Part 24. What Does it Mean to be Healed?

What does it mean to be healed?

As many of you know, I recently had a CT scan and received some very good news. While I was happy about the result, what was more significant to me was my state of being going into the scan and the subsequent appointment with Dr. Chue. In the past I would have been anxious, hoping for the best, dreading the worst, trying to set good intentions to influence the results, worrying that my worry was working against my best intentions. This time it was different.

While Wes and I were driving to the appointment he asked me how I was doing. I said, “Good!” and I meant it. I could have been going to the market was my indifference to the occasion. It was a far different car ride than my previous rides which included my “baggage,” mostly filled with anxiety, because of the power I gave to a scan in determining my well-being. I checked in for my appointment and was given the barium sulfide to drink. After a few sips I thought, “I’m going to have to remember mocha next time. It’s not too bad tasting,” which was a far different culinary experience than two years ago when I wanted to vomit with every gulp. When the technician sat me on the table I looked at the donut (CT engine) and thought, “You really can’t hurt me,” referring to the radiation I would receive, which was a far different judgement from my usual resentment at receiving more radiation to get a snapshot of my insides. What changed?

I did.

There existed within me a belief that I could always affect change if I worked hard enough uncovering the root causes of a situation. If things weren’t changing then there must be another root cause, my reasoning said, and I would keep looking. It worked so well over the years I never had to consider what belief I might have about myself if the change I wanted to see wasn’t happening. 

Then, in 2009, I got cancer. For eight years I explored my external and internal landscapes uncovering root causes, remedies, and recipes hoping that the current one would be the magic bullet healing me of cancer. The vigilance, discipline, and emotional highs and lows over those eight years took a toll on my body; It was always in a revved up state. I can only see that now, in hindsight. At the time it was my normal. If I were a fish, that state was my water. (The fish and water analogy comes from a David Foster Wallace commencement speech)

When my cancer marker went up in May, I sat down again to explore my internal landscape because the emotions I was feeling were needing some attention. Something had begun to shift already; I could feel it. Being angry had replaced being worried, and quite frankly, I was tired of thinking there must be more to be revealed that I needed to figure out. 

“Enough,” I thought. “I AM enough as I AM now.”

My mind was having none of that. It had a need to want to dig deeper to uncover something to be healed that might have an impact on my cancer marker.

A more loving part of me said, “No, I AM enough as I AM now. I love you.”

But this controlling kind of energy kept pulling at me to keep digging. 

“No.”

“What is this about?” I wondered! I could see its fear and the urgency it had to want to keep looking. I waited, watched, and it finally became clear. What emerged was a long held belief I had been diligently trying to avoid with my relentless hard work uncovering root causes. “If I still have an issue that isn’t changing, in this case, cancer, then there must be more for me to figure out. And if I can’t figure it out then there must be something wrong with me.” - like a fatal flaw, like I don’t deserve to be here, like I’m defective to my core. I saw that belief for what it was and felt a tremendous amount of compassion. Frantic, child-like, afraid, determined, because it felt like life/love was conditional and unless it could prove its worth it didn’t belong. Over and over I hugged that belief with three others lovingly spoken from the very core of my being:

“I AM enough as I AM now”… “I love you”…”I AM healed. “The child-like belief would try and wiggle out and I would would keep repeating, “I AM enough as I AM now”… “I love you”…”I AM healed. “ until it calmed altogether. All that remained was a quiet peacefulness.

The experience left me contemplating a few things:

1. I thought about my dad who had an unwavering need to be right and wondered if he too couldn’t fathom a world where he would be allowed to exist if he were ever wrong. In lieu of feeling loved, did he choose to be right instead? And then I thought about the human condition - do we each have a strong need to be a certain way - the smart one, the funny one, the good one, because we somehow got the message that we weren’t lovable as we were? We had to earn it? 

2. I thought about our culture which focuses so much on physical healing and yet are we healed? In 2011, I expected to feel relief after my lumpectomy making me cancer free at the time, and yet the worry that had always existed within me found a new focus - will it come back? Physical healing can give us more time to live, but they have yet to figure out a cure for dying.There is more to us than these bodies, and healing the baggage we carry makes the time we have here a richer experience.

3. I thought about how different I felt. With the part of me who believed I had to earn my right to exist now quieted, my body was feeling relaxed, at a cellular level, for the first time. The difference is palpable. Periodically, the habitual echo of that belief will be heard as it wonders if even this realization will be what heals me of cancer . I just say, “Let cancer go, I AM enough as I AM; I AM healed.” And my body relaxes. 

4. I thought about all of this from a more spiritual perspective. At the level of who we really are, eternal and connected to Source - I have always been enough as I AM now, always loved, and I’ve always been healed. Always. My physical existence has come and will go one day, but me, the one who occupies this body, the one who resonates more and more with my eternal nature…has always been enough, always loved, and always healed. It can be no other. 

Which brings me all the way back to my original question. What does it really mean to be healed? The answer to that is probably different for everyone, but for me, I found my answers. I AM healed.

Part 23. Of Doubt and Dogs

I find myself in unfamiliar territory these past couple weeks. I feel a bit sorry for myself for a variety of reasons. Each could be its own blog post. Where to even start.

My cancer marker went up. My doctor is not worried at all, says I’m doing great, and that it's not uncommon for this to happen with the type of chemotherapy I'm on.  it can go up before it goes down. Same thing happened when I started this process last August. Funny how a number can have such power - power to make me happy and power to make me not so happy. Some vertical, horizontal, and curved scratches placed in specific ways form a symbol to which I then attach meaning, and allow this meaning to make me feel a certain way. Why do I let it? It’s just a number, and if anything, it really only represents the past, a point in time indicating something that is no longer true in this moment, today. If I can let some scratch marks control me, it makes me wonder what else does.

A friend died last week. She had been living with cancer for twenty years, of which thirteen were with metastatic breast cancer. She was a “drip buddy”. I learned that term through her; a term for those of us who spend a day a week together getting to know one another over various chemicals dripping through our systems. I didn’t know her well, or for very long. but she was the kindest, most courageous person I have ever met. Light radiated from her being, and she represented possibility, miracles, and hope. I always thought she would be there…she was part of Thursdays as much as Dr. Chue and his staff. If Julie is gone it makes me wonder about possibilities, miracles, and hope.

My hair is falling out…again. I should be used to this by now but I’m not. It seems like such a long time since I’ve had hair that I got to keep - two years. In about a week I’ll be bald, have adjusted to it, and wonder what the fuss was about.  I’ll startle myself looking in the mirror, seeing my brother stare back. I’ll put on more make-up, a wig or hat, my brother will disappear and life goes on. I remind myself that this IS LIFE, this is not a temporary detour within my life. If losing my hair for the third time STILL brings me down it makes me wonder how many more times I’ll be brought down going through this process.

After eight weeks of this round I’m tired. No sleep on Thursdays, energy of a landscape architect on Fridays, recover on Saturdays and climb back up until Thursday comes back around again. I’m tired of the lack of sleep, flu-like symptoms of the immune boosting drug, headaches, wanting to nap because of the low red blood cell count, extra weight because of the steroid and lack of exercise, blah, blah, blah. Tired. In August it will be a year. I tell people that Dr. Chue’s protocol is like the tortoise in the story of the tortoise and the hare. Right now, I feel more like the hare who wants to sleep by the side of the road. It makes me wonder if I have the required constitution of the tortoise, a necessity for success with Dr. Chue’s protocol.

I hadn’t been wanting to meditate which is a sure sign I should. It usually means something is wanting to be released that my ego would prefer to keep. This morning I sat in my usual spot and forced myself. Three dogs quietly sat with me - our two plus our best friends’, whom we are dog sitting. I meditated and I wrote. I let the unwanted feelings rise to the surface which became the content for the above few paragraphs. As the feelings rose to the surface, they were accompanied by a word; a word that permeated every one of those unwanted feelings. I underlined it, which means I have usually gotten to the root of the issue - Doubt. For the first time in a long time Doubt had reentered my being. 

Doubt as to whether I would heal from this when I saw my number go up. For eight years, on some level, I have known I would heal from this. I would have learned what I was supposed to learn and share it with others. I think that’s what we are all here to do through our experiences. The past couple weeks Doubt’s voice says, “Maybe you’re full of shit!”

Doubt about the possibility for healing with Julie’s passing. I usually don’t give a lot of credence to the surety of scientific “facts”. No miracle ever happened in that arena. I choose to see the world through Quantum Mechanics/Epigenetics/Spirituality and know the power of my beliefs on “reality”. And yet, when Julie passed, I paused. I believed she would always be here.

Doubt about my stamina and whether I have what it takes to go the distance with this process.

One of the things you learn in personal coaching is to always be aware of everything going on in and around the conversation you are having with a client - this includes the sudden intrusion of seemingly unrelated noises - like a siren passing by or dogs barking. As I was contemplating how Doubt had permeated more aspects of my being than I realized, all three dogs, who had been quietly sleeping, simultaneously elevated from their spots, dashed out of the room, loudly and frantically barking. Perhaps you heard them? I couldn’t help but wonder at the timing.

The Mod Squad

The Mod Squad

“What does Doubt have to do with dogs barking?” I wrote in my journal.

Both represent a lot of noise occupying and irritating the space in which you find yourself. Both come from a place of protection. The dogs were barking at the neighbor's dogs. They thought they were protecting our house; their territory. Isn’t that the role we give Doubt, too? Protection from disappointment and unwanted future possibilities? And like dogs, if I allow Doubt to think it is actually protecting me it will continue barking. I got up from my chair and removed the dogs from the room in which they could see the neighbor's dogs. The barking stopped immediately.

"How do I get Doubt to stop its barking? I came across this writing by Osho:

“The whole work of meditation is to make you aware of all that is “mind” (like doubt) and misidentify yourself from it. That very separation is the greatest revolution that can happen to man…..But this is possible only if the master is awake. Right now the master is asleep. And the mind, the servant, is playing the role of master…There is no blissfulness more precious than freedom, than being a master of your own destiny.” 

I have seen dog owners who seem to be at the mercy of their dogs. I have experienced being at the mercy of my mind with it’s endless, unhelpful thoughts controlling how I feel; doubt being the latest version. After reading that passage, I realized I had been asleep and my mind had been my master. I don’t stop the doubt from barking, I merely put it in a room and close the door. It can bark all it wants, but I’m not impacted. I don’t need doubt to go away to feel better, I just need to make sure the door stays shut. I remind myself that just because I “thought” something doesn’t make it true, important, valuable, or helpful. It’s just a thought not my master.

I finish this post mostly back in familiar territory, back to who I am. The dogs are quiet again, and periodically, I check the door to the room where doubt resides. Fortunately, it is still shut.

Part 22. Pop Quiz

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I’m back at school, pulling a steroid induced all nighter as I write this. Yesterday was my fourth infusion after a three month break that had felt like summer vacation. It has been good to see familiar faces, meet new folks and wonder about those I have yet to see that I used to see weekly last fall. Yesterday was a light day, meaning I was going to be done around 1:30, which was exciting as I anticipated how I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon! What I wasn’t expecting was the pop quiz at the end of the day, given by a teacher whose name I will never know, in the parking lot of the clinic, as Wes and I were about to leave. I failed the test miserably.

It actually started a bit before that.

When the nurse unplugs the drip line from my port upon completion of the infusion, I waste no time packing up to make my exit. Psychologically, the minute I leave the building my week off between infusions starts. Physically, I feel drugged and I prefer to be home for the wearing off process. Yesterday I was done at 1:40, but Wes wanted to wait to see if we could connect with some good friends who were still in their appointment with Dr. Chue. I was fine to wait - until about 2:05 when I said, “Wes, I have about 5 minutes left in me before I’m going to want to leave. I feel drugged and want to go home.” He was accommodating, and we made our way down to the parking lot at 2:10 only to find that a white Audi Q7 SUV was parked illegally and blocking our car. There was no way we could get out. Not content to wait, and with Wes’s help, I decided to go into every office of the three floor building to find out who owned that car. Never mind the parking attendant had attempted this already. We narrowed it down to two possibilities; both were therapist’s offices who, under no circumstances, were going to allow their clients to be disturbed. At the end of our canvassing, it was 2:30 and none of these clients were going to be done until 3:00. I was not a happy camper. 

Our car is in front of the white Audi SUV...hard to see.

Our car is in front of the white Audi SUV...hard to see.

Back down in the parking lot, we looked through the windows of the white Audi SUV to see if we could get any clues as to who owned this vehicle. Why this was important I don't know other than it allowed me to begin forming a judgement on the clueless moron who was blocking us in. Perhaps we expected to see a name tag on the seat. “Hi, my name is Joan and I’m in #302 upstairs.”  There were two tennis rackets in the backseat, two partially drunk bottles of Evian water in the front, with two head bands hanging from the rear view mirror. I decided she was blond and had a french manicure...which means absolutely nothing. To my surprise there was an incredibly well behaved dog in the back of the SUV and the owner was thoughtful enough to have the sun roof open so the dog could get some air. This pissed me off because it was ruining my preconceived judgement of her. 

Angel: Firefly

Angel: Firefly

We had at least a half hour to wait. I ran through a number of scenarios of how I was going to handle this. Every spiritual teacher I have ever followed would say none of them were in my highest interest. With the angel on one shoulder shrunk to the size of a firefly and the devil on my other shoulder grown to the size of Jaba the Hutt, it was a safe bet my highest interest wasn’t going to be part of the equation. I said to Wes, “You know that saying ‘when they go low, we go high’? Well, for me, today, when they go low, I’m going lower.”

Devil: Jaba the Hutt

Devil: Jaba the Hutt

I decided I wanted her to feel bad. In fact, I was going to sit on her bumper until she came out, and when she did, I was going so low I was going to guilt her with the “Cancer Card.” The firefly tried to reason with me, “Remember Renee, you wrote a whole post on how wonderful it was to be in Ireland where no one knew you had cancer and how liberating that was!” Jaba the Hutt spoke for me, “So?” While Wes was on the phone helping the parking attendant get the ok to get this car towed, I waited.

At 3:10 she showed up. Tall, very thin, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, baseball cap perfectly situated on her head, a vest zipped all the way up and a scarf around her neck. She walked quickly, erectly and rigidly, perhaps because she had been told she was blocking in some cars. I did what I said I was going to do,  “After having been in chemotherapy ALL day I come down here and have to wait another hour because you have blocked our car!”  She was visibly uncomfortable, but without slowing down or making eye contact, she sort of shrugged her shoulders and said, “I thought it was a parking spot, I apologize.” And in her car she dove. “Well defended” I thought as she started up her car. Unsatisfied with the encounter, I found myself lifting my chin so the trajectory of my next words would easily flow up and over the side of the car, into the open sun roof and land perfectly in her ears, “How about some awareness when you park the car. Look up and notice the three cars you’re blocking!!’ Followed by, “Your apology lacked empathy!” I doubt the last lame comment made it through the sun roof as I was about 25 feet from her back bumper watching her pull away. I actually felt stupid yelling ridiculous comments at a car with windows rolled up that was speeding away.

On the way home Wes and I debriefed. Wes, giving her the benefit of the doubt, said, “You know, I noticed she was looking down towards her steering wheel as if maybe she was trying to compose herself.” Without missing a beat I said “She was probably checking her emails.” Not ready to forgive her yet I said, “She ought to ask for a refund from her therapist if that is how she is going to act immediately following the appointment.” Never mind what my behavior might indicate.

As we got farther away from the clinic my energy started to shift. I said, “You never know what she’s going through. Maybe she is stressed because she found out her husband is cheating on her, or she just got fired from her job.” Who knows why she would have been so distracted that she didn’t realize where she parked. I thought about all the times I was distracted when I was in the height of fear dealing with cancer. The time I left my purse in a Home Depot cart after unloading it, driving away and not realizing it until I got home. I never saw the purse again. Or the time I got our mail but left the mailbox wide open with the key still in it. Had a nice neighbor not delivered the key to my house I would still be wondering what happened to it seven years later.

Well Defended

Well Defended

We talked about how "well defended" she was in appearance, demeanor, and with her choice of words. I knew that feeling well. How many times was I like that in my relationships, particularly with Wes? Being vulnerable felt risky. Being at fault, at the mercy of the other felt scary. Well defended felt like the lesser of two evils. And yet I now find defensiveness intolerable because the nature of being defensive says the other, usually Wes, is my enemy. I’m defending, which precludes vulnerability and intimacy; good for battles, sports, and court rooms, not so good in relationships, which depend on intimacy for their health. I thought about how it felt to be on the receiving end of the well defended Audi SUV driver. No empathy, not being heard, she couldn’t even make eye contact. I didn’t like it...at all. I thought about Wes being on the receiving end when I was well defended. 

We pulled into a gas station about then and I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry for all those times you had to deal with me when I have been “well-defended”. He smiled, kissed me, got out of the car and filled the tank. We finally arrived home at 4:00.

Thank you to the woman/teacher in the white Audi Q7 SUV. I'm sorry for my lack of compassion. I’ll never know your name but you were a perfect mirror for me yesterday reminding me there is no difference between the two of us - I’ve been stressed, distracted to a fault, and most of all well-defended. May you be blessed with peace, love, and vulnerability. I wish you well.

Maybe I didn’t flunk the quiz after all!

Part 21. More Conversations with Grim

I am happy. Have been for a long time now. So, it came as somewhat of a surprise when I noticed the Grim Reaper peeking in my windows a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t like he was trying to break in and run off with me; more like he wanted some attention. He kept tapping on my windows; I kept closing the curtains. Finally, when the tapping turned into pounding, I threw open the curtains and the window and exasperatedly said, “What now!” 

I wasn’t sure why he was here. I had come to the realization that “fighting” anything in life was senseless and that included cancer and death. I had come to a really good space with the idea of dying whenever that was meant to happen...now...in twenty minutes...twenty months...or twenty years. It was in God’s hands; I was joyously living! I thought Grim would be proud of the acceptance I had come to which is why I was confused with his visit. Grim had an alternative point of view. “Wishy washy! You’re in a holding pattern. And you’re hedging your bets!” Now let me in!”

“Wishy washy?? Holding pattern?? Hedging bets??”

Curious, I opened the door and Grim stormed in. We sat down for a long conversation. (Most of the ensuing conversation became available to me because of what I learned in the podcast I had referenced in the previous post, David Manning’s “Cancer: A Mystical Initiation”.) Grim posed a question to me that David had pondered along his journey. “Look,” Grim said, “We don’t care if you live or die, you’re going to do the work either way. YOU have to decide. Do you want to live or do you want to die?”  Most people, including me, when asked that question consciously say, “Of course I want to live!” This time I thought, “what have I got to lose with exploring the idea that some part of me may have a different agenda.” I was surprised at what I discovered, or rather, rediscovered, because the information has been known to me for quite awhile, but I saw it in a new context with Grim’s (and David’s) help. It came down to two more points Grim had for me.

The first:  “Renee, do you have any long term problems or situations in your life that don’t seem to have a solution or, if they do, you don't like the solution?” He looked at me the way a parent looks at a child when they already know the answer to the question. “Most of you humans do, you know. It could be a long exhausting care of a loved one? Staying in a job or relationship you dislike but has its advantages? A chronic financial situation? chronic pain? addiction? to name a few.” 

With these, life can feel burdensome, heavy, sometimes intolerable. I thought about mine and knew to what he was referring; a couple things I have lived with for so long they began to feel a part of me rather than an experience I was having. I had quit thinking a solution existed. I looked at him and he continued,  “Because, if they do exist, death becomes a solution whether you realize it or not.” It made me think back to other times when I had had passing thoughts about dying and into my head would pop, “Well, if you die you don’t have to deal with that anymore!” as if I needed to find some benefit. A brief moment of relief and freedom would follow, but then, the thought would quickly pop out as fast as it had popped in…or so I assumed. Maybe it really didn’t pop out. Maybe I was actually shoving it down within me for the abhorrence of even seeing death as a possible solution to anything. I now see that some part of me, my soul maybe, was searching for any solution as a desire for freedom, for the abhorrence it has to being confined to human constructs of imprisonment.

I meditated on this longer, allowing for the thoughts of dying as a solution to stay front and center in my consciousness rather than shoving them down; to see where they wanted to take me. Eventually, I looked at Grim with his satisfied smirk on his face. “Thank you for making me aware of that aspect of myself, but no,” I said. “I do not want to die with any part of my being still held hostage to an habitual way of looking at the world. I choose to be excited and open to other possibilities I have yet to see. When I leave this world it will be with nothing still to be resolved. I will feel completely free while alive; not through death”. Satisfied with my answer, he nodded and proceeded with his second point.

“What emotion or energy is intolerable for you to feel?” he posed. Two years ago I wouldn’t have known the answer. In the past two years I have come to be able to answer that question with crystal clarity. “Disappointment.” I answered. I can’t stand it. Hate it. Disappointment has felt like death to me and it is extraordinary what I would do to not feel disappointed. The irony is not lost on me that my journey with cancer could easily be a journey with coming to a place of equanimity with disappointment.

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“Most of you have an intolerable emotion,” Grim continued, “And if you discovered what it was you would be surprised how much it runs your lives, the amount of negotiation or distraction you do with yourselves to avoid it.”  For others it may not be disappointment. It may be guilt, abandonment, boredom, sadness, etc. Again, I meditated on what he was saying, the part about it running our lives. Eventually a light went on and I got it! I saw why he said I had been wishy washy and hedging my bets.

It goes something like this.  “If I can become completely comfortable with dying then I won’t be disappointed if I do.” “If I can become completely comfortable with dying then I won’t be disappointed if I commit fully to living yet end up dying from cancer anyway.” Never mind that in each scenario I’m dead and probably beyond feeling disappointed! When I saw the convoluted logic - avoiding disappointment by not fully committing to living - I laughed along with Grim. He gave me his knowing smile. “No,” I said, “I would much rather spend the time and energy working with disappointment so it no longer drives any part of my life! Again, thank you for making me aware of it!”

“My work is done.” he said and gathered his staff and left. Since the encounter I have become aware of two things.  

Life force energy. We all have it and it is palpable, within ourselves and noticeable within others. With a life threatening illness I have become acutely aware of how important it is to have EVERY fiber of my being in agreement about living so that as much of that energy is held within me and not spread out elsewhere - to seemingly unsolvable problems, to avoiding disappointment, to the past over regrets, to the future with worry, or to distraction by any means because the present doesn’t feel good. If I am not present, here, right now, then my life force energy is somewhere else. If I want to heal, my life force stays within me and is turned on to full capacity.

The second thing I have become aware of is a fire got lit within me to live, to be excited about possibilities yet discovered and to experience new heights of freedom. What has become intolerable is complacency and the rote, repetitive way I have looked at certain things in my life. I thank Grim for the rebirth I am feeling…no more “wishy washy, holding pattern, and hedging bets” for this one. I am free - watch out world!

Part 20. March 30th

I have quite a few travel plans. San Juan Island the week before last, Victoria BC this past week, Oregon Coast this week, Peoria IL next week, and the day I return from Peoria, a cousin visits…all before and because of March 30th. Although Saturday mornings are usually a sacred time for me, I drove into Seattle early, two Saturdays ago, to walk/run a 5k...because of March 30th. The Pac 12 Women’s basketball tournament was held in Seattle this past weekend. I thought I might go to the championship game Sunday night because Stanford was playing, but instead, I spent the evening with my friend, Leanne for the same reason...March 30th.

Which head is mine?

Which head is mine?

What is the big deal with March 30th? March 30th is the day I am scheduled to start phase 3 of my protocol with Dr. Chue, which means another round of chemotherapy. It isn’t anything new or because of anything bad happening, in fact, he’s pleased with the results so far. It's just the next thing on the schedule. Twelve weeks on phase 2; time to move on to phase 3. When I met with him last week to discuss this, he confirmed the schedule, and I found myself fighting the tears. Although I knew it was coming, it didn’t mean I liked it. I told him how well I had been feeling, the best I have in years, and it was hard to imagine going back to feeling the way chemo makes me feel. “You’ve got to think long term.” he warmly said. “I know,” I responded, reluctantly, as I reached up to run my hand over the soft pelt of my newly grown-in hair. 

Jail. I knew a man who was going to go to jail for a couple months, but was given some time beforehand to get his affairs in order. Did he look at the calendar every evening and say, “Well, there is one more day of freedom gone.” My orientation has been like that. What do I want to do before I have to go to jail on March 30th? I decided I was going to do everything I wanted, thus, all the travel plans. As I write this my office is a mess. I was going to clean it today; I wanted to clean it today, but then this came up, and I wanted to write more. So, here I write, surrounded by piles on the desk and floor. 

My mess!

My mess!

This past Saturday morning (my sacred time) I chose to re-listen to a podcast by David Manning. David works with energy, and his podcast, “Cancer: a Mystical Initiation,” tells the story of his journey with cancer. Of the many valuable teachings I took away from his podcast, there were three things he said that had me re-look at March 30th. For him, they may have been passing comments; not really the relevant part of his talk. For me, they were nuggets that wedged in my being, wouldn’t let go, wanting me to see the relevance for me at this moment in time.

The first two (paraphrasing):

“Life is meant to be lived joyously

“Life, the Universe, God, whatever you call it, is always working on your behalf. Everything that happens, happens for you…not to you.” 

These are not new concepts for me, particularly the last one. I have been living with cancer for a couple of years now with the idea that cancer was something that has happened for me, not to me, and I have seen, over and over, the gifts that have come from adopting this perspective. Sometimes, though, old ideas land anew when the timing is right…”Everything happens for you"…"it is always working on your behalf"…March 30th. I stopped the podcast and smiled. I chuckled, “Ahhh, I got it. I got it, and I bet you were wondering whether I would,” I found myself saying to Life. I'm sure Life smiled back. 

Unbeknownst to me, every choice I had been making to have fun before March 30th, came from the place of, ‘Life is meant to be lived joyously’. I have no place or time right now for the ‘should haves', nor am I going to waste time doing things because I don't know how to say no. I'm not going to waste the day on my smartphone, nor spend any time lamenting March 30th’s arrival. I ran on a Saturday morning because I could, and that brought a smile to my face; walked in the rain in Victoria with dear friends, because it brought a warmth to my heart; stood on a cliff overlooking Haro Strait with Wes, because the extraordinary beauty brought a sense of peace to my entire being. Life being lived joyously. 

Haro Strait

Haro Strait

It was about making every moment count, and that was the gift of March 30th. It wasn’t jail. It was Life. Life putting a date out there, a demarcation, a before and after. Life, conveniently presenting an opportunity, if I chose to look at it that way. An opportunity for me to grasp how life has always meant to be lived...we only have a finite amount of days so make the most of them! Through my choices everyday, was I going to choose joy or choose my habitual way of being? I chose joy and pray that complacency does not creep in without the aide of an artificial date bolstering my awareness. 

There is a phrase that momentarily and quietly saddens me whenever I hear it. It goes something like this, “Well, I figure I have about 25 years left so I...” I want to respond, “No, you only ever have right now, and anytime we think we know how long we have, it allows us to think we have plenty of time to start doing the things we’ve wanted to do, and stop doing the things we don’t.”   

The third comment from David Manning: 

“Resist nothing.” 

This isn’t a new concept either, but its timing was appropriate. Today, I have resistance to March 30th. I wish I didn’t, but I do. I’m not yet ready to embrace the chemotherapy experience. When I think about chemotherapy I can feel a tightening in my being that is the equivalent to, “Nooo, I don’t wanna!” For right now, I’m ok with that. I choose to see it as a natural response to feeling so good. But, I do know that by the time March 30th arrives, I will be in acceptance not resistance, because resistance does not serve me. As Carl Jung said, “ What you resist persists.” For chemotherapy to work as best as it can, I choose to see that it and I are working in unison, on behalf of the healing in my body, for my highest good. It will make me well, not sick. And that brings joy to my heart in and of itself. March 30th…all will be well.

Part 19. Conversations with Grim

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One of the many things I am grateful to cancer for is its ability to push me into the unknown, scary places…the ones I would never willingly visit. Yet, having gone there, I come away grateful, every time, and see its necessity for the evolution of my being. One such place has been my interactions with the Grim Reaper (Death). This is a two part story of my evolving relationship with Grim and the gifts that have come from this relationship.

We all have a relationship with Grim. He isn’t something we are taught to contemplate. Mostly, we avoid thinking about him altogether. He is like the irritating relative who remains ignored and we hope doesn’t visit our home any time soon. Think Randy Quaid’s character in Christmas Vacation, Cousin Eddie. Cancer made me open the door and invite him in for a visit, Grim, not Cousin Eddie. Getting to know him and becoming comfortable with his presence didn’t mean I wanted to die. It meant I cared enough about myself to look at him, wonder what made him so scary, and see his role in my life. What might he have to offer? I found he has a lot to say.

Grim’s first visit was in 2015. I invited him into my home although I’m not sure he understood why he was there. I was in pain, despair, and so frustrated that cancer was still a growing part of my life that I wanted out. I was mad at him because he wouldn’t take me with him when he was ready to leave. It was like I was the toddler, Grim, the parent who was making me stay in school when I just wanted to go home. “Take me with you, I don’t like school!” I might have demanded, stomping my feet in my temper tantrum. 

“Going home is forever, you know, is that what you really want? To never play again, learn again, experience again? Instead, how about we look at why you want to leave?” 

He showed me how controlling I was…so utterly frustrated at not being able to heal from cancer that I was willing to die instead. When some people don’t get their way they take their ball and go home…I apparently was willing to take my life and go home. He smiled and quietly shut the door behind him, and I turned towards life wondering what it might look like if I weren’t trying to control everything.

In a quiet moment sometime later I invited Grim for a visit again. I was curious, “Why don’t I want to die? What is so scary about it?” He waited patiently as I looked for the answer. I was surprised at my first response.

 “It will devastate Wes and my boys, and it is incredibly painful thinking I would be the cause of their pain, particularly my boys.” 

At first pass that seems so caring and loving, but Grim just laughed at me in a pathetic sort of way. 

“A little bit codependent aren’t you? You didn’t say, ‘I have so much I want to experience.’ or, ‘Life is so fun.’ or, ‘I would miss my family.’ or, ‘I love being alive.’ No, you said, ‘I didn’t want to be the cause of their pain?’ In other words, your reason for staying alive is to avoid being the cause of someone else’s pain, not because you particularly like being alive?”  

What Grim taught me in that moment was just how codependent I was in my desire to control my family’s emotions. I sat with the enormity of that and finally came to see that my family had a right to feel whatever they feel, and I needed to understand where this gripping need to be without fault came from. I wish I could say there was one event that caused it, but as I meditated on it, I realized it was a way I had maneuvered in the world all my life in order to feel safe. Having family feel any negative emotion because of me felt like…death…and I would avoid it at all costs. I think that’s what the family peace keepers do, don’t we? Control the environment so everyone is happy? All the while telling ourselves it's for them, when really, it is so we don't feel bad. The gripping need lessened, and peace settled in, which allowed me to turn my attention to ‘living’. How much do I want to live for me? Was my life worth living even with the prognosis I had, not knowing how long I had? Yes. But it took revealing the codependence in order to come to that decision. Otherwise, my focus was on “not dying” rather than “living” and there is a big difference between the two.

In July 2016, when my oncologist said, “Renee, this isn’t curable!” I invited Grim again. It looked as though he and I might be getting more intimate sooner than I wanted so I might as well get to know him better now. As usual, he was willing to make the trip. It felt like I was a teenager trying to accept Grim, my new, irritating step brother. The inevitable move into my space had me asking, "What can I accept and what is still difficult to accept about him?" There wasn’t fear about dying anymore, or being gone, as I had settled into a knowingness of the eternal nature of my being. It wasn’t that I would miss my family, really, because I felt that I will always be with them even in death. What was making me sad was being absent from their lives and seeing them moving on without me.

Time has passed and Wes has met someone else. I allowed myself to cry…until it became ok. 

Wes happy as he introduces her to our boys. I allowed myself to cry…until it became ok. 

The four of them laughing, happy, having a good time like we do now. I allowed myself to cry…until it became ok.. 

Enough time has passed, they can easily share their fond memories of me with a smile on their face rather than pain. Again, I allowed myself to cry…until it became ok. 

Grim held the space for me as I went through my process. He taught me that emotions aren’t always rational, (I’m not even going to be around if those scenarios took place) but they are still powerful in their impact. This alone makes them worthy of feeling, because all emotions eventually pass into something else, if you’re willing to feel them instead of avoid them. Otherwise, they stay in you, layering one on top of the other, until Grim doesn’t seem like such a bad fellow to follow after all. Once I sat there long enough, my tears dried up, and a peace settled over me. In the end, we want those we love to be happy no matter what form that takes.

Through every encounter with Grim I discovered deepening levels of peace and greater appreciation for every moment I had on this Earth. Why does our culture seem to have such a fear of him when confronting him can make living so much richer?

Grim visited again last week, but I'll save that encounter until next time...

Part 18. My Girls!

One of the things I love about life is the many opportunities it gives you to live more peacefully within it. Sadly, peace often occurs only after a struggle, when life has beaten us down enough we finally say "uncle". But it doesn’t have to be that way as I learned a few months ago. Last October, during one of my appointments with my alternative practitioner, Elizabeth, she said (paraphrasing) , “OK. One of the things that is coming up that is vital to your healing is that you need to give yourself permission to be well...” 

“I need to give myself permission to be well.” The statement resonated completely. When you have lived with cancer as long as I have it can be difficult to see yourself any other way. I know how to do this “cancer thing”, but could I do the “well thing”? Being well seems so...free!? And, if I were to be well, is it sustainable? Could I handle the disappointment should it return once I was well? That would be too much to bare - to be completely well and free and then to not be. Too much, too painful. (See how the mind…or my mind anyway…works? It has a way of working you into believing it is safer to stay just as you are.) So, I didn’t have an issue with what Elizabeth was saying, it was what she said next that was intriguing. “And the way this needs to happen is through you creating a piece of art that reflects this.”

So, I am supposed to create a piece of art that reflects me giving myself permission to be well? Hmmmm. After a brief moment of resistance to the notion of an assignment, there overcame me an excitement, a curiosity about the possibility of what I could create. I posed the question to myself, “What would something like that look like?” and the ideas started to flow, which brings me to the first realization I had.

Life Lesson #1 - Excitement and curiosity about a task rather than irritation or indifference makes the task easier to accomplish.

In the past, an assignment like that wouldn’t have even begun to take shape until I got through the “I don’t want to,” “That’s a lot of pressure,” “I have no idea how to do it and will it be good enough?” “What happens to me if I don’t do it?”. The creative seeds waiting to sprout CAN’T as long as I was taking up valuable space in my consciousness with a victim train of thought. The creative seeds were always there, right outside my awareness, but waited patiently for me to finish my mind chatter, ultimately floating into my awareness on the coattails of a quiet breeze of silence. As soon as I had reframed the assignment into something fun to do my mind quieted, and I was able to explore possibilities. And the possibilities made themselves known quickly!

I…need to give…myself…permission to be…well

 There are three of me in that statement - the I, the myself, and the well me that gets created when that permission has been granted. That idea flew into my head of its own accord and I found I liked the concept! A rebirth. I and Myself ushering in a new version of me, the Well Me. So how do I create that?

I draw; I paint; I write; I refinish furniture as a way to be creative. It was rather a shock when the next “hit” I got was this project needed to be 3D...no pencil, keyboard, or paint brush for me. Well what then? Driftwood. Driftwood collected from Whidbey Island. Driftwood that will be carved into those three figures. Again, I found I liked the idea, although I have never carved wood before. Whidbey Island holds a special place in my heart from the beginning of our time living in the Pacific Northwest. We would take our boys there and play with all the driftwood that collects on the beach. A piece could become part of a wall of a fort, a bench to sit on, a baseball bat with rocks serving as baseballs hit into the Puget Sound. This time Wes and I took our dogs. The pieces of driftwood would become doll like carvings for me as I worked another angle of this healing odyssey of mine.

Collecting wood on Whidbey Island 10/16

Collecting wood on Whidbey Island 10/16

With my newly acquired carving tools in hand and wood collected from Whidbey Island, I began carving the first face. Each of the three figures is about eighteen inches tall. Because I have never carved before, I had no expectation how these figures would turn out which was good, as the first one resembles one of the Moai, the statues on Easter Island! I didn’t care! What mattered to me was the process of creating these, not the end result which brings me to the second realization. 

Life Lesson #2 - Expectations cause suffering.

Never once did I think about, worry about, have any idea how these would turn out. Consequently, there was nothing to criticize. There was no comparison happening between how they are turning out and how I think they should be turning out. I simply enjoyed the process. I think about the past and the many times I was frustrated because my drawing wasn’t looking like I wanted it to look; the many times I was irritated because the traffic was worse than I wanted it to be; the many times I was scared because my health was different than I hoped it would be. When all the expectations are abandoned what remains is simply living. Living with curiosity, awe, and reverence.

The first figure took on an ethereal nature as if she were an aspect of me that transcends time. Her gown was made from a linen cloth of my grandmother’s, symbolizing my ancestors' journey with cancer. I hadn’t realized why I had been saving it. The buttons on the gown are baby’s breath, taken from a bouquet I had received for my birthday from a friend. Her hair came from the branches of a cedar tree in our backyard; her eyes from pine cones from the Douglas fir; the feathers shed from birds on Whidbey Island. 

The second figure was the version of me that has been walking this Earth. I knew I wanted her to wear sweats. Right? If I'm home, I'm in sweats. I found an old pair of gray basketball shorts. How many games had I played in those shorts? I smiled with the appropriateness of the sacrifice they were about to make. The leftover scraps became the hat for my head. There would be no hair on this version as she represents the one who has been dealing with cancer for a very long time. An old headband from my running days became the hoody. She looks like me as I sit writing this post in my gray sweats, black hoody, and gray hat. It may be time to reevaluate my choice of wardrobe!

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The third figure is the Well Me. She stands in vibrant victory, being ushered into existence by the other two, permission requested and granted! She emerges out of Mother Earth.  I knew I wanted her gown to flow and be made of moss representing Mother Earth, her arms to be raised above her head in victory, a smile on her face that shouts to the world, "I am happy and free!". None of these images came to me until it was her turn to be carved. Every step of the way I wondered, "What needs to be done now?"  and the answer would emerge out of waiting silence. Which brings me to the third realization.

Life Lesson #3 - Answers to the puzzles of life come when it is time for them to come not necessarily when I think they should.

I began to notice something with this project. I was in the moment, always. When the next step to take was right in front of me, I would ask what needed to be done and wait for the answer. It would come. It was perfect. It felt...easy, as if, my job was to ask and wait. It was the Universe's job to provide the answer - from what the figures should wear, to how they should be positioned, to when it was time to stop carving because more isn’t better! Today, when I find myself begin to get frustrated because some answer to a problem isn’t presenting itself, I ask myself, "Am I being present? Am I listening? Is it time?" If silence prevails, then I will ask again later.

I often reflect, three months later, how easy the project flowed, how meaningful it became to undertake, and how well it turned out in spite of, or, because I didn't care...particularly having NEVER done anything like it before. I intuitively know that what happened during the process was a big deal for me. I was shown how life can be. It can flow with ease, grace, and assistance if you just ask. Today I look at "My Girls" particularly the one in green and smile at her vibrant well being. Is it any coincidence that I feel the best I have in four years?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 17. Groundhog Day

In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil (Bill Murray), a weatherman, travels to Punxsutawney, PA  to cover the annual emergence of the groundhog from its hole. He gets caught in a blizzard he didn't predict, finds himself trapped in a time warp, and is doomed to relive the day over and over again until he “gets it right”. Recently, Wes was asked, “how are you doing?” He aptly replied, “Our life feels like we are living Groundhog Day…every week is the same.” This was the case between August 11th and December 15th when I was going through the first phase of Dr. Chue’s cancer protocol. (I’m happy to report my cancer marker dropped by 60% in that time!)

The week started on Thursday, not Sunday or Monday, when I spent the entire day in the clinic receiving chemotherapy. Every Thursday was the same. I got up at the same time and prepared for the day in the same way. I wore the same clothes - yoga tights, cozy socks and a hat for comfort with a button down shirt. The button down shirt was so the port in my chest could be easily accessed. I packed a bag with the same things - my laptop computer for writing posts to my blog which went unwritten, a kindle for reading books that went unread, earbuds, charging cords, and my supplements. Wes and I drove the same route, parked in the same garage, arrived at the same time, greeted the same patients who also had Thursdays as their “day”. (They have since become family.) My vitals were taken by the same wonderful young man, I would meet with Dr. Chue for about 10 minutes and then head to my same chair to receive the same “chemo cocktail”. The only deviation to this plan was if my blood work chose to rebel at all this sameness by being too low to receive the full cocktail.  I then received less and occasionally left at a …different, earlier time.

On Thursday evenings I was very talkative and funny when friends were over for dinner, or so I was told. The steroid I received as part of the cocktail gave me a bit of “energy” whose outlet appeared to be “storytelling” on my part. It also made my Thursday nights the same - I got little sleep.

My trench!

My trench!

Every Friday was the same. The steroid made Fridays a day to get things done! One Friday, for example, I woke up and decided a trench needed to be dug in our front garden. There is a spot outside our front door, next to the house, that concerns me sometimes with heavy rains, as the drainage isn’t good. A few years ago we had water damage in the house. This particular Friday the Pacific Northwest was experiencing a heavy rainstorm. Upon awakening, the first thing I did was walk downstairs, open the front door, and look to the concerning spot. There was a pond growing where there is normally dirt! “NOOO! THAT WATER IS NOT COMING IN MY HOUSE!” my chemo/steroid laden brain decided.  I had not yet had breakfast, my lemon water, or tea. I had about four hours of sleep and was fourteen hours removed from receiving chemotherapy. I threw on a raincoat to cover my oversized sweats, slipped on my garden clogs, and manned with a pick, shovel, and clippers, began digging a trench so the pond of water would have a place to drain. I would stop periodically to catch my breath. I was soaked. The hat covering my bald head was long gone, stolen by the branches of a tree overhead. I didn’t care. I was so happy when I saw the water begin to flow down my trench! You may wonder why I didn’t ask Wes to do it? I would have, but he was volunteering to feed breakfast to the homeless at a shelter in Seattle. Had he been here to dig, I probably would have used the energy elsewhere…I’m sure my attic could have used some decluttering. 

Every Saturday was the same. I crashed. As the day progressed I felt more and more tired, weak, flu-like, hungover though no alcohol had been consumed to make me feel that way. A couch potato. I did absolutely nothing but lay on a couch and binge watch some show or another and nap. I often went to bed in the same clothes in which I awoke. Saturday evening was the worst and I found myself wondering if this was sustainable…did I really want to do this over and over again with no guarantee of a desirable outcome? I reminded myself that that kind of thinking was also part of the “sameness”. It occurred every Saturday.

Every Sunday was the same. I began to make my way back to normalcy. I could foretell how the next days would be by what I was able to do on Sundays - did I have the energy to run errands, make dinner, work on my art project? How far could the dogs get walked? 

The "dress-up" hat, aka a wig!

The "dress-up" hat, aka a wig!

Mondays through Wednesdays were the same, but I labeled them differently. Monday became "Three days out". Tuesday was "Two days out" and Wednesday was "My last day".  Errands got done, calls and appointments happened and, other than feeling more tired than normal, I continued on with my life. No one looking at me would know I received chemotherapy particularly when I wore my new “dress-up hat” aka a wig. 

No matter what I did or what I wished for, Thursday always showed up after Wednesday. Like Phil in Groundhog Day, I would wake up and, like it or not, the routine would start all over again. In the movie Phil lives everyday over and over until he “gets it right”. Some estimates say it took him over 12,300 days to “get it right”. As I watched the movie I wondered, "Is that what we are here to do...get it right?"

And what does “get it right” mean for each of us? Often our experiences seem to repeat. The content can look different, but the themes remain the same. Maybe our experiences are meant to help us "get it right." For me "getting it right" has come about when I step back from being the victim of my experiences and step into being the master of them.  

If I look to the experiences I have had in this life I see the role cancer has played in helping me “get it right” if it means:

  • Living without fear and with more love.
  • Living with less judgement and more presence and appreciation for what “is” rather than what I wish it were.
  • Seeing the beauty within everything. 
  • Letting life happen with as much curiosity as I can, rather than trying to control everything, knowing that whatever happens is in my highest interest whether I like it or not; whether I can see it or not. 

It has taken me about 2,760 days* to get this much right. 

Like Phil, I too woke up one day, a Thursday, to find it was finally different than the previous ones. With phase one of Dr. Chue’s protocol over on December 15th and phase two yet to start I woke up on Thursday, December 22nd, didn’t put on yoga tights, pack a bag, or drive over to Seattle. Instead I dressed in “real” clothes, grabbed my purse and drove to Woodinville to have coffee with a friend. The rest of the day I found myself smiling as everything I did that day was different than the previous Thursdays. 

I have started phase two which doesn’t involve chemotherapy so, for the next three months, I find myself excited and appreciative for all the “normal,” mundane days ahead - particularly Thursdays! What do I want to do with them all?!

 

*Number of days since I was first diagnosed in 2009.