YET.

YET: An open letter to oncology professionals

YET. It’s a small word. Made of three benign letters. Y.E.T. If you string them together, though, and hurl them at a patient that tiny word can send someone spiraling to hell.

A few weeks ago I had some bloodwork and a breast sonogram as part of a mid-year check up. I saw the physician’s assistant afterward to get the results. Which were all pretty good! No evidence of disease based on those tests. We discussed my side effects and she felt the need to tell me it has been a few years since treatment, as if to imply that I should be fine. Then she did the physical exam. After she felt all around my chest and armpits she said, “I don’t feel anything yet!”

I should have left there ecstatic. No evidence of disease! Instead I left there mentally digging a grave and throwing myself into it. Because of that “yet.” That “yet” translates to “It’s only a matter of time.” Or, “Your grave is waiting. We’ve already dug it!”

It would be hard to work in the oncology field. I get that. You have to give people bad news and then carry out various treatments and surgeries that torture them. And sometimes people die. It’s a profession with a really big downside. Accountants have to deal with audits on a bad day while oncologists have to deal with the deaths of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.

But let me tell you. It’s almost impossible to be a cancer patient. We are the battlefield. We cannot escape it on the weekends or in Hawaii. Those of us with incurable cancer can never escape it. We spend extraordinary amounts of energy convincing ourselves to keep living even while it sometimes feels there’s a tsunami coming any second to decimate us.

I have had many oncology professionals who took my case personally. I have the personal cell phone number of two of my doctors. I have seen them look at me with the, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. This totally sucks,” look. They speak honestly and compassionately with me. These are the people who are in the right profession because they can keep their humanity.

The ones in the wrong profession are the oncology professionals who see us as numbers. As prognoses. As inevitabilities. I am not an inevitability. I’m here, despite some bad odds.

22% of daughters born to teenage mothers become teen moms themselves. I beat that one!  Only 37% of children born to parents without college degrees enter college right out of high school and obtain a degree. I beat that one!  Children of addicts are 8x more likely to become addicts themselves. I beat that one!

Odds of five-year survival of a Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with an 8cm tumor, 22 positive lymph nodes and a chest wall recurrence while undergoing radiation and taking a chemo pill: there’s no way to know the exact odds in that scenario but it ain’t good.

And YET. I’m still here after three-and-a-half years. I’m under no illusions. I was riddled with cancer cells. Teeming with them. I’m awesome at growing cancer. Odds are that I’ll probably grow more of it. As I write this some breast cancer cells are lurking in my bones or liver or lymphatic system waiting for me to eat a cupcake so they can multiply exponentially and cause my demise. And YET. I. Am. Still. Here.

The medical professionals that see me need to SEE ME. Not a probable inevitability. And I need them to be present and rejoicing with me in every moment that those cells stay asleep, not looking at me and thinking about my expiration date.

Art by my friend Gwyn Michael, who passed from breast cancer earlier this year.

 

What Price For Life?

Life comes at a price.  I have been contemplating that for the past few months as I realize every day with aches and pains and weariness the price I pay to still be here.  When I expand my view of the price of life I see that there is a fee paid for our entrance into the world, and I see that it’s possible to know when the price is too steep, the suffering too high, to continue to endure it.

In the last month one of my first cousins experienced the joy of childbirth and the anticipation and awareness of strength that comes along with it.  Simultaneously, the grandmother that we share decided that she had paid all she was willing to pay to keep walking this earth with us.  It has been the perfect circle.

Grandma became unable to keep pneumonia away and wasn’t able to eat and drink enough to sustain life.  She opted not to get a feeding tube.  She came home for hospice care, only receiving comfort measures.  In the course of two weeks her only daughter stayed with her night and day and her sons came and tended her and the house, finding many chores that just “had to be done.”  Two of her sweet daughters-in-law took turns sleeping at the house as well.  Her grandchildren came and went.  Her great-grandchildren played with her bird, fed the fish in the koi pond, played with her kaleidoscopes.  Grace played a private viola concert at the foot of Grandma’s bed and blessed us all with a slow waltz, echoing what Grandma was doing in her dance with death.  Breathe, two, three.  Cough, two, three.  Breathe, two, three.  Cough, two, three.

I had many moments with her in those last days.  As profound as those moments were, the moments I had with my aunts were also rich.  We told stories and laughed and held space for Grandma, and for each other.  I have never experienced dying in that way.  Grandma was able to have some pain medication so she was not suffering.  She loved hearing the commotion in her tiny house – her legacy laughing and playing games.  She told funny stories that many would consider wildly inappropriate for a death bed, but those stories are the roots that grew us all.  We ushered her from this world with love and we knew that she loved us.  There was nothing left undone.

In that same time period  my cousin was past forty weeks pregnant with her baby and I was thinking back to my own three pregnancies and births.  My boys were both born past their forty week due dates, and both were over nine pounds.  Gracie was a preemie; her birth had a complicated bill for me.  Women pay a large sum to bring life into the world.  We sacrifice with our bodies and our time and our life force.  We experience the feeling of life growing in us and then the enormity of that life moving through our bodies and out into the world.

Sometimes the bill is simple, like with Grandma.  She knew her account was empty and it was her time to go.  Sometimes we think we are paying a bill for a washing machine but instead we find we have bought a dishwasher, as is my experience with cancer treatment.  I’m learning to wash clothes in the dishwasher and how to manage paying the bill in installments because I find the price is still worth the value of this precious human life.

 

 

Denial, Cave Paintings and Brick Walls

Just when I catch myself being judgy about someone else’s denial of something difficult that damn boomerang comes back to hit me in the forehead.  Every.  Time.  I am coming to terms with the fact that I will never be done with cancer.  I have come to terms with that before, but like an alcoholic who relapses and forgets the spiritual awakening she once had, I go back into the cave.

I can stay in that cave for a loooong time. I have built a semi-permanent pallet there.  I guess it is comfortable.  The walls are covered with my finger-painted fantastic ramblings of all the ways that I am over cancer.

But I am not over it.  I will never be over it.  I can’t get my 22 lymph nodes back and give up the lymphedema therapies that I have to do. I can’t get my nipples back.  Or my breast tissue.  I cannot give back the chemotherapy and radiation which have caused permanent damage.  I cannot skip the scans that I will have to get every year for forever.  When I get too comfortable in the cave and something forces me out  into the light I grieve all over again.

I recently started seeing a Palliative care doctor, which is a doctor for people with terminal and/or chronic illnesses.  So far my cancer hasn’t been terminal (yay!) but it is chronic.  There are ways to stem the spread of those confused cells but the treatments themselves can leave effects like neuropathy, nerve damage, arthritis, short-term memory problems, depression, fatigue, and pain and I have decided to attempt to lessen those effects if possible.

The doctor’s office is the same practice as the geriatric internist that my grandmother sees.  Because chronic illnesses usually affect the elderly.  Just like when I went to chemo – it’s me and the old people in the waiting room.

During my first visit with him he said, “With my Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patients like you…” Those words are blinding when I hear them – they eject me from the cave instantly.  I told the nurse that I keep thinking I can be done with cancer and she said, “You’ll never be done.”  Which is true and I need to hear it.  But damn, I would really like to be done with cancer.  Maybe instead I need to give up fighting with it.

Our world is permeated with the “Don’t give up” mentality.  With pictures of women who are skinny and angular from over exercise.  The message is to keep going no matter what.  Randy Pausch said, “Brick walls are there to give us a chance to show us how badly we want something.” I respectfully disagree.  Sometimes they are there to say, “Wrong way, go back.”  And sometimes giving up is the thing to do.  Sometimes we need to give up being right.  Or being married.  Or the profession that we chose, even though we went to school for years to get to it.  Or even life.

When I began writing this post a friend was dying of breast cancer.  She was laying in the hospital, unable to respond, and her body was giving up.  I am glad it gave up because she had struggled so much in the last two years. She endured horrid treatments and scans and surgeries.  In the end none of it worked.  Even in the face of death we still want so badly to keep this precious human life that we will choose to be tortured rather than to give it up.  In the end, we all must give it up.

In the cancer world the message is, “Keep Fighting.”  I’ve never thought of my experience with this disease as a fight, but isn’t denial a form of fighting?  I don’t want to kick cancer’s ass.  Cancer is me.  I’m trying not to hate it because hating it is hating my own cells.  I’m just trying to make peace with it which requires that I stay out of denial.  Some days I’m more successful than others.

It has taken me years to discover that a palliative care doctor can be helpful. If you suffer from a chronic illness I would encourage you to investigate this type of physician for yourself.

 

Joy, But…

I have been getting scans every six months for the past two years and I find that I am hesitant to make any plans past the next six month mark.  It’s easy to get in the pattern of living your life six months or one year at a time between those scans.  It feels like too much uncertainty for me to commit to anything because, “What if I’m in cancer treatment?”  Or, “What if this is it and I get horribly ill and they can’t even treat it and I die?”  And then I will have wasted energy making plans that will be tossed aside.  Not planning anything past six months from now means that I’m not looking forward to things that happen past that point and that just plain sucks.  I have talked with other breast cancer patients in the same boat and they report the same feelings of living scan-to-scan.

Some cancers are curable and if you get one of those and they cure you then you have no more of a chance of getting that cancer again that someone who never had it to begin with.  All cancer sucks.  I am not-so-secretly admitting, however, that I envy people who have come through those cancers.  With breast cancer you are only considered cured if you have a really early stage cancer and then you make it ten years with no recurrence.  Once you have a higher stage you are never  considered cured.  And it seems the scans are never 100% clear.  There is always some small something that they want to “watch.”  This really messes with my head.  It’s uncomfortable living without absolutes, isn’t it?

When I was in treatment I was aware that I felt I had a hope gap.  Many of my friends and family have filled that gap for me.  I think I’m on the verge of closing it up a bit after these last scans.  Partly because they are ordering fewer scans every six months now, and partly because I learned about foreboding joy and I realize that it perfectly describes the state of joy that I have felt since all of this started.  I don’t want qualifiers attached to my joy.  I want JOY, not “Joy, But.”

Thank god for providence!  I have been reading “Daring Greatly,” by Brene Brown.  She talks about the idea of foreboding joy.  She says, “In a culture of deep scarcity…joy can feel like a setup.”  Ding!  She hit the nail on the head.  That describes what I think when I begin to feel joy creeping in.  That it’s all a setup.  That if I allow myself to really throw open the curtains and feel the sun on my face I will eventually get smacked back down into despair.  That if I allow myself to celebrate being NED (no evidence of disease) it will all be made a lie because the cancer will come back anyway.

Just when I think I’m awesome at vulnerability I see that in order to feel unqualified joy I have to be vulnerable.  I have to be willing to be clear about my current reality (no cancer, yay!) AND I have to accept that cancer might come back a third time.  Byron Katie would say I just have to love what is.  I often counsel others not to borrow trouble.  This year I will pull the plank out of my own eye and be vulnerable enough to feel unbridled joy.  Joy.  JOY.

 

 

Fear and Abundance

This has surely been an exciting few weeks!  And by exciting I mean I have had many opportunities to practice my yoga in the “real” world off my mat.  December 23rd I received notice that my Medicaid for Breast & Cervical Cancer Patients was not renewed and that as of January 1 it would be expired.  It was too late to call my oncologist or Medicaid to figure out why this happened.  I would have to wait until the 26th to figure out what to do.  And I had a sinus surgery scheduled for January 6th and several scans at MD Anderson on the 15th and 16th of January.  I lay in bed that night unable to sleep.  I was stuck in a loop:  ”Oh my God this is so hard why did I even get treatment if I am going to have to struggle with this shit for the rest of my life!  No, don’t worry because it will all work out.  Oh my God I’m going to die of cancer because I won’t get scans and it will come back and nobody will know and then when they find it it will be too late to do any thing about it.  No, it will be fine.  Oh my God if I lived in Canada or one of the many other countries with socialized medicine I’d be asleep right now.”  For hours I played this loop in my head.

At dinner that night, though, we celebrated Grace’s 13th birthday at my ex-in-laws’ house.  My boyfriend, Tom, came.  My ex-husband’s girlfriend came.  And it was wonderful.  It was beautiful to see that even though we completed our time as a married couple that our new relationship as co-parents is going swimmingly.

Christmas Eve we attended the church service where my ex-husband plays in the church band.  Again, Tom came.  Afterward my ex’s family and Tom and my maternal grandmother and brother came over for chili.  The next morning my ex came over for Santa, then Tom joined us for breakfast and presents.  It was like a millennial Norman Rockwell around here.

Until Christmas morning when I got the call that my grandmother fell and fractured her hip late on Christmas Eve.  Now if you’ve been reading my blog for a bit you’ll know that my family is cattywhompus because of various addictions and long-held patterns of enabling and bad boundaries.  So for the next week or two I was sucked under a bit thinking that I had to do something.  Then I realized that I was having bad boundaries and that I need to take care of my kids and myself and that the other “grown ups” in the equation had less on their plates than me and could handle it.    Byron Katie says there’s my business, your business and God’s business.  I use that as a guide when I realize I am having boundary problems.

Of course the medical insurance issue got worked out – it was a simple mistake made when someone misread a form.  But the panic I felt over that issue left a mark on me and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.  Maybe I’ll run for Congress (only kidding).  The surgery went fine, although  I keep waking myself up snoring because I still have some dissolvable dressing in my sinuses.  Which was funny to me at first but after a week it’s less humorous.  I do not know how people with sleep apnea manage!

I went into the new year with renewed faith in abundance.  My friend Magda said to me one day, “You can bring a thimble to heap of abundance, or you can bring a dump truck!”  This year my only intention/resolution/declaration is that I am going to continually renew that faith in abundance.  Since I declared that I have received many unexpected gifts, some of them even anonymously.  I am already receiving abundantly.  Happy 2014 to us all!

 

Oh, the Humanity

In February 2011 I had health insurance.  I did not have a great, comprehensive plan because my employer did not offer benefits and I was no longer married.  What I had was an affordable, catastrophic health coverage policy because I was young and healthy.  And because a comprehensive plan was going to cost $375/month.

On February 28th, 2011, I went to the doctor for biopsy results and she told me I had cancer.  We talked about treatment and scans needed and I got the pink bag full of information.  Then the scheduler came in and told me that my insurance was not going to be helpful because it didn’t offer enough coverage and that I was better off dropping it, becoming uninsured and applying for one of the programs for cancer patients who need health care.  And she said to call their office when I had payment figured out so that they could schedule the scans and we could get started on treatment.  Oh and that I should hurry because my cancer was very fast-growing.

My boyfriend at the time and my ex-husband both offered to marry me that day if it meant I could get health care.  It would not have helped because it would not have covered a pre-existing condition.  That week I received a bill for almost $6,000 from the doctors’ office for the biopsies.  And I got a call from the lab that had analyzed the biopsies saying that my crappy insurance was not going to cover them and that I would be getting a bill for $11,000.  Luckily I have an uncle with financial means and he offered to pay the $6,000 for the MRI and BRCA gene testing so we could at least get moving on that while I was trying to figure out how to pay for surgeries and treatment.  That’s $23,000 before I ever had any treatment for cancer.

I was able to qualify for a charity program sponsored by Komen called The Bridge Breast Network.  The Bridge helps women with stages 0-2 cancer.  When I was first diagnosed we thought I had Stage II cancer so I met that requirement.  I made more money than would allow me to be in their program, though, so I took a pay cut so that I would qualify.  I had more scans, port placement surgery and  started neoadjuvant chemotherapy because I was inoperable at diagnosis.

After my fourth round of chemo (I had six total) my case worker called and said that I was running out of funds for their program and needed to find another option.  The only one available at that point was Medicaid.  Texas has a special fund for breast and cervical cancer patients so I set about researching if I could qualify for that.  I had to take another pay cut because our household income for a family of four could not exceed $44,000 (including child support) in order to qualify.  But if you have to choose between potentially life-saving treatments and financial security you choose treatment because all the money in the world does not matter if you are dead.  Plus I’d love for my children to grow up with their mother.

Fast-forward to today.  I’m slowly paying off my medical debt and still living on less than $44,000 a year so that I can stay on Medicaid. Although I think the limit is being raised to $47,000 for next year so maybe there’s room for a little more financial prosperity next year.

Unless you live under a rock you are probably aware of all the health care talk in the last few months with the issue of the Affordable Care Act.  I had decided before the market opened on October 1st that it would be in my best interest to hang back and see how it shakes out a bit before I try to change my situation.  As it is, I can stay on Medicaid as long as I’m in treatment for side effects or cancer and meet the financial requirements.

Medicaid has rejected many scans that my doctors would like me to have.  My medical oncologist told me to have a chest MRI every six months for the rest of my life because of my Stage IV recurrence and Medicaid will not cover another one unless I develop an overt symptom of metastasis (which would make it a little late in the game for swift treatment!).  But Medicaid is better than nothing.

Because if you have nothing doctors do not have to treat you.  Emergency rooms are required to treat emergent problems but doctors do not have to see you in their offices.  And why should they?  They have bills to pay just like the rest of us.  People say there is not an easy solution.  But I think that’s a bullshit copout.  There is a solution.

According to The World Health Report 2000, as reported by The New England Journal of Medicine, the US health care system ranks 37th in world.  We rank 36 for life expectancy.  39th in infant mortality.  43rd for adult female mortality and 42nd for adult male mortality.  Yet we spend the most money per capita on health care.  The countries that rank higher than we do and spend less include  Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand.  They all have socialized medicine.

People try to make this issue about politics.  Or about the Constitution.  Or about democracy.  But health care is not about those things.  It’s about humanity.  It’s easy to dehumanize this issue, just like it’s easy to dehumanize welfare in general, and make it about people not doing the right things to take care of themselves financially.  But so often it is not the sick or hungry people’s faults that they are sick or hungry.  It’s not that I didn’t plan enough.  I was being as responsible as I could have been, with my body and my finances.  And yet, I was in the position of needing welfare to get health care.  I am working to overcome the shame associated with my situation.  A shame I would not have if I lived in a place where health care was given to all.

I’m still taking that welfare to get my health care because I’m still a cancer patient.  I am not lazy.  I work as much as I can.  I am not out buying fancy clothes – I buy most of my clothes at the Thrift Store or go without new ones.  I drive a van that has almost 160,000 miles on it because I cannot afford a car payment and the van is paid off.  I can’t roll down the driver window anymore because it will not roll up.  I have never had less financial prosperity in my adult life than I have at this exact moment.  And it is directly a result of my cancer diagnosis and the hoops I have had to jump through to save my life.  I am not being dramatic.  This is reality for many of us.

The Affordable Care Act might help some people.  But even that won’t help cancer patients who want to get off Medicaid because Texas Oncology doesn’t take the insurance that’s offered through it and almost ALL of our providers in DFW are with Texas Oncology.  Insurers cannot turn you away, but doctors don’t have to take all of the insurance plans.  So I continue to be on the dole.  Just like many other Americans who’s kids go to your school, or who live next door to you.  I hope we can all work to see this issue clearly as an issue of humanity.  We can do a better job in our great country to take care of our sick and our hungry.  In the words of the late Nelson Mandela,  ”It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Photo credit to Stacie Albrecht

 

When You Have Faced Your Own Mortality It’s Hard To Do The Dishes

Written November, 2012…

When I was in treatment I heard a few references to the fact that post-treatment is often when people have the most problems psycologically.  I can say for me that has been the case.  During treatment I was on auto-pilot for the most part.  I had psychological problems, but they lived in a little compartment that I never opened because I had too many other things to deal with in front of me.  I could not possibly have handled emotional issues.  And I think post-traumatic stress makes it hard for your brain to process emotions because your brain is busy running from the cancer bear that’s chasing you.

In January the dust started to settle and the doctor appointments dwindled from 2-14 per week to two or three a month and I was left wondering what to do next.  The moment  you get diagnosed your plan is pretty much put into place for you.  You can disagree and change things up, but it’s pretty much A to B to C and so-on.  Which in a way is comforting.  In my case when I had the recurrence during radiation, which is very rare, I left the map that was already determined.  This really sent me for a loop.  I thought, “Well hell.  If you people don’t know what to do then I’m screwed because I sure have no clue.”  So my doctors and I went forward with our own educated, best guesses about the next right step.  This is not where you want to be when you are a cancer patient.  Seeing doctors scratch their heads is not comforting.  In fact, it makes you think you are a goner for sure.

Except I’m still here!  Yay!  Recurrence or not, many other cancer survivors I know have wrestled with the idea of death.  We have wondered, “What does death feel like in your body?”  “Will I be scared when I’m dying?”  “Will I know ahead of time?”  When you have faced those questions and then someone hands you back the keys to your patched up car and says, “Go.  Be free.  Drive away!” you wonder where the hell to go.  You wonder if the car is going to fall apart while you are driving it.  You wonder if it has lost it’s value.  A smart woman recently used the analogy of a five dollar bill.  She said whether it’s crumpled up or not it’s still worth $5.  This helped me to see that just because my body is rearranged and functions on a different level than before does not mean that my value is diminished.

I find it hard now to re-ingage in the details of life.  Before cancer I rarely went to bed with dishes in the sink.  Now I think, “Dishes or cuddling?”  And dishes never win.  I do manage usually to get them done every day or so.  And perhaps I needed this new perspective.  Still, though, to be a householder in this world you have to earn money and clean up after yourself and your kids.  But  really what I’d like to do most of the time is sit and read with the kids.  Take walks.  Meditate.  Write.  Draw.  Practice asana.  Now that I have faced my own mortality it’s hard to do the proverbial dishes because I know that in the end dishes do not matter.

You can get a new, clean mug like this amazing one from my friend Andrea Freeman – a.freemanclayworks@gmail – dot – com.

 

“What I Did At Camp.” Or, “How I Became a Nude Model at 40.”

I flew to Atlanta a couple of weeks ago to Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp.  When she announced she was having one I knew I would go.  Just like you know when it’s time to quit a job or eat lunch.  Then Patti asked me to come teach yoga at camp, and suddenly going to camp wouldn’t cost me anything except time.  Of course I said yes.  Cancer taught me to say yes to big adventures as often as possible, and sometimes when it seems impossible.

I planned the class I was going to teach, but other than that I did not plan anything for camp.  I did not research the resort, make a packing list, look at the schedule, or pay much attention to who was going.  My “plan” was to show up and have fun and be authentic and open.  This, I have found, is the best plan for life because when I try to map out every detail, accounting for variables and road blocks, stuff happens that gets in the way and completely shuts off that path.  When I pay attention to the divine flow and where it’s leading me things work out much better for me.  (See my previous 847 posts about cancer).

I showed up.  I was authentic.  I kept saying yes and having crazy inspirations about what the next right thing was.  The first night I met a woman named Sharon.  She is a sixty-six year-old breast cancer survivor who is five years out from treatment.  The next day I met Martha, a fifty-five year-old breast cancer survivor who is also five years out.  By the end of the first day I was meeting a photographer named Keith who’s first wife died of breast cancer.  He is a gentle, sweet soul, and within five minutes of meeting him I asked if he would be interested in taking pictures of my scars.  He said yes, and that I should come to his studio sometime.

“Sometime” in another state was not going to work for me.  I also realized that maybe I needed a little posse for this project.  So I asked these strangers who were really sisters if they would be willing to do a shoot with me.  And I asked Keith if he would be willing to shoot us at camp.

It seemed unlikely that I would ever take my clothes off for a camera.  I don’t even like the lights on during sex, for God’s sake, and those are fleeting moments which are not recorded for posterity.  And with someone I love who probably isn’t even thinking about my cellulite. I don’t have long legs.  My arms aren’t particularly toned, although underneath those floppy, wavy arms there are some strong biceps.  And now I have a road map of scars on my front side, fifty-two inches in all.

I’m betting Sharon and Martha didn’t think they would be posing in the buff, either.  Yet there we were.  The three of us with no shirts on.  Our arms around each other.  Our warm skin touching.  We weren’t even wearing make-up.

And there was Keith, gently telling us how to stand or what to think about to elicit the face he was looking for.  I was having a hard time with the non-smiling face because I always think I look severe in photos when I’m not smiling. Then Keith’s wife, Ren, said to think about what got me through all those horrible treatments so I thought about my kids and how I persevered so that I could be here with them as long as possible.

When we finished the shoot Keith asked if we wanted to take off all of our clothes and do a shot completely nude.  If he had been anyone else I’m sure we would have all said, “No way.”  But because he is who he is it was okay.  The next thing I knew we were all three standing there naked, with our scars and our cellulite out under the lights.  And our hearts were out, all of them.  There was laughter and love and healing for us all.

I can think of many more things to write about from camp.  How the talent show was awesome and made me wish I was a little braver in the area of performing in front of people.  How I met some beautiful souls at camp that I can’t wait to talk with, hang out with and collaborate with. How the speakers were so insightful that I will still be processing some of what was shared when I go to camp next year.  How sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich from room service eaten with a friend under the covers while having girl talk is better medicine than anything else.  Oh, and I went ziplining!  You’d think that would be my headline from camp:  ”Cancer survivor flings herself from trees while sitting in a rope harness and hanging on a bendy line!”

But the headline for me is that I bared my scars.  In the light.  With strangers who weren’t really strangers after all.  And it was more than okay.  It was a holy moment.

This is a self-portrait I took for photography class in college. I was naked but you can’t tell because it was a study in moving objects. Maybe one day we will share the pictures from camp. That day is not today.

 

A CALL TO INACTION

My cancer is not for sale.

It’s October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I’m sure you are already aware of that because of the inundation of pink everywhere.  I like pink, I really do.  What I don’t like is people using pink to advertise their products and then not giving proceeds to help cancer patients or cancer research.  They do it in the name of “awareness,” where “awareness” really translates to “greed.”

I had my breasts amputated.  I lost twenty six lymph nodes.  I had my ovaries cut out.  I had my skin burned FORTY ONE times.  I lost my hair.  I was bedridden from chemotherapy and felt like shit for over a year.  Some days I still feel like shit and I was diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago.  I have permanent nerve damage and neuropathy and lymphedema.  My children watched their mother be tortured with those treatments.  That’s what breast cancer is.  When someone tries to tie a pink ribbon on that to sell products it feels like they are pimping me out.

I have called out one shoe company that makes ungodly expensive ballet flats for doing an “awareness” campaign with no actual support behind it.  This month I’m going to call every company I see using breast cancer awareness to sell products that cause cancer and are packaged in pink “awareness,” and companies that are using cancer awareness as a facade for profit.  I’ll be respectful AND direct.  It may not change anything, but it’s like voting.  I can’t complain if I’m not willing to vote with my dollars and use my voice.

There is something you can do for me.  Consider it a call to inaction.  Don’t buy products this month that claim to support cancer awareness or research and that actually cause cancer.  If you see a product that is using cancer to sell something and not giving to the cancer community please don’t buy it.  I am happy to field calls and emails if you need more information.  ThinkBeforeYouPink.org, EWG.org and the Pink Daisy Project FB page are great resources.   The Pink Daisy Project is featuring some gritty images this month of what breast cancer treatment really looks like.

 

Why You Might Be Having a Nervous Breakdown

Many people have called, emailed and sent instant messages on Facebook asking for help lately.  They all have similar issues – skin eruptions and rashes, high anxiety, hot flashes, marital or other relationship discord, and a constant feeling of falling short of the mark.

I can relate to many of these symptoms because, like most of the people who have sought out my help in particular, I have what we call in Ayurveda high pitta in my constitution.  Pitta is a fancy word for lots of fire.  Which serves me well in many circumstances – I can be direct and get to the heart of a matter, I can accomplish Herculean feats (like surviving cancer) and I’m very “bright.”  In this hot season of August in Texas, however, the less appealing aspects of my pitta nature are exacerbated and my skin breaks out,  I feel dull and dizzy, and find that anger lurks right under the surface waiting to pounce on some poor unsuspecting person if I don’t maintain my mindfulness.

Of course, everyone is hot right now.  But some people are actually happy about it.  I cannot relate to that.  I am hot enough on my own, thank you.  We pittas don’t need help burning things down.

So what to do to balance ourselves out when we feel like we have a forest fire burning inside of us?  I have good news for you!  There are many, many things.  Some of them will not be easy because they ask us to go against our nature.  For example, slowing down.  Pittas don’t like that.  We have things to do. We would do well to cut our list to “essentials” and then cut it in half from there.  Because of course our “essentials” are not really all essential we just have impossible standards for ourselves.

Another helpful thing is to soften.  Fire is not soft.  It’s hot and light and sharp.  Softening in our faces and bodies and minds is helpful for pittas running amok.  Doing some gentle yoga with hip openers, smiling more and cuddling are great ways to invite softness.  Softening around ideas is helpful as well.  Instead of giving 100% maybe strive for 80%.  Because if you have high pitta your 80% IS everyone else’s 100%. Like a fire, we like to keep burning unfettered.  But if we do that we will burn ourselves out.

It’s wise in this hot season to avoid people who you know are going to cause you aggravation.  This is not always possible, but when it is within your control it’s a good idea to stay away from someone who pushes your buttons.

Meditating is helpful for every circumstance at any time.  How you can apply it to this high pitta season is to meditate on releasing anger, aversion and attachment.  Just sit or lay down, breathe with your nose, and as you exhale say to yourself, “I release all attachment.”  Next exhale, “I release all aversion.”  Next exhale, “I release all indifference.”  It doesn’t matter if you even know what all you are attached, averted, or indifferent to.  Just have the willingness to release those things.  Another cooling meditation idea is to find a guided meditation that involves going somewhere watery.  Or just sitting in a room and playing some music that involves a waterfall or ocean sounds.

It’s cooling to rub coconut oil all over yourself about 20 minutes before you shower then in the shower gently wipe off with a wash rag.  Take cool to warm showers instead of hot.  Exercise in the early morning.  Avoid spicy, salty and fried foods.  I could keep writing forever, but hopefully this will give you some ideas.  If you want individual Ayurveda Yoga Therapy to help you please shoot me an email or send me a smoke signal off your fiery head.  Namaste!