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Posts Tagged ‘Gratitude’

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After radiation, it was time to return to Dr. Hershman, my oncologist, to discuss aromatase inhibitors. Dr. Hershman had previously informed me that she would recommend hormone therapy since my tumors were estrogen receptive. Estrogen receptive, or ER positive, is considered “good” in terms of breast cancer types since recurrence can be prevented by blocking estrogen production. In ovulating women, estrogen is blocked with tamoxifen; for menopausal or, rather, post-menopausal women, the popular drug is arimidex, a brand name for anastrozole. Given the chemo induced menopause that I experienced, Arimidex was the drug recommended for me. The treatment involved taking a little white pill, every day, for five years. No big deal – right? Well, I wasn’t thrilled.
Just like those ad nauseam lists of side effects described in pharmaceutical commercials on TV, Dr. Hershman had nauseated me with the possibilities – achy joints, bone loss, heart problems – so, I was not blithely walking down the hormone therapy road.  I paused to gnash my teeth at the gate. My primary debate was that it seemed a sort of Dr. Moreau arrogance to tamper with natural hormonal processes. Plus, from the start, I was struck by the notion that my cancer was aimed at distinctly female organs and created or promoted by distinctly female hormones which made me wonder if I had distorted beliefs about being a woman. Actually, I knew that I had misgivings about being a woman and felt that breast cancer was calling me to surface malignant attitudes (societal and personal) and to recover a true love for myself. As reported in this blog, I learned that embracing the divine feminine was essential to my healing journey. Therefore, I felt that blocking or rejecting natural female hormones was anathema to my spiritual ideal of health and wholeness.

In November, 2009, I boarded the elevator at the hospital for my hormone therapy consultation, pushed the button for the 10th floor, and stood to the back to make room for others. Two women entered, stood in front of me and preceded to talk loudly and joke with each other about the drunken escapades they had shared the night before. Their ribald humor reminded me of my drinking days and the way I used to hide my shame behind jocular, bawdy talk. I decided that they were callow just as I was then, and untroubled by anything more than their hangovers. The short blond referenced bumping into a guy in the hospital lobby and quipped, “You know we’re bad when we see people from the bar wherever we go,” and both women sniggered. I thought, give me a break.

The people in the Herbert Irving Pavillion at Columbia Presbyterian were contending with serious life and death matters.  These women were tittering about frivolous pursuits. They pissed me off. The elevator stopped, the doors opened, people got off, new people got on, the women composed themselves, and then started laughing again when they realized that they forgot where they were going. A few people on the elevator offered information. I tried to ignore them, but my ears perked up again when it turned out that the women were going to the 10th floor, oncology, like me. At the 8th floor, the tall, pretty, dark-haired woman asked the short, plump, blond for help, and lifted her sweater so that her friend could adjust her drainage sack.

My heart softened instantly and I said, “Oh, I had one of those,” in order to strike up a conversation, make a connection, maybe offer some guidance from my experience.

She responded, “I had two,” as if boasting about how many martinis she had for lunch, and indicated both her breasts.

I thought, “Oh, my.” The elevator doors opened and she lead the way out to the 10th floor suite of oncology offices, and, although we stood side by side at the receptionist desk and I glanced at her repeatedly, she did not meet eyes with me again.

Perhaps, the dark-haired woman had enough of a friend in the blond and had no need to connect with a stranger on an elevator with a similar experience in order to weather her feelings about having breast cancer and probably, judging by the two sacks, loosing one or both breasts to the disease. I, on the other hand, don’t drink anymore, and I have to share and try to be of service in order to feel at ease in sobriety.

I started writing this blog after that encounter on November 13, 2009.

Beginning the blog is essentially the end of the blog story, except to say that I did surrender to five years of hormone therapy. The still, small but strong, voice within me said, “Take the Arimidex, there will be no side effects,” and a calm washed over me just like in the beginning when I received the breast cancer diagnosis and thought “this is my walk with God.” So, I followed doctor’s orders at the behest of my inner voice and, two and a half years later, I’m enjoying great health and a full head of thick dark blond hair. I did have to work on my attitude though, and so, every morning as I swallow the little white pill, I say, “thank you.” And I pause to feel the waves of gratitude due to my lump lessons that echo through my body, heart, mind, and soul.

Thank you, a thousand times, thank you, for supporting this blog journey. I could not have walked this way alone.

In Awe, L.

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People told me an array of stories as I entered the next phase of treatment most of which featured radiation as a villain that distorted cell structure, fried skin, and enervated the spirit, so I didn’t want to proceed and challenged my doctors’ protocol.

“If the chemo killed all those fast splitting systemic cells, why do I have to have radiation?” I begged.

Their responses didn’t satisfy me. They may have thoroughly explained the scientific or biological or statistical yada yada; but all I heard was a familiar “because I said so, that’s why, kid.” So my inner teenager slammed her bedroom door shut which terrified my inner child and, in turn, sent my fairly healthy inner parent into a tizzy.

As I’ve repeated throughout this blog, I needed to believe in the course of action I was taking in order to feel confident of success. I have not and I do not endorse a particular medical or alternative healing modality. To me, belief is key. I feel that I, and anyone making important choices, need to aline head, heart, and gut/soul; and that the process of alinement or at-one-ment is the way to true healing from this and probably all dis-ease. Which is to say that I wanted my belligerent inner teenager, quivering inner child, and flustered inner parent to reconcile on this matter of radiation.

My inner parent stood outside the locked bedroom door and reasoned with my inner teen, “the doctors must know what they’re talking about: they’re experts, all they do is treat breast cancer, they’ve seen thousands of women, they’ve been doing this for years.”

My inner teen ‘s response was to turn up the volume and shriek “Killing in the Name”.

My inner child clutched her blankey and sucked her thumb.

Inner parent threw up her hands, “Well, we have an appointment to meet the radiation oncologist today and we’re going whether you like it or not.” I told my selves to calm down – breathe – we didn’t need to make a decision today. Just for today, we were merely gathering information.

“Whatever.” The lock on the bedroom door clicked open and inner teenager, tight-lipped and still fuming, took inner child by the hand to the hospital to meet a new doctor.

Dr. Margaret Torrey, the radiation oncologist at Nyack Hospital, a branch of Columbia Presbyterian that is closer to my home, impressed me as very smart and very nice. She was patient with my questions and gave thorough explanations about why she believed radiation would be the optimum course for me, described the process, and the side effects. The primary message I took from that visit was that the road I had traveled thus far – surgeries, tests, chemo – statistically proves to be the most effective, that my care had been superb, and that the prognosis for no recurrence was great. In her educated opinion, radiation would seal that happy fate.

Inner teenager pumped a fist in the air, “YEAH,” inner child’s thumb popped out of her mouth and she jumped for joy, inner parent glowed with pride, and my whole self integrated in that moment. I determined that I would continue along the prescribed medical path. Of course, I intended to customize my experience though.

There was one story among the scary stories told me about radiation that did not have the same negative point of view. This story came from a friend who was grateful for radiation therapy not only for deleting his prostate cancer, but also because he learned how to meditate while undergoing treatment. He said that his Higher Power, whom he chose to call God, forced him to learn how to meditate by having him sit still for twenty minutes at the radiation clinic each day.

My life style had returned to busy as soon as I had recouped my energy after the summer of chemo, so the idea of a mandatory stillness in which I could meditate excited me. I decided to adopt this man’s attitude of gratitude, and to make the most of the two months of 5 blasts a week of radiation.

And, I intended to get creative in order to minimize and even eradicate those potential side effects.

(to be cont.) L.

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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,

L.

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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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My daughter is playing a clarinet in her bedroom on the other side of the wall of my office. Her smooth breathy notes are transporting me to long gone days of a first recorder festooned with skinny ribbons for lessons learned, then the obligatory school concerts of three tiers of children in black bottoms and white tops tooting exaggerated four count beats with occasional squeaks, and Twinkle Little Star ad nauseam. It’s a pleasant reverie. Those memories have easily pushed reflections on chemotherapy out of my head.

Plus, I’m on vacation.

The first two days of my Summer vacation were devoted to the burial and memorial service of a great aunt who left us for the Summerland just a few days shy of her 97th birthday. Auntie, as she bade us call her rather than Aunt Mildred, was a breast cancer survivor. I attended her services with my heart swelled with gratitude for her power of example. Her diagnosis and treatment happened more than thirty years ago when I was young, living in New York, and rather mesmerized by the glittering disco ball; but I took an evening off from the high life to visit Auntie at Sloan Kettering after her surgery. That hour or two spent with her would inspire me for a lifetime and particularly when I had my own breast cancer experience as I witnessed the efficacy of a feisty spirit. While most of the patients snoozed after surgery or treatments, Auntie walked laps around the cancer ward, dragging her IV pole along with her. While we chatted, she squeezed a rubber ball to strengthen her arm and peppered the conversation with promises that she would live long and remain strong. Indeed, she did. I would say, “Rest in peace, amazing Auntie,” but I’m betting that she’s already jitterbugging on the other side.

And now, I’m about to go to the beach. I’m in vacation mode and finding it too difficult to concentrate on the next Lump Lesson which is about the 2nd infusion and going bald, and I do want to be able to immerse in those memories, write well, and give a fitting tribute to momentous events. But that’s not happening today between the musical reverie and my desire to paint my toenails blue to match my bathing suit; so, I’m going to give myself a break.

However, before I go, I’d like to offer a link to an extremely important TED talk given by Eve Ensler about how she reconnected with her body through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Her discoveries are so poignant and her delivery is so powerful that I considered for a moment that I need only share the link to Eve’s “Suddenly, my body” rather than to continue writing my blog. But, then I would miss making my own discoveries.

Until…

Enjoy the last sultry days and waning light of August!

L.

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 As you may recall from the last post, I dearly wanted to have a chemo chair on the west side facing the Hudson River and was disturbed when I landed on the east side. Ultimately, I realized that I was right where I was meant to be – in the midst of the fray, staring downtown, feeling my feelings – and there’s more to that story:

With another hour or so to go on the intravenous hook-up, after coursing through frustration and anger and fear, I was at last relaxing in the reclining chair when a sudden dramatic shift in energy happened in the room. It felt like high voltage currents shot through water, like the atmosphere was ionized, and everyone was on high alert. Some of the nurses rushed from the East wing, the others that remained had taut faces and anxious eyes and were whispering among themselves. The patients with a view of the door pushed themselves up on their elbows and strained to see down the hall. There was a sound like a mini stampede that grew loud and then veered off in another direction – West; and then a moment later, people streamed into the East room pushing their IV poles. The buzz among us which was verified by the nurses was that someone on the other side had suffered a cardiac arrest.  An emergency squad had arrived with the defibrillator and all the folks receiving their chemo on the West side with the Hudson River views had to evacuate that room.

SO,

While I felt concern for the person in distress and all the others who had their infusions disrupted, I was also grateful for my safe chair in the East, and marveled at the Divine Wisdom that gave me what I needed rather than what I wanted.

In Awe, L.

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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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