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Appreciation Art

It was difficult to write while I was weak and loopy from the amassing drugs which was fine because I had a sublime acceptance of the condition. In fact, I enjoyed the slow mo tempo that chemo brought to the summer of ’09. Not since my childhood – before pc’s and cell phones and with limited tv – had I become absorbed in the velvet folds of a dahlia or marveled at the gold on sun-drenched grass as I sat amid it. Plus, I knew that “this too would pass” which was both a comfort and a concern for me as I worried that this season of luxurious lethargy and prodigious kindness – the entire chemo trip – would pass without remembering if I didn’t write it down. So, while the steroids kept me buzzed at night, I came up with a plan to make gratitude lists that would both keep my spirit boosted in the present and jog my memory in the future.

In the weeks between the 3rd & 4th infusions, during the hours usually reserved for journaling, I sat with my big black book and reviewed the blessings of the six months since being diagnosed with breast cancer by way of listing names. This is the book.

The card on the cover of the book is from dear friend Rooney from Santa Fe, NM. Rooney sent this card to report that she had all the Sisters of a nearby convent praying for my health. Little did my friend know how much Our Lady on Fire would speak to me at the time of the 3rd Infusion.

This page was in appreciation of Western Medicine and all the angels therein.

In honor of my beloved Light Brigade.

For my family.

There were nearly a dozen pages that included the Reiki circle, friends, colleagues at work, church communities, neighbors, people from the health food store… the lists went on and on, and so does my gratitude for each and every one named as well as those that remained nameless like the praying Sisters in Santa Fe. If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, it was the love from all y’all that really healed me.

In awe,

L.

 

 

 

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AfterBurn

Brush fires continued in my foothills for the two weeks between chemo infusions #3 and #4. The chemicals were apparently gaining strength and, I supposed,  battles were waging within that had enemy cells and innocent bystander cells dropping like fumigated insects which made me want to drop for prolonged hours on the couch. But, I resisted battle fatigue which made me beastly tired and, therefore, burning with anger.

Why did I resist lying down, you might ask? Well, there were forces of nature at work, my nature.

During this round of chemo, my youngest siblings came to stay for a few days. My baby sister Sandra arrived the day before to take care of my daughter during my day in the hospital and then had every  intention of taking care of me too. Sandra is very responsible, reliable, capable, smart and energetic, and I was thoroughly thrilled to have her help; but she’s six years younger than me. My auto response is to take care of her. It doesn’t matter how wise and strong she has proven herself to be as an adult, my inner child regards her as my baby doll. And I could not let my baby sister see me down.

Then my baby brother flew in from CA. Chris was born the year that I left home, so I didn’t have a chance to mother him the way I tried to mother my sister. Instead, he was like my little prince and I was a Knight-errant off on exotic adventures who returned bearing gifts and tall tales. I wanted to be exalted in his eyes.

And, even though he had, by this time, served as an officer in the navy, traveled the world, was a leader in business, a husband and a father, I still felt protective of him. Or, more likely, I felt protective of my exalted image. (I suppose all attempts to control other people’s feelings are self serving. Huh?)

Anyway, my brother was also the only person other than my daughter who openly wept when he first talked to me about my cancer diagnosis. It was such an amazing, honest moment. I wept a little too. Then I sucked all my tears deep inside of me and consoled him with promises that I was fine. “Just learning a lot. That’s all.”

Perhaps I needed to keep my shoulders squared and chin up while I was fighting the good fight, and maybe I needed to act as if I was fighting fit to bolster my spirit; but, after two surgeries and 3 rounds of chemo, I was truly tired and pushing myself was foolish. Still, I served food, made beds, stayed up late to chat; and, even though my sister begged me to rest and my brother never asked me to lift a finger for him, my firstborn pathology was slave driving me. It was crazy. I was like an old prize fighter holding on to the ropes with my pride. And, crazier still was that I blamed everyone else for my pummeling.

Oh, not out right. I tried not to let anyone know that I was smoldering with resentment. I kept on marching, concealing the truth behind my stiff upper lip.

But at night, the truth came to get me.  Just as there was an accretion of the chemo in my system, the support drugs had also gained momentum and the steroids, in particular, were making me really trippy. In addition to twisting nerves and tensing muscles, making me overall wiry (which is probably why I had the energy for soldiering), every time I closed my eyes to sleep, goblins and zombies and all sorts of horrors swarmed my third eye. It was as though the veil to the 4th dimension had ripped and all of humanity’s darkest thought forms had infiltrated my head. None of the sweet things of the human imagination like unicorns and sugarplum fairies visited me though which made it clear to me that Dante’s Inferno was within me. There was no running or fighting or putting up a brave front. These steroid ghouls were rising up from my deep dark subterraneo, the cellar where I housed all my fears.

At the time, I prayed and prayed and blamed the drugs and waited for the horrors to pass to retreat into much needed sleep. But now, as I review that experience in this blog post, I realize that those zombies in my mind’s eye were actually harbingers of healing. Maybe they were the cancer cells or my cancerous ideas screeching as they went up in flames; or, more likely, they were symbols of my repressed fears of disease and mortality and, even worse, of being unlovable as a flawed human. Aided by the steroids, the blessed brush fires had flushed the fiends from the dark forest to be vanquished by the Light.

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in –folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

~ T.S. Eliot

In awe & gratitude,

L.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,100 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Might have been that Mercury was retrograde for most of the month, or the new puppy, or the deadlines at work, or the excessive traffic on our under-construction roadways, or the family emergency at the start of December that left my darling little mom with a broken shoulder and the entire family in a whirl, or it might have been Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas as usual with all the gifts to find and good cheer to embrace; it might have been one extra pull on my energy or the myriad, but the outcome was not a second for blogging. And, oh, I’ve missed you – the inexplicable cyberific connection. I’m so grateful for your energetic support. Seriously. When writers thank readers, it’s for real. There’s a delicious symbiosis that occurs in the ethers as you tend upon our words, thoughts, ideas; and the comments and praise sure help too. So, I yearn to resume the connection and to conclude the Lump Lessons narrative in the first months of the new year. It has been two years – wow – since I began to blog at the end of treatments for breast cancer. Two years that went by in a flash, and yet it has also been two years… and it’s an auspicious new year now – 2012 – and I’m ready to shift into a fresh endeavor. Something that’s born in the turbulence of the new Mayan winds.

So, as this dynamic time period called 2011 wanes, may you feast to your heart’s content on the rising of the Light, and feel the Love – pause, breath deep into your belly, release slow…ly, and feel the steady pa rump pa pum pum within. In awe, L.

Infusion #3

Each round of chemo had its distinctions. By the third go round I looked like a seasoned player with my bald head and slight swagger for knowing my way around the chemo ward; but, the truth was, I dreaded this infusion. My fear of needles was rippling through my brain waves, gripping my stomach, twisting my nerve endings. I didn’t want to be a pin cushion again. I didn’t want the initial blood test to check the white cell count, I didn’t want to endure the botched attempts at finding a strong vein. My supply of courage felt depleted. So, I needed to refuel.

Something that occurred to me in the meditative hours between infusions, as I thought about having completed two rounds – just two more to go, I was half way home – was that there were four rounds. Four. Four corners, four legs, four seasons, four directions, four elements – “1, 2, 3, 4 Tell me that you love me more (Feist).” In numerology, four is stability, the builder, and a sort of completion in physical. I wanted these four infusions to be a complete circuit of chemo healing for me and so I determined to honor the fourness of this process and recognize or honor the elements and directions.

There was a song in my head then – it’s in my head now and has been in my head for days, prodding me to write this post – that goes like this: The earth, the air, the fire, the water, return, return, return, return….  The chorus is sung over and over again like wild folk dancers, holding hands, skipping swiftly in a circle around a blazing fire until the mad circling and the song whirl into one.

the earth, the air, the fire, the water

The song seemed to beckon to me to dedicate each round of chemo to an element in the order the elements were listed in the chorus. Rounds 1 & 2 were behind me, so I honored them simply by meditating on each experience and its connections to its respective element.

The first round was earth, the spirit of the north. The first round grounded me in the physical experience, the reality, of chemotherapy. I was introduced to the room, the chair, the players, the system, the instructions, the needles, tubes, plastic sacks of chemicals, plastic mug of ice cubes, miniature cup of support pills; and, therefore, I learned my needs and that I needed  to advocate to have my needs met.

The second round was air, the spirit of the east. The second round was about implementing ideas and breathing my life into the infusion experience. I spoke up and let the winds blow away all that I didn’t need. Then, that which would work for me – a gentle nurse, a loving outlook – was inspired and respirated. I inhaled and exhaled slowly, deeply, meaningfully.

And, now, the third round that I’d been dreading took on a measure of excitement for me as I thought on it as the element of fire, the spirit of the south. Fire is passion, thrill, drive, ambition – I love fire. But it also burns. Therefore, thoughts of fire ignited some fresh fear in me. So, on the evening before infusion day, I emailed my beloved Light Brigade to explain my dismay as well as to describe the refreshed attitude I hoped to bring to the experience, and requested an extra oomph to the energetic support that they offered me.

Gina, our High Priestess, responded with an added note to my idea for honoring the elements and directions, specifically the 3rd round of fire. She wrote: In the Celtic system South is about song- so I propose that we all sing out gold to Linda tomorrow. You can just segue from one Goddessy song to another. I’ll send you out some lyric sheets if you think that would be helpful Let me know.  Linda- We are right there with you girlfriend!!! Do you want anyone in person??? Any songs in particular that sound helpful??

I don’t know whether it was the notion of music that had “the charm to sooth my savage breast” or if it was the offer of accompaniment, but I walked bravely into that fiery third round. As it happened, it was more arduous as the chemo was amassing power and I had an allergic reaction that made my face swell and eyes flame red. Yet, somehow I trusted the fire as a cleansing agent and was at peace with it all. It was as though I was being carried by the hum of a celestial choir.

My sister/friend recounted the experience in an email that expressed my gratitude to the Light Brigade:

Hello Lovelies,

I’ve heard from Linda and she is home, calm, resting and well.  She reports to me that she woke up singing and that indeed today was filled with song.  Over the course of the day and at appropriate moments song could be heard, at the nurses station, here and there – lifting her up.  She felt our holding her in a harmonic embrace.

Seems each treatment so far has brought her new challenges and soulful preparations in how to deal with her worries.  I am glad that in some small way we all have been here to support her through.  Reade was again with her today and steadily at her side.  She tells me she had a reaction to one of the drugs, so they gave her Benadryl to combat the reaction, so on top of everything else, she was in a sleepy, Benadryl haze as well!   The reaction manifested around her eyes, so send some healing to her vision and mind/eye centers.

Needless to say a few days of rest, healing, recovery …. and our continued light, love, holding, lullabies and golden hugs pouring over her house and heart are welcome!

In Her Service,
Deirdre

This is a Celtic song that my friends sang that day called the Prayer of Strength:

   Atom-riug in-diu

 Niurt nime

Soilsi greine

Etrochtai esci

aini thenet

deini lochet

luaithi gaithe

fudomnai maro

tairismigi thalman

cobsaidi ailec

Translated:

Today I go forth with

The strength of the Skies,

The brightness of the Sun,

The splendour of the Moon,

The brilliance of Fire,

The swiftness of Lightning,

The speed of the Wind,

The depths of the Sea,

The steadfastness of the Earth,

And the steadiness of Rock.

In awe,

L.

A caring and generous soul bumped into my blog and then took the time to contact me to offer encouragement to folks undergoing cancer treatment. David Haas is an advocate for cancer patients, specifically those with a rare and aggressive form of cancer contracted from asbestos exposure called Mesothelioma. David is also a rock climber, golfer, and judging from his twitter and facebook pages, an extremely fit and brave human being. Though we have only exchanged a couple of email, his goodness is readily apparent and I imagine that David’s large heart is strengthened by his physical fitness. Here is the article that he wrote with a link to a corroborating article to share with my readers and all who are impacted by cancer and cancer treatments:

Why fitness is important for cancer treatment

By: David Haas

Cancer patients must go through various treatments, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and other types of treatments. As a result, cancer patients’ bodies go through a tremendous amount of stress. Though every treatment method is effective for killing the cancer cells, it can leave patients with horrible side effects. Unfortunately, many cancer patients do not know or have not been told that there are ways they can help themselves.

Fitness

Physical activity is one of the most beneficial things that cancer patients can do for themselves. This applies to patients in any stage of cancer. Of course, physical activity and fitness helps patients with any type of cancer. Whether one is diagnosed with a common cancer like skin cancer or a very rare and aggressive disease like mesothelioma, Fitness during treatments can help.

How fitness helps cancer patients

Physical activity is beneficial for anybody, but it is especially important for cancer patients for a few reasons. First, fitness keeps cancer patients’ body functioning properly. Without fitness, the respiratory system, immune system and circulatory system would not be as effective and efficient. Moreover, treatment can really hurt the body’s healthy organs, though it kills cancer cells. As a result, a cancer patient’s body must work extra hard to recover from extensive treatment and therapy, causing side effects like insomnia, fatigue, pain and dizziness. Fitness can relieve these and other side effects, making a cancer patient’s life a little easier.

Second, cancer can really affect patients’ thought patterns and overall outlook on life, causing them to become very pessimistic, depressed and anxious. Unfortunately, treatment can also further affect patients’ mental health by causing a chemical imbalance. Fortunately, fitness can fix chemical imbalances by producing hormones that act as aphrodisiacs, though not addictive or harmful. Many studies show that optimistic people are generally in better health and can heal faster than negative people. This is especially important for cancer patients.

Third, fitness can help keep the body detoxified. Toxins can severely inhibit the body’s immune system and other functions. By keeping it detoxified, cancer patients will feel healthier and have more energy. The toxins will leave the body via excretion, such as urine, sweat and defecation.

This article also lists why fitness is important for cancer patients. Though fitness is not a cure for cancer, it can greatly improve cancer patients’ quality of life and possibly prevent the cancer from returning.

 Thank you, David. I am inspired

ps. The above is not a picture of me, yet.

In gratitude, L.

One mo thing

About being bald. It was similar to being pregnant. Actually, the cancer treatment experience was similar to being pregnant in that the first four or five months were private – only my near & dear knew what was going on. As soon as the belly popped or my hair came off, the experience became public domain. When I was pregnant, there were those with poor boundaries who felt they had carte blanche to touch my belly, and a few that made thoughtless remarks about the apparently large size of my baby; but most people were exceedingly kind and proffered glowing compliments or blessings, held doors, and gave up their seats on the subway, and, for the most part, I enjoyed the extra attention. Which was also how I felt about being bald.

There was only one instance in which a person thought that bald was a fashion choice; all others knew that hairless meant cancer and few hid their concern. Because people were generally lovely and caring, I didn’t mind their questions about my health or the conversations that ensued, the stories that folks shared about how cancer impacted their lives. Those chats were always positive and uplifting at best, and informative at least. There was only one instance in which my bald head attracted a disturbing incident.

A man, a stranger, encountered me in a health food store and assumed that my treatment plan was up for discussion. He had strong opinions against chemo therapy and couldn’t understand why a health-minded person such as myself who chose to buy organic would also choose to take the poison. Like a pesky mosquito, he followed me from the produce section to the juice bar buzzing about my ear with his opinions until I turned on my heel and swatted him.  Actually, I wish I swatted him. I think I said, “thank you for sharing,” and ran off hyperventilating.

What I wish I had said was “God forbid you ever have to find out what you would do if faced with the decision to trust your oncologist’s expertise or not; but until you have a cancer experience, keep your opinions to yourself.”

(Phew, that was cathartic.)

Otherwise,as I said, like pregnancy, bald was an amazing experience, but I’m grateful it was temporary and that I, once again, can blend in with the rest of the hairy human race.

In awe,

L.

ps. Photos courtesy of the enormously talented, generous, and lovable Carolina Kroon.

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