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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2009 72 with mindfulness retreats. “Going to the retreat center during the treatment period really helped me retain balance, go with what was happening, and not resist what I could not control,” she says. “ The hardest thing for patients is to meet what arises and genuinely practice, which means surrendering, letting be, and noticing where your attention rests so that you can be skillful in directing your attention. You have to be willing to receive. There is a ton of receiv- ing, as well as some giving.” Based on her experience, Rosenbaum encourages patients to “receive” what is occurring rather than reject it. Directly engaging the experience of the disease and all that surrounds it makes it possible to not identify with the disease. It’s hard for any of us to hear this kind of advice—experienced meditator or not— when we are diagnosed with a serious illness, but hearing it from Rosenbaum makes it more believable, since she has a tremendous depth of experience as a cancer patient. Five months after she finished her chemotherapy treatments, a scan revealed that the lymphoma was becoming aggressive and growing again. During the stem-cell transplant treatment that fol- lowed, she contracted pneumonia. Friends said she looked ghostlike, and indeed her lungs had filled with so much fluid that she nearly died. The doctors were surprised at her ability to retain respiration with such stress on her lungs. Rosenbaum says she thinks it’s possible that “my ability to quiet the mind, and just be there breath by breath, without heightening or contracting in response to what was happen- ing, allowed me to breathe better. Without mindfulness during that period, I actually believe I would have died.” Rosenbaum recovered and was cancer-free, but eight years later, around the time of her sixtieth birthday, Rosenbaum was on a loving- kindness meditation retreat when she felt a great deal of pain. A mass had developed near her colon that needed to be surgically re- moved. And this year, fourteen years after the original diagnosis, a small tumor was discovered in her breast, which was eradicated with low-dose radiation. “For many people, cancer has become a chronic disease,” she says, “so it’s really important to learn to live success- fully with uncertainty. It doesn’t have to be at the forefront, but it does need to become a completely accepted part of life. Then, when something does occur, you can move with all the different thoughts and feelings and sensations and relax with procedures, rather than fight them. Being able to do that has been just wonderful for me.” In late 2001, Rosenbaum gave up teaching a regular round of classes at the stress-reduction clinic at the University of Massachu- setts and began focusing on patients and caregivers through her psychotherapy practice and a variety of other venues. For years, she taught mindfulness at the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, a lead- ing research institute affiliated with Harvard. Rosenbaum feels the fact that she had been a patient there lent her a lot of credibility with patients during times of stress. Our native skepticism makes it harder for us to listen to someone teaching us from the outside-in, Rosenbaum says, so “it’s meaningful for patients that I have cancer and know it intimately. Cancer changes your life. There are suddenly lots of doctor’s appointments and trips to hospitals. Cancer scares you. When you enter a clinic, you see pale, weak people who have SUPERB SERVICE FOR ALL YOUR REAL ESTATE NEEDS SANTA FE & NEW MEXICO 888-832-5668