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Posts Tagged ‘Healing’

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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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This is the Certificate of Merit that the hospital gave to patients upon finishing radiation:

The crude diploma impressed me that the doctors recognized our need for a proper pat on the back and something tangible to hold on to by way of closure. I wanted closure anyway. After 6 weeks of a work-a-day rhythm that involved visiting a bunch of lovely people whose job descriptions included saving my life, I had a groove in my weekdays. They say it takes 21 days to make a behavior, good or bad, a habit, and I’d been getting my breast blasted for 30. Seems silly, but I missed the routine a little, and so I met one of my radiation buddies for tea.

Marisa (pronounced ma ree sa) and I had struck up a comradery during an unusual delay in the waiting area. Self identified as a “high anxiety” type,  Marisa’s blood pressure spiked when the radiation tech explained the delay was due to equipment malfunctions. She reasoned that faulty equipment might also malfunction on her breast, panicked, and turned to me to talk her down. I was committed to trusting the process, so I probably said so, and, really, I have no idea what I said to soothe her, maybe it was simply that I listened and let her blow off steam. Whatever, she calmed down enough to wait out the delay and stick to her radiation regimen. I remember that I fancied myself her savior that day, but, I wonder now if tending to Marisa was a divine distraction for me. Given some free time, I was just as able to concoct a scary story.

As it happened, we both received our Certificates of Merit with our breasts intact and, so, arranged to celebrate by meeting for tea. As we shared our breast cancer stories over steaming mugs, I learned (what came as no surprise to me) that Marisa and I had very different approaches to our diagnoses. As I wrote at the start of this blog, when the doctor told me to line up a surgeon because the two lumps in my right breast were malignant, a calm washed over me as the still, small, quiet voice within me whispered “this is your walk with God.” Marisa reported that when the doctor told her she had cancer, she screamed. Yet, despite our different temperaments, we had similar approaches. Marisa determined at the start, like me, that it was futile to wallow in  “Why?” or “Why me?” and chose to focus instead on how to heal. And, now at the end of arduous healing journeys, we both shared greatly enhanced appreciations for life as we sipped our herbal teas.

We did not manage to keep in touch, but I have a keepsake from my radiation buddy that I have in a scrapbook right next to my Certificate of Merit. It’s an essay written in 1989 by Anonymous (a terminally ill person) that described how Marisa hoped to be in her post cancer life. It’s entitled I’d Pick More Daisies:

If I had my life to live over, I’d try to make more mistakes next time. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things that I would take seriously. I would be crazier. I would be less hygienic. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers and watch more sunsets. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would have more active troubles and fewer imaginary ones. You see, I am one of those people that lives life prophylactically and sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I have had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I have been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would go places and do things and travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way until fall. I would play hooky more. I wouldn’t make such good grades except by accident. I would ride on more merry-go-rounds. I’d pick more daisies.

Thank you, friend and teacher Marisa, for the reminder as there are new daisy fields to ravage, there are new adventures just around the bend, as this epic healing journey is almost done.

to be cont…. one mo’ time.

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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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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.

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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.

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