the power of calm

It’s now week three of a ten-week quarter and my assignments and readings are starting to pick up a little. Last week I felt really on top of everything. This week, as I look ahead to midterm projects and essays due, I can feel my to-do list start to pile up and my heart and mind start to race a little at the thought.

I have managed to get through two quarters of grad school so far without ever getting really frantic. My attitude has always been: I have other shit going on. This stuff isn’t so important that I need to get all worked up over it. My first priority has to go to my health, my second to my emotional well-being, and my third, to school. But this week, a lag week between doctor’s appointments and other patient obligations, I’ve been spending more time at school. And the stress is starting to get to me a little.

So I tell my sister, “I’m starting to get stressed.” This is the same sister who herself gets frantic near the end of each quarter when everything is due. She says calmly, “No. You can’t get stressed.” I think we’ve switched places.

Of course, she’s right. I may not believe in the power of being vegan to fight cancer, but I do believe in the power of staying calm. In fact, if I had to take a stab at another contributing factor to my cancer that I will never actually know the cause of (besides the “way the world is”), I would say stress. I have never been overly stressed, but there was a period of a couple years in Chicago when the stresses of working and being an adult and maintaining a relationship and living in a city and being far away from home were getting to me and I could feel the stress start to take over. I remember feeling like there was no place I could go to escape. I tried all kinds of things–biking and running during lunch and listening to music and walking around the city–but nothing really worked.

So after I was diagnosed last year, I started practicing mindfulness meditation. I started spending more time outside. I started going to sleep earlier. I started taking more pleasure in all the little things and not getting so worked up about the “big” things at school–because there were bigger things. Cancer put it all in perspective. And most of the time, I felt calm.

I need a little reminder of that. I didn’t need to get frenzied to finish my last two quarters (even though I wasn’t taking a full load like I am now); I don’t need to get frenzied now. I can spare a few moments in my days for exercise and meditation and sleep and music and enjoying little things. I can spare a few moments for friends and family–in the end, they matter more. And my emotional health matters more. And my physical health matters the most. If I stress out so much that my cancer finds a way through the chemo, then I will move on to nastier treatments and I won’t be taking my classes anymore. So, you see, I really can’t get stressed.

On that note: good night.

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