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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

I can’t count the number of times that people told me, “You look radiant,” during that autumn of radiation. Each time, the spokesperson would glow with genuine enthusiasm, or surprise that I looked so healthy while undergoing so much, and, although physically I did look and feel exceptionally well, I tended to think that their choice of words was part of a cosmic joke. Goddess knows that I was not a happy camper and, in fact, struggled with depression in the months following chemo as I shared in Post Chemo Stress Disorder. My daughter was pre-teen and rebelling at every turn which was healthy individuating for her and unbearable for me. Plus I was grieving for all the parts of me (beliefs, attitudes, cells) that had died during the previous cancer treatments.

I wrote in my journal in September 2009:

Grief and disgruntlement continue. More and more grief over the changes and maturity occurring in my daughter who is fighting with me at every turn. I find myself braced for contention from the moment she opens her eyes in the AM, and my heart feels so heavy from the fight. Sometimes, I’m tempted to pull the “cancer card.” I want to say, “hey, you can’t separate from me yet, I’m not strong enough to fight.” But, the truth is that separation just plain hurts. Her process and my pain have nothing to do with cancer. Maybe? Or maybe her subconscious fear of losing me makes her need to individuate more imperative. I don’t know. I do know that I am physically strong enough to take the heat from a t’ween, and I’d feel downright lowdown and ornery if I tried to heap on the guilt to prevent her from growing up.

The other part of grief for me is that aspects of my identity are gone and I’m not sure who I am or what’s next for me. My hair is a 1/10th of an inch long and speckled – primarily light – which maybe my born blond now slightly peppered, or it maybe silver. Yikes! Silver hair is way too much change for me in one year.

So, despite being grateful for being alive and in relatively good health, I was an emotional wreck. Thus, when people exclaimed, “you look radiant,” I questioned their veracity while, at the same time, I hoped their message was verifying that my radiation support practices were working.

I had three health-boosting practices that made radiation therapy worry-free for me.

1.) Power Meditation. Power meaning quick, as in a power nap.  It took longer to change out of my street clothes and into a coral-colored robe than it took for me to get my breast zapped each day. Ten minutes, tops, and most of those minutes were devoted to matching up the guide rays with the tiny black-dots that they had tattooed on my sides and back as markers. The radiation blasts themselves were done in seconds. And, while those ten minutes strapped to Dr. Frankenstein’s table did not permit  transcendentally deep meditation; I did tend to zip in and out of quick visions and most of the visions involved lions. In particular there was a full-maned male that acted as my Radiation Power Totem. This glorious king would take me on his back across sun-baked savannas, or to the tops of plateaus to survey the plains. In each of these journeys, the sun was featured as a sun god – enormous, all powerful, omnipresent – and we were golden, the lion and I, golden and eternally sun-glazed, as we were meant to be. It seemed we were meant to live in the love and warmth of the sun, rather than to shield from the UV rays with SPF 50. At least, that’s how I felt in these visions – fearless. Radiation would only help me.

And there were also a few instant visions in which, as the tech flicked the switch, I saw my entire being and body radiating white light which translated to me as a great prognosis. Once, I flashed on a fearful image of a radiant light body with one charred breast; but, I quickly replaced that idea with a whole light body radiating perfect health which is why the compliment, “you look radiant” tickled me.

2.) Miso soup. I learned that iodine rich seaweed was great for cleansing the body of toxic radiation and that Miso has several protective ingredients. So, after each treatment, I high-tailed on over to a nearby Asian restaurant for a pint of Miso soup. Ordinarily, I’m not fond of marine plants floating in salty broth, but my belief in this magic potion was so strong that the first spoonful of soup each day made my taste buds sing. And, after 25 radiation blasts plus 5 boosters, in conjunction with 30 plus a few extra pints of Miso for good measure, I had none of the fatigue associated with radiation treatments.

3.) Aloe. Dr. Torrey warned during my first consultation that radiation can burn skin. I went out that very day, a couple weeks before the first blast, and purchased 99% Aloe – Lily of the Desert from the health food store and  gelled up my boobies. I gelled up the girls (not wanting to play favoritism) every day leading up to the first treatment, and immediately following each blast, (No lotions or gels allowed during) and I stayed gooey every moment that I could. My breasts were like little flubbers for the better part of that autumn, and wow did that pay off – I was barely tinted in the end. My right breast was a light pink as if I had attempted to go topless on my first day at the beach but covered up as soon as my nipples got hot. Dr. Torrey was amazed by my perpetually fair skin as the weeks progressed, and I sang praises for the aloe plant. Although, I also believe that my ardent belief in the plant’s protective powers enhanced its effectiveness. While I slathered on the succulent goo, I envisioned health or chanted health and consciously held the belief that the skin of my zapped breast would remain lily white while any remaining cancer cells were blasted away for good.

In the end, I had a happy radiation story just like my friend that learned to meditate while undergoing treatments for prostate cancer. What’s more, my rebel t’ween sweetened up by the last blast too. In gratitude for their kindness and expertise, my beautiful daughter baked a batch of her special chocolate chunk cookies for me to take to the hospital for my radiation team. And, with that leg of the journey behind me, my lump lessons were almost done.

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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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Danielle DiPietro, National Awareness Director of the Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com, bumped into my blog and then contacted me to ask if I would post a guest blogger. Oh yeah! The goal of Danielle’s organization is to help spread awareness about the symptoms and treatment of a rare kind of cancer called mesothelioma. In addition to general outreach, the team at Asbestos.com works one-to-one with patients and families to help find local doctors, treatment centers, and support groups.

If I learned anything from my experience with breast cancer and cancer treatments with symptoms that were often times more debilitating (though ultimately not more deadly) than the disease itself, I learned the need for the village. I learned that I needed a village to inform me, I wanted a village of choices, and I leaned on a village of hearts and strengths. Danielle and her crew are of the village of cancer experts and caregivers, and I am honored to post their article here:

 

Coping with Mesothelioma Cancer                                                               

Nobody ever expects to hear the words “You have terminal cancer.”

Unfortunately, more than 3,000 mesothelioma patients in the United States hear these words each year. Mesothelioma is associated with an average prognosis of one year, and even though survivors continue to beat the odds, patients must still cope with the challenging physical and mental stressors of the disease.

Coping on a Physical Level

Even with the most advanced treatments, mesothelioma patients still experience symptoms with a varying degree of severity. The symptoms typically intensify as the cancer progresses.

Some of the symptoms that mesothelioma patients can expect include:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath

When symptoms begin to interfere with daily life, traditional treatments or alternative therapies can help patients cope. Surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy can help relieve most symptoms. However, these standard therapies can cause their own sets of side effects for patients to endure, including nausea, diarrhea, infection or appetite loss.

Although these issues can often be managed with certain pharmaceuticals, some patients elect gentler alternative therapies to avoid the unwanted aftereffects of standard treatments. Yoga, acupuncture and massage are among the most common alternative therapies used by mesothelioma patients.

Coping on an Emotional Level

In addition to physical side effects, emotional side effects can also arise after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Sadness, anger, depression and anxiety commonly affect newly diagnosed patients as they try to figure out what their futures hold. Managing these feelings can be just as important as managing the physical side effects of the disease.

Joining a support group is one of the most common and effective ways that a mesothelioma patient can process the mental aspects of a terminal cancer diagnosis. These groups are specially designed for cancer patients and their families, and they offer a safe forum for open discussion of any topics related to the post-diagnosis journey. These groups offer low-pressure opportunities for patients to process the fear or frustration they are experiencing.

Meditation is another way that mesothelioma patients can release emotional tension. Simply focusing on something other than the body for as little as a few minutes each day can provide a notable reduction in emotional stress.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care. In Awe and Gratitude for the Village,

L.

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