Monday, March 31, 2008

self image, exhibit A

this is how i feel. except less beautiful.

self image, exhibit B

WC fencing 2006 foil team
Originally uploaded by edwin_wisse

this is how i want to feel.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

notes from the bottom of the well

oh, man. i feel like i fell down a well. for lack of a better term, i'll call it the well of despair. i hesitate to even write this post, for i fear you all are so happy for me completing the radiation treatment that this will just be a big bucket of cold water. i'm sorry. i cannot be the ray of sunshine right now.

i have to confess. i wrote my celebration post before i left for the hospital on wednesday. and actually, my final treatment went fine. i brought milkshakes to my techs and we hugged goodbye. i walked out of there feeling like it was the end scene in a very strange dream. driving down the hill from the hospital, i felt good enough that i did something silly.

what i should have done was something very sweet and gentle, like a pedicure.

instead, what i did ended up feeling like 100 bad days piled on top of one another. i went to the speciality lingerie store and got fitted for my prosthesis and bras. my chest is healed enough to at least try them on, if not wear a real bra all day long. i thought it would be good, to start getting back to normal.

normal. what a shitty term. there is no normal. i am never going to have back my body, like it was.

i spent a painful hour standing topless in front of a full length mirror, trying on hideous bras. then i drove home through heavy rain feeling both numb and rubbed raw. when i got home, i turned off my phones and crawled into bed. i haven't wanted to get up yet. i cried more bitter tears in the past day than the last four months combined. i think i've been focused so much on having a good attitude and finding the little blessings along the way that i forgot to grieve. or maybe, it was just too scary to do until now, after treatment.

i can't fully explain it at this moment, i am so deep in grief.

i'll write in more detail soon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

rads, day 33: the end

welcome to the party! please do turn up the speakers on your computer and dance with abandon to my celebration song. nina simone, my high priestess, sings her amazing, soulful version of "feeling good" and that about sums it up, friends.

i am feeling so good today. such a weight lifted.

this rush of happiness comes because today, rads are finished. i made it to the end, all 33 treatments. nearly eight weeks of morning trips to the hospital on the hill. holy crap, am i ever thankful to be done with this treatment!

it's also been 33 times of being greeted with a smile by ramone and eric, my radiation techs and a cheery goodmorning by mo, the amazing receptionist. and 33 views of mt. hood from the 9th floor skywalk, as i made my way from underground parking to 4C radiation. those little bits of sweetness helped get me through.

and so did you all. my wonderful, loving circle of friends and family. you've been checking in here faithfully, leaving supportive comments, offering your resources from the heart and cheering me on each step of the way. even when i was really depressed and cranky there for a while. i cannot thank you all enough for hanging in there and holding this ring of support around me.

i'm weepy. talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, March 24, 2008

looking ahead

today is my day off from rads and this week i am feeling pretty good, energy-wise. so i am heading into work at my studio. not getting a particularly early start to the day, but i am keeping my expectations low for this transition from treatment back to "my life". funny, that. as if what i have been living for the past 2 months is someone else's life.

it's certainly been surreal.

my last radiation treatment is on wednesday. then what? i'll see the doctor for follow-up in 6 weeks. i assume they will set up some schedule for screening the area in future. in a few months i will go see the plastic surgeon, but my actual surgery for symmetry won't be til next december at the earliest.

what will this blog be after treatment? what will i be? right now, i don't want to close turnip. i imagine i will have things to share with all of you. after all, this blog has become about more than just the cancer.

what do you think?

Friday, March 21, 2008

rads, day 31: amost there

the finish line is in sight, just over on the other side of this weekend. the final gate is ablaze with brightly colored ribbons and flowers, i can just see it shimmering out there in next wednesday.

when i was at rads, day 17, i thought i would be crawling across that line. turns out, i am feeling better than i expected. these last 8 treatments are my "boost", which just treats the area of the tumor and it's margins. so the rest of my weary breast has gotten a reprieve this past week. that break, combined with much needed tender loving care from my mom, has put me in a better state than i could have hoped for.

if any of you were to see this radiated breast, you would surely think it looks like five kinds of painful crazy. all i see now is that there is improvement, there is healing. the body knows what to do and i am just here to serve that process. i am still very conservative with how i use my energy. the body must come first, the healing still to come is vital to my full recovery.

right after tending to the body, comes the bank account. i've not been able to work much this past month and have sold very little in march. as you can imagine, my income has been almost nothing. so, i've been living off my business loan. as scary as that may be, i am committed to not
panicking. but it's hard to fight that feeling looking at the numbers. (now evoking positive intention). blast off!

whew, there is alot of pressure to bounce back quickly.

i want to thank you for your patience and loving support as i've been away from blogging for a while. something had to give. i am glad to be back, however. this writing to connect with all of you keeps me sane, supported and honest.

thanks for listening and hoping and praying. it's working magic in my life, i am sure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

roasted turnips and rest

i am sorry for my lack of posts this week, dear friends. i've been too tired to write, then my mom arrived and the office turned into a bedroom for her. she's been great, enforcing a strict afternoon nap policy and whipping my disaster of an apartment into something clean and pleasant.

what a blessing. what a relief.

not all moms are like this and truth be told, mine wasn't always like this for me, either. our good relationship is the direct product of lots of hard emotional work and dedication to honesty on both our parts. the blessing really is that she and i came to a place where we were both ready and willing to heal our relationship and create something that nurtures us both. so do we still drive each other a little crazy sometimes? of course. but we listen better to each other and laugh more at our differences than get stuck on the past.

so, i am resting well and she is cooking up a storm. when mom departs on tuesday the freezer will be full of soup and the apartment sparkling. sometimes, only mom can fill those needs.

my side effects are still kicking my ass, but i have 6 more treatments and then rads are behind me. i may drag my burnt self to the finish line, but i'll make it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

my mom: 33 years after cancer

i'm in the highest risk group possible for the skin cancer melanoma. a fair-skinned redhead with many freckles, a family history and some irresponsible, severe, blistering sunburns as teen. i match every factor on the list.

it hit me today. my mom got malignant melanoma and 33 years later, is still healthy. she's alive and well after cancer. she survived weeks in the hospital, undergoing experimental treatment and major surgery. my mom is here for me because she lived through cancer herself.

you know, i never thought i would get breast cancer; i was certain, however, that i would get skin cancer. the year i turned 31. the age my mother was when she got cancer. that was the year i was sure it would strike me too. since i was a child, after my mom recovered from cancer, i've made regular visits to the dermatologist to get checked over. in fact,
after her recovery, she hauled my younger brother and i into her doctor's office and had every single inch of us checked. it's a ritual i have repeated many times as an adult, whenever i had health insurance.

my mom's cancer was stage-3 malignant melanoma. i was young but still remember it looked like a fat, black watermelon seed pasted to the back of her leg. mom isn't as fair-skinned as i am and as a teen in the 1950's, she tanned with baby oil and tinfoil, just like all her friends.

they didn't know then, the connection between tanning and skin cancer.

she spent several weeks in the hospital. her doctor had just returned from the cancer center in houston, texas with training in a new kind of treatment. basically, they took the blood out of her leg and for one hour, pumped super-strong chemotherapy drugs (pure poison, really) through those veins instead of blood. then another hour of pumping a cleaning solution to rinse out the chemo. finally, they put her own blood back in the leg. she was very lucky. the treatment worked brilliantly. and the cancer had not spread to her lymph system yet. the man who shared her hospital room died of the same disease. yet my mom walked out of the hospital that january day and has been cancer free for 33 years. you don't hear alot of stories like hers. sadly, we hear most about the ones that didn't make it.

i wanted to tell her story here because we all need more good news and she is an amazing miracle!

can you imagine how our lives would change if we had lost her to cancer? at the time, we were a family of four kids and at eight years old, i was the eldest. my baby sister was just one, still nursing. like many families, our mom was the emotional glue holding it all together. i remember it as a very lonely time. my did still had to go to work and visit mom at the hospital. thankfully, we were part of a very supportive church and those ladies came to our house everyday with food. they also cleaned and helped keep the house going. you can get too much of a good thing, however; i developed a life-long aversion to casseroles, the comfort food of the 1970's.

maybe it's because my mom has been through so much personal trauma that she is able to support me so well during my own crisis. that certainly is a factor. but a much bigger factor than her past experience, is her love for me. what an incredible blessing.

thanks, mom for being just what i need right now. i love you.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

i am the sloth

i am moving so slowly through each day. walking feels like pushing through something dense, a substance much heavier than air. for me, the girl who normally walks at new york speed, this is like walking inside someone else's body.

perhaps the body of a tree sloth, with less arm strength.

fatigue is something i couldn't have imagined. it's much more complex than just being tired all the time. i have worked punishingly hard physical jobs in my life. farming, cleaning hotel rooms and waitressing, to name a few. even the kind of tired those jobs produced after long double shifts does not touch this.

my very core is weary.

i have new, deep empathy for those with chronic fatigue syndrome. i had no idea. my heart goes out to you all.

it's all i can do to get myself to radiation, follow my healing protocol and make healthy meals. my body requires so much energy just to repair itself from the damage of the radiation treatment. parts of my brain seem shut down to conserve energy. the cancer cells are disorganized, so they are efficiently killed off by radiation. my healthy cells have their shit together and i am boosting them with all these herbs, etc. but it takes a toll on those cells, to have to repair themselves, over and over as the treatments continue.

if only i could crawl into a little cocoon until it's all done.

my post from yesterday was offered in hopes of saying something more inspiring than i am still here and it's still very, very hard. today is the health report.

please send thoughts of strength for my cells who are working so hard. i have two more treatments of the whole breast. then they do something called a "boost" for eight treatments. this will be radiation that is focused on the area of the tumor. my burnt nipple, underarm and the raw area under my breast will get to rest and begin recovery. i'm very glad for this transition.

thank-you for the supportive comments and emails. i read them all and they help sustain my spirit.

Friday, March 7, 2008

abundance checks

the word written in today's box on my calendar is abundance. it's to remind me that today is the date this month to write my abundance check. what is that, you say? it's a spiritual practice of sorts, along the lines of my new one for 2008, positive intent. i've been doing the abundance check ritual for nearly 2 years now. two years of amazing highs and lows, yet also a time without a bounced check and without a time i couldn't buy groceries.

here is how it works. on the new moon every month, you write a check to yourself. really meditate for a few moments on abundance. you are engaging the universe. the actual practice is simple enough. where the amount of the check would be, you write "paid in full". on the line you would usually sign the check, write "the law of abundance". don't date the check. tuck it away somewhere and let it rest lightly in the back of your mind.

almost forget about it.

accept that abundance is your birthright. mentally, get out of your own way. that's it. the whole practice. a reality check, once a month. the reality is that abundance is, well, abundant, not rare.

i assume if you are reading this blog, you are living in relative comfort in the developed world. we have the luxury of choosing abundance. we are wealthy enough to have credit card debt, mortgages and rent, medical bills. we are not starving, we have roofs over our heads, we have resources to make our lives better. we can dream beyond where we are right now.

during my recent hibernation from the social world, i've had much time to read and reflect. for many years i've been thinking about how i could help eliminate poverty. i want to change the world, start using my creative power for social good. i know it's ambitious and big. you have to think big to change anything. bit by bit, i am getting closer to a plan for this next phase of my life. the abundance check practice has laid some of the groundwork for where i am going in the next decade. my positive intention plan has shown me the real power in thinking big. and how you can turbo-charge change by saying it out loud, committing it to paper and publishing it to the world.

it had to start with eliminating the poverty of my own mind.

it had to start with consciously casting off the long-held beliefs around money: there will never be enough! i will have to live under a bridge! what will become of me when i get sick? i'll never have the life i want. these were some of the core belief that i have worked so hard on changing. eight years ago i even had tattoos put on my hands to remind me to think abundance as my first reaction to anything life threw my way. years and years of therapy, writing, workshops, talking, thinking, meditating to solve this one big thing.

to dislodge the log stuck in the river of my life.

i thought i was doing pretty well with it until november, when breast cancer knocked on my door. if you've been reading this blog, you know how much i have worried and suffered around money. i couldn't even actually worry about the cancer for months, i was too consumed with how i would survive financially.

i have been humbled too much to make any sweeping statements about how cancer has taught me the final lesson in abundance. yet the lesson has been and continues to be, a most powerful one.

i'm writing this post because as march has rolled around, my jewelry sales have dropped off. i had some moments of the old panic feeling. i have not been able to make new work, my brain too foggy, my hands to tired for detailed tasks. then today, i see abundance written on my calendar and i remember.

oh, yes. abundance.

i am thrilled to report that i made my goal for febuary. i did indeed sell enough jewelry to cover my basic bills, plus a bit more to reinvest in materials. generous donations covered my chinese medicine herbs for 9 weeks. as my radiation treatment has stretched from the original plan of 6 weeks to now 8 weeks, i am so thankful for those herbs.

the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. as woo-woo as abundance checks and positive intention practices may be, they are working in my life. you there reading this are part of the abundance this universe is flowing my way. your support is showing me, one day at a time, that what will happen when i get sick? is simply this: i will be held.

the date tables for the new moon can be found here. scroll down the page for the dates for 2008. i usually write them all on my calendar and date book at the beginning of the year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

tears. laughter. burning. oh, my!

having three days off radiation in a row has made a difference, most noticeably in my state of mind. i feel more sane and calm than i did last week. i am more rested, although the breast doesn't look or feel much better. still incredibly burnt to shit. yet, i can only assume that the time off rads is helping my body heal and repair, so it can accept more treatments this week.

i've stopped even trying to work in the studio or do anything but take care of my body. can't wear a bra. spend hours soothing on aloe gel, herbal creams, applying ice packs. the past few days i have spent hours online(something i can do topless), connecting with communities of other women going through similar treatments. it's been comforting. it's good to know i am not alone, not the only person having a shitty time with radiation. some women have said it was worse than chemo for them. next week, i have an appointment at the quest center with a therapist and then a naturapath doctor that really knows breast cancer.

something i'd never have guessed when this began: my regression to childhood entertainment. although i should have seen this coming, as i always watch the movie babe when i am sick. the most comfort of late i have found is the first season of the muppet show. just the opening song makes me smile. pure silliness, little bubbles of happy blown in from the past.

then last night, i rented the wonderful peter sellers movies, the pink panther series. laugh out loud funny stuff. what a master he was. those films are like candy right now, absolutely perfect to lighten my mood.

thank-you for your cards and emails, your thoughtful care packages mailed and dropped off under cover of night. bless you for reaching out and letting me know that even when i am not able to respond, you all are still here. i am sure your prayers and thoughts are holding me in ways i cannot even imagine. today i feel a wee bit of rational perspective has returned.

i open my eyes and see you all are still here, surrounding me, believing the best.

my mom is coming back. she called yesterday and we found a great last minute airfare sale. it's an incredible gift that she is willing and able to come out here from michigan and take care of me for a few days. as i crawl along through these long days, it gives me something to look forward to. next wednesday night. just make it until then. i can do it. she will be here six days, then i will have another eight til i finish rads. mom's visit will break this next month into some more manageable chunks, i hope.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

trolls arrive

it seems a troll has found this site and chosen to attack with multiple comments advertising a product to "treat cancer". i won't help him out (it is a "him", i also got an email) by even naming the product here. but his slimy actions have forced me to begin to moderate comments.

which means, my dear friends, that your most welcome comments won't appear immediately when you post them. they will come to me first for approval. i do check this blog nearly constantly for comments, so yours shouldn't have to wait in the queue too long before it is published.

thanks for understanding. and may a pox befall the troll.