After Cancer: Who am I now?

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NOTE TO SELF

First the good news. The weather cooled off. It then got hot again, but in the meantime I got my air conditioning fixed. So I am no longer in that airless, claustrophobic place. It is amazing the difference it makes.

And then more good news. Today was my last radiation therapy! I have now had the surgery to remove the cancer, and the boob; I have finished 20 weeks of chemotherapy, and completed five weeks of radiation. I have hormone therapy ahead of me, but that’s a lifetime thing. Well, five to ten years, which is more or less the same as a lifetime. It’s a pill you take, so it doesn’t require daily or weekly doctor’s visits, and you don’t have to put anything off while you are doing it. So I’m kind of done with the cancer treatment itself.

And more good news. Radiation therapy could have been worse. 🙂 At the start of it I was experiencing pain, muscle weakness, and a very inflamed rash. Then one day I woke up and all those things were better. This was right after I’d posted about it on Facebook, so I am happy to give credit to all those wonderful people out there who I know are praying for me, and the one to whom they pray. Since then I’ve had another week’s worth of radiation, and I have a pretty good radiation burn under my arm, and skin irritations on my chest (the field is large because they found cancer in all eleven lymph glands tested), but I’ve definitely heard of worse reactions to radiation.

While I am happy to be finished with all these treatments, I think my overriding reaction is anxiety. This is not unusual I know, because I’ve had other cancer survivors tell me the same thing. The first question is NOW WHAT? I have spent the last nine months of my life working at the job of Cancer Patient. Now I’m at a loss as to what I am supposed to do with my life … along with feeling that I didn’t really accomplish what I meant to accomplish while I was being a Cancer Patient. But that’s kind of a lifelong feeling. I think I will have that feeling until I finish “my book” and get it out there, because I have known since I was six years old that this is what I am supposed to do.

I tend to be a little dense, and in recent times have suffered from a bit of a paralysis. And I’m just confused. Is it too much, God, to ask that you just lay out a path in front of me, shine a light on it, and say “go this way”?

Speaking of God, I do want to take a moment to thank my Pastor, Matt Lacey. At the start of this journey he prayed for me, and in that prayer he talked about God giving me faith for this journey, and used the story of Jesus bidding Peter to walk to him on the water as an illustration. That illustration has stayed with me through this journey, from start to finish. In some of the scariest moments I called up the vision of Jesus reaching out and calling me to walk across the water to him. I remember being surprised at how the water sparkled in the sun as I reached out my hand and stepped toward him, and then suddenly I was not walking on the water but dancing. I danced through a lot of scary places.

Then came the times when I called this vision up, but I could not get out of the boat because I knew I would sink. I did not have the faith to walk on the water. Instead, I sat in the boat, and Jesus sat outside of the boat, and we both held onto the side of it. I said, “Well, you can’t really blame me, can you?” Jesus was silent, just looking at me. There were many meetings like this, scattered in with the days when I didn’t go there at all.

Just a few days ago I brought the vision up again. This time I stepped out of the boat, ready to start dancing again. But I didn’t dance. I knelt.

Yesterday, I stood side by side in the water with Jesus, and together we silently watched the radiation treatment take place.

And today … today I had two visions actually. In one I reached my hand out to Jesus and he turned his back on me. And in the other, I stepped out of the boat, and Jesus took me by the hand, and we turned away together, and began walking together in a new direction. Lord, let this vision be true, because I need to have my hand held for awhile I think, cause I am still kind of weak in the knees. I need a big fat dose of faith and just plain courage. And motivation, and direction. Intelligence, wisdom. Energy.

The second cause of anxiety at the end of cancer treatments is whether or not it is really gone. One of the real blessings in any misfortune is the people who come into your life. That has been true of Michaela’s kidnapping, and that is true of my cancer journey. Many of these people are cancer survivors themselves. But among them are those breast cancer survivors whose cancer has returned. This is always a real risk when you have had advanced breast cancer, as I have. Nor is the five-year remission a real marker, as I have known several people whose cancer has returned between years five and ten, including one beautiful friend who passed away during the course of my treatment.

So what can I do to make certain I my cancer doesn’t return? Take care of myself, eat healthy, exercise. That sounds so simple, and yet can be so hard to do! Sometimes my lack of ability in this area feels almost like an urge to self destruct. But I commit myself to wrestling with this. The evidence specifically points to a diet free of animal products as most likely to prevent cancer. (You can check out the China Study, or I can just tell you that my doctor said so.) I am convinced that this is the healthiest diet, and it is also the diet my soul prefers. I was a vegan before I was diagnosed, but during chemo I found myself sensitized to a lot of vegan staples. Just thinking about them made me nauseous. I haven’t fully recovered from this, but I’ working on it. The other dietary guideline that seems painfully obvious is to avoid sugar. The test used to locate cancer in the body is a PET scan, and it uses irradiated glucose to do this because the cancer cells just gobble that glucose right up! Hello? Youdon’t have to ben an Einstein to put two and two together here. But still, it’s a battle I fight and don’t always win.

During my treatment I got a medical marijuana card, and during my appointment for this, the doctor told me that not only is medical marijuana excellent for relief of symptoms during treatment, marijuana has actually been shown to kill cancer cells through the process of apoptosis. He couldn’t, he said, tell me the correct dosage for this though.

And I use my dōTERRA oils, and nutritional supplements. A friend’s sister, who had Stage IV (incurable) cancer, was unable to tolerate chemotherapy. Instead she used dōTERRA oils and supplements, and ended up cancer free somehow or another. She most specifically credits the use of frankincense on the soles of her feet every day.  You doubt? Here is an article from the National Institute of Health about the use of essential oils in treatment and prevention of cancer: National Institute of Health on Essential Oils and Cancer

I get suggestions in my inbox regularly for other methods of getting rid of cancer, but that’s like listening to everybody’s doctor’s opinion on what you can and can’t do during chemotherapy. When I was getting radiation, the woman whose appointment was right after mine informed me that I was “breaking all the rules.” She said her doctor had told her that she could not wear fingernail polish during chemo or radiation. She’d had the exact same chemo treatments as I’d had, and I said I wore my polish to every appointment and neither my doctor nor my nurses had ever mentioned it. The next week she showed me her polished nails and even slipped off her boots so I could see her colorful toenails. Yay! Freedom to the people! She had also been told she couldn’t wear earrings or bracelets to radiation, while I wore both. You actually you only need to leave your necklace off for breast cancer radiation.

So I imagine that this road of finding out who I am after cancer will be like most others in life, scarier in the anticipation than in the execution. One way or another I will keep putting one foot in front of the other and I will end up on a path. Hopefully it will be the right one, and hopefully I will have the strength to follow it.

Oh, and one last piece of good news! My hair is growing back! Still needs a little more thickness on the top, but all my life I wished for the courage to get my hair cut really, really short. Well, now I have that really, really short haircut, and I just might keep it when all my hair is in!

Meanwhile, thank you all for your prayers and your support through all this. It means more than you can know.

 

Into the darkness

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For those of you who insist that I am so strong, so brave, yada yada, I thought it might be educational to tell you to what depths my soul can cower, and the relatively small things that can drive it there.

Like heat.

We have had a heatwave here in the San Francisco Bay Area over the last few days. For some reason my air conditioner thought this would be a good time to stop blowing cold air, and because it is a holiday weekend there is nobody who can fix it before Tuesday, or possibly before September 14th. Now anyone who knows me can tell you that I do not like heat. My maximum comfortable temperature is 72 degrees, with a breeze. So you would expect me to be uncomfortable in the unusual 110 degree weather we have been having. My bedroom, which I like to keep no warmer than 69, has been running between 85 and 90.

No surprise that I would have a negative reaction to this heat, but the kind of reaction I have had has been extreme, even for me. I sit in my room, and even with a fan blowing right on me, I feel as though there is just not enough air to breathe, and I descend into this dark claustrophobia. I fight against it by sleeping as much as I can (which is a lot actually), and by distracting myself. I was having trouble keeping track of the action on the TV show about the Irish Revolution I had started watching, so instead I thought it would be a lighthearted romp to watch a documentary about Timothy Leary and Ram Das and death. Now that really took me to some dark places.

I seem to have been thinking a lot about death lately anyway. I have picked up any number of books on the subject. I am reading two memoirs by Kara Tippetts on her journey through breast cancer and death. Somehow I came to be in possession of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and Preparing to Die by Holecek. I’d seen an upcoming seminar/webinar with Pema Chodron. The website didn’t say anything about the subject matter of the seminar, but these two books were listed as prerequisite reading so I picked them up, even though chances are slim I will attend the seminar or webinar.

Also in the last few weeks when I have experienced pain severe enough that it made me want to vomit, so persistent that I was unable to sleep. I have developed a new appreciation for those who say they would rather end their lives than live with their disease.

It’s all kind of challenging me, to tell you the truth. I have said for years, for always perhaps, that I am not afraid of dying. I have even said that I see it as a great adventure. But you know, maybe I am a bit afraid. In my brief perusal through Preparing to Die, it appears that Buddhism has some pretty specific ideas about what happens after death, and what you should do there. That surprised me, because I guess I’d always thought of Buddhism as being kind of non-religious. Well I guess that goes to show how much I know.

The God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus, now that’s another thing. I have spent a lot of my life pursuing him or being pursued by him. I had always thought of him as someone who loves me, but in recent years I have seen a lot more of the harsh, judgmental God when I read the Bible, and although I have a hard time believing in a God who is not far nicer than I am, the possibility has instilled some fear into me as well. This isn’t a serious, over-reaching fear, but it nibbles at the back of my mind. I have my own ideas about what happens after we die, but they really are my own ideas. Where they came from I don’t know, but who am I to have ideas? No one. Why would I listen to myself?

Then too there is just the physical part of dying. From all I hear, it is generally painful. I think my mother’s death, from emphysema, may be among the least painful, but it was replete with the other difficult aspect of death, the cutting off of breath, that thing that I have felt as a shadow over me in this heat.

Of course, I can never confine my suffering just to myself. So I have had to think about all those people who live in those unbearably hot countries with no air conditioning even to fix. I think about our young soldiers in the middle east in their monstrously hot uniforms. I think about all those people who suffer chronic pain. HOW DO THEY DO IT? I want to know. And people call me brave simply because I keep plodding along the course I have been given? Well I would not be doing that if my toe was broken, you know, and yet I have known high school students who ran cross country competitively with broken toes.

I am not strong. I am not brave. I’m really kind of an overly dramatic whiner. Anybody who tells you different has never met me!

Praying right now for a cool breeze, and more air. And an air conditioner repairman so this doesn’t happen again.