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a man meditating


If you’ve never tried meditation don’t get nervous. You have my word, no lotus position. No robes and no headstands for hours staring at a wall. When I heard people say, “meditation” I pictured a monk on the old TV show “KungFu.” No shame, I loved the show, but I am solid in my belief that they don’t make robes in my size.

Using meditation as a tool to improve mental health

All joking aside, meditation is one of the tools I credit for making my cancer journey and my ongoing mental health work successful and productive. I thought it was about clearing your mind of everything. I learned it is about leaning in and not running from. If you are inclined to, you can find all kinds of information about meditation. All different kinds of methods and modalities exist in the confines of the practice. Explore and learn what works best for you.

We can only focus on one thing at a time

I have learned so much, but the most vital fact is that the human mind can only focus on one thing at a time. No exceptions. The human mind can only focus on one thing. This is vital when we talk about meditating. When we focus on our breathing and we stay with it, everything else will fade. Fears, concerns, anxiety, depression will all move out of the immediate picture when focus is given to breathing.


I sit with a friend who has panic attacks. I ask her to focus on her breath. On the inhale, I ask her to tap pinky to thumb while saying or thinking this: E Q Nim i ty. The right spelling is equanimity. You may know this, but I had to look it up; equanimity means mental calmness and evenness of temper, especially under stress.

Focusing on the breath

This is a simple form of meditation, but it is highly effective. Doing this for several minutes shifts the focus from whatever is stressing your mind to a calm place of simply breathing. There is no requirement for breathing slow or deep, just bring all of your awareness to the breath as you inhale through the five syllables.

It is normal for the mind to wander here and there. No need for self-judgement, just be mindful when you drift, and gently bring your thought back to your breathing. This is not a time of control; this is a time for a relaxed, fun mental exercise that allows the present moment stressor to fade and go on it’s merry way.

Controlling fear and anxiety

The mind is a muscle like any other, and working it strengthens it. There is also the benefit of creating a habit and reaction. Over time, the practice of meditation can become the go-to reaction when you are anxious or frightened. If I allow my cancer anxiety to get going, I can spiral for hours or days. What if? What does the future hold? Will I have another episode? You know the path and how quickly it drops into utter debilitating darkness.

However, if I set an intention to mindfully catch myself as soon as I notice the thoughts, I can disconnect from the stressors and focus on my breath. I have written my own mantras and words that allow me to breathe and count. It takes several minutes, two or three and slowly the darkness lifts. I may have to repeat this several times, but done regularly, my anxiety fades.

Fighting back

The more tools you have in your bag of tricks, the quicker you can return to your best life. Cancer is tough if we accept it as tough. It is the equivalent of the school bully – facing it is always better than running. Even if we get knocked down, we are in the fight. Meditation is a good punch to the intimidation cancer wields. The physical toll is real; however, the emotional toll is negotiable, and you have the power to win the negotiation.

Find your outlet

Therapists, meditation, massage, essential oils, aromatherapy, make music, make art, make whoopee. The important thing is to do something. Take back the life that cancer is trying steal from you. The physical is another issue and best navigated with you and your doctors and those trained to care for you physically. I am suggesting that we have the power to make our mental and spiritual life better and stronger if we will choose to apply ourselves to practices that are known to bring relaxation and calm.

To bring equanimity.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.