Posts Tagged ‘Fear’

The morning was golden. There was a golden glaze on the river, golden glints on the George Washington Bridge, and the stalagmites called Manhattan were glistening. I had sun and a smile on my face. This was the morning of my last chemo infusion. I would be done with the hardest part of the cancer treatments after this day.

Along with my bag full of chemo props, I carried an arm full of red roses to the hospital to say thank you and goodbye to the folks of the 9th floor infusion ward. It was the 4th round, the fourth element of water, and it had occurred to me that water is a symbol for emotions, but I did not anticipate any teary goodbyes. I liked everyone on the 9th floor alright and was grateful for their participation in saving my life; however, I had no grief about parting ways. Nope. None. On that golden August day I only had my eye on the end point; and, so, I was totally unprepared for the white waters that lay ahead.

The Universe knew that I would need help though.

There was only one other couple in the oncology waiting area when I arrived for my pre-infusion check-up. While Reade, my husband, and I chatted and scanned the newspaper, I noticed that this couple was looking at me. She was a lovely Asian and her male companion was Asian too and, as they glanced in my direction, they exchanged words in their native tongue as if they were whispering behind cupped hands. They were talking about me; and, given her full head of glossy black Asian hair, I guessed that they were intrigued by my bald head. I sensed that she was curious and wanted to talk with me, so I looked at her and smiled. No sooner did the upturned corners of my mouth lift my cheeks, then Anna rushed over to introduce herself. Indeed, she was curious – today was Anna’s first infusion day.

Just as the angel in the auburn wig (last paragraphs of this former post)  was there for me when I was scared about stepping onto the chemo track, I could now be there for Anna. I could pay it forward. I could tell her about lemon & ginger water and assure her that the nausea is manageable and give her a general overall pep talk. I could tell her about the choices that worked for me like the preemptive shaving of my head and how baseball caps were less scratchy than wigs. I could say, “It wasn’t so bad. People cared for me on my down days, but mostly I walked slowly and really paid attention to flowers;” and then, I could hand her a long-stemmed red bud.

We hugged.

And as I moved from station to station that morning – from check-up room to blood lab to doctor’s office – I’d see Anna and her companion, clinging to each other, seeming anxious, and she’d be clutching her rose. Then, when I was finally assigned an infusion chair, and at long last on the west side with the Hudson river views which thrilled me since the element for the fourth round was water, as Fate would have it, Anna was assigned the chair right next to me.

So, when there was a two hour delay as the wonderful singing nurse named Jennifer, through no fault of her own, blew two of my veins and then couldn’t find a vein that wasn’t collapsed so there was an imminent threat that I was going to be sent home, I didn’t panic for Anna’s sake. And, when Jennifer finally hooked me up and the needle hurt, I didn’t grimace, and when another allergic reaction to the adriamycin  swelled me up, turned my eyes bright red, and made me think I was dying until the benedryl shot knocked me out, I didn’t fret out loud. I stayed strong for the entire fourth and final round for Anna.

Anna and I exchanged a few emails in the months to come in which she repeatedly thanked me for the pep talk and the rose, and I tried to convey to her that I did nothing but embrace a gift. And, now, when I reflect, I don’t dwell on how painful and terrifying the experience was, I think only of the infinite wisdom of the Universe that knew that I needed to be somebody’s angel for a day.

In awe,



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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,


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There’s a popular spiritual belief that fear and faith cannot coexist. Maybe so. If so, I hope to attain that sort of faith one day. So far, my faith has kept me going, trying, taking risks, loving, despite being afraid at every turn. I’ve heard say that “courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” So, maybe I’ve experienced courage and have yet to know faith. I don’t know. I only know that I’m heading into New York City today to see my friend Polly in a play despite reports of terrorist threats. The play is called NEW YORK by David Rimmer and it’s about 9-11 with proceeds benefiting 9-11 Families for Peace Tomorrows and judging by this YouTube video clip, it’s going to be intense and heartbreaking and moving.

I’ve got to go. Not because I need this play to remember 9-11 on the 10th anniversary and not because I love Polly; but because I want to know faith and maybe the way to faith is to have the courage to keep walking through the fear. I need to go to join in the magnanimous spirit of 9-11 that had people ban together rather than to allow terror to rip them apart. And I need to go to honor heroes like Welles Crowther, the Man in the Red Bandanna, whose love for others supersedes all else.

In Awe,



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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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