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Posts Tagged ‘Being in the Now’

In the midst of the cancer treatments during the summer of ’09, friends sent this fabulous audio get well card  that featured Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna kvetching – “I’m depressed, I get wet, my face broke out, I’m nauseous, I’m constipated, my feet swelled, my gums are bleeding, my sinuses are clogged, I’ve heartburn, I’m cranky, and I have gas” – which pretty much summed up how I felt.

The three days of support drugs after each chemo infusion were rugged, and the cumulative effect made the aftermath of the fourth and final infusion much worse. In addition to the complaints listed above, I also had disrupted sleep, headaches, head sweats, an icky metallic taste, a crash-like fatigue and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The PTSD was a surprise. I had expected to feel so grateful and relieved that the worst was behind me, and instead I felt anxious with wormy thoughts like: “What if the chemo didn’t work?”

The very nature of PTSD is that the past haunts the present, and, as is often the case, my fears were fictions about the future. All of my heebie-jeebies were products of my mind zig-zagging through time, thus, to calm myself down, I needed to train my thoughts on the now in which all was safe and all was well regardless of physical discomforts. I needed to breath into my feet, and to be very zen thoughtful in my actions which was easy to do since the chemo made me sloth-like. A wise soul had once told me to “move a muscle, change a thought.” So, every time a squirmy idea surfaced, I got my sloth-like self up off the couch and washed a dish or dialed the phone or did a little Qigong.

A very little Qigong was all I knew, but those few flowing motions connected to conscious breathing and attention to energy were so soothing. Qi (or chi) is Chinese for “vital life force” and gong means to “practice with skill”, and, although I did not feel skillful at Qigong, I believed that I was increasing or enhancing or harnessing my vital life force merely by taking the action and having an intention to access healing energy. It was like giving Reiki to myself, and, I think it’s the same. Reiki, Qi, White Light – healing energy by any other name would be as sweet.

And, contributing to the sweetness of my qigong experience was that my teacher was a darling man from Spain named Nacho. Nacho from Valencia was interning at the peace organization where I work and I liked him instantly because he did not blink an eye when he was introduced to bald me. He may have never considered my physical appearance as he seemed to view people’s essence, but I felt a need to explain; and as soon as I told him that I was bald due to chemo for breast cancer, he insisted that he would teach me qigong. I thought that qigong might entail yoga-like contortions or require marshal arts-like stamina and so I politely refused. Nacho would not take no for an answer though and organized a little class for the entire organization. My colleagues provided peer pressure as well as support, and a lot of laughs. And, as it happened, those few simple moves that Nacho taught us that morning would become immensely helpful for me in those PTSD days after the final infusion.

Another aid for my PChemoSD came in an out-of-the-blue phone call from a friend who had experienced more rigorous chemotherapy on two different occasions that involved different perhaps stronger drugs and longer courses of treatment. This woman with extensive experience confirmed that my fears were natural. When I told her about my anxieties, she told me that she confronted the same what-if-the-chemo-didn’t work fears at the end of both of her rounds; and I exhaled.

I find that “me too” are the two most healing words ever spoken.

In gratitude, L.

ps. I need confess that I am losing steam for Lump Lessons. My intention is to write one more post about radiation, and perhaps an epilogue, and then on to other projects. It has been two and 1/2 years since this blog journey began and it has been an extremely healing endeavor for me. I believe that writing and sharing has been my aftercare. My hope is that there have been a few readers that have had “me too” healing moments along the way.

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 Julie Gottesman offered to photograph me with hair before I started chemo.  I jumped at the chance to be captured by her amazing lens and was treated to a beautiful, memorable day with a friend. Here are a few of my take-aways:

The great gift of the photo shoot besides the photos was the invitation to slow down. Julie gave me an opportunity to pause and feel and become self conscious. Not all of those sentient moments were comfortable for me, but all of those moments were invaluable as I now have my inner life before chemo (bc) as a keepsake as well as these images. Plus, I have the priceless gifts of this gesture of love and precious time spent with my friend.

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The drainage sack had a proper name. It’s called a Jackson Pratt (J-P) or Hemovac Drain. If I had a better humor about it, I would’ve given it a nickname like Harold or Yoda and consulted with it throughout the day as it reminded me of the boil on Richard Grant’s shoulder that became an alter ego talking head in the movie How to Get Ahead in Advertising. Like Richard, I was quite horrified by the appendage. I didn’t like the mess and the bother. I didn’t like the concerns that went with it such as being wary of dislodging the tube or getting the dressing wet, and the warnings about infection. I didn’t like having an external man-made body part. What I did appreciate was that the little plastic sack was a teacher.

For instance, it taught me to be resourceful. The J-P or Hemovac kit came with a large safety pin to fasten the sack to the inside of clothing so that it wouldn’t bob about willy-nilly and pull the tube out. I found the pin challenging to fasten with my left hand, and so I turned my shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and bathrobe inside out in order to tuck the sack in the pockets. Besides preventing the bounce factor, it also buffered me from the cool rubbery plastic pressing against my skin which helped me to forget about the intruder for awhile. Until the area of the incision began to hurt and then to leak, which prodded my next resourceful act – I called for help.

My dear friend Olive is a midwife and nurse and not bothered in the least by the gooey viscera of the body human. I trust Olive. And so I called her when I started leaking. As I reread the Jackson-Pratt care instructions that were sent home with me from the hospital, I see now that it clearly states that “The drain may become blocked and begin to leak around the drain site. This is not serious. Replace the wet gauze with a dry one as needed.” I didn’t see that then which leads me to believe that I was probably in a panic state at the time. Panic is emotional quicksand for me. The more I squirm on my own, the deeper I sink; so it’s best to reach for help from someone on solid ground. Olive responded to my call, came over and calmly replaced the dressing and reassured me that the tube was in place, that indeed the hole in me was plugged up. The gentle touch, the gentle words in Olive’s lovely, lilting brogue were like a lullaby and I was put at ease.

Another lesson or really a gift from the drainage sack was that it kept me from fretting about the future. The critical awareness of the tube and the practice of measuring and charting the fluids kept my mind occupied, and, thus, diverted from worrying about the lab results and prognosis. Perhaps this is why hair shirts? Physical discomfort is very effective for keeping the mind trained in the moment. Who can think about grocery lists or where to vacation in August or a five year career plan when one’s nerve endings are throbbing? Anyway, the sack aided me that way. I devoted three pages in my little brown journal to complaining about that drain, and barely gave a nod to receiving the lab report:

June 23, 2009 – The sun is out after days on end of rain. I still have a tube inserted under my arm to drain lymph fluid. After eight days of tube it feels as though gravity is pulling on it and the tug hurts. I guess I learn courage, endurance, compassion for myself and others. I guess I learn how to receive sympathy and concern and all sorts of help.

The shift in my attitude, the contrast, reminds me of the many times in my life when I pridefully toughed out a situation alone. Depression, eating disorders, other illnesses… wisdom teeth extraction. I had all four wisdom teeth pulled and didn’t tell anybody. I was single and living in the city so I took a cab to and fro, stumbled into the Korean grocer afterward to stock up on ice cream, climbed the four flights to my studio apartment, and locked the door until the swelling went down. Crazy. I had some sort of whacked out notion that asking for help was annoying to others. My worst ever sunburn happened because I didn’t ask a beach buddy to rub Coppertone on my back. Well, never again will I let some cockamamie idea that my needs are inconvenient to others prevent me from asking for help. Cancer cured me of that. This diagnosis and all the tests and treatments require that I share my feelings, ask for help, and let people in. It is too much to bear alone.

Last night I went to a Shamanic journey and Reiki share at Julie Connor’s. Julie met me at the door with a hug and questions about the lymph node dissection and how the surgery panned out. I told her that they found a small amount of cancer in one lymph node.

She said, “Linda, take it from someone who had cancer, didn’t have cancer, had cancer again – you have the right to take your slides for a second opinion.”

My response was utter weariness at the idea of schlepping to another doctor. Eight days since surgery, a drain that’s still sucking 70 ml of lymph fluid out of my body daily, and I feel like I don’t have it in me to dispute or distrust.

Well, I don’t need to do anything today. I don’t even have to make a decision today. Just for today, all I need to do is rest and receive and heal and recoup my strength.

The Shamanic Journey and the Reiki share were amazing. In the journey, I was met by a gigantic white swan that let me curl up to sleep on her back while she flew through the galaxy. Then, the Reiki tables came out and Tony, a wonderful new friend, like the swan, called me to his table to rest and be lavished with attention and healing energy. Julie, the Reiki Master, stood by me during other peoples’ sessions and put her hand on my lower back and mid back at different chakra points. The energy from her amplified the energy coursing through me, and I believe she intended to boost the healing energy I was receiving while I was sending.

I’m so impressed and grateful for the loving way people are treating me these days. It seems like my “attraction energy” is at an all time high. I don’t understand it, but I love it.

In Awe,

L.

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A little over a week ago, there were warnings that hurricane Earl would hit the northeast coast so people from North Carolina to Maine were advised to either batten down the hatches or evacuate. My family and I had plans for a last-hurrah-before-school beach day at the Jersey shore and changed our minds due to the reported riptides. Instead, my daughter and her friends went to the movies and I went to the office where each time I glanced out my window on the clear, steamy, sun glorious day, I wondered why I listened to all the hurricane hype. I thought: I could’ve been staring out to sea instead of at a computer screen. My kid could’ve been frolicking in the briny waves instead of sitting bug-eyed in a dark theater. And as my thoughts churned in bitterness, my emotional undercurrents began to drag me down – my shoulders slouched, my fingers thumped on the keyboard – I was being pulled away from shore as if in a riptide of my own making. So, I sat up and tried to stimulate a fresh thought pattern.

Since it’s impossible to swim against a riptide, I was only able to latch on to a slight variation of my negativity which was in effect like swimming parallel to shore: Or, we all could’ve been sun burnt, or battered in the surf, or stuck in a bumper-to-bumper exodus on the Garden State. Anything could have happened. Then I reached calmer waters, I recognized that I was dwelling in a fairy tale land of what-ifs, and I was able to regain a foothold in reality. My thoughts changed to gratitude for what is: My family and I are safe and sound. All is well. Then I glanced out my office window again. This time my mind was in sync with my eyes, and I could appreciate the sun glinting on the river and honor the beauty of the here and now.

Being in the NOW. It’s ancient wisdom. It’s Zen. It’s an idea exclaimed again by Eckhart Tolle in his book The Power of Now and by Joel Olsteen in his Christian ministries and in Psychology Today and by pretty much every self-help or spiritual guru worth their salt. It’s an idea that bears repeating in multiple tongues over and over again because it’s not easy. At least, not for me. I need daily sometimes hourly reminders and a variety of tactics for how-to return to the now because my monkey mind is so clever it invariably picks the lock on a cage.

The first time the idea of “the now” was presented to me was when I was 29 years old and just about to turn 30. I was strolling in the West Village on a lovely Sunday morning in Spring with Topaz, my friend and spiritual teacher, and lamenting about being 30 without any of the adult accouterments. Topaz listened to me moan and complain about my lack of focus, lack of direction, lack of passion etc etc etc until she stopped me in my tracks. She literally stepped right in front of me, stood nose to nose, and commanded, “Linda, be where your feet are.”

Topaz was a striking woman at a distance with her burgundy hair, leopard spandex leggings, and signature purple jacket, boots & bag, and, up close, all of her colors were utterly arresting. I stopped. I did as she said and looked down at my black Reeboks planted on a pock-marked, gum-stained, slab of concrete sidewalk. Then raised my eyes to meet her fiery green eyes and said, “Ya, so? My feet are on 12th Street between 5th and University. How is that gonna find me a career?”

More than twenty years later, with plenty of experience and enough 20-20 hindsight to understand the merits of Topaz’s suggestion, it’s still an effort on an average day to be in the now with my feet. And, in the Spring of 2009, in the lag time when I was waiting for the plan to save my life, forget about it, staying in the moment was a Herculean labor. Fortunately, I, like Hercules, had a number of tools and Divine assistance.
Actually, I think my primary tool is trusting that there is Divine assistance. Plus, I believe that the messages from on High regarding my highest good in the future are in the details of the present moment, so I pay attention. I try to pay attention to my urges, my environment, the people in my path, and the stories they have to tell me either directly, meaning verbally, or, indirectly by the way they reflect me. Of course, I can have considerable ADD in these matters, but not when I’m feeling lost or scared. When I’m scared, I’m hyper alert.

For instance, I was scared the day after the doc told me that cancer was found in a lymph node, so as per suggestion of Thomas Windlow, the psychic healer I contacted soon after my breast cancer diagnosis, I turned on music. Thomas’s suggestion to me was that I ought to “blast music to heal.” Perhaps he meant to promote vibrational healing through sound which, as it happened, I would learn more about in the days to come; but, on that day, I only knew to turn on my iTunes so I could sing and dance myself into the now – the now in which I was (I am) alive and healthy and connected to all my senses.

Now, my iTunes is always on shuffle, so the playlist is random, and yet the first song that played that day seemed to be selected for me. “Something’s gonna turn out right,” sang Alice in Chains and I sang along with them, loudly. Then, the next tune  told me, “Don’t worry ’bout a thing. Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.”

“Yeah!” I exclaimed and in that moment I was right with me feet dancing a happy little reggae dance because the Divine spoke to me through Bob Marley.

(to be cont.)

L.

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