“Let go of what no longer serves you.” Before I received a breast cancer diagnosis in early 2018 at age 41, I had been trying to figure out what this means for me. As I now understand cancer to be energy trapped in vulnerable parts of your body, wreaking havoc and leading to dis-ease, I clearly had not succeeded at “letting go.”
By Rae Carter
The years leading up to my cancer diagnosis, a small yet vocal contingency of people who held positions of authority over me or had interest in relinquishing my power would often say, “you’ve got to let it go” or “tone it down” after interactions where I would passionately stand my ground. To me these responses came across as condescending and belittling to my position, perspective, or feelings. Just hearing the words “let it go” became a trigger.
The breast cancer diagnosis came at a time when my sense of agency had been diminished to such an extent that I could actually feel the trapped energy in my body, which led me to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I was labeled a difficult person – at work, with my family, with my friends. I reacted to most situations as defensive and argumentative, and was tremendously unhappy.
The Build Up of Tension
As it is for many people in my generation – the forgotten Generation Xers – the American dream failed. My privilege afforded my being able to attend college where I majored in “something practical” so I could make a living, rather than following any of my dreams. I believed my dreams could wait because, as advised by numerous Baby Boomers, if I worked hard early in my career, I would be successful later in life. Instead I learned what it feels like to not be paid my worth and never be able to get ahead in the white middle class, regardless of how hard I worked. As a member of the first generation to not be better off than their parents, I struggled with watching capitalism fail, because I didn’t know how to attempt success any other way. Millennials have grown up knowing capitalism is broken, which doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the notion that hard work doesn’t equal success, but at least they had awareness so they have been able to work towards shaping change. I was blindsided which left me in a deep depression, contributing fervently to the trapped energies of anger, sadness, blame, and envy in my body.
So what was I to let go of? A dream? Patriotism? Negativity? Anger? Frustration? Ego? But how? The cycle of crap kept piling up and then I learned I had cancer. Temper tantrums and nervous breakdowns become more common than I would like to admit. Interestingly, the quest to discover how to let go actually presented itself in physically letting go. The screams, the cries, the agony, the anger, the blame, the horror of what happening to my body – to my life.
I began to understand in order to let in healing, I needed to create space, and in order to create space, I needed to let go. Supported by a Go Fund Me to pay for medical costs not covered by insurance, holistic healing modalities, and the time I needed to heal, I embarked on a cancer healing journey. Reading, journaling, acupuncture, reiki, shamanic journeying, restorative and yin yoga, myofascial release, massage, cranial sacral therapy, mindfulness practice, astrology, and feminist spirituality all played critical roles in helping me heal.
I was determined to uncover how to let it go, and realized what I learned is relevant to many people who are suffering – whether it’s due to a long term illness or other causes of pain and suffering in life.
Ten Steps to Let Go
1. Stop and Breathe. Stop moving, doing, thinking, reacting – all of it. I needed to just be with myself. Not with myself and a walk, with my phone. Not with myself and my journal with the phone nearby. Not eating a meal by myself glancing at my phone. I needed to Not.Do.Anything. Just sit or stand, nowhere near my phone. And I needed to begin to breathe from deep within my belly and let the exhale all the way out.
2. Feel. I felt the pain and hurt and where that sits in my body. I experienced feelings with my senses. While I sat doing nothing but breathing, I felt feelings, sensations in my body and on my body, I tasted and smelled, I listened to sounds and named each one individually. And I looked – at trees, at bugs, at my hands, at my dog – anything around me I saw but kept myself from creating a story about it. I began to understand how detrimental our patriarchal society is and how harmful bottling up feelings is for our health. I began to make the connection between the social norms of women being expected to hide their feelings and the enormous amount of women’s health issues. I began to understand that in order to heal, I needed to feel everything I was feeling, even if that was discouraged in my support system. All feelings are valid.
3. Desire. How did I want to feel? I wanted to feel free. I wanted to feel loved, supported, healthy, safe, respected, and able to express myself. It was incredibly hard to imagine how I could feel any of these feelings in the midst of such agony, but I began incorporating these words into mantras and writing. I learned I needed to shift my decision making process away from the patriarchal structure of goal-setting to a more feminine approach centered on how I desire to feel. If it doesn’t help me feel how I want to feel, I stopped putting energy into it.
4. Throw Stuff Away. I went through the entire house and got rid of so much stuff, we had a garage sale, which brought in a couple hundred bucks that went towards supplements. This was a big win for us. My partner and I sat in the garage for two days just being together and talking about the stuff we were letting go of – why we don’t use it, what it represented, how it made us feel at the time in our life when we used it, and the lesson that time of life may have taught.
5. Release Physical Tension. Here’s where the crying comes in and I learned I needed to cry with my whole body – shudder, wail, spit, cough, scream, stomp – get it out! Now that I was more in tune with where feelings and tension sat in my body, I was able to focus on releasing the pressure. Physically releasing tension through breath combined with many of the healing modalities I worked with released tension and healed the torn fascia from multiple surgeries and tight muscles from years of stress.
6. Love. Shifting from thinking about cancer as a fight to loving my body was an extremely positive perspective change for me. A fight is something many people can lose, but LOVE ALWAYS WINS. I offered compassion and healing light to the areas of my body in pain. I focused on balancing my chakra energy centers and learned more about human anatomy so I could visualize where I was sending light. Instead of being frustrated with the pain, I sent it love and imagined clearing blocked energy to increase my own flow of life-force. I began and continue to work on healing my own self-worth and giving myself permission to prioritize my self-care and protect my energy.
7. Be Grateful. Gratitude was a game-changer and it took a long time to figure out. How can you be grateful when so much is wrong? When I realized the truth around the law of attraction and how negativity attracts negativity, I started to discover parts of why my life had fallen so deeply apart. My partner and I began a gratitude practice that we continue to use everyday. Each morning we have our own separate routines which both include grounding ourselves and expressing out loud what we are grateful for. Then every night at bedtime, we close out the day with a discussion (sometimes lengthy, sometimes brief) about what happened to us that day that we are grateful for. When we catch ourselves complaining about something, we hold each other accountable by asking about a positive perspective or lesson from the situation.
8. Be Mindful. Mindfulness is also a daily practice achieved through self-awareness, meditation, and removing judgements of yourself and others from your consciousness. Once I was able to practice mindfulness and could stay focused and aware of the present moment, without creating a narrative, a dramatic shift in my health started to transpire. I began to understand healing is the act of becoming whole in a new way because you never go back to who you were after cancer or other long term illness, dis-ease, or trauma. While I ended up losing my right breast, I feel more whole than I ever was before cancer.
9. Get Rid of Expectations. While it’s important for me to know I have control over myself, as that’s a critical part of being empowered, accepting that I do not have any control over other people was a critical hump to overcome. What was even harder were certain people’s expectations of what I “should” do, say, or act. I decided to remove the word “should” from my vocabulary. I stopped planning and started being. I have many visions of how my life can move forward, but I cannot be attached to the outcomes. Instead I stay true to my desire to feel a certain way and do, say, and act based on how I want to feel. It takes work every single day and I often lose my grounding. However, instead of judging myself for not releasing expectations, I look at every experience as a learning opportunity and am grateful for the lesson. It is my life and I will base my decisions and actions on what is best for my health, because I do not want to get cancer again.
10. Say Goodbye. More often than not, it’s the people who no longer serve you and are what need letting go. For me it was family and what I thought were close friends, and most of them let go of me first. This loss has been incredibly painful – much worse than losing my breast, and still hurts. Everyday I work towards acceptance that they are no longer in my life and it is not my fault. This has by far been the hardest and most painful part of my entire experience with cancer, regardless of the physical pain and suffering I was enduring. I also had to say goodbye to projects and a toxic work environment, even though I passionately believed in the cause. I came close to saying goodbye to my home and marriage, but unexpected support and a transformational healing journey re-envisioned my home and marriage. So, when I am sad about all of the loss, I shift my perspective to gratitude for what I have found.
All of the steps lead to what I discovered is the true meaning of letting go – acceptance. Acceptance of people and situations for who and what they are, which includes accepting what has happened to me. In order to truly let go, to truly accept, there must be forgiveness. I had to forgive all of the people who betrayed me, hurt me, left me alone and isolated. I had to forgive the people who cut me down, belittled me, disrespected me, and took away my power. In order to forgive them, I first had to forgive myself and find my way out of self-deprecation.
I accept who I am and I identified what needed to change so I can break my own negative cycles and not continue to make the same mistakes. I let go of anger, sadness, blame, and envy. I forgive everyone for everything. I accept myself and my life. I reclaim my power. I am free.
I offer what I have learned so you may find hope, inspiration, and guidance on your own path to wholeness in mind, body, soul, and spirit.
Rae Carter is a breast cancer survivor, empowerment advocate, writer, musician, facilitator, public speaker, and herbalist committed to helping heal our Earth and the life she sustains. Her transformational healing journey of body, mind, soul, and spirit is helping her find wholeness and truth. Rae is currently free of cancer and is working to prevent its return with holistic health modalities and lifestyle change. Her cancer diagnosis followed a 20-year career in marketing and public relations. Rae lives in Plainfield, Vermont with her partner and animals where they are creating a healing sanctuary and manage Hygge Den—a downtempo music project.