I just lost another friend to cancer. She was only 40 years old, and had a one-year-old son and a new marriage that was just beginning. She fought to stay, unable to reconcile the beautiful beginnings of her life with her diagnosis. As the pink ribbons fly this month, we all have someone who comes to our hearts - whether, in acknowledging their ongoing fight to overcome this most persistent of diseases or in remembering someone who has lost their battle against it.
Breast cancer and all reproductive cancers impact all of us. Even with enhanced and more effective detection and treatment options, the numbers are mind-numbing - over one in eight women will be diagnosed this year.
Although we don’t track and correlate the incidence of breast cancer to a woman’s emotional health, I often wonder how our breast tissue - which is literally the muscular shield for our heart center - could go unscathed by the weight of the unacknowledged and unnamed grief and sorrow that our hearts carry inside. Not surprisingly, doubling the incidence of breast cancer, a whopping one in four women die from heart disease.
The strength of our heart
Our hearts are literally at the center of our life. Physically, there are no muscles which compare to the capacity of the heart, beating two billion times in a lifetime and circulating over 50 million gallons of blood. It has the largest electromagnetic field in the body, 60 times larger than our brain. Our hearts are capable instruments for processing emotion, and rather than weakening us, it is this metabolism of the grief and sorrow that life generates which exercises and strengthens us.
However, our hearts also clearly have their limits when it comes to being a storehouse for all the pain and loss we experience which never sees the light of day. In fact, many women report that the deepest healing which occurs in the course of both breast cancer and heart disease comes from giving our full attention to the heart connections that have been neglected.
We heal as we remove the defensive shield from our heart, allowing us to experience and work through the often messy and painful memories and interactions in our primary relationships; a process which actually strengthen our hearts and lead us to forgiveness of self and others.
Opening your heart center
The last time I saw my friend Taryn, I was so touched by the peace she embodied in the smallest acts of respite. Every moment she was looking for just that moment. It was a great teaching to me and one that she reminded me of just before she passed. Her ability to witness and feel grateful was the gift she left me. It is in remaining open to our own heart where we find the way into our own healing process.
This year, as we honor another season of pink, celebrating both the survival and losses of women to illnesses related to the heart, let’s begin it from the inside out. By focusing our attention on what remains unresolved within our hearts, we learn to soften and feel. With this kind of attention, our heart becomes a magnetic space which allows us to honor our feelings as the vital source of connection that they are, guiding us toward the intimacy and love that defines a life.
Experiment with how strong your heart center can be by opening it. It may well be the most curative practice we can undertake in this life and who knows the bounds of healing if might bring to our deeply wounded planet.