I believe that remembering to breathe to can help get you through difficult times. When I was pregnant with our first child, I learned mindful breathing techniques to help with the labor and delivery. Knowing how to breathe through the pain became more important with the birth of our second baby, simply because my labor with her was significantly longer than with the first.
Six months after our second child was born, I was diagnosed with cancer and those breathing skills immediately kicked back in. When the doctor says, “Change of plans, let’s do a biopsy,” there is nothing you can do but take a deep breath. When the doctor calls and, before explaining the test results, asks “Is your husband home with you?” all you can do is breathe. Knowing how to breathe through the pain helped me get through the nasty barium drinks, the physical pain of recovering from surgery, the post-surgical prohibition on picking up my daughters, and the unexpected news that I needed to have radiation and chemotherapy after all.
After a while, I realized that mindful breathing was not just a coping mechanism but it was also a gift. Normal life is very busy and offers few opportunities for quiet reflection. When you are lying on a cold metal table trying not to move during radiation treatment, however, you have the time to be still, and to breathe, and to reach out for God’s presence.
Being hooked up to an IV for 6 or 7 long hours on the chemo days forces you to slow down. I couldn’t go anywhere, but I could sit quietly, breathe deeply, and take the time to recognize and appreciate God’s grace, which was manifested in the love and kindness shown by my family and friends and by the nurses and volunteers.
It has been three months since I completed my treatment. My first post-treatment test came back clean and my life is mostly back to normal. Now, my challenge is to create space in my normal life where I can capture some of the stillness that was imposed on me while I was undergoing treatment in order to, again, focus on my breathing and, in those breaths, feel the enduring presence and strength of God.
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