and attention every day. I remind myself hourly to clearly identify what I want in any given moment and how I will feel when I achieve it. It’s all about thinking happy thoughts—which sounds super cliché, I know, except it works for me—because when I focus on them, I get the results I’m seeking.
Yes, reliving the past is much easier. It’s safe and cozy because it has been played out like a well-read book, so it feels comfortable as I already know the beginning, middle and end. There are no surprises. But that’s just lazy living. The past is not my friend—it lets me point my finger at circumstances, other people and moments for rationale and understanding, rather than telling me to look inwards for the answers. And while the future is a happier place to dwell, full of hope and potential, living there doesn’t serve me either. It just creates a dreamland.
My real power is in the now. When I breath, eat and sleep here, it saves me from feeling stuck, from being emotionally limited and trapped within the time warp of the breast cancer sphere. Being in the now allows me to truly see what I want—health, love, abundance and more—and feel all the good feels. The more time, attention and thought I give to these wants, the more I experience positivity and then, the more steps I take towards achieving each desire. I am not wishful thinking my way forwards, I am creating my reality. I am choosing to focus on me, the parts I love about myself and my life and the parts I’m growing. This is the space in time that I function best in now; it’s empowering me to thrive.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Figure Skater Fitness, Living Luxe and IN Magazine, as well as online at 29Secrets.com, RethinkBreastCancer.ca, Popsugar.com and AmongMen.com. The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her two very spoiled rescue cats, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter.
Photo by Aya McMillan