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Posts Tagged ‘Journaling’

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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I didn’t write much during my chemo experience. There are a handful of chicken scratch journal pages that are the result of a noble impetus to chronicle my practices so that my success story could aid another woman one day, and I’m so grateful for my large ego. Now, I have evidence of the languorous tempo and indolent tone that were among the gifts of chemotherapy in the Summer of 2009. It was the slowest and laziest Summer I’ve ever known. Perhaps it was the drugs, or perhaps it was my deep surrender to the process, or perhaps it was the heat and the nature of Summer, and, most probably it was all of these that granted me permission to indulge in genuine lethargy. It is those memories that I draw on to remind me that a snail’s pace can be sublime particularly in today’s extreme heat.

These are those memories:

July 25, 2009

In some ways it seems that the Summer is just beginning for me. This morning, I wiped off the picnic table in our gazebo for the first time and thought about the potential for writing and eating and maybe even entertaining out there. I’d forgotten some of my Summer pleasures while so focused on providing a “normal” Summer for my daughter.

In the weeks since the lymph node dissection (June 15th), I’ve managed to work part-time consistently, make numerous visits to the hospital for repeated drainings of the seroma (lymph fluid balloon) as well as for treatment consultations, attend a variety of healing circles, start chemo on July 16th, make a dedication to the Goddess, take 10 girls to Krazy City for my girl’s 12th birthday party, drive to and from three different day camps, plus enjoy my garden; but I had yet to clean up the outdoor furniture which is usually the first thing I do to welcome Summer.

I’m doing fairly well after my first week of chemo. Actually, I’m exceptionally well as is evidenced by all the activities I’m able to maintain. “Fairly” just speaks to the fact that I feel different: I feel dry inside. Sometimes I feel like there’s fire burning the inside surface of my skin. The feeling resembles an image of the charred remains of the forest floor after the tall trees, plants, and brush have gone up in flames. They say that fires are a necessary cleansing for new growth in a forest. I regard the chemical burn as baptism by fire.

[My energy for crafting sentences dwindled at this point in the journal session and thus I start to jot notes.]

Things I’ve done so far to support self during chemo:

  • Continue with Reiki circle.
  • For the first few days after infusion I did 1 oz of wheatgrass daily to alleviate the predicted constipation from the support drugs. I also followed the doc’s instructions and took Senakot. Plus I drank prune juice which was tastier than the wheatgrass. (All green things were particularly yucky during chemo, so I held my nose and tossed the wheatgrass back.)
  • Followed the instructions for the support drugs and I did find that the nausea was not bad. (details about support drugs will follow)
  • Made a big jug of lemon and fresh ginger water, and kept a tall glass by my side at all times during the three down days.
  • Took Tylenol for the back pain caused by the Neulasta shot given to boost white blood cell count, but I’m thinking that breathing and light yoga stretches like the child’s pose are the way to go.
  • I put antioxidants away as instructed but I continue to take *oregano oil to support immune system *calcium magnesium zinc *L-Lysine to prevent the mouth sores that supposedly are a side effect of chemo. [IMPORTANT NOTE: I NEVER GOT MOUTH SORES AND I DID NOT NEED THE “MAGIC MOUTHWASH” THE  HOSPITAL PROVIDED WHICH I FULLY ATTRIBUTE TO INGESTING L-LYSINE. There’s topical l-lysine that cures mouth ulcers almost instantly too.] *Kelp – iodine & iron – to strengthen immune system and combat fatigue * Primrose Omega 3’s – I don’t know why but it’s supposed to be great for women and I wish to honor and support my femininity. ***NOTE: ALL SUPPLEMENTS ARE TAKEN WITH HEALING INTENT SPOKEN OR VISUALIZED***

[The following notes are from an insight that I needed to be proactive due to the discomforts experienced in my first infusion. Perhaps control is an illusion; but I felt I could participate or co-create, or attempt to customize my healing experience.]

Things I will do to support myself during chemo:

  • My intentions for my next infusion are to advocate for a great nurse.
  • I will ask my new nurse to participate with loving intentions particularly when she pumps the Adriamycin.
  • I will ask Reade (my husband) to assist by doing the Brazilian Toe Technique (details to follow) or a foot massage as a sort of uninformed reflexology session.
  • I will meditate and visualize the red-colored Adriamycin as a Rose Elixir or Essence and the clear-colored Cytoxan as a Crystal Essence – both with high healing vibrations.

To be continued…

L.

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Giggle giggle giggle hardy har har – the cosmic jokesters were rolling with laughter on the second day of the spiritual retreat with my daughter because, not only did she opt for friends over me, she ultimately chose to leave. Again, I didn’t see that turn of events coming, and again, I’m in awe of the divine choreography; but, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Let’s see… when did I first feel the tugs on the marionette strings that day? I recall blithely moving through the morning, having no agenda other then to relax with Acadia and our friends, until I was scheduled for the Inipi sweat lodge in the early afternoon. It was my first adult sweat. I had participated in the children’s ritual the year before which is considerably less sweaty and shorter in duration, and I loved the experience though, given my sense of compromised health, I was apprehensive about doing a full out adult sweat. I worried about my tolerance for increased heat and the perhaps of claustrophobia since the hide flap would be closed on the snug womb-like mud dome for longer periods of time sealing us in total darkness except for the orange sizzle glow of the hot rocks in the center. I fretted, but again my friends urged me on.

This is a link that describes a Lakota Inipi sweat lodge, the ritual, the purpose and benefits. The sweat lodge at Womongathering (the 2011 retreat is called Where Womyn Gather) was essentially the same except that it’s only for women and, thus, most of us choose to sweat in the buff. Beverly Little Thunder and her daughter Lushanya of the Standing Rock Tribe in North Dakota lead the prayer ceremonies with wisdom and grace. Both mother and daughter embody the love of the Great Mother while humbly acting as Her midwives. Lushanya facilitated the sweat I attended that afternoon. I was not afraid in the dark. Rather, I felt held by the Sacred Mother and my spirit was elevated with a connectedness to the Great Spirit and all of life. I sweat out the impurities and felt hopeful of being born anew. It never even occurred to me to pray for healing. There were three rounds of prayers in which we were encouraged to release anger or sorrow or to lift up intentions or to share intimately, and I never mentioned breast cancer or the lymph node dissection to take place in two days. I did, however, take note of the assortment of women that wept in the dark, a few of whom gave voice to a great and seemingly unfair loss. I heard them crying, but I couldn’t feel their sorrow. This perplexed me. Ordinarily, I’m empathetic.

After the sweat lodge, I returned to our cabin to take a shower and discovered that my dear friend, Deirdre, and her daughter, Grace, needed to go home early. My daughter and I traveled with Deirdre and Grace to Womongathering and so the idea rocked my world. There were plenty of other rides to be had, so it wasn’t that I feared my retreat was being cut short, I just love them and I wanted them to stay.

“But, but, but, Saturday night is party time. We’ll eat, we’ll dance, it’s catwalk night, and we’re going to have a ritual with other Moon Circles – we’re going to have so much fun.”

But, Deirdre felt called to go home to her sons. Grace wanted to go home with her mother. And, to top things off, Acadia wanted to go home with Grace.

“Mom, please don’t be upset. I think Daddy might be lonely, and, I don’t know, Mom, I just want to go home.”

The excuses seemed lame. It was all so strange. Deirdre and Grace introduced Acadia and me to Womongathering. They love the mother-daughter retreat and look forward to the event each year. It was as though the three of them were possessed, and I was equally as possessed to stay. And, so, my head was spinning, but I helped my daughter pack, blessed them on their way, and resumed my spiritual retreat.

The women were dressing for ritual, loosening their hair and donning their cloaks, and so I dressed in flowing clothing, put on a party dress underneath a somber wrap, and took my place in the procession across the field to the sheep’s meadow. I had heard that we were going to do something different this year, that we had offered support to another circle of women who were mourning the loss of the woman who had organized their group. Our organizers had selected songs and designed a ritual to honor their friend and help these women to release their grief. Part of the ritual involved calling the women into the center as we formed an outer protective circle while they held each other and sobbed and wailed and moaned. The clouds gathered and darkened the sky, the meadow filled with the song of their pain, and I thought, Thank God(dess), Acadia is not here. The intensity of their grief was awesome and I felt honored to witness their truth and offer support, but the pain the women expressed seemed too much for my sensitive 12 year old. I smiled inwardly at the Wisdom that called her home.

Then the ladies were instructed to face us, to see the sisterhood supporting them; and the women that faced toward me were the same women that were crying in the sweat lodge. And those women came closer and stood before me and then processed in a circle facing us so that we/I could see the pain in their eyes, and then they merged into our circle so that they were flanked by sisters who could hold them up as they released a final primal howl to let their beloved go and the woman standing next to me yelled like a thunder clap splitting the night, “F***ING CANCER!”

The following morning, I chanced to walk behind one of the mourning women on my way to breakfast. I called to her to walk with me so I could find out what happened. It hadn’t seemed appropriate to disturb the party vibes after the ritual the night before by trawling for the details of their friend’s demise, but the curse at cancer had penetrated my denial and I wanted to know that the deceased was older than me and sicker than me and that she had lung or colon or something other than breast cancer. As luck would have it, the woman I bumped into was ripe for talking. I didn’t even have to ask.  All I said was, “Wow, that was a powerful experience.”

And the woman stopped in her tracks. “Oh, we so needed that healing. We’ve been so distraught. It was so hard for us to let her go because Sue did not want to die. She had not come to terms with her own death.”

Maybe I looked perplexed, or maybe I was just meant to hear the story because the woman proceeded to qualify. She told me that she was a nurse and Sue’s primary caregiver so she knew firsthand just how hard her friend had fought. She said, “Ya know, it wasn’t the cancer that was painful. The doctors were very concerned with pain relief. It was her resistance. Sue was a healer,  and she could not understand why she could not heal her own breast cancer.”

After breakfast, I sat by the sacred fire with my little brown journal and wrote about the ritual and the howl to the dark heavens and the story teller on my path, and I pledged to myself in ink that I would surrender all expectations. I wrote:

Like my expectations for a weekend away with my daughter, I need to let go of my plans and surrender to the Divine plan for healing me.

And as I gazed into the fire, I released all my resistance to the second round of surgery into the flames and determined to trust my surgeon and whatever comes (including death) as part of a greater scheme.

However, in truth, I did not thoroughly give up expectations. The very next page in my journal has

My advice to self: Dance like No One is Watching – Love like it will Never Hurt.

It occurs to me now as I review these events that the very act of letting go is an expectation. I am able to surrender my mental constructs, ideas, plans because I expect that there is a Higher Wisdom that is within me as I am a part of All That Is. So, maybe it’s not so much that I let go as it is that I chose and still choose to hang on to a Power Greater than my limited mind.

In Awe & Gratitude, L.

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There’s another snow storm in the NE today. The world around me is enveloped in gray cloud which is helping to transport me back to the end of May 2009 when most of the month purported to be all about flowers was gray and rainy. My world then felt claustrophobic, and I was moody; and, although my foul moods were most likely due to the 2nd round of breast cancer related surgery, the dreaded lymph node dissection bearing down on me at the beginning of June, I blamed my journal. The diminutive brown suede notebook sold in Barnes & Noble as Hemingway’s preferred journal was a birthday gift from me to my husband that I nicked in order to jot serious, manly, medical notes at my first consultation with a surgeon. It seemed important at the time to conceal my mystical bent behind its sober cover, and it served me well. I crammed a lot of experience into the 5″ by 8″ by 2/3″ thick little book — it’s the source material of this 70K plus word blog that I’ve been writing for the past year and some months — and, yet, as I grew weary of waiting for brighter days, the tiny journal became my scapegoat:

May 29 ’09

80% of May has been wet and overcast. I am done with this book. The little pages feel so cramped to me. I’m also done with the reason for this book. Well, almost done. I’m grappling with my trust in Western medicine again. I got this book to keep track of appointments, procedures, opinions, & data from doctors and I don’t want to keep track of that stuff anymore, in fact, I want to take the breast cancer books back to the library and dump the satchel filled with brochures and pamphlets from the Women at Risk Breast Service Center into the trash, and I want to cease to think about any of this anymore. My heart is in my throat whenever I consider the upcoming surgery. If the lymph nodes have any microscopic cancer, then I have to have chemo – ARGH! If the lymph nodes are clean as I believe they are, then I will have had two layers of sewage pipes removed in order to prove the doctor’s pet theory right.

I suppose I have a choice to view this proposition as lose/lose as I have been this morning, or shift to a win/win view point. See, if the cancer is detected and it’s treated early, I live. If the dissection provides proof that cancer did not travel into the lymph nodes, then I live with peace of mind. Win/win.

The reason I’m perturbed about Western medicine again today is the fear-based tone. It seems like doctors are always looking for something wrong, or doubting that all is well. For instance, the PET/CT scan that was prescribed with the attitude of 95% certainty that I’m healthy, came back with the 5% risk of residual disease highlighted in the results. Or, at least, as communicated by the well meaning though inept Nurse Practitioner in a quick enigmatic email note that stressed the finding of “residual neoplasm” at the surgical site which had me 95% terrified until Dr. Feldman followed up to assure me that she was simply referring to scar tissue from the lumpectomy, and that indeed the scan proved all is well.

Okay. So, all is well. And there are only a few more pages left in this journal. I can write BIG to fill it up fast, and I can write all about the joy in the journey:

  • Essential oils, and the lavender and arnica massage oil gift from a friend
  • Creative visualization
  • Salt baths
  • Meditation
  • Reiki
  • Crystals
  • Prayer (my own and others)
  • Nutrition

and all the other healing experiences that come down the pike, oh yeah,

  • Tennis for the Cure
  • Talk therapy
  • Letters from my father

and recently I discovered

  • Messages from my daughter. I was thumbing through her school work and happened upon sporadic or random notes to me throughout her three ring binder. Scribbles like “I love you Mommy” in between notes on skirmishes in the Revolutionary War. What is more healing than that? And, yikes, what is more indicative that I’m on her mind? I need to be sensitive to this and stay positive, or, rather, honest, and be sure that I’m making space for her to express her feelings.

Oh, there’s so much to think about, so much to explore, so many angles to consider. I’m really grateful to you, little brown book, for holding space for my feelings. However, my next book is going to be twice as big and have wide open, blank, pages without any lines.

Homage to a trusty friend along the way.

In gratitude, L.

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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,

L.

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