the Present Moment
By Kay Rynerson
Last summer, I noticed a lump in my breast that grew quickly. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like a convicted criminal and sentenced to death. What did I do to deserve this?
I was convinced I was going to die a slow agonizing death. I could see my life begin to ebb away, dissolving into endless hospital visits and debilitating pain.
Testing revealed an aggressive form of breast cancer.
My family couldn't believe that diagnosis because of my healthy, mostly vegetarian diet, and my low-stress career as a massage therapist.
Two weeks later my left breast was surgically removed, along with 27 lymph nodes.
A red rash developed at the incision site.
A month after surgery, I began chemotherapy using the most powerful and toxic current drugs. These drugs destroy cancer cells as they divide. They also kill off other cells as they divide, causing me to lose my hair.
Six weeks into the chemotherapy, the red rash grew larger and was found to be cancerous. It this point I knew that I really had to start fighting.
I thought back to the early days of my practice. I was manic-depressive with suicidal tendencies. After a six-year battle, the depression was gone and has not returned in the last 24 years. After the diagnosis, death looked like a comfortable alternative to the medical interventions that lay ahead.
I received guidance from Norimasa Saito, the SGI North America Bureau Director. He told me that life as a Buddhist is a process of overcoming one hurdle after another, just like an athlete, becoming stronger and stronger with each one. He also said that we choose roles in life, like actors, to display the power of this great philosophy — so why not choose challenging roles that reveal my true power?
The chemo wasn't working on the rash, so I started with radiation. The targeted area tanned and burned. It became papery and hypersensitive. The pain, oddly enough, was worse while I was chanting, as if the universe was saying "Sit up straight and chant harder! You need more life force to beat this one!"
Before the diagnosis, I had started a daily chanting session with another member who was facing some major challenges. After the diagnosis, we invited others to join. So many members came that I put the weekly chanting schedule on my phone.
Shortly after the word got out, I was sitting in front of my altar reading the Gosho and my body began to pulsate. It was the same rhythm as my arterial pulse, and my whole body was pulsating. I felt instinctively that the prayers of my friends were rocking my body with positive energy. It was the first time I have ever felt keenly the prayers of others reaching the depths of my life.
Another time, when I was surrounded by a room full of chanting people, I felt a great, warm light permeate me like a giant energy x-ray illuminating every single cell in my body. I felt at that moment I was going to win.
As a result of chanting and exercise, I have more energy than before I was diagnosed. I am working more hours and enjoying it more and more. Every day is so precious now. I am getting stronger and stronger.
Friends who gave up the practice are coming to the chanting sessions.
My partner, Dennis, calls me Hippolyta, after the queen of the Amazons, a mythological tribe of women who cut off their left breast in order to become better archers.
SGI President Ikeda wrote:
"People who have not experienced painful struggles or suffering cannot understand the hearts of others. Only if one has tasted life's bitterness can one lead others to happiness.I am determined to beat this illness and live a long life. I can't wait to meet my grandchildren, attend the opening of an SGI community center in my neighborhood, perfect the tango, publish a massage textbook, continue to help my SGI district grow and support this great Buddhist movement for peace.
In my heart
I am happy.