Wednesday, January 30, 2008

what about not freaking out?

when challenging situations arise, i have often freaked out. i fly quickly into panic mode, try to take some action. no matter how ill-conceived, i start damage control and try to stop the crisis.

we all do this, right? except for the enlightened folks, who don't freak-out, they tune in. do you know anybody like this?

like lots of 21st century people who've embraced tons of therapy, strive to live healthy and aware and consider themselves on some sort of spiritual path - i think i am pretty well adjusted, pretty sane.

perhaps i am.

but when you hear it's cancer, when that sinks in, when you think about what it will mean? i freak out. you've all been witness to that, i've been telling the story here with all the honesty i can muster. it's quite helpful to have the story as reference. i can go back and see exactly what that freak-out looked like.

on good days, this is helpful, it keeps me humble and honest. and on bad days? it also helps. reading about what i was feeling facing the worst thing, then the next worst thing, helps me see that it gets better. not that the situation even changes, but i get over the freak-out.

we've all heard the saying "you can't always change a situation, but you can change your reaction to it" or something similar (insert control for change if need be). wise words, often hard to live by. i talk a good talk about this, for sure. i'm the queen of offering helpful advice to others in crisis. but then my own shit hits the fan and i'm thrashing on the floor just like everyone else. angry as hell about this crazy thing happening to me. it's ugly.

generally, i am an over-achieving control freak. (granted, i'm much better than i used to be and even my family would now say freak is way too strong a term here). being out-of-control (like having cancer for instance) is about as shitty as a fan can get.

the gurus say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. they fail to mention the teacher might just be cancer. (it could however, also be your asshole boss, a sick loved one, a wacko on the bus). it's become crystal clear that this turnip came when i was ready to finally, fully get some deep lessons. i had been systematically, very consciously, cracking away at my protective emotional shell for some years now. i used tools of all kinds: therapies from east to west, from meds to magic. all those things worked to the degree i allowed them.

that's the key piece. listening. allowing.

i am learning as i go. you all are reading it as i live it. we are all holding this. it's important to me for you to see that the things i am learning are offerings to all of us.

so, here it is.

i freaked out last night. my computer went black and there was no reviving it. i spent the night thrashing, utterly miserable. couldn't see the lesson, i was lost in the fear. this morning, i woke up early, took some deep breaths and called up the image of my circle of light (yes, you there, and you and you and you). i brought my precious laptop to the mac store hopeful and expectant of a outcome that would ensure that: 1) i would retain all my data, which i have not backed up, ever; 2) it would not require replacing the computer or cost me thousands of dollars.

i'm happy and relieved to report that i was lucky. it was the adapter on the power cord and the battery. minor, considering. the universe sent me a little reminder to buy the external hard-drive and back up all my stuff. i didn't need to lose the computer to learn this lesson.

now i am not saying that my change in reaction this morning changed the outcome. a happy smile isn't a universal band-aid for every situation. but it did stop me thrashing.

and the thrashing freak-out didn't change the outcome either.

Friday, January 25, 2008

positive intention

this week i feel like i went up to full speed in life. it's been freezing cold and sunny everyday, which tends to be strangely energizing weather for me. so i've been very social, seeing friends for most meals and working like a honeybee in my studio.

although in a hive for one, it can get a little lonely.

thank goodness for music. and books-on-cd. maybe you wonder what gets me through the day? it's a warm and healthy mash of
pink martini's new album, hey eugene. with a hefty dose of a belle & sebastian mix, the soundtracks from french films amelie and the triplets of belleville. plus some wise words from pema chodron, the down-to-earth buddhist nun.

my hours alone in my bright jewelry studio, with good music feeding my soul like medicine, has given me an opening in my thoughts. i've been pondering intention. my dear blogging friend
maryam, of my marrakesh left me a comment a few weeks ago and mentioned her thing for the new year: positive intent. she planted a little seed that has this week been finding soil and sun. it's begun to put down some tender roots into my brain, getting comfortable bit by bit.

a week ago i was so fed up and distressed about money and time and how the hell was i ever going to make it. i hit a break point and sat down to write a budget, as i have done many times in my life. this one was radically different, however. usually, there are many more things in the expense column than in the income.

this time, i decided to tell the universe exactly what was needed for me to make it.
the basics.

putting my intention in ink, i figured out my total income needed per month and then broke it down into specifics. how many pairs of earrings would i need to sell? 56. how many affirmation rings? 66. how many lockets? 46. how many belt buckles? only 10. this was getting interesting.

gathering steam, i went a bit farther. what if i broke down my medical insurance into bite-size pieces? i wrote it down. five donations of $52 per month would cover the payment. it started to look more manageable the more i wrote.

this week, since that written positive intention list, has been eye-opening. two amazing media opportunities were offered to me. (more on that later) inquires about ordering rings came in. everyday, someone made a purchase from my bread + butter collection. from out of the blue, a family member sent a generous check. i received an offer to be supported and share a booth vending at a show that has been very good for me in the past, but i had decided i wouldn't risk committing to, not knowing the effects of radiation on my energy. there were lots of other small everyday kindnesses that flooded my days with sweetness as well.

a serious shower of blessings from
totally unexpected sources came raining down.

this positive intent stuff is powerful. the negative voice in the back of my head has had to surrender, even while nastily calling out, "well, but what about next week?" in the past, i would have sat down and really listened to that voice. today i am just turning up my music and drowning it out.

next week is going to be great, i say to myself. not pollyanna, just grounded positive intention. moving forward. looking for the good, the sweet, the precious. surrounding myself with good energy. allowing myself to be held. acknowledging
that you, right there reading this at your computer are part of my healing. you showing up today is proof that positive intention works.

i am crying as i write this. warm tears of gratitude. i know i keep saying thank-you. i hope that doesn't sound old by now. it means more everyday on this journey

thank-you is the perfect partner to positive intention.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

the tide is high

lately i've been alternating between bursts of energy and hopefulness, then feeling the weight of my healing task and the depth of my fears. it seems to come in steady waves, not unlike the ocean tides. perhaps i need to begin to view the shift in feelings as i do the tides.

in my current reality, it seems there are many unknowns and those unknowns have the most power over me. but what if i looked at my conflicting emotions as a constant? perhaps one of the few things i can depend on? when the tide of dark feelings is high and i feel as if i will be swept away and drown at any second, perhaps i can hold onto the certainty that that tide will recede.

as it pulls back, i am renewed. there is a clean expanse before me. there are tidal pools to play in and a wide beach to run along. everything seems possible again. i made through another cycle.


and in that moment, then the sun comes out while i am walking my dog. i spot a new flower starting to open. all the color my eye takes in is more saturated than before and vibrantly alive. i can see clearly what i will do today, i feel sure i can do it.

i am

until the tide flows back in again. i'm wiped out, immobile, small. i feel unable to plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or next month. i try to logic my way out of the mess, but the undertow is too strong. all i can do is cling to my rock and wait. wait for the sun, wait for the cycle to turn.

we all hate waiting. i am no exception, i have precious little patience with myself.

i'm trying to get better at waiting, to be a better friend to myself when things are falling apart. so much gentleness is needed, so much patience. on those days, the friend who drops by a bowl of soup or writes me some encouraging words makes all the difference. it's easier to treat myself with kindness when others show me the way. it's easy to forget how to be sweet with myself when i'm freaking out.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

going foward

today was a banner day. first, i felt shooting pain in my breast while walking the dog. no, that is good news, really! that pain is proof my nerves are healing, they've slowly been knitting themselves back together. as they do, they let me know with a zap. ah, how wonderful to have some feeling, even pain, return to an area i have been afraid would not recover this time.

second, i was able to wear my regular bra and leave the multiple layers of sport bras in the drawer! just putting it on and feeling good was enough to inspire me to put in my contacts and some make-up, too. that's three things i used to take for granted, but that today feel like victories. not feeling like a icky lump for the first time since
november 26, 2007? this is a big day, friends.

comfortably wearing pretty underthings again goes a long way towards off-setting the unsightly tattoos i got, courtesy of the radiation technicians last
friday. all i can say is: i am now a marked woman.

it's now one month since the last surgery. i am feeling better in body each day. back to working in my studio, gradually adding to the time i spend there. a new jewelry collection is taking shape and i am really quite excited about it.

since my last post and my emotional melt-down last weekend, so many of you have commented and sent messages. i am so
appreciative those sweet words of support and belief. i just need to keep visualizing you all behind me.

one of my more profound thoughts of the new year is this:
all i can do it keep going forward.

simple in the extreme, but that's the essence of it. life is here, right now in this moment. i can't control or predict. my best laid plans may fail. all i can do is try. get up each day and do what i know, follow what i love and be kind. kind to others and even more challenging, kind to myself.

as scared and discouraged and freaked out as i may get, i am not going to stop going forward. that's all this big soup of life boils down to, when you get right down to it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

tay, remember you can fly

in the midst of my utter despair and panic, this gift came in the mail. isn't it lovely and precious? a dear woman i know made it, originally for herself, she thought. but she wrote me that as it turns out, the cuff was destined to be mine. so she proceeded to personalize it. i love it so much. soft wool and a message that both comforts me and brings the tears.

i am gathering my tool box for this next chapter of healing. today has been a strange day in which i've spent hours online, reading. seeking souls and minds out there for inspiration, for strength. lucky me, in the magical way one things leads to another on the web, i have found some real encouragement.

a few laughs. some new tunes. photos that transport me to a continent away.

and i've found some deep thoughts about making art and making a living. it's not easy for anyone. we all need to be true to our vision and help each other keep putting our beauty (whatever form it takes) out into the world.

you reading this from rooms all over the globe are helping me stick with it another day. helping me remember i can fly.


another full measure of strange, cancer is teaching me more about gratitude than anything else i've ever experienced. even in the midst of all the shit, i feel acutely aware of all i have to be thankful for.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

how the hell am i going to do this?

good news and bad news. they seem to be an old married couple in my life these days. always showing up together. i've got to get better at seeing trends, not single events. sometimes the balance sheet looks awfully weighted towards the bad.

it's all perspective, i realize.

so let's start with the good news. OHSU approved my application for financial assistance in their access program at payscale A, which translates to 100%. what that means is for the next 6 months (after which time i will need to reapply) my portion of the bills (excepting co-pays), after the insurance contribution, will be covered by the hospital. my insurance policy covers 90%, so that 10% left over i will now not have to pay. (this does not apply to the outstanding bills from 2007, however.)

that is absolutely cause for celebration. thank-you, universe.

now the bad news: i was hoping they would also approve me to cover the cost of my COBRA insurance payment every month. they didn't. it's a staggering $265 per month. when this whole mess started, i was carrying two policies, the COBRA one and and individual policy from ODS. as you may be aware, health care and insurance in this country is fucked up. for me to buy an individual insurance policy, i cannot have any, repeat, any pre-existing conditions. and certainly not something so prone to reoccurance as breast cancer. but honestly, i was turned down by Blue Cross for being on one anti-depressant. that's like turning someone down for eating breakfast cereal. give me a break! every other person you meet is on some kind of anti-depressant. jeesh.

the ODS policy had a crazy high deductible and wasn't very good. so after 2 months, i dropped the individual one. this was in hopes of being approved by OHSU to cover my COBRA insurance monthly payment. clearly, i am on a much longer breast cancer road than i originally anticipated. and in the long run, the ODS policy was going to cost me more. so ok, good. i got rid of $160 a month by dropping that policy. however, the COBRA policy will only be offered to me for 15 months total. after that? i now have only one choice. no insurance company will sell me a individual policy ever again, so i am put into the oregon state uninsurable pool. the cost for that policy per month will be at least $350. that's $4,200 per year! holy crap. for someone who has been living on about $20,000 a year, that is an impossible sum. no wonder cancer forces many people into bankruptcy.

you see the pressure i am under? somehow i have to beat cancer, keep myself healthy, lose 40 pounds by next december so i can have the reconstruction surgery before the policy runs out and build a thriving business (that will support that insurance policy) in the next 6 months before i am out of money. as i think about starting radiation and the strong possibility that my energy and productivity will go down during treatment, i think, how the hell am i going to do this?

i am nearly having a panic attack just writing that down.

which is, of course, shitty for healing. stress hormones coursing through my system go straight to the cells that are trying to heal and they block them.

breathe, breathe, breathe.

if you read this blog, please leave a comment. i need to know you all are still out there, pulling for me. special note to lisa of salmon poetry and maryam of my marrakesh -you two dear women are my most faithful commenters, so i know you are checking in often. thank-you for your sustaining comments. you have no idea how much they get me through the day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

cancer doesn't discriminate

i found a great website this week called circus of cancer. the author is a breast cancer survivor and the site is a guide for the friends and family of someone with breast cancer. in fact, the guide is written for you! what i love about it is that she presents facts and answers questions so clearly, yet the whole vibe of the site is very whimsical and happy. there is also photographs of the process of radiation, so if you want to see an example of what it looks like, the site is a great resource. click here to check it out, you'll be glad you did.

actually, i'll be glad you did. leave me a comment and let me know what you thought.

I've been telling more people about the breast cancer lately. people outside my circle of friends. folks that i meet in the course of my work day either at the rental property i manage or just out in the world. as i do this, i realize few people know what to say, it's a very hard thing to respond to. thinking back, i now see that before this experience of my own, i might have responded insensitively to someone telling me the same news. i might have chimed in with my story of my aunt who died of lung cancer at age 48, not realizing that isn't comforting or helpful for someone with a fresh cancer diagnosis to hear.

it's hard to know how to respond to bad news, frankly.

up until now, i've been afraid of dropping a "cancer bomb" on someones day. i couldn't talk about it without crying. just this week, i am starting to find my sense of humor again. although truth to be told, i still cry at least once a day. for the first couple of months, part of me felt ashamed for getting breast cancer. on some level it felt like a judgement on how i've lived. in this country, sickness is often seen as some kind of weakness, even as a indicator of some moral lapse. i blame the calvinists and my midwest background for those feelings. cancer, like death, doesn't make judgments. saints get it, bad people get it too. fat people who live on fast food and athletes who eat only organic. personally, i think that living on an increasingly poisoned planet has much to do with soaring cancer rates.

when i tell someone, i secretly watch and wonder if they are looking at my breasts when i mention it.

emotionally, i am way past ready to look normal and balanced in clothes. i am tired of wearing clothes that hide my curves in an attempt to disguise the new lopsided me. i'm nearly healed enough to start wearing my normal bras, with a prosthesis inserted on the one side. i'll be wearing that for nearly a year, until reconstruction next december. thankfully, there is a wonderful speciality lingerie shop here in portland, called just like a woman that has everything i need. they are also professionally trained to fit for women with partial mastectomies like me. they have everything from pretty bras to sport bras and they will bill my insurance! how cool is that?

today i go in for my 2 hour appointment to set up for radiation treatments. i'll be getting four tattoos (not as exciting as it sounds) and having a body cast made. stay tuned for a post on how that all went down.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

old habits, new tricks

i'm listening to the soundtrack from one of my all time favorite movies, amelie. it's very happy-making music. heaven help me, i need more happy. the rain pours down outside as the mailman slides another batch of hospital bills into my mail slot. i see my old companion, depression, hanging around in the corners of my apartment. i don't meet his eye. i'm hoping if i ignore him, he'll get the message and hit the road.

i'm taking frequent doses of my trusted homeopathic spray by liddell, called "feeling overwhelmed". that sums it up, my friends. i am feeling overwhelmed. i'm so good at looking at the whole interconnected ball of life. yet when the time comes to put that big mass in a box and just focus on one thing at a time, one manageable task, i often falter.

fresh start. new tricks are needed. today i chose to do something i felt inspired to do, instead of following my "must do" plan for the day. i talk a good talk about flexibility, but it's often so hard for me to achieve. practice, practice. life is practice.

so. i cleared off my project table at home instead of going to my studio to work. the first step towards making art, painting again. making art, not making a living.

as much as it is creative and wonderful, making a living as a jeweler is challenging. even without dealing with breast cancer. you can't just dial it in. i have created a life where i have to show up, i have to perform or i don't get paid. i'm the designer, the manufacturer, the marketing director, the bookkeeper and the cleaning service. whew.

today, i decided to blithely ignore those harsh realities and begin something that feels happy, seems approachable. the table is now clean and ready. i have a shelf to hang, some clutter in the corner to resolve. focus on something i can control right now.

what is breast cancer? it's giving up control. it's facing what we all have before us all the time. that these lives we build are as fragile as they are strong. that things, everything, can change in a minute. that we can make plans, but life is what happens.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

healing is the hardest job you'll ever do

my elation of the last post seems to have been blown away on the unusual strong winds whipping down my street. i awoke yesterday in a fog of dizziness, stumbled through the day with nausea and exhaustion. i couldn't concentrate enough to read or look at the computer screen for long. i kept thinking i could shake it off, but that was impossible.

it was more than a feeling of being "off", i couldn't even seem to find the control panel.

a session at acupuncture helped some. then i went to my naturpath, dr. scopes, for a consult on the evil rash and to make a plan for radiation. the rash is slowly beginning to heal, to dry up. next week i will see a chinese medicine doc that specializes in cancer patients for more support in dealing with radiation.

herbs and rays, man. put it that way and i sound like a cool surfer dude.

this research things is automatic pilot, at least. i feel overwhelmed, however. so much information, so many decisions everyday. i get confused and ask myself, did i take this vitamin? what should i eat for lunch that fits all the new requirements? like it must have good protein for healing from surgery, lots of antioxidants to build my immune system and then the basics, like do i want to eat that right now and is it in my fridge? breakfast is always my easiest meal of the day. i would die without plain yogurt, flax meal and granola. thank goodness green tea is so good for me. if i was still a coffee drinker, then even breakfast would be a struggle.

healing is a big job. maybe that is why i am so tired. nurse martha spent some time on the phone with me yesterday and offered this reassurance: healing is happening, it's on a slow trend towards better everyday. yet within that trend, there will be days that feel crappy and days that feel good. she also assured me that while yes, sugar and stress feed cancer, if a little dark chocolate is going to help with the stress, its likely a good trade off.

moderation in all things, including healthy things.

wise words much needed for this girl. you see, i have a past checkered with extreme health undertakings. like the year in my 20's i ate only raw food and wheatgrass juice. and rode my bike 50 miles a week. even as recently as last january, i started the year with a short juice fast, then a cleanse, then tried to cut out all sugar for the month. i ended up getting really depressed. never try to cleanse in january, it goes against nature and makes the process brutal instead of gentle and nurturing. unless you live in the tropics. then january is a great month for a cleanse. note to self: move to the tropics every winter.

i still have much to learn on being gentle with myself.

i look at my goals for this month and it seems they are already slipping away, after only 4 days. i occurs to me now that walking an hour a day for the month of january might have been too ambitious after nearly 2 months of not moving much at all. maybe first i should try getting up before 9 am. i feel like all i want to do is sleep.

i've reached some kind of ground zero with my body. the reserves seem to be tapped out. i have to rebuild from scratch, little by little.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

the meaning of free and clear

i'm starting to feel more like myself. still find i am tired and able to sleep many hours a night, but my awake hours are getting better. each day this week has felt like i am waking up into my brain again. today i felt bright and excited to work. my fingers are now itching to get into projects. anything but this seemingly endless laying around and resting. i've read so many books this past month. a gluttonous amount of books, really. you know it's bad when a voracious reader like me has to take a break!

today i had my post-op appointment with dr. naik. she was happy with my healing progress, rash notwithstanding. it was wonderful to hold a copy of the actual pathology report that says clear margins. i don't think a piece of paper has even looked that beautiful. we couldn't stop smiling at each other. it must feel good as a surgeon to get that report as well.

a few people have asked, what does that mean, clear margins? i asked for clarification today. what it means is after the first surgery, the tissue that was removed surrounding the tumor, except for one area, all tested to be free and clear of phyllodes cancer cells. in the second surgery, dr. naik went back into the space and took more tissue in the area where the margin was not clear. that second piece of tissue was clear. so as far as we can know through this process, the phyllodes cancer cells are gone. are there some lurking elsewhere in the breast? there is no way of knowing. it's a wait and see thing.

what is not clear is if there are DCIS cells still hiding within the breast tissue. there were not any in the margins around the tumor. but they could be somewhere else. from dr. naik's perspective, this right breast of mine seems to want to grow freaky cancer cells. that is cause for some alarm, which is why i have chosen to get the radiation therapy. i'm working hard on wrapping my mind around it. i am glad to have a month to learn to embrace it, because i know deep in my cells that every kind of therapy works better when you believe in it. the mind-body connection has been proven and i'm a strong believer.

so, now that it feels like the big danger has been tossed over the side, i am moving rapidly on. in my typical fashion, i am beginning to processing the experience and mine it for art. why not? it's my experience, after all. call it art therapy if you will, but exploiting my own experiences for artistic inspiration is something i've done since forever and it never fails to satisfy. i am excited to begin painting again. i've been fantasizing about getting photocopies of my turnip's ultrasound. images are competing for attention. all this stuff is rolling around in my head and heart, going bump in the night.

sooner rather than later, it's going to have to push it's way out.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

insult upon injury

or rash upon incision, as the case may be. yes, friends - i somehow have an allergic reaction to bandage adhesive. do you know about these things called steri-stips? they are basically special super strong tape the surgeon puts over the incision after stitching it up from the inside.

and i am now allergic to them. seriously? what the fuck is all i can say.

this rash is over and around the still-very-tender incision. dozens of tiny blisters. very itchy blisters, red and angry. egads. what next?

oh, well we know radiation is next. and i've been reading about it. i'm finally not freaked out enough, emotionally strong enough to do some more research. to look at the process rationally. i still think it's conceptually messed-up, but i also think it will be ok. i am making preparations. lining up my plan of attack. if the radiation is going to zap my cancer cells, then i am going to do everything in my power to boost up the healthy cells and help flush out the bad.

there will be vast quantities of fresh juice. there will be seaweed. there will be yoga and walking and chinese herbs. i am going to use anything and everything i think feels right to heal my body.

i have a wonderful story. my dear friends at the day job i left just shortly before my breast cancer diagnosis have done something so lovely. i used to work in the wellness department of a large locally owned grocery store. i loved seeing my friends at work, i've never worked with such a diverse group of quality people in my life. ian, my dear comrade in the wellness department, went person-to-person and gathered donations from my former co-workers(enough to pay for one month of the very expensive health insurance!) and arranged for a champion juicer (truly the king of juicers, with a motor as faithful as a mercedes) to be mine. such love and generosity! i am so, so grateful.

these gifts were delivered christmas day, yet until today i had not made juice.

today rachel, another good friend from the wellness department, and a juice-maven if there ever was one, (she also knows her wine, good balance, i say) came over with produce and a lesson. i am in love with this juicer, a lovely vintage avocado green machine which makes amazing, life-filled juice. we made something she calls "serpent juice". it is, indeed, like a bright green garden snake. fresh, quick and surprising.

serpent juice is:
ginger root