4 years later

to post or not to post…
4 years ago I woke up from emergency surgery with stage 3 colon cancer and a colostomy. i had never heard that word before but now I had one. not something you ever want. The 9 months following that day, I would go through 6 months of chemotherapy and have 2 more surgeries. during that time I learned to be numb to and for my body. it wasn’t conscious but I disconnected emotionally and mentally so that needles attached to tubes could be connected. it was the only way.
4 years later I have much to be grateful for – i am cancer free, a beautiful landscape I call home, a life full of abundance brimming with love from and for many.
am so grateful.
but if I’m being honest, and I look inward and try to feel my body, the numbness is still there. the colostomy scar is strong and I try not to see it.  remnant of the intensities of pains I felt during those 9 months can be as crisp as the first frost in autumn.  these memories haunt me at random moments and still bring tears to my eyes.
and if I’m still being honest, the numbness cancer taught me was training wheels for infertility.  23 months of trying to conceive. we’ve tried all the things, many times. and so again there been no choice but to be numb to my body. numb to the pinch, numb to the 100’s of needles I’ve stuck into my belly, numb to the needles Steve has jabbed into my butt, numb to weight i’ve gained from the hormones, numb to the miscarriage, numb to the single pink line, numb to the new families of joy surrounding me, numb to the monthly bleed, numb to the desire to have a family of our own, numb to faux pa of talking about infertility.  NUMB.
i have been trying to lift myself from the numbness.  but “if you want to learn to fly, you have to leave the ground”.

all that is

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.

who is this?

DSCN2814today 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.

chemo is worse

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.

no fear in the dark

“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

7947c-p541

round 9

today is the 9th treatment.  I don’t have much to say about it except that it’s still feels far from the 12th – the last one.  I know it’s getting close to the end, but I think until I’m on the last treatment, I won’t feel like I see or feel the light. I will be hooked to chemo today thru Thursday which means I will likely feel like crap Thursday and Friday, maybe Saturday. My mouth will taste like hairy slime, I’ll feel tired and nauseous and have no appetite.  If I’m strong enough, Steve and I will join some friends on Thursday for some company and festivities. “If you feel well”. “Take care of yourself first.” “There’s no pressure”. 

There’s a lot to be grateful for. I know there is. I could rattle off dozens, if not 100’s of things I am thankful for.  But today, as I sit in the chemo suite, hooked to a tube of poisons for 6 hours, my head slightly aches and Steve is couch-ridden with a bad back and I can’t be there to care for him.

the light in the darness

the light in the darness

From October 12th

Today the new moon and the sun both sit in the constellation Libra, signifying a universal momentum towards balance, as Libra is the constellation of the scale. As the light from the new moon waxes, so will ones intentions if you set them. These cycles teach us that now is the time to plant new seeds, to harvest the fruits of the season, to celebrate hibernation and give gratitude for death.

It is a time to bring new light into life, as the light of the days grows shorter, our perspective and focus can only expand.

Today is also the dawn of my 6th chemo treatment. It is the halfway point. The 6th treatment is over on Friday and the countdown to 12 now can begin.

I welcomed the passage of this countdown and the darkness of the moon deep into my soul as I sat in the woods, encircling a fire, with 6 other beautiful women on Tuesday night. With the moon and the sun in Libra, it is believed that harmony and equanimity are upon us. We sat together, with this as our intention.

Yet within the quest for balance, imbalance rears its head.

Coincidentally during the last week I have been learning a new contemplation practice. The practice walks me through a process of asking a question and making space for answers or clarity. As I have sat, reflecting on the time – only three months – since I was diagnosed with cancer, I have wondered what this ‘mid-point’ might bring. Does it bring balance to this journey? Does it bring hope to the rest of the road? Does it bring clarity to the terrible ride I’ve been on? Are more questions answered about why I have cancer? Or am I more accepting of the fact that I just do? Do I want this acceptance? Or do I want more answers?

What I have come to realize is that within seeking “balance” I have to embrace imbalance. And the thing is, balance isn’t “good” and imbalance isn’t “bad”. There is much, much more to the story.

It is in this gray area where I believe the clarity lives. Where perhaps no answer is the answer for right now. And to borrow the words of Stephen Cope, the lessons are to:
Tolerate the mystery
To welcome to unknown
To live in the wildness
To love the darkness and the moon
To embrace the Wisdom of the Circle

I know that my Life. Has. Changed. I know that part of this journey is just plain Shitty and I truly believe that there is no meditation or contemplation practice that can change that. I don’t say this out of negativity; I say it out of truth. Out of recognition of acceptance that THIS is my journey right now.

And the more I contemplate, though the answers don’t arrive, the more I realize that with almost every negative or challenging part of this journey, there IS a balance – an equanimity. There is positive thing right there along side the hardship.

CANCER IS A GIFT OF TIME. Time for me.  For self-care and self love in ways that life has not made so easy in the past. I treat myself to massages, to acupuncture, to walks with the dogs and with the people in my life. I have an occasional chocolate croissant with no feeling of guilt. I sit in the sunshine and sit with my sheep. I take time to read, to practice yoga and to write. I even enjoy watching baseball with my husband. The slower I learn to move, the more I find ways to express gratitude to the life that surrounds me – to the life that I am within.

CANCER BRINGS LIGHT TO THE DAYS. Since being diagnosed with cancer, there has been a new shadow next to me. The shadow is there at all times. Sometimes it’s so massive and encompasses all of my being. But most of the time, my awareness of this shadow requires me to see the light through it – to cultivate enough light to break its darkness…much like the waning of the moon, as it grows from new to full. As I practice and teach yoga since being in the hospital, I have newborn authenticity for the lessons of the practice – For the wholeness of the practice. This is a magical gift. One I sit with daily and one I long to hold onto forever, both for my growth and the growth of my students.

CANCERS GIVES PERMISSION FOR OTHERS TO SHINE. The people that I see in my community look at me with different eyes. Usually, without words, they display their concern and care with a look – one that penetrates my heart and warms my soul. For no matter how well or how little I know this person, they are able to give me a piece of their health, of their energy, by simply acknowledging that I am on a journey that they likely don’t understand. Many times there are no “right” words to say when you run into somebody with cancer. And there are no words that make it better. Just that look – those wide and soft, loving eyes, this is enough to bring light and peace to my day, and I am grateful for it.

CANCER IS AN EXCUSE TO HAVE HATS AND SCARVES.  I have always liked winter hats and scarves. And now that my hair is thinning and the cold neuropathy takes its toll on my fingers, toes and airways, I have more reason than ever to have lots of great hats and scarves. I had at least 15 scarves already, which Steve never quite understood, since you technically only wear one a time, he says. But now he supports me to have as many as I need to make my wardrobe spectacularly colorful and warming.  🙂

As I continue on this road, down this other half of treatments, and the surgeries and whatever else comes after that, I contemplate my ability to continue to find the light within the darkness. This is my intention. May I always find and express the words and the love within myself to remain strong and positive. And I trust that the words and the looks of others will help me along this path.

Here’s two pieces of wisdom from others:
Dialogues With Silence
The true contemplative is not one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but is one who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect to anticipate the words that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and, when he is answered it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence. It is by his silence itself, suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God. ” (Stephen Cope)

If you Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, Cat Stevens