The Power of Positivity

Last August, I had a brain scan after several weeks of unexplained blurred vision. Later that evening, I was sitting on my deck with my family eating enchiladas when my doctor called to tell me that the MRI revealed a brain tumor on my optic nerve. After a few hours of crying, my family and I spent the next 12 hours formulating a plan. We were mobilized to take action and destroy this thing that was threatening my health, my life. Surgery, chemo, radiation, consults with doctors in Boston and Portland, whatever we had to do, we were ready. Let’s go.

But the next day I got another assessment from a different doctor, who thought there was a good possibility that the lesion the first doctor was calling a tumor was actually just inflammation and may not need treatment. And because of the danger of biopsying this area, our plan of action turned into a plan of inaction. I was told to wait three months and rescan. Over the course of that week, several more doctors confirmed the plan: wait three months.

Thus began the most challenging stretch of my life. I was supposed to keep working, mothering, and living my life while there was a distinct possibility there was a tumor growing inside my head that could kill me. I was supposed to carry on, but I could take no action to help my cause. At times I was paralyzed with fear, and the more I thought about my possible diagnosis, the more I panicked. It was only the passing of time that was going to give doctors more information about the lesion in my brain. I was in limbo. I was stuck.

Nothing like a health scare to bring forth all of our existential questions, right? How much time did I have left? What should I quickly teach my children in case my time is cut short? Why was this happening at this particular moment in my life? What was I supposed to learn from this? What can I actually do to help me survive the not knowing?

I started to read and think about prayer, because I wasn’t sure what it was or how to do it. But I did know that when loved ones kept saying “I’m praying for you,” I felt comforted.

I don’t believe prayer can stop a brain tumor. If that were the case no one would die of cancer or any other disease. I don’t believe any one person can affect the course of a disease through prayer, but I do believe prayer can impact attitude and outlook. We can begin to heal ourselves with positivity, love and attention on the right thoughts. When I pray, it is not necessarily for x, y or z to happen, but it is for a bigger, more open, more awake life.

When I found myself at my lowest moments during the waiting period, the only single thing that gave me peace was to adopt an attitude of surrender. I would think: “I give myself up to you, Universe, because I clearly cannot think my way out of this.” Nothing I say, feel, or do is going to influence what is growing inside my head. Whatever it is, it already is.

I had to give myself up to something greater than me, to trust that whichever direction this went, I would be taken care of.  I never felt sure that I wouldn’t die, but I did experience some magical moments when I truly felt peace. I actually had periods of clarity that my kids and my husband and my family would be okay without me, and that the time I had been on this earth was enough. These were fleeting moments, but amazing ones, and they didn’t feel like defeat, just surrender. And that is the feeling I would try to create when I prayed.

In the book “Help, Thanks, Wow” by Anne Lamott I found my definition of prayer:

“Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy—all at the same time. It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves… or we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe, miraculously, we just release our grip slightly.”

Release the grip. That makes sense to me. When I am able to release my grip, I feel connected to something bigger, and that is how I pray and find peace. I do this by sitting with my pain, leaning on my husband, mothering my children, taking long walks. I pray by imagining myself alive in the biggest sense of the word: laughing with my kids, baking loaves of bread, eating spicy food, jumping off the dock, reading 100 books, running another marathon.

While the final outcome of this health scare is yet to be determined, a follow-up scan showed that the lesion had slightly shrunk, which points to a diagnosis of inflammation (from a yet indeterminate cause) rather than a tumor. We are encouraged,  but still don’t know for sure and await follow up scans. My three months of waiting have stretched into six. My normal approach to life—have a problem, formulate a plan, take action—does not apply here. But I have learned to have faith in a larger plan, one in which I can still participate through prayer.

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