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Betting on the Dream
by Karen Baldwin


Editor's Note: Dreams can tell us about illnesses in our body and even point to correct medical interventions. Karen Baldwin has had such an experience, and by following her dream, she enjoys vibrant health.

(Author’s Note: Dreams should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care.)

For two months after the web-like growth in my breast was confirmed as cancer, I visited specialists. Driving through dreary, gray December fog, I located the radiation treatment center, an enormous building I had never noticed before. The waiting room, carpeted with geometric patterns in shades of mauve and gray, was filled with patients with long, empty expressions. The gray pallor of their faces matched the carpet. I wanted to bolt, screaming, “But I’m not sick!” In a wood-paneled room with soft lighting, and a machine that resembled a bazooka hanging from the ceiling, a technician demonstrated how he would map the radiation area on my chest with almost imperceptible purple tattoo dots. He assured me the radiation burns would eventually heal, leaving behind normal colored, but leathery, skin.

On the other side of town, in a chemotherapy treatment room lined with brown leather recliners that faced a wall of fish tanks, an oncologist explained how he would inject the poisonous drugs into my veins through a port in my chest. I would be nauseous and weak for days following each injection, lose my hair, and ran the risk of developing “chemo brain” – an inability to think coherently – a condition that could be permanent. I walked back to my car, sick to my stomach, hoping the rain that drenched me would wash away my problems.

Across the bay, at a research center in San Francisco, a radiologist gushed over the latest technology of implanting self-exploding radioactive pellets in my breast, a treatment that would spare the burns of traditional radiation. But like wild missiles loose in my body, the likelihood of one or two pellets penetrating my lung – or heart – was high.

Finally, I visited the cardiologist who had cared for me since my fateful heart attack only three years earlier. “I wish I could promise you something good,” she said, shaking her head. “Really, though, there are no guarantees that your heart will be unaffected by any of these treatments. They all carry a certain level of risk.” She leaned in close to deliver the final news. “But the cancer will kill you for sure if you don’t get treatment. You have to decide on a treatment and hope for the best with your heart.”

I hated my choices.

Fear invaded my every thought, just as I imagined the cancer would invade every cell of my body if I didn’t submit to treatment soon. As the window of time, my mind whirled. None of my choices felt good, or even right. But good or not, right or not, my time was nearly up.

That night I sat on the edge of my bed, and prayed. “Please calm my mind so I can choose wisely,” I began, in tears. “Everyone has an opinion, but I need to be satisfied with my decision.” I paused. “No, I need more than that,” I demanded. “Send me a sign. Something clear so I don’t need to guess. Help me out.”

I woke from a dream in the early morning, my heart pounding as I realized my prayer had been answered.

The woman stands alone on a stone pedestal in a small clearing in the forest, her back to me. Her face is tilted upward to catch the sunlight. She wears dark, calf-length tights, her bare feet spread shoulder-width on the stone. Her long, blond hair falls in gentle waves to her waist. The loose ends of the wide ribbon tied around her forehead, blend into the waves of her hair. She raises her arms over her head, outstretched toward the sky, her hands clenched in fists. Slowly the pedestal turns until I see her face. Her eyes are closed. A peaceful smile forms across her face. She radiates strength and confidence. I allow my gaze to drift away from her face. She is naked from the waist up. She has only one breast!

For more than twenty years I had studied dreams. Why had I not asked for guidance through my dreams sooner? I knew their power. I believed in their wisdom. It was time to trust them completely. Time to trust my life to my dream.

“But we don’t have to remove your entire breast,” Gabrielle, my surgeon sighed. “We can do another lumpectomy and take some lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread. If the nodes are clean, you won’t need chemo. You can get by with just the radiation.”

“No,” I insisted. “This is the right decision.”

She stuck her head out the door to speak with her assistant. “You can go home now,” she told the young woman. “We’re going to be a while.”

I fortified myself for the argument.

Gabrielle closed the door and sat next to me on the exam table, sliding her arm over my shoulder. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she whispered. “I think you’re over-reacting. There are less invasive routes. Let’s talk about it.”

I shook my head, holding my silence, as tears slid down my cheeks. I’d already heard her rationale: What if I developed a more invasive cancer in my other breast later? Was I willing to give this breast up now? Unnecessarily? And then be forced to give up the other one later?

I wish I had been strong enough to tell her about my dream. The woman in my dream didn’t have a radiation burn or an ugly scar. She had peace and confidence and power. But I didn’t expect a surgeon to accept a dream as a legitimate decision making tool. I allowed her to believe I was acting out of fear, even though I knew the truth: my dream had brought me the calm I needed; the assurance that with a mastectomy I would be healthy and dynamic. The mysterious woman of my dream had graced me with her presence, answering my plea for clarity. To ignore her would be a grave disservice to my future.

Like royalty reigning over my own life, I arrived at pre-op wearing my tiara and pink boa, the traditional birthday party regalia of my closest girlfriends. The scrub nurses marveled at my attitude, confused by my giddy enthusiasm. Unconcerned about being down one breast, I was nothing less than thrilled to arrive at the day that I would become cancer free – my first step on becoming the woman of my dream.

Friends rotated through my house, fixing my meals, helping me bathe, keeping track of my medications, and entertaining me as I healed. Ten days later, leaning stiffly against the inclined bed in the nurse’s office, my gaze on the ceiling, I took a deep breath as she slid the scissors under the gauze bandages. The cool, smooth steel glided across my skin, slicing upward from my belly to my collar bone.

“Ahhh,” the nurse cooed. “Your surgeon did a beautiful job. Do you want to look? I think you’ll be pleased.”

“No,” I whispered, as the first pangs of doubt invaded my confidence. “I believe you, but I want to wait until I get home.” If I needed to cry, I preferred to do it alone.

In the privacy of my own bathroom, I stood in front of the mirror, my eyes closed, and unzipped my sweatshirt, allowing it to drop to the floor. Taking a deep breath, I opened my eyes. The sense of disfigurement I feared, was absent. With my fingertip, I traced the purple line from my breastbone to my armpit. Tenderly, I laid my hand over the flat side of my chest and smiled. My dream had prepared me well. This is what a body that once had cancer looks like, I thought.

A year later, I sat in my oncologist’s office, waiting for his proclamation. My lymph nodes were clean. Two subsequent mammograms had shown nothing but healthy tissue. My blood work was clean. There was no need for chemo therapy, radiation, or post-cancer drugs.

Dr. Levine smiled at me. “You’re cured,” he said, “Go out and have a good life.”

“I intend to do just that.”

More than six years have passed, and as the bold woman of my dream promised, I am more complete with only one breast than I ever was with two.

copyright 2012 – All Rights Reserved



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About the Author

Karen Baldwin is an Interfaith Minister, author and dream practitioner. She graduated from the Chaplaincy Institute and holds a certificate in Spiritual Psychology. Karen helps clients use their dreams as a compass for life.

Baldwin is the author of Ruby’s World, My Journey with the Zulu. Her second book, Unraveling the Dream, is scheduled for release in late summer, 2012.

Ms. Baldwin lives in Taos, New Mexico with her dog, Gabriel. Learn more at www.RevKarenBaldwin.com.





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