By Adriana Ermter
In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
Don’t curse me if this column sounds crazy. Or do. It’s up to you. But what I’m sharing in this column is true for me and it has changed my life for the good. Trust me, as a single woman who lives alone with her two cats, is constantly hustling to secure editorial work and hasn’t had a single decent “like” on Hinge in well over a year, I’m always looking for the positive. This is my honest-to-goodness M.O.
What I believe will be.
For me, this means, that whatever I choose to pay attention to and give my focus to, will happen. Not in a hocus-pocus way, but through determined, conscious choice of thought. Let me explain.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my philosophy was: what I could see I believed. I saw my oncologist, who showed me the black and white image, of the tumour living in the breast tissue inside my right armpit, that was taken during an ultrasound and MRI. I saw and read the subsequent biopsy report that confirmed the tumour was breast cancer so, obviously, I believed I had breast cancer. I could also feel the small, hard lump with my fingertips every time I touched my skin—which, was how I initially ended up at the breast cancer clinic in the first place—so, of course, I believed what I was told and what I saw to be true. My certainty wasn’t based on blind faith. I had science on my side, so to speak.
What I didn’t know then, but soon discovered, was that I could also believe in things I couldn’t and can’t see. Positive things such as, a successful surgery, a good outcome with radiation and/or chemotherapy, improved health, my survival, increased joy and more. And most importantly, when I believed in these things strongly enough to feel peaceful and happy when I thought about them, combined with when I truly believed I could expect these things to happen, that they could and would help my state of mind.
This idea, that believing in what I couldn’t see didn’t pop into my head right away, though. To be fair, after the initial shock of having breast cancer wore off, I was gripped in an overwhelming and all-consuming fear of the unknown. And the only thought I was thinking then was, fuck, followed by an intense desire to live.
Maybe it was because of this intense desire to live, my willingness to single-mindedly fight for my life or that I was so completely and utterly exhausted all day every day, that my thoughts shifted into this new perspective: that what I believe will be . I’m not 100 per cent sure. But I think this was my starting place.
It happened one day, while I was laying on the couch watching reruns about a real-life cheerleading squad in Ontario. I was so tired that I could barely concentrate, but I liked the positive messages the coach on the tv screen was sharing with her athletes and it reminded me of when I had been an elite-level synchronized swimming coach back in the ’90s. It made me want to go back to coaching too. So much so that I promised myself that as soon as I was healthy and had the energy, I would quit my current full-time job, become the contract editor and writer I’d been fantasizing about for over a decade and, I would find a part-time coaching job so that I could give back and share my love of synchro with other girls.
The more I thought about this idea, the warmer my heart and my head felt. These feelings didn’t stop when the series on tv ended either. I frequently found my mind wandering back to my newfound plan every time I felt out of control and fearful about my cancer treatments and my health. And when I did, when I imagined what my new life could be and what I could contribute and give to others, somehow the pain and the fear I was feeling eased up and I began to feel more hopeful about my future.
It took several weeks for me to connect the dots, to realize that every time I replaced my feelings of fear with feelings of joy and hope, that my thought patterns and my emotions changed for the better. But once I figured it out, I was able to consciously choose more proactive and positive thoughts and I realized that I could recall happy memories and believe in new ideas and opportunities that I wanted in my life. Every time I did this, the unknown felt so much more manageable—and I attribute this switch to being and feeling positive.
This kind of positivity is not to be confused with the shitty platitudes people who don’t have cancer like to share with people who do have cancer. What I’m referring to is creating pure and real joy by remembering wonderful moments, imagining new ones, and believing that they can all happen. The more I practiced this theory, the happier I felt.
I am now in my fourth year of remission. While I still have fears about a recurrence and I continue to experience anxiety before every check-up with my oncologist, I now also know how to manage these feelings a little better. And it helps. I still practice my M.O, to feel and believe in the good and it is still working. Some days I feel it more certain about this and can more strongly affirm that I have the power of conscious choice of thought than others and that’s okay. For me, it’s not about being perfect and always getting it right and never feeling low or at a loss, it’s about being consistent, Because when I am, I am powerful. And you can be and are powerful too.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Figure Skater Fitness 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 kittens, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter