I’ve attached a picture from Saturday. I’m amazed (and really, not surprised) at how beautiful and vibrant Elizabeth is, after all she has gone through in the past year. Her dedication to her health and well being, along with the courageous way she took on this biggest of challenges life can throw at us, is at once amazing, inspiring, and really, indescribable by words.
We spent Saturday sleeping in, spending some time on our land, looking at the progress of our new home, taking a hike at a favorite spot with the dogs, and attending the joyous wedding of a close friend of mine. We are so thankful to be experiencing life in this way, and enjoying the abundance we are so blessed with.
Our love and gratitude to each of you for supporting us with your energy, meals, words of care, thoughts of hope and health and so much more.
Steve (+ Elizabeth)
We came across this poem again, which Elizabeth wrote last August and still holds so true:
You can’t go to the depths of the hole, where the waters are dark and cold. In that cave there are sharks lurking where you cannot see and your movement will startle them with fear. You can’t go there, where you’ll gasp for air and not reach it. Your snorkel is full with water; your scuba tank has run dry.
You can’t go to the deep depths of the woods, where the trail appears to go in every direction. For when you follow it, it is gone. You are lost, walking deeper into the thorny thicket.
Instead you must only go to where the Great Blue Heron steps stealthily at the ponds edge; where the fiery glimpse of the Oriole catches your eye and and the breeze enlivens the hairs on your skin.
You can only go to the place where the golden sun shimmers across the landscape; where the sunflowers bob in the breeze and the stars expose the vastness of your being.
For it is only here; where life exists. Where you breathe deep and free. And rest in the wake of the world.
Appreciating all that IS. I’m learning to know my body now, with scars and holes to remind me of the path which makes me True. I honor the life of the coral reefs that once was and that I witnessed on Monday is no longer. I mourn the losses. I question the destruction and yet, I must be grateful for what still swims and sways in the current. I mourn the death of 3 baby lambs on our farm. Two never witnessing this beautiful world, one undoubtedly feeling interspecies love and care for the few hours she was kept warm by a fire and bottle fed. Love persists. Nurture cannot be destroyed. The cycles of death always mean there is also life. The lapping of waves on the shore, the wind adjusting my hair – reminders that nothing is constant, nothing is permanent and all that is, is now. I close my eyes and breathe, feel, hear, see, smell. Witness. I am now. This is now. I do not need to change the beat of the waves or resist the direction of the wind. I open to the constant movement, to the unknown, to the lapping and the breeze and let them bask over me.
today this image is not me. this is a distant past. today i cannot stand on my hands. i cannot bend down and touch my toes. I cannot balance on one leg. I cannot put my own socks on without pain. today i look into the mirror at a body unknown. since July the reflection in the mirror has been distancing itself from the one i knew; one of muscle, broad shoulders, one of thick skin and of toughness. i’ve tried to accept this newness. but today the reflection is ever different. after a week in the hospital, no appetite, little ability to move, my body is slender, the skin falling on the bones without effort. my cheeks are sunk. my shoulders are narrow. there is no visible muscle anymore. though my mental self holds some strength, my physical being is fragile and frail. slow and spindly.
today i am thankful to stand up on my own. today i can step each foot in front of the other for a little while and am thankful for the wind that reminds me i’m still alive. today i can bend down enough to snuggle my dogs.
tomorrow is another day.
I now have 12 sessions of chemo behind me and last Friday had my second surgery. And now, I can honestly say that chemo is worse than recovering from surgery. Obviously, it’s not a competition I ever wanted to know the answer to, but I would have never guessed this to be the case so I find it interesting. Chemo isn’t painful. Surgery is. Yet there is something about pain that is very tangible. You either feel pain or you don’t. There are different levels of pain that a sentient being can tolerate. Apparently, I have a high tolerance – not what I would have guessed based on the whining I did as a child. But the doctors who saw how obstructed I was going into the hospital in July were astounded I could handle the pressure. (And I actually went kayaking the Sunday prior to that emergency surgery). Pain can be treated with massage, movement, and drugs. Rather than pain, chemo causes the body , mind and soul to be uncomfortable. It’s a whole inside/out sort of experience. I had a near-constant feeling of grossness while on chemo. This “medicine” would hopefully kill the cancer yet it was odd how solidly it felt like it was also destroying so much else in its wake. My mouth was coated in a white slime so nothing I ate or drank tasted like anything. Water was gross. Chocolate was even gross! Chemo made my brain turn to mush. Now, to be fair, oxycodon, a drug which helps with the surgery pain also slows the mind and causes drowsiness, but chemo squishes the mind into a dizzy daze. And because part of the chemo drugs are steroids, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t read or even watch movies too well. I would just stare out the window waiting for the daze to fade. Surgery recovery, albeit slow, will end and I am feeling a little more whole everyday. Chemo, even though the 12 sessions are over and almost all the side effects are gone (I still have neuropathy in my fingers and feet) lingers in the body for an unknown length. The oncologist says 2 months. The fertility doctor says 18-24 months. I should be recovered from surgery in 4-weeks. And I’ll know, because I won’t feel pain or be fragile. I’ll be able to move and exercise and process food normally.
Surgery recovery is certainly no walk in the park. But I’m incredibly thankful I don’t need chemo anymore….
my body is not a machine. it is a web of intricate parts woven together with cells and tissue and soul and fire. pulling, prodding, greasing, winding and working my body will just as much wear it down as it will make it strong, but strength does not equal vibrancy. strength does not equal wellness. strength does not equal stamina. strength does not fuel the fire of my soul to burn brightly with a base of coals and a beautiful, deep yellow-colored airy dance. and so i re-learn that the lesson of patience is a lesson on humility. a lesson in humility is a lesson in resilience. resilience is a lesson on nourishment. nourishment is a lesson on what is simple and whole.
and what is whole is me.
within this body that has been poked and manipulated and stapled and stitched for another time – I reside. within this body I will radiate once again.
An open letter to my community near and far,
As the dawn of my last of twelve chemotherapy treatments approaches, I look out over a sun bathed, snowy landscape that is alive with abundance, glistening with hope, calm with delicacy and protruding with possibility. If I’ve learned anything since I was diagnosed with cancer on July 16th, it’s a snippet into what gratitude feels like.
And this is it.
I am overcome by the emotion that my body, mind and soul are experiencing as the last treatment approaches. I still have an impending February surgery, yet even knowing there is this big triumph still to come, my gratitude for you and eagerness to get to the other side of this ride cannot be subdued.
During the last few days, I have found myself almost constantly reflecting on these 6-months. I recall the months of stomachaches that doctors and I wrote off to diet related bloating. I distinctly remember the night my ache turned into pain; July 4th – we had just eaten wood fired pizza in San Francisco and were about to board a boat to watch the fireworks with our newly married friends. And I cringe at the memory, 4 days before I went into the hospital, while trimming sheep hooves, when the pain in my stomach got so unbearable that I screamed and yelled at our sheep and our farm helpers. (Needless to say, there was relief to know it wasn’t the sheep trimming or the helpers that made me so angry!) And of course, there’s the moment when the world stopped for a few moments, when numbness and fear overtook my entire being…When, in the hospital, post surgery, the surgeon came into my tiny room filled with 8 hopeful faces of my nearest and dearest and he told us my cancer was Stage 3 and I would be needed 12 sessions of chemotherapy.
These memories are real and feel important to hold onto a while longer. But no longer are these the memories the ones I play over and over in my mind. Perhaps these ones will never go away, but they are certainly fading. These memories have been overtaken by beautiful images of what it means to be part of a community. They have been overtaken by expressions of love, care and selflessness. It’s these warm memories that I hold so dearly in my heart, that kindle the fire in my soul and melt the darkness out of it – just as the sun melts the ice off the pond’s edge.
How do I thank you for all you have given me? You have cared for me in so many ways during this time when Steve and I needed it more than we knew. These are some of the gifts you have so generously given us. These are just some of things we thank you out loud for:
Thank you for the 100’s of sticky notes and letters that plastered my hospital walls with radiant color of love and humor. For the railing you built before I got home from the hospital so I could safely walk up and down our deck stairs to get inside our home. For organizing and rearranging our yurt so the hospital bed would fit and we would still feel comfortable in our home. For cleaning the mouse poop out of the corners of the back room. For endless deliveries of local food, grown with love by people in our community; and for meals and groceries that continue to nourish our bodies. So much gratitude to our farm staff, for ensuring that our mushroom CSA, our sheep, our dogs and our ducks were all taken care of while we completely checked out to focus on care for me. Thank you for the incredible fire you ceremoniously lit to bring healing light to my family, my caregivers and myself. And thank you to those of you who attended the fire and brought your healing energies to share with our land and me. We are thankful for our CSA members, whose emails, stories of personal cancer journey’s and gratitude for our honesty helped us at a time when we knew we couldn’t do anymore. To the Piggery, for the fresh meat bones you gave us so our friends could make bone broth for me – a specific order from the nutritionist. Thank you for the numerous rides to and from doctor’s appointments near and far, for the notes you took at those appointments, and the help deciphering what the hell we were hearing at each of those appointments. Such tremendous thanks for the endless stream of cards, emails, notes, gifts, texts and pings of love from those I know well and those I haven’t spoken to in decades. These notes have not stopped for even one single day since July 16th and each one holds so much meaning to me. For the cards and gifts from unknown people, including a recent delivery of coffee and chocolate from a “Hector” in Costa Rica (who is this Hector person anyway..?) I am still humbled by the time and energy you put into creating an incredible fundraiser to help us get through this journey with less financial stress. I’m thankful for each individual and business who donated, attended, sent warm words, played music and provided strength to us in the perfect way you knew how. For the dozens of intricate coloring book gifts and movies that have kept my chemo brain from truly freezing up on itself. We are deeply humbled by the two families’ – one whom we have never met – who graciously gave us their houses to live in during this winter so our life would be a little simpler and warmer. And we are thankful for you, who helped us move out of the yurt into the first house and from the first house into the home we are in now until April. For the deck chair you gave me so I could sit comfortably while healing for surgery. Thank you for the times you offered to walk our dogs because you knew we were too tired or unable to give them the exercise they need to be happy. To my dog Vida, who never leaves my side whether I’m sleeping, hiking, walking, cooking or lounging on the couch. To the students and teachers at Mighty Yoga, who have knowingly and unknowingly supported me as a teacher to offer you my authentic self during these 6 months, for the meditations and intentions you have offered me and for showing me what strength and commitment truly looks like. Thank you to my family and to the farmers who have brought us or mailed us medicine in forms of tea, elixirs, juices, ginger and turmeric roots, tinctures, mushrooms and wholesome meals. I continue to be deeply touched by the willingness of many of you who share your knowledge, your stories of cancer triumph and personally hard experiences you’re going through so I know I’m not alone and I too, will get through this. To the organization who recently offered me a job as Director, entrusting I will be strong and healthy to take on the charge. And thank you to the endless amount of healers who have kept me strong during these 6-months through massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, yoga and energy work.
I have learned many things on this journey. Too many to list today. But one thing that will stick me forever is that it is in our nature to care. Your nature and mine. It is in our soul to nourish. It is our blood to connect. It is our heart to heal. While many of the gifts we have received are from people we are close to, many are from people we have never met, from people we have met only once or knew a long time ago. And every single gift has made this journey just a little bit easier. None of us are alone. No matter how much we might want to be at times, we simply are not. I will never forget this gift and I will spend the rest of my life believing in the power of connection and community. And I will remember the lessons of selfless care that you have taught me and only hope I can pay them forward as humbly as you have.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart to the bottom of yours.
This is a celebratory week. Sure, it’s the beginning of 2016 but that’s not what I mean. (I believe that we actually have the capacity to start anew whenever we want if we allow ourselves the time, space and intention to do so. So New Year’s doesn’t resonate with me that much). This week is more exciting than a new year. This week is the restart of my life as I knew it pre-cancer. The restart of my life as woman who, rather than letting toxins have their way with my body and cells every two-weeks, can build immunity and cultivate strength in my body, mind and soul that will grow and last.
This is the week that I have my twelfth and LAST chemo treatment.
I’ll repeat it, a little louder in case you missed it. THIS is the week I have my LAST CHEMO TREATMENT. I gotta say, I can’t believe I made it. This 24-weeks seems to have taken about 4 years to go by.
Yet, even as we get closer to putting the cancer behind us, the life lessons continue to arrive.
Thursday night I got a nasty head cold. Ironically, other than the couple hospital visits I had early on in the treatments, this is the worst I’ve felt since being diagnosed with cancer. Being sick on top of being sick is a funny lesson on perspective. I’m not a very good patient (Steve can attest at length if you need detail) so being bed ridden doesn’t work for me too well. After spending the last two and a half days in bed or on the couch, I insisted on taking a walk.
Three Eastern Bluebirds hopped along the pond as I walked by. These birds are a vibrant shimmery blue with a bronze chest. Their calm and playful presence despite the freezing temperatures reminds me to laugh and relax.
Vida and Sadie nearly barrel rolled me as they sped after a vole beneath the snow cover. These beings, whether sleeping or walking – are a constant by my side. They teach me what devotion means.
Animal tracks in the snow – a cat, a deer, a vole, a human. Lesson in perseverance. Giving up is never an option.
The wind blows snow into face, causing my eyes to water. Yet in between the strong gusts, the air is calm – almost perfectly still. I pause as I am reminded once again that the only thing that is ever constant is change.
Before circling back home, I walk up to Steve, who despite the cold weather, is not wearing gloves or a jacket. He is in the middle of an annual pre-winter chore we usually do together; cleaning out a 5 inch thick layer of poop covered straw from the duck house. Once the straw is out, he will add a little extra wind protection to the doors and set-up the house in it’s winter location in the woods. Steve’s body is strong and resilient. His hands are weathered from working outside. The cold fuels him to work efficiently so he stays warm and gets the job done. His stamina and dedication to our animals reminds me of what I will be capable of again.
And I am reminded that my love for this earth, for our land, for our home and all beings that reside here has not subsided. Cancer has squashed my spirit at times, but I am reminded that the spark is still there. I have learned to listen in ways my soul never knew before. And I am reminded that after this week, I can begin to build my flame again – for real. For, it won’t be squashed in two-weeks.
“There is, of course, no need to fear the dark, much less prevail over it. Not that we could. Look up in the sky on a starry night, if you can still find one, and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe. There is so much of it, in fact, that it simply has to be the foundation of all that is. The stars are an anomaly in the face of it, the planets an accident. Is it evil or indifferent? I don’t think so. Our lives begin in the womb and end in the tomb. It’s dark on either side… The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the darkness will come looking for us.”
Here’s the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/20/opinion/why-we-need-the-winter-solstice.html?_r=0
On Tuesday I felt alive again. And it felt good. Damn good.
The last time I felt so alive was the night I went into the hospital, July 16th. I was riving in such tremendous pain, only a sentient being can experience this kind of physical suffering. I can’t promise I wanted to be alive in those hours, but it is clear to me that I was. My shirt soaked with tears. My throat scratchy from screams. My eyelids sore from being closed so tightly. My heart aching with sorrow for Steve’s fear. Memories of pain don’t go away. Or at least mine haven’t yet. Since then, life has a shadow. Even the sunny days have an unknown darkness within them. I have written about this all before.
Yet the events of this week were kismet. And since Tuesday, I once again feel an overall sense of hope that life will be filled with brightness again one day. We will get through this and hope and laughter will be present.
You might stop reading here. Perhaps that is enough of a blog post – starts rough and ends on a positive note. But if you want the story, here ’tis:
Two weeks ago Steve and I were invited to a Whole-Farm Planning Class. I learned the topic years ago, so wasn’t inclined to go, but the class was being hosted by a farm in Naples, NY. Meanwhile, on Thursday I was invited back for a second interview for a job with a non-profit who trains people to be new farmers. The interview was Tuesday night. 2 days with farmers and an interview with an organization that trains farmers. Coincidence? Kismet?
The farm class was in Naples, NY. Naples is a small town in a valley next to Canandaigua Lake. It’s just minutes from the cottage where my family spent hundreds of summers’ days together; swimming, laughing, eating, lounging and more. It is here where I first slowed down enough to witness that nature has her own language. It is here where, by swimming across the lake and learning to slalom water ski, that I discovered I had the strength and capacity to do anything I wanted. And it is here where a large piece of my soul still resides – always full of glee and wonder. The farm course was being organized by a woman who owns a farm in Naples. She is somebody I have wanted to meet for a few years, mostly because her farm is in Naples but also because the farm’s priority is to cultivate, share and inspire abundance by saving and selling seed. The owners of this farm are selling the seeds from plants grown in a valley where my soul lives. How could I not want to know who they are? I signed up for the course.
Though Day 1’s content was repetitive and slow, I had the chance to connect with 12 other beginning (and some experienced) farmer’s about each of our business’s and also the opportunity to ask them how a non-profit that trains farmers could help each of them. This was well worth the trip in itself.
But Day 2 is when I realized I was still alive. I had been preparing for my Tuesday interview for days, not sleeping well at night, going through answers to interview questions in my head and reading about the mission and work of this non-profit. A feeling that I actually might want the job – that I want something – started becoming real. I haven’t felt this in months. Also on Day 2, our group of farmers spent 90-minutes ‘Whole Farm Assessing’ parts of our Wellspring Forest Farm. It was enlivening, eye-opening, and humbling to have 12 farmers process our farm and our holistic life goals with me.
These few moments were the first time since July 17th I felt like I actually cared about something (other than other humans and animals). To be more accurate, I realized I actually still care about my future. To feel this, I realized, I am still truly alive. Yes, I am fighting a disease that shadows my every move, but that shadow is not me. And will no longer be me.
I’ve been called a lizard. Not because my nickname has been Liz for so many years, but because I’m addicted to sunshine. On warm days, I plan my activities so that I maximize my time in the sun. If I need to sit in the house or at work, I slowly follow the sun’s rays throughout the day so it can warm my skin at it shines through the window. There’s a special spot in the library at Cornell where I work in the winter and through the dome of our yurt the rays beam through as a circle, and Vida and I both arc our way around our circular home. The yoga studio I go to faces East and one bitter cold winter morning, there was a nice sliver of sunshine beaming through the window. I placed my mat there and I moved it slowly to the left throughout the practice. My yoga friends laughed with love at my addiction.
But, this morning, I don’t like the sun. Waking up, I opened my eyes and it looks like a beautiful day. The sky is blue and the sun shimmers on the flowing pond water. But the moment I feel the beauty of this day, it ends abruptly. The feeling is squashed almost before that warm sense of gratitude even arises.
Today is chemo treatment 10. 3 more to go. 3 is a big number. Chemo makes everything dark, everything foggy, everything painful and everything taste bad. It turns the sun into something that teases me; provoking me because I can’t be outside. Today I can’t warm my skin from the sun’s warming rays and I can’t walk beneath it’s radiance. This type of living needs to wait. Chemo teaches me perspective. Every 14 days, the best case scenario is that 2-3 of my days are a wash – almost as though they don’t exist. On these days I sleep, I rest, I watch movies, I read if my mind is capable and I drink tea. But worst case scenario is the side effects take hold. I am in pain. I take pills. I sleep. My years of practicing being present in the moment go out the window and I wish more than anything that the time would go by rapidly.