Posts Tagged ‘Dreams’

As I think back on that first Thursday on the 9th floor of the oncology unit of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, I recall my husband and I huddled together anxious as immigrants in the Great Hall at Ellis Island. We sat amidst the others, pressed close together, clutching our belongings, staring at the door to the infusion room with hopes and fears tripping behind our dull gaze. The promise of a new life was on the horizon, but we had to get through the process first.

I had heard tales of what lay behind that door. There were chemo lounge chairs, I heard, in two sections of the hospital floor, an East and a West. The East was called the garden side, and the West was called the river side, and Lois, the nurse practitioner that gave me the lowdown on the 9th floor along with lists of instructions, told me that both sides had nice views. But I wanted the river views. I’ve lived and worked near the Hudson River for most of my adult years and that enormous force with its eddies in all directions soothes my soul. I was sure that the Universe would provide a Hudson River balm for me.

I was also told that a nurse would be assigned to each of us. Part of my infusion involved the gradual pumping of the Adriamycin into the IV which was performed by the nurse which meant that she would lavish some attention on me. I wanted a nice nurse. So, I stared at the door to the infusion room and studied the nurses that breezed in and out to find a kindly looking one and will her to be mine.

My husband, Reade, busied himself with the newfangled Green Mountain single serving K-cup coffee machine and tranced out to the ubiquitous CNN, whilst I practiced creative visualization to manifest the optimum infusion experience for me. I saw myself relaxing in a comfy chaise lounge in a secluded area, gazing at the meandering river out the window, holding the hand of a doting, capable, Earth-mother nurse in a glowing white frock.

The door swung open, a middle-aged bleached blond in a vibrant blue print pant suit stepped out. She looked at the index card in her hand, called, “KELLY,” and checked her fingernails while she waited for someone to respond.

“Yes,” we pounced out of our seats and scurried to meet her. I confirmed, “I’m Linda Kelly,” and extended my hand, “and your name is?”

Diane gave my finger tips a shake and lead us through the door. We followed. She turned left. Left was East, East was the garden side. My heart sank. Diane pointed to a chair in the center of the room, in front of the nurses’ station, the only chair without a privacy curtain, and told us that she’d be right there. I scanned the scene and recognized that all of the chairs were occupied with folks hooked up to IVs, and so took a few deep breaths to accept that my reality would be very different than my dreams.

The view through the window behind my chair was of another hospital wing that apparently had a plaza with a garden in it. The view from my chair was of the entire East side unit. I looked on all the people with varying stages of cancer – some bald, some not, some pale and thin, some not, some sleeping, some not – all with fluids & chemicals streaming into tubes plugged into ports in their chests or inserted into the veins in their arms;  plus I looked on all the busy nurses. There was nothing relaxing about this scene. And looking above the hub-bub of the unit to the window within view, there was the elongated sprawl of Manhatttan from 165th Street all the way to the financial tip which is awesome, but it’s not tranquilizing, particularly if you lived here when the Twin Towers were your downtown.

Diane came back with water and a little paper cup holding a pill that I was pleased to see. I had learned about Emend from Dr. Sheldon’s nurse practitioner who told me that she had unbearable nausea when she had chemo for breast cancer until given this support drug. The first dose of Emend had to be taken before chemo which is why I was happy to see that Diane got the word, so I took the Emend capsule and felt more at ease with the idea that my nurse, though not warm and fuzzy, might be capable of taking good care of me. I settled into my chair and watched as Diane rolled over an IV rack, got a big mug of ice chips which she instructed me to suck on throughout to help prevent mouth sores, got a few sacks of fluids for hydration as well as the chemo, and then rolled over a stool and sat down.

“Which arm?” she asked and gestured for me to extend the correct limb.

I gave her my left arm.

“Oh, no. You have really bad veins,” she said and commenced to rub and thump at my inner arm from crook of elbow to wrist while I nervously explained that I had a lymph node dissection on the right side, so my right arm was not an option…

“And besides,” I said, “my veins are just fine for me.” I felt like the little mouse that roared. So, empowered, I looked up to capture Diane’s eyes, and said,  “I’m sure that if anyone can find a good vein, you can. You do IVs all the time.”

Diane did manage to find a vein though she grumbled throughout about my need for a port. I did not feel it necessary to defend my choice to forgo a port given that I would only have four rounds of chemo, I merely asked her questions about her life and her family to try to turn the tide. Turned out she was having a tough time of it which she shared with me at length during the slow, gradual pumping of the Adriamycin into my vein, and I was able to feel some compassion for her marital difficulties and tough commute though I was delighted to have her be done.

Then for the next hour, while hooked up to the Cytoxan drip, I had a word with God about how screwed up the Divine Plan was, and tried to close my eyes to meditate and listen for a worthy explanation. But my eyes would not stay closed. Reade had stepped out for a bite to eat and I found myself looking around the room at the other patients. I saw the woman obviously bald beneath her scarf typing away on her laptop, apparently keeping up with business, as though infusions were mundane in her day, and the elderly gentleman looking tired and green being fed ice chips by his spritely silver-haired wife, and the elderly African-American woman reclining with her eyes closed while a young African-American boy, merely 10 or 11 years old, sat by holding her hand. The patience and tenderness of the boy impressed me, and warm, wet tears welled in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks, and then I started to cry from deep places. I cried for the pain of the needle in my arm and the fear of the disease that had me in a hospital on a beautiful summer day and the grief of missing the Twin Towers and my youth that had been spent there; and, as I wept, I realized that this pain was real and so important, so healing to express. And I knew that more than the tranquility of a private chaise and a tranquilizing river view, I needed to be in the center of this room where I could see other people to get in touch with the truth of my humanity.

(to be cont.)


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Every May 6th, Reade, my husband, recalls being released from the army. He says that it wasn’t the end of the two years of service that made the event so dramatic for him. It was the bus ride from Ft. Benning, Georgia and driving through the night with his head pressed against a window to sleep, and then waking as the bus swept in a wide turn, his eyes opening to see New York City sprawled along the horizon, glowing gold in the morning light. He knew in that instant that he had to be there. Although, it would take four years in which he returned home to Chicago to go to school on the G.I. bill before he could actually move to Manhattan where he would become an actor and meet his destiny (me); but the course was set, the switch was flipped, the trajectory was launched in that moment on the bus.

May 6th was momentous for Reade.

mo·men·tous (m-mnts) adj.

Of utmost importance; of outstanding significance.

February 3 is momentous for me. Like Reade’s moment of recognition on the bus, the event that occurred on that day is a vivid, sensurround, palpable memory. It was on February 3, 2009 at 3:30 pm that I learned over the phone that the lumps in my breast were malignant. So, on these first few days of February 2011, I’ve been spontaneously flashing on the experiences of two years ago, and weeping or welling with gratitude; and I’ve been thinking how strange it is that I’m so aware of the anniversary of the biopsy on Groundhog’s day and receiving the diagnosis the day after, but I do not remember the date of my last cancer treatment. It was sometime in November. I recall bringing a tray of cupcakes, or was it cookies, to the radiation team.  Oh, yes, cookies, chunky chocolate chip, that my daughter baked. And I remember being glad to be done by Thanksgiving; but I don’t remember the exact date, nor have I thought to celebrate or reflect in November.   (?)

Maybe I don’t have definitive memories of the end because a breast cancer experience doesn’t end with the last of the aggressive treatments. In my case, there’s hormone therapy for five years, and, like everyone else, there’s continuous check-ups and close monitoring. People still ask, “how are you?” with extra oomph, and comment on how good I look with a tone that speaks to health and not beauty. I don’t mind. It’s great that people care. I’m just musing about what makes a momentous occasion so memorable. And, you know what I think? I think it’s the condensed energy – the momentum – that’s in the flick of the finger that tips the first domino.

The next entry in the brown suede journal (the book whose days are numbered but not over yet) speaks of recalling a momentous event:

June 2, 2009

Seventeen years ago today, Reade kissed me for the first time and I had a zoom-to-the moon out-of-body experience that changed me forever. I knew/we both knew in that moment that we would partner for life. Today I remember me as a young woman in Washington Square Park. I wore a black and white checkered skirt with a fuchsia blouse, sneakers for urban trekking, and I was filled with dreams about what it would mean to love and be loved. Most of my reality has been better than my dreams. We have a wonderful daughter, a cozy home, an expansive community, and a full rich life together. We’ve had our share of hardships too with enough struggle to keep us growing.

Today, we’re waiting in Colombia Presbyterian Hospital for the Doc to interpret my Pet/Ct scan, and I’ve just come from another round of pre-surgery tests. Who would’ve dreamed that a breast cancer diagnosis would be a part of our love story, that I’d learn about love and trust and other healing modalities in year seventeen.

Whenever I come to this hospital, I cry. It is in the hospital that the seriousness of the diagnosis hits home. It’s here that all I have to be grateful for hits home too. It is here that I remember to appreciate the blessings in this day.

mo·men·tous [moh-men-tuhs] –adj.

of great or far-reaching importance or consequence.


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Sometime in the month of May ’09 the PET/CT scan happened and the details of the event were reposited as deeply in my brain as the PET/CT laboratory was entombed in the hospital complex. I don’t remember much. Except I do recall traveling down down down into some sub basement of a different building a block north of the oncology pavilion of Columbia Pres; and that there was a complete colony of administration cubicles and exam rooms and dressing rooms, a waiting area, and so forth, there, and that everything was yellow lit. Then there was another long hall, and thick doors marked with radioactive warning signs that clunked shut behind me, and there was an Igor-like technician, and an enormous torpedo tube large enough for the Avatar, and it was all so Sci-Fi horrorific.

Although, the test was not at all physically painful, and, in fact, would’ve been relaxing had I not fantasized the possibility that the oxygen could be cut off in the tube while Igor twiddled his thumbs rather than respond to my suffocation. Otherwise, it was easy and over fairly quickly, and I guess the PET/CT happening was somewhat uneventful since I didn’t write a word about it in my trusty journal. I did, however, write about my anxiety while waiting for the results:

May 23, 2009  – Today or maybe only for this moment, I’m scared. I had a dream about receiving the results from the PET/CT scan in which Reade (my husband) answered the phone to receive the news from an Asian woman. His eyes seemed to look through me as he shook his head “yes” which I interpreted as positive for something unwanted and, so, was in such a tailspin that when dream Reade handed me the phone to talk to the dream doctor, I woke up in a sweat.

Perhaps if I had stayed asleep for another minute I would’ve discovered that everything was clear and that the message was positively positive. I ought to have faced my fears; ya know, face everything and recover.  Because I woke up, I remained in a panic and couldn’t go back to sleep. To calm myself I tried to visualize a clean, clear, white-lighted body. I imagined being in the PET/CT tube again but this time white light scanned my body and permeated every cell with immune boosting energy. Then I visualized a spectrum of light rays cleaning each chakra – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. But, the colors didn’t seem bright enough in my mind’s eye and I fretted that I was inept at visualization and so I chanted affirmations in my head: “My body is 100% healthy, whole, well, safe, and complete”. And yet, I’m not so sure about the effectiveness of affirmations and the healing-your-life-through-thought approach anymore, and I’ll tell you why – the letter that my father wrote a year before he died was filled with positive thoughts, gratitude, and a strong will to live and succeed.

I don’t know.

Maybe there are some things, lots of things, that are beyond my control. Maybe at all times I need ask my Creator for the serenity to accept the things I can not change. I am clear that I want to live though.

In my father’s letter to Clinton V. Johnson, his employer for the last two years of his life, he wrote that work gave his life meaning. I would’ve said the same before my cancer diagnosis, but work is not at the top of my Wish List anymore. I want to live to see my daughter grow up. I want to witness her successes and see her get married and meet my grandchildren, and I want to be there to hug her through all her joys and fears. I’d also like to travel and write another book or two; but, those desires are secondary to being with my loved ones which is something that disturbs me about the letter that my father wrote. In fact, I’ve been downright exorcised over that letter which, incidentally, was recently discovered by C.V. Johnson’s daughter and given to my mother who gave it to me for my birthday, and, so, in the spirit of “there are no accidents“, that letter and the resulting exorcism apparently were meant to be. 

Well… upon a second reading…

I do understand that the letter was written to his employer, so perhaps my father had targeted his audience with his emphasis on work. Perhaps in his private journals I would find that he battled cancer in order to watch his daughters grow up.  I choose to believe that his soul/sole motivation like mine was to care for his babies. I also choose to believe that he has been caring for me from the other side ever since as I would hover over my daughter; and that this letter is evidence that he’s particularly with me now.

I am playing tennis in a Rally for the Cure today. May God/Goddess please grant me extra Faith, Courage, Serenity and whatever it takes to keep my eye on the ball and the Cause to help all women so that we will not need to fear our breasts. Please let there be Health on Earth so that all the high drama surrounding the painful systems of breast cancer detection and eradication will not be necessary.

I have a dream that one day mammograms, MRIs, PET/CT scans, lumpectomies, mastectomies, reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy will all be stories in history books.

And that there will come a time when we simply drink fresh juice, paint, dance, laugh & sing our way to health; and all aberrations will be cured by the love in each other’s hands. Faithfully Yours,


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Finding a therapist might have seemed daunting given the large supply in the metropolitan area except that I was glad to have a mission to add to my daily regimen of health promoting activities, plus I had a method. I approached my assignment to find a therapist the same way I’ve searched for a house or a job or, once upon a time, a partner/husband: I beseeched the Universe in morning and nightly prayers, and I wrote a detailed wish list.

What makes me believe in the efficacy of wish lists? Maybe I believe because the letter I wrote to Santa Claus produced a Chatty Cathy doll on Christmas morning when I was an impressionable kid. Or, maybe someone suggested a wish list like someone suggested a gratitude list at a time when I was ripe for taking a suggestion, and it helped to relieve my fear of the future for a day. I don’t recall what made me write my first wish list as an adult. All I know is that the sweet 9:00 to 5:00 job with adequate salary and benefits that got me out of the restaurant business manifested within months of making a list. Of course, I had to purchase a proper suit (it was tomato red) and apply to a job placement agency (I flunked the typing test) because actions + focused intention = success. But, truly, it was uncanny just how many of my listed wishes were answered by that job, and then some. My experience is that The Universe has a broader view of my capabilities than I usually do, and is much more generous. Which is why I always add a caveat at the end of my wish lists: “All this or better will come to me swiftly and easily. Thank you.”

So, in the spirit of Jane and Michael Banks in their petition for a “very sweet and very pretty” nanny, I wrote a list of wishes for my therapist. Then, I folded it up and hid it in my God Box. In the days that followed, I did my footwork by calling friends with therapists and friends who are therapists to ask for recommendations, and everywhere I went I carried a list – a list of the providers from my insurance company’s web site – which I would ask these friends to scan. Affordable was a top priority on my wish list. Then, after a week or two of concentrated efforts, I stopped. I stopped praying, stopped asking around, and, effectively, stopped thinking about a therapist. I let go, and let the Universe do it’s work.

Now, letting go is not something I do consciously or easily. It just happens as though it’s organic to the manifestation process. And, usually, I don’t even realize that I’ve let go. It might feel to me like I’ve given up, or taken a break, or that I’m gearing up for the next round of actions, or that I’ve been distracted. Meanwhile, the fallow phase is invariably when the Universe produces with a slight of hand – Voila! – magnanimity.

[Let’s see. Where exactly are we in this long leg of the journey? I feel as though I looked up from an absorbing book and don’t recognize the terrain outside my train window. OK, the sutures are out and the incision in my breast is healing. The tumors are gone. The prognosis is great but not perfect due to a speck of cancer in a lymph node, so I’m waiting to meet with an oncologist to determine what to do next. Right. I’m putt, putt, putting on down the tracks en route to the next great adventure. I’m on my way to meeting my next teacher: the oncologist.]

There are many pages of dream interpretations, meditations, self interrogations in my journal to flip through before I reach the part about meeting the oncologist. Finally, there’s a brief blurb about this momentous occasion. If I were skimming the pages, I might’ve missed it except that I was drawn into a detailed description of a magnificent lucid dream: I dreamt I was towed through the ocean on the back of a huge gray whale. The water, the air, the strength, the speed was palpable. I held on to the whale for dear life for I believed that I had to hold on or die – I was powerless – though, I also trusted the enormous beast to take care of me.

And then:

Today is the day I meet Dr. Dawn Hershman, the oncologist affiliated with Dr. Sheldon Feldman. [see The GateKeeper] In days past, I’ve had some anxiety about what an oncologist will prescribe. Ie. chemo that will kill healthy cells and make me nauseous and lose my hair. My way to cope with the anxiety has been to remind myself that I’m not doing chemo today and to breath into the moment. Today is the day I learn what an oncologist believes. For some reason, I woke up light-hearted.

After this journal entry there’s nothing about my meeting with Dr. Hershman. Nothing. I don’t record how I didn’t find her as warm as Dr. Feldman, but I felt she was very intelligent. I don’t tell how impressed I was by her youth and her bird-like femininity. She didn’t have spiritual icons in her office, though I felt connected to her through the photos of her children. And, I was impressed that her name was on most of the research projects being done by the Breast Cancer Department at New York Presbyterian. But, there’s nothing about her in my journal. Not even musings about how challenging it must be for a female doctor to balance work and family, or how difficult I imagined it would be for Dr. Hershman, a woman, to constantly encounter a sisterhood of amputated or potentially lethal breasts. I didn’t even take notes about our visit: the menu of options that she recommended, the tests that she wanted to run, the perchance that I might be eligible for the new and exciting oncotype dx test (more about this later). I didn’t write about Dr. Dawn Hershman at all then, so I’m glad I’m writing this blog now. My oncologist and her nurse practitioner, Lois, deserve a strong testimony as I will discover and you will learn in the blog posts to come.

Why didn’t I sit with my thoughts about the oncologist and inscribe them for posterity then? My guess is that I was hanging on so tight to that slippery whale that I was afraid to reach for a pen. To write about these matters, that is. I do, however, write about this:

My thoughts about cancer are constant. It seems that whatever I consider somehow harkens back to the primary concern of the moment and I’m so annoyed and intrigued by this. I suppose most of my thoughts have concerned myself always. But, I’ve generally thought in terms of the things I must accomplish, the ways I’m falling short or am not enough, how I’ve viewed myself in comparison to others. Never have I given so much thought to my physical health.

I am afraid of chemo. I am afraid of the side effects. I’m afraid of making a decision that will adversely effect my life for the rest of my days. I’m afraid and at the same time I have some small measure of faith and plenty of evidence of being taken care of by Love through my friends and family.

Just so happens that the therapist recommended to me by the friend that I just so happened to bump into in the health food store has a personal experience with breast cancer. Jean had a lumpectomy ten years ago and is on Tamoxifen.

As it happened, Jean was on my list of insurance providers, practiced within a stone’s throw of my home, and “was very sweet, and very pretty” just as I requested on my wish list. It had never occurred to me to ask for a therapist with a depth of compassion that can only come from personal experience though.

God/Goddess/the Universe is good.

Yours in Awe,


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