#46 How Facing Impermanence Can Lead to a Happier Life

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Coping with the vast changes post-cancer treatment can feel like grappling with a new reality.

Though we often harbor hopes that life will proceed as planned, unforeseen disruptions, like cancer, can leave us stunned and disoriented. Yet, at the core of existence lies a fundamental truth: change is the only constant.

In this episode, dive into:

  • Two psychological theories that explain our profound struggle with post-treatment transitions.
  • The startling revelation that a cancer diagnosis can trigger PTSD, along with its hallmark signs and symptoms.
  • A profound perspective on embracing life's impermanence.
  • Insights from both science and philosophy on how confronting life's transitory nature can pave the way for a more fulfilled existence.

Join us as we unravel the intricacies of change and the quest for contentment in the face of life's unpredictability.

You can get a FREE download of meditation on impermanence that I recorded for this show by clicking the link below.

Send Me The Meditation on Impermanence


The Lesson on Impermanence




Read the full transcript:


This is Laura Lummer, the breast cancer recovery coach. I'm a healthy lifestyle coach, a clinical Ayurveda specialist, a personal trainer, and I'm also a breast cancer survivor. In this podcast, we talk about healthy thinking and mindfulness practices, eating well, moving your body for health and longevity. And we'll also hear from other breast cancer survivors who have reengaged with life, and have incredible stories to share. This podcast is your go to resource for getting back to life after breast cancer.

Well, hello, and welcome to episode 46 of the breast cancer recovery coach. I am your host, Laura Lummer. And today, we're talking about a really interesting subject. But it can also be a little bit of an uncomfortable topic. So I want to give you a little background kind of warm you up, open your heart a little to this and let you know that this this is really a safe space to give some thought to this. So last week on Episode 45, you heard me interview the amazing Dr. Angela cook Jackson. And she's so cool. And I if you didn't listen, go back to Episode 45. And check it out. I think you really enjoy it. But as Angela and I were talking before we recorded that show, she had sent me a couple of articles with information that she thought would be really interesting to refer to on the podcast. And as I read through those articles, there was one in particular that really stood out to me. And there was a certain spot in this article that when I read it, my heart just lit up as it does when I come across things that are really and truly meaningful, and resonate with me in relationship to the work that I do and to the message that I want to get out into the world. This article was titled The lesson of impermanence. It was written by Dr. Sunita Pirrie, who is the medical director for palliative care, at Keck hospital and Norris Cancer Center of the University of Southern California. And she's also the author of that good night, life and medicine in the 11th hour. So this article was published in the New York Times in March of this year. And it's this brilliant story of how this doctor working in palliative care had to come to terms with the often untimely loss that she saw with some of her patients. So as she tells the story of her experience, and I'm posting the link to this article in the show notes for this episode, and please give it a read. I think it's really powerful. And I think it's really meaningful, and you'll, you'll really enjoy it. So she goes on to tell the story of her experience. And she quotes the Tibetan monk chick, not Han, who is just an amazing mind and amazing soul. And the quote is, impermanence does not necessarily lead to suffering. What makes a sufferer is wanting things to be permanent, when they are not.

And that was what lit me up. When I read that quote, I thought, Yes, this is what my ladies need to hear. They need to learn and need to let this percolate deep into their hearts into their souls. If you feel stuck, because you're struggling with the changes in your body, and your mind and your emotions and your Spirit in your life, from cancer, and cancer treatment, if you're angry, or bitter or sad, or feeling alone, I want you to really think about this statement.

We tend to think that bad things won't happen to us, right? We like life to go along with our plans. And when it does it, we get pissed. And we feel victimized. Because we did not want this. We resist change because we perceive the change that's happening to us because of cancer as a negative change. It's a detour from the life that we planned, which in itself is a fallacy. Because we can't plan the future. We can set goals, and we can work to achieve those goals. But we know that other things will come up because life is not predictable. And it is not within our control.

We expect life to follow a predetermined progression, right? When we start to roll, we expect changes will happen to our body. And when we gained a couple of pounds a year or we see some lines developing a little bit at a time. Well, we still can't find it right? But we expect it and it's great

Agile and it's happening to everyone around us. It's not as difficult to accept, because you can sit around through girlfriends, and you can debate about Botox and Kybella injections, you can talk about how childbirth changed your boobs, and you can drink wine and you can laugh, and you can cry. Because you're all going through it together, and you all get it, right. You're all going through the same thing.

But then something like breast cancer comes into your life. And it changes your life immediately.

And then it tears up your body over the next six months or year or several years. And it doesn't seem right. And it doesn't seem fair.

And it isn't fair, because it didn't follow the natural progression that you planned. So it really pisses you off. And it's really difficult to process and come to terms with.

It is a lesson in impermanence, that we do not want to learn.

So now when you sit around with your girlfriends, they don't get it anymore. And worse yet, they don't realize that they don't get it. No one who has not been through the experience of cancer, and specific cancers, each cancer has very specific changes that it brings to someone's life and someone's world and someone's body and their body functions. But unless someone's been through it, they don't realize they don't get it. And we can't expect them to because how could they.

But they still want to know the details, they want to understand the signs and the symptoms, because they don't want it to happen to them. It's frightening. So now you feel like you're on the outside of that inner circle. And it's a frustrating place to be because

you didn't plan it, you planned on being on the inside of the circle, and you can't unknow and you can't undo the cancer experience. You cannot go back to quote unquote normal, because the toothpaste doesn't go back in the tube.

But normal was never even permanent to begin with. And if you can't get your mind around that, you're going to suffer.

You're going to be hard on yourself,

judge yourself, judge the universe, you will judge your spiritual beliefs. You don't like the way you look, you'll start to create stories that other people don't like either. You create distance and intimate relationships, because you don't want to complain or talk about how things have changed. It's hard to face. And it's hard to admit and accept and talk about the way that you may feel differently about things now.

It's a very vulnerable place and a very unsettling place to be. So things were good, or at least things weren't awful. So why did they have to change?

I'll even take this one step further. Because I know and work with women who are very unhappy where they are in their lives, or in their relationships, and they still resist changing their situations. Because you know, what's worse than unhappiness for most people, the unknown, the uncertain. In fact, many studies have shown that humans prefer a known negative outcome over facing uncertainty. That's, that's major. And what happens when you're diagnosed with breast cancer, you are hurled into a world of uncertainty, of unfamiliar language and of changing outcomes. How much frustration you're listening. Now I bet you had frustration from going into surgery or starting a treatment, having a prognosis, having a plan of action, and then having a doctor change direction on you.

Right, this can be really tough to deal with because you get your mind set on this treatment, that already is gonna suck. You already don't want it. And then someone changes it on you. And dammit, you prepared yourself for this. You knew what was coming. And now it's not coming, something else is coming. I don't these doctors know what they're doing? Well, of course they do. At least a lot of them do, I hope. And the thing is, though, they don't know how your individual body or your cancer that's growing inside of you is going to react. So they have to be flexible. And it's really hard to deal with that on from your perspective. As it's happening. Set yourself up. You expect something to be what it's supposed to be and it changes change, change change all the time.

And this is why I say we have to find our voice again after cancer treatment, a lot of what we want to do get shelved in favor of what we have to do. And then when we're done, and we're ready to go back to our status quo life as it always was. It isn't there anymore. Something changed. A lot has changed. And we didn't want

that either. So now what?

How do you deal with the impermanence that permeates it's the foundation of life, it's impermanence. Some women drink a little more, some drink a lot more, some sink into depression. And some keep themselves so frigging busy, that they barely have time to brush their teeth in the morning. Because this way, you don't have time to stop and face what's happening. You don't have to look at or deal with what you don't like, or what you're afraid of.

Some women say Screw this, I was waiting to strap on my backpack and live in hostels across Europe, or start painting or quit my job or spend more time with my family or start my own business. But not anymore. Life is short. I'm not waiting. I'm doing this now. And even though that may sound positive, if you're doing that out of fear of loss,

or fear of facing things, rather than out of the joy of fulfilling every moment, then you still need to adjust your lens a little bit. Oh, that makes sense, because there's a big difference there.

So I worked with a woman who swore to me, she did not have 10 minutes anywhere in her day, for a mindfulness practice, not on any day of the week, not on any day of the weekend. Side note here, ladies, if you don't have 10 minutes for yourself, on any day of the week, anywhere in your life, you either need to make some changes, or you're hiding from something in which case you need to make some changes. Quick side story here. So today I went to a hydration room I've been feeling really sick and now getting past this issue. And I decided to go get an IV IV, amazing antioxidants and anti inflammatories. And I gotta tell you for like a new person. But the moral of the story here is the woman that I got the infusion from as a registered nurse and she had been a nurse for 35 years. And oncology nurse, she started in pediatric oncology, and moved to several different departments and worked in gynecological oncology for many, many years. And when she told me her story, I said, Oh my god, I cannot imagine how you managed working in pediatric oncology, like It almost brings tears to my eyes, just thinking of this wards filled with little children with cancer. And she said to me, you know, that part really wasn't bad, because most children get curable cancers. And they're so resilient, that they're getting chemo in one arm and playing basketball in the hallway and the other arm. She said, the thing that was really difficult for me to do was to work with the women. Because the women never make time for themselves. And they'd come in for their chemo treatment, they back I've got exactly this much time to get this chemo treatment. And I've got to go pick up this kid and drop off that kid and make dinner and go here, go there. And she says, And they literally would squeeze time for cancer treatment in between appointments of taking care of everybody else. And she said that was the hardest thing for me to watch. Because those women needed time for themselves. They needed it. So they would heal. They needed it so they could get through this disease, but they would hardly even recognize it. Dang.

It's powerful. And it's crazy. And it's true. And I see it all the time. So let me come back to this. My woman who had no no 10 minute no 10 minute time look anywhere. So I knew she had a lengthy work commute. And I suggested that she used that time in her day to practice mindfulness by turning off her car radio. I wasn't wanting her to meditate in the car, just to be mindful in the car, turn off the car, radio, and practice becoming really aware of everything that was happening on her commute. You know, sometimes you drive somewhere. And when you're used to doing it all the time you leave your house, you end up where you're going, you get there and you think, holy cow. What was I doing while I was driving? I mean, you really don't even remember the drive your mind is somewhere else. Your mind is not in the car. So I asked her, turn off your car radio. And I want you to become really aware of the sounds, the smells, the signs. I want you to practice being 100% present in the moments of your commute, or at least in 10 minutes of your commute. That's it just 10 minutes. Her response to this suggestion was what? No music How am I going to ignore all the thoughts in my head without music?

Well, that was my point.

So how do we come to terms with impermanence

In a way that serves and supports our happiness, and the pursuit of a fulfilling life. Well, we don't do this by keeping the car radio on. We do this by facing impermanence, by reframing our losses, by really meditating on those things that have changed,

and that now are creating suffering.

So what the hell does that even mean? Right? How in the world is acknowledging things that you like, are not permanent, going to bring you happiness? Well, let me explain when they'll give you a simple action step and a little special freebie that I've created for you to help you along the way. So first, I wanted to find two terms for you. Mortality salience, and terror management theory. Mortality, salience is just really simply the awareness that our death is inevitable, which can cause a lot of anxiety for us. And terror management theory, is a psychological theory. And it was written about in great detail in the book called The worm at the core, on the role of death in life. And I'll post a link to that book in the show notes page for this episode also. But in a nutshell, what terror management theory says is that we humans are constantly battling this conflicting knowledge that death is inevitable, in the instinct for self preservation.

So in order to deal with this internal conflict, we seek out things in life that make us feel like there's hope for immortality, even if it's only a symbolic hope.

So this could be a belief in life after death, or a desire to build or create a legacy that would survive beyond our physical years, it could be a religious belief that our souls go on for eternity after they leave our body. And there are many other cultural beliefs that can fall into this area as well. But I think you get what I'm saying, I want to share this idea with you because it aligns totally with my completely unscientific but heartfelt personal opinion that when we receive a cancer diagnosis, this conflict becomes the real deal. And we go into big time self preservation mode. This is one of the reasons that I structure my business around working with women who are recovering from breast cancer treatment. Because when you're in treatment, girl, it is all about survival. I mean, you may have a date in your head, a date in your calendar for when you're going to go back to life, to the gym, to some adventure to whatever it is. But right now, that date is a goal to look forward to. And to hold on to that data is an inspiration.

And I call this the phase of cancer treatment, again, completely unscientific, and 100% My personal opinion, but in those phases of cancer treatment, you have shock, and then you have survival, and then you have processing, and then you have recovering, and it's a long process. It's a long, complex road. So when treatment ends, and you're left to make sense out of what you've just been through, it can be terrifying. And it is, and this is a scientific fact, it is traumatizing. In fact, cancer dotnet website says that nearly a quarter of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, experienced PTSD, post traumatic stress syndrome. And some of the symptoms of PTSD include feelings of anxiety, worry, fear and dread, nightmares, avoidance of places that bring back bad memories, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, trouble sleeping, concentrating, feelings of fear and anger, loss of interests in activities and relationships that used to bring joy, self destructive behavior, abuse of alcohol or drugs. I mean, the list goes on. And I bet some of those emotions sound familiar. So let me just say very seriously here, that if you have these symptoms, and they've been hanging around for a long time or getting worse, please talk to your doctor about this and seek out a mental health professional that can support you please do not think that you have to live with suffering. So what I'm talking about here in this podcast, is not full on PTSD. It's not this long term intensifying experience of these emotions, but it's the lighter weight version. It's just the feeling anxious and lost and confused over cancer. Okay, so back on track. So what can you do if you find yourself suffering because of difficulty in accepting the impermanence of life, the impermanence of your body, and the changing of your emotions?

How do you go about facing it when it feels like the right thing to do is hide from it or push it aside or deny it right? It's like, listen, we're not gonna talk about it. We're not gonna talk about it. We're just gonna move on.

I mean, you're a cancer survivor. So do you want to be thinking about death? Yes, you do. And here's why. So the Dalai Lama in his book, advice on dying and living a better life says that analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful. But to appreciate this precious lifetime, during which you can perform many important practices. Rather than being frightened, you need to reflect that when death comes, you will lose this opportunity to practice. In this way, contemplation of death brings more energy to your practice, unquote. And that's your practice of life. It's your practice of self awareness and spiritual development.

He goes on to say that it is beneficial to be aware that you will die. If you are not aware of death, you will not be mindful of your practice. But we'll just spend your life not examining what sorts of attitudes and actions perpetuate suffering and which ones bring happiness.

And according to an article published in Psychology Today, this has been confirmed by other clinical studies. These studies have found that mortality salience the awareness that our life land, caused people to have more positive emotions, relative to thinking about other kinds of negative things. So they compared dental pain, uncertainty and meaninglessness, to thinking about the fact that you're going to die. And when people had to think about these things, the awareness of their mortality, increased their use of positive emotional words. Other studies found that when faced with accepting mortality, people became more positive about their worldviews. And the higher their self esteem, the more easily they adopted a positive outlook on life. Now, unfortunately, studies also showed that the lower a person's self esteem was, the more likely they will be to use food and alcohol is an indulgence and escape from self awareness. So something to be very aware of here. In a meditation on impermanence, which is an article published in the Huffington Post by Mimi Fox, who's the author of bend, not break, she talks about coming to terms with impermanence, after going through a divorce, her personal transformation, and then finding love again. And in that article, she says, but any of this might, will disappear again, at any moment, an accident, a tragedy, an illness, we know that we will all die someday. Some of us are facing that truth on a moment by moment basis. Others are choosing to forget to push it aside to pretend like we can outsmart God.

I do both, depending on the day, unquote. Okay, I love this because that's the real truth, right? Some days, we can deal with change and impermanence. And some days, it's so damn hard to go there. Gosh, it's hard. And you know what, that's okay. It really is. because that in itself is impermanence. Right? It changes from day to day, our emotions, our thoughts and our ability to handle them. They're always changing. Don't beat yourself up over that. The important thing, my friend is to know, you have to keep coming back. You have to keep remembering that everything literally everything in life is fleeting, it's tentative, it's changing. And each time we remember this, we're brought back to this moment, this moment right here right now, this moment, which is all we really have.

And when that happens, we appreciate this moment, even more, we look harder for a purpose, and we work harder to fulfill it.

And it becomes easier to let go of the changes we don't like or we didn't want, because we begin to put them in their true place of meaning and relevance in the terms of our life in its totality.

And I can use my own story as an example for that. There is no question in my mind that even though my eight year survivor anniversary is coming up in a couple of weeks, I may be re diagnosed with cancer at any point. I may die even before diagnosis of cancer. So you know what? I have one mission right now. And it's to build a online business that serves every breast cancer

A survivor who needs that support. And so with that knowledge, in my mind, I work very hard to keep making that happen to take all the steps I know I need to take. And I don't do it with a fear that I won't finish. But I do with a passion of making it happen now, because I know this is my shot, this is my chance. So you see, we want to make sure that we're looking at permanence and like, holy crap. Thanks, Laura. No, I'm totally depressed, you know? No, I want you to, to use this to create that practice, so that you can look at impermanent and put the things that change in their proper place in your life.

So how do you meditate on impermanence? Well, I have something to help you out. I have actually recorded meditation on impermanence that you can download as a free treat on the show notes page of this episode, you can find that at Laura lummer.com, forward slash 46. This meditation is about 12 minutes long. And I'd love for you to use it. As you practice letting go of the idea that anything in this life stays the same.

I hope, it will give you some guidance and understanding that as we accept the ever changing state of life and of our bodies, we can also let go of some of the suffering comes along with that I hate the suffering, we can't hold on to the grief and the frustration, or the resistance of the change that was not within our control.

Holding on to that wanting to go back to who you were before you had cancer, that creates suffering.

Okay, I'd love to hear your thoughts and your insights, and how you deal with the changes in your life after breast cancer. And if you were able to use this meditation to support you, that'd be super cool. If you could let me know. So find me on Facebook as Laura Lummer on Instagram as the breast cancer recovery coach, and post your thoughts or DM me, I love hearing from you. Now, if you haven't subscribed to this podcast yet, hit that subscribe button now wherever you listen so that you don't miss an episode. And while you're doing that, please leave a review for the show. I love getting your feedback and your reviews help other people to find the breast cancer recovery coach plus, I'd love to give you a shout out on the show. Also, as I just said a minute ago, July is my survivor anniversary month. And that is a big deal, right lady, you know that it's a big deal. When you come up on the nother year of survival. It feels good. And see like I said, right when we look at that, wow, I might not have made it that far and makes making it that far even more special. So I'm gonna have some really special surprises. And I'm going to do in July, my first ever five day challenge which I'm really excited about a little bit nervous about because a lot of work goes on behind that. But I think it's going to be fun. So hit the subscribe button, and then head on over to Laura loomer.com forward slash 46 and download your free meditation. All right, I'll talk with you again next week. And until then, please be gentle and good to yourself.

Use courage to the test let all your doubts

your mind is clearer than before your heart is full and wanting more your futures

given all you


you been waiting

this is your



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