Friday, August 31, 2012

Once In A Blue....

Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.
Hal Borland

It's hard to believe that we are at the end of summer as most of us count it and are at Labor Day weekend. We are looking a blue moon tonight to kick it off. 

Truly it has been a memorable summer, the tides of my life changed in a way I never conceived of. Instead of immersion in the training that I had planned to do to become a yoga therapist/teacher, I clung to the rock of cancer treatments and lifestyle changes. Now I'm plunging back into the immense ocean of being and swimming ahead for new adventures. 

Today I'm grateful that I am seeing yet another blue moon month and for the beauty of the life I have been given.

Jesse Cook, "Ocean Blue":

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Taking A New Road

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.
Lewis Carroll

Today I began laying the groundwork for a possible change in my career. For a long time I've known that while I do enjoy working with people, I don't enjoy working that much in the traditional medical field anymore. A possibility for an office came up and I am looking at taking it to do wellness coaching. I'm going to be starting a certificate program if all works out in the next couple of weeks so I can begin to move that way.

I had an inspiration that I was headed in the right direction after an encounter with my neighbor. She moved in recently and I hadn't met her. Today I did. It turns out she has lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy.  Another neighbor who was outside told her that I was diagnosed recently with breast cancer. She looked at me and I could see the disbelief on her face. We talked briefly and she asked if I was doing chemo. I told her that no I had chose not to and to follow another path, but that in some cases I felt chemotherapy was right for people. She was interested in what I was doing so I talked to her how I had decided to develop a model of integrative care and what it involved. After a brief moment she got teary eyed and said why didn't anyone talk to her about those things.There was no exact answer I could give her, but later I gave her a list of resources to have her family look at to perhaps find her path.Again I felt like the universe was giving me a large prod. We did stand in contrast. She was frail looking and I looked fairly robust in comparison. It is apples and oranges in a way, but to me it just says whyt cannot the two ends work together for the betterment of the patient? I think if I hadn't chosen the path though of integration, I would be her.

So there lies the gratitude, that I have found a new road in my life and am taking it. I cannot fully see where it will lead, but the journey is what it's about anyway...

Ziggy Marley, "Roads Less Travelled":

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

While In The Fog

 Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm fog.
Joseph Conrad

Today I was in a used book store and saw several books on breast cancer. Most of them dealt with decision making and procedures. I realized that I am far past that, the blues have lifted and I'm moving on. So tonight I made the decision to return the focus of the blog to what it was originally intended for. While breast cancer will remain a reality, it is not the main lyric of my day, it's becoming a faint melody. I'm still working on life improvement, but this is a process we all do as we change and have things occur. Much has happened in the last few months and much more is to come. I'll be continuing down life's highway and taking in the sights.

Tonight I am grateful for love, for someone who has opened their being and mine. Their time with me on this journey is a gift however long it will may last.

The Fog, "Highway Buddha Blues":

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Yin of Being and The Yang of Doing

The acupuncturist I've been seeing has told me I'm Yin deficient. During the time I sat meditation this weekend I realized he was right. My life experience, intellectual and cultural training are largely about doing or the Yang quality. Going on "silent retreat" was the most Yin thing I could have done. This a.m. I realized I wanted to continue the experience. So I'm creating an Yin of Being. That is I'm turning my phone/media sources off for a few hours during the day. I'm using the time to focus on meditation, yoga and other things for healing and insight.

It was a good lesson today. I found that when I returned to do the Yang of Doing.i.e housework, walking the dog...I was much more focused on that task. I'm going to continue this experiment and see if it will become a way to help me improve life.

Tonight I'm grateful for my acupuncturist who is opening me up to new ways of being and doing.

Lisa Lynne and Levi Chen, "Celtic Zen":

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Wellness Spiderweb

This trip to New Camaldoli had a much different feel then last month's. It was calmer, more insightful and more centering. The weather was much the same though. Friday was warm and sunny. Saturday and today cool and foggy. I got up very early and discovered a whole world of spider webs, dew soaked and dancing in the dawn light.

They became the theme of my morning meditation yesterday. As I've worked through ways to heal, I've noticed that strands of information seem to come my way as I need them. Further one links to the other. Before I knew it I realized that I've woven together a web of practices for wellness. The intent is for any cancer cells to become stuck and consumed by my well cells so to speak.

Meditation was the point of this retreat time. While there I read an inspirational story of Gandhi and how he came to be able to center and still the so called monkey brain.  Something clicked for me and the inspiration helped guide me to be able to take a Metta Kindness technique to use as a mantra.

Stephen Cope described how a family servant named Rambha gave Gandhi a mantra and then used the following to help him understand the power of a mantra....

...she compared the practice of mantra to the training of an elephant. "As the elephant walks through the market," taught Rambha, "he swings his trunk from side to side and creates havoc with it wherever he goes-knocking over fruit stands and scattering vendors, snatching bananas and coconuts wherever possible. His trunk is naturally restless, hungry, scattered, undisciplined. This is just like the mind-constantly causing trouble."

But the wise elephant trainer, said Rambha, will give the elephant a stick of bamboo to hold in his trunk. The elephant likes this. He holds it fast. And as soon as the elephant wraps his trunk around the bamboo the trunk begins to settle. Now the elephant strides through the market like a prince: calm, collected, focused, serene. Bananas and coconuts no longer distract.

So too with the mind. As soon as the mind grabs hold of the mantra, it begins to settle. The mind hold the mantra gently-and it becomes focused, calm, centered....

So I'm grateful to the universal source for the lessons of the last few days. I'm home soothed and centered and opened.

Joan Osborne, "Spider Web":

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Strategies for Staying Alive

Tomorrow I'm going back up to New Camaldoli to spend 3 days. I've spent the last few months working on restoring my body from the effects of cancer and its treatment. Now I have to work on in Brenda Hunter's words, mending the mind and restoring the spirit. Her book, "Staying Alive" stood out in the many books I've come across. Our lives share many parallels. As she put it, she was ripe for cancer and I've come to feel so was I.

My big issues will be handling stress better and stopping the trend of trying to be everything to everyone. The aforementioned book is going with me, but so is a DVD retreat, Smile at Fear with Pema Chodron which came highly recommended from a friend. I'm working on unkinking some of the tightly wound spaces that are within me from all the issues of the last few years. One of those issues has been my work and it's toxic environment.

I'll be back to work in 4 to 5 weeks unless something unexpected happens. When I go back I know I cannot work how I the preparation is going on to work as I've become. It will be interesting to see how people respond to the changed me.

Tonight I'm grateful the reflexology massage I had earlier. It helped me loosen up and move towards the work I will be doing this weekend.

Glee, "Stayin' Alive":

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Venus and Mars of Diet

Steak, ice cream, brownies...farewell as I knew you. My new reality is juicing, multiple servings of grains, lots o'veggies, xylitol/stevia and so on.

It is helping, it really is. I'm using a juicer and a Nutribullet to get intense doses of veggies with a dash of fruit into me. My energy is up, my weight down. It really has been a challenge though. I was raised a mid-western kid, so carbs, meat and sugar were a way of life. My Mars so to speak. Now I have to learn to be Venus. I'm getting there. My book inspirations have been besides Dr. Dean Ornish's work, which I've mentioned in past posts are "Anti-Cancer: A New Way" by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD and "Crazy, Sexy, Diet" by Kristin Carr. And if you need a visual watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Some people might feel these are fads or extremes, but they are all by people who have been there done that.

I still plan to do the occasional meat and cheese, but now I'm making sure they are organic and not hormone produced. I'm also learning to cook the once in awhile dessert with xylitol/stevia and whole grain or whole wheat pastry flour.

Today I'm grateful for the pioneering people who are helping connect nutrition as a way to improve health and conquer disease. They may still be lone voices calling in the medical wilderness, but eventually I think they will be heard.

Paul McCartney "Venus and Mars":

Monday, August 20, 2012

Saying Farewell or In Memorandum

Verna passed away late this morning. I was out shopping for some food when my phone rang. It was her daughter and she asked if I would come. Luckily I was close by so I was able to get to the condo fairly quickly. She had passed just after the chaplain had come. Her son and daughter were with her and it was quiet.

The hospice nurse came and pronounced her. The funeral home was called and it was agreed they would come about 4 hours later so all of her family could come by and say good-bye one last time. What followed was not macabre at all, but beautiful and full of peace. Her ex-daughter-in-law and I dressed her in a favorite outfit. Things she loved were placed around her. Her grandchildren and great-granddaughter who is about to be a year old came. The sun shone through a window and down around her and those who sat with her. We talked about her life. For her twenty something grandchildren it was a revelation. They asked me why cannot it be this way for everyone,i,e it made death less frightening and more a natural part of life....good question. 

Later the funeral home arrived. The attendant, her son-in-law and I prepared her for her final journey and one last good-bye was said. Her family is grieving, but they are at peace. For me I hope I placed a few karma points that when my time comes, I have as beautiful as a departure.

Verna was a pistol and loved Frank Sinatra. We had turned on the radio shortly after I arrived and the first song that was sung was "Pennies from Heaven". Everyone laughed and agreed, we were being sent a love message from Verna she was where she should be and all was okay....

So tonight my gratitude is for having known Verna and for being allowed the grace of being there for her family as much again as I have mentioned that they have been there for me.

Happy Voyages Verna.

Frank Sinatra, "Pennies From Heaven":

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Leaving and Living: Lessons Learned

It's been a intense few days. During my time on the West Coast. I've come to be adopted by the family of my former roommate.They gave me a good deal of support when my Mom was sick and through my own illnesses. Some of them live in the same condo complex where I'm at including his 85 year old grandmother, V. Over the last few years we have all kept an eye on her as she has been slowly failing. Friday afternoon she suffered a massive stroke and was placed on a respirator with no expectation of living without it or a feeding tube.

Yesterday I went to the hospital CCU to see her. Once I arrived with her ex-daughter-in-law we found out they were going to take her off life support. Not all family had arrived, but they made the decision to go ahead. Her daughter didn't want her to be alone just in case she passed before the nurse could get the family back into the room. Given that I work in the medical social work world, it was agreed I would stay. Once she was off the vent, I could tell that V. would not pass as quick as they thought due to her vitals (again experience working hospice). One of the questions I asked the family members was would they like a chaplain. They said yes. The hospital did have someone on call so they proceeded to call to bring him in. I went while we were waiting down to the cafeteria with a couple of the family who hadn't eaten and when we came back we were met by the news that V's insurance wanted to move her across town to their hospital. Her son/daughter where upset by this. I quietly asked them at this point if they were interested in hospice to bring her home and keep her comfortable. They looked stunned and then said oh yes. By this time also the chaplain had arrived and he was from one of the local hospice programs as luck would have it.

Long story short V. was brought home late yesterday. I spent time late into last night with her/family. I cooked breakfast this am for them. Tonight I'm really exhausted. I think it's bringing back the emotions of my Mom leaving us last year. Plus I'm even feeling my own mortality. It was a contrast because I'd been feeling so good. Didn't sleep well last night and fell a bit away from my diet. I think it's a preview of what I'm going to have to do to handle stress. It also proved to me that I'm wise in not returning to work yet, as I'm still working on being able to handle my job when I return better if I'm to stay healthy. And this situation smacks of the stresses I will face.

Tonight I'm praying for V.'s peaceful passing, although I think it will be a few days yet and I'm grateful to her and her family for their including me in their family circle. And for the continued lessons on leaving this life and the importance of continuing to live it in it's fullest.

Jesse Cook, "Sad Dm":

Monday, August 13, 2012

Shape Edges and Broken Open Moments

Breast cancer is full of sharp edges and broken open moments. The first weeks and then months usually involve tests, procedures and some sort of treatment. When you've completed these you feel like an egg that has been cracked open. Or perhaps a cup that has been shattered and now needs to be put back together. Or perhaps even more accurately it brings one to wabi sabi through the events which you have experienced:

One is reduced to her simplest form, and that form brought to a peak of focus by its relationship with the system in which it exists. That is to say, the presence of an self and the presence of the said system interact to strengthen each other...

Wabi sabi doesn't simply mean imperfection as most Westerners believe, rather it comes from a sense of feeling involving despondence (wabi) and solitude (sabi).  It is an process of evolving an aesthetic consciousness that creates a unique prism through which to look at one's life. That is through this progression one is reduced to essence and forced to look within. More pragmatically, cancer is the system which you will continue to live with; it can either weaken you or you can use it to strengthen you. In gaining strength you are able to better look within and gain an understanding that life becomes distilled to this: you understand emotionally and spiritually impermanence.

Perhaps impermanence would lead one back to despondence, rather it is liberating because you  appreciate the essence of beauty in the moments you have. So to bring it back to a more personal level, the presence of cancer in my life will continue to be a reality that flavors the moments I have left and it strengthens me to continue on and appreciate the blessing of the aforementioned moments in my journey....

Gratitude goes to a long ago teacher who introduced me to the concept of wabi sabi.

Tracy Chapman, "Broken":

Friday, August 10, 2012

Baby It's Hot Outside

We are in the middle of an August heat wave. Temperatures at 100+ through the weekend. I'm going away for a day to get away.  Flipped a coin between the mountains and the ocean...the ocean won because it will be cooler. The mountains can be hot during times like these, I'll be heading though to them in a couple of weekends to retreat again.

I may be getting hot inside. Today was the start of hormone therapy. I found so far not too bad other then medicine head feeling and napping. Here's hoping it holds to that level.  While we're talking in the c sphere, someone asked if I regretted cutting my hair since I'm not doing chemo.  The answer is no. Actually I like the look, it's very easy to care for since it's wavy and it is way cooler. I'll let it grow again eventually.

Not a good deal to say, just chilling inside while it's hot outside. Catching up on a pile of reading. In view of the chilling, I'm grateful today to my landlords for the new central air conditioning and for keeping me a chilly jilly.

The Better Halves, "Baby It's Hot Outside":

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Into Thy Hands....

It's been a week since my last post. Taking a lesson from my time at the hermitage, I decided I needed silence to make some final decisions and to celebrate my birthday.

Yesterday I met with the oncologist and told him I wasn't doing the chemotherapy.  In the end an 8-10 percent gain was not enough to sway me as I remain concerned about the possible long term effects. I did agree to do hormone therapy pending side effects (i.e. if they are horrendous I will stop). While he doesn't support the decision on chemo, he did support my right to make it.  He admitted that chemotherapy outcomes with breast cancer are not always predictable. My final decision was based on intuition. However my logical/scientific training warred with it. I suffered a week of nightmares related to the possibility of having chemo and I usually don't have nightmares. They were messengers about the direction I needed to take with my decision. Once I made the decision I felt a sense of calm certainty it was the right choice.

I'm finding it has also changed my relationship with the cancer. It no longer feels like life and death, rather a chronic condition to be managed. Dr. M and I agreed that we would manage my condition assertively, monitoring it closely by blood markers (I will have the blood test in a few weeks for it) and other tests. I will be seeing other professionals also to help me with supplements, nutrition and stress management. Dr. M asked if my guiding star was Susan Sommers. I told him no, Dr. Dean Ornish from UCSF, where some very enlightening studies have been done on the effect of nutrition  and such on genes and other factors. There are also other studies to this effect if one digs deep enough. Finally I told him in certain conditions I do support chemo, even for myself. If I had had involved lymph nodes or unclean margins, yes, I would have done it.

In the end this was not a contest about who is right or wrong. It is about living the best quality of life I can, whether it be one more day, a year or ten years or more. More importantly it is learning to live more in the moments I have and to be present for each one.

The monks at New Camaldoli have a beautiful chant which opens their website: "Into thy hands lord"....My being resonates with it. I don't believe in a traditional monotheistic god, but I do believe in a universal source and I can sing with them, into thy hands I commend my spirit, because it is my trust in that source which will strengthen me in the days to come and my gratitude tonight is to that source.

Hildegard Von Bingen, "Vision":

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Closing Time

Today I went to the Farmer's Market close to its closing time. I have gotten to know one of the vendors quite well and on occasion try to help them with closing just to enjoy some catching up with them. I grabbed some shots of the last of their veggies.

Monday I was told about the need for chemotherapy. I've had no further communication from the oncologist office despite three phone calls with questions. They are closed tomorrow.

Emotionally I have not made peace with doing chemotherapy. I still have many questions and they are not being answered. And I'm not getting the support I need to make peace with it. It just doesn't feel right. I know the MammoPrint says I have a twenty nine percent chance of recurrence in 10 years.....but again still questioning.

My gratitude tonight is for my friends who have taken time to listen to my questions, sat with my frustrations/anger over our current care system and keep encouraging me to do what's right for me.

Semisonic, "Closing Time":

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lovely Locks Phase 1

My hair was cut tonight as my stylist is leaving for Belize in the morning. When she gets back in two weeks, she will come by to my condo to shave my head at the point that I'm significantly losing my hair. I took a friend and we had sparkling apple-pomegranate cider and did girl talk. It helped me get through it and made it  bearable. We then went out to dinner. Due to my need for privacy because of the sensitive nature of my job, I'm not posting pictures of myself, but will share the elements surrounding the events as I can.

Tomorrow I go get my first wig...So my hair adventures are beginning...

my locks have been chopped,
they are standing by now for
their chemo dye treatment

Today I'm grateful for everyone who was along for the first hair adventure. It will make phase 2 a bit easier to know they will be there then too.

Hair, "Hair (from the Musical)":

Beginning Yet Again

  "Never feel guilty for starting again." -Rupi Kaur These days being a flaneuse has been more mental than physical. I moved to Ar...