Archive for July, 2009

Energy Work

In the past two weeks, I’ve had three sessions with a gifted healer named Diana in the beautiful space she’s created solely for healing. Diana does something that is often vaguely referred to as “Energy Work” or “Energy Healing” – which doesn’t really tell you anything about what actually happens in a session with her. All I know for certain is that twice I’ve arrived at her door feeling shaky and fragile, and an hour-and-a-half later I left feeling whole and alive. The third time I arrived in better shape, feeling nearly like myself again, and left later with a sense of peace and renewal that hadn’t been there since I got my diagnosis of cancer.

I’m so grateful to Linda, one of my yoga instructors, for referring me to Diana, who is also a student at YogaSource. Even though we’ve been in many of the same classes over the past year, I had no idea Diana did energy work! [You just never know who you’re practicing next to: another woman in class turned out to be the P.A. I went to see at the Women’s Health Center; when I asked for a referral to an acupuncturist, Linda gave me the name of another woman in class; and today I learned yet another student had ovarian cancer seven years ago and will gladly share her thoughts and guidance as I begin my own journey. All these resources practicing yoga right next to me!] When Diana and I spoke prior to my surgery, she suggested I come for a session a day or so after the procedure. She felt she could help clear the anesthesia out of my system and also relieve pain.

Then my “out-patient” procedure turned into a two-day hospital stay, and recovery was slow even after I got home, so it took five days before I was able to get to Diana’s. (She had included an offer to come to my house instead, but some bit of intuition told me I should go to her. Later, I was glad I followed that nudge.) When I finally felt up to it, I gingerly climbed into the car and followed the directions she’d given me to her home.  At the end of a long, winding driveway, I came upon a round stone structure (something like a turret on a castle, only shorter) attached to one side of the main house. Diana stepped outside the door of the round fairy tale building and stood in a tiny garden overflowing with flowers and sculptures. She had on a beautiful golden lace dress as she waved and welcomed me in. I limped across the walkway in an old tank top and something only a step-up from sweatpants.

Inside, her healing space is unexpectedly luxurious: first, there is a small entryway with a natural wooden bench that still looks like the tree it was made from. A bowl overflows with tiny quartz crystals on the floor next to the bench. Artwork is everywhere – paintings, sculpture, a ceiling mural – many pieces are images of angels or wings. The main room is round with a plush treatment table in the center. Two silk upholstered chairs sit on either side of a low antique chest of drawers. The opposite wall holds glass shelves full of crystals, each shelf holding stones in one of the seven chakra colors. Two large windows covered with natural fabric shades let plenty of light into the room. Every detail seems to support the intention of healing that fills the space.

Diana invited me to sit and drink a glass of rosewater she had set out for me. We talked briefly about the specifics of my diagnosis and how I was feeling. Soon she removed a beautiful golden lace coverlet from the table in the middle of the room and had me lie down fully clothed. She propped my knees up with a downy bolster and angled the table so my head and back were higher than my hips. She covered me with a light comforter and placed a lavender-scented eye pillow over my eyes. Soft, angelic music played as she began reciting an invocation to her guides and a prayer for my healing.

After the invocation, she briefly touched each of my legs, knees, and shoulders, then she settled in to hold my right foot and ankle in both of her hands for several minutes. Eventually, she switched and held my left foot and ankle for a while. Her breathing was long and steady throughout the session. Occasionally, I could tell she had gone over to the chest of drawers to make a note of something. Then she would return to hold both hands on my knee, or my hip, switching to the other side only after she’d remained in one spot for several minutes. She moved to my shoulders and my heart. She ended with my head and face. That was all that happened for an hour. Eventually, she lowered the table, removed the eye pillow and waited silently for me to rouse. When I opened my eyes, I was looking up at the round, hand-painted mural on the ceiling with its various images of Kuan Yin, an angel, an eagle, and other symbols in the different pie-shaped sections. I was so peaceful and relaxed I could have gazed at the mural for another hour.

I finally got up and we sat in the chairs again drinking our rosewater. She gently told me that all of my chakras had been closed, which she also said was not surprising given what I’d been through. She said she had to do a lot of work in the area of my left ovary. She wondered if I’d had some health problem there or an injury. I told her no, as far as I knew I hadn’t. We talked about ways I could help my recovery along, and things I might do before my chemo and radiation treatment began, including going for walks in nature, doing some restorative yoga, and regularly remembering to ask my own spirit guides to protect me and direct me as I worked on my healing. She also offered to see me regularly as a way of supporting me through my other treatments.

Although this kind of “energy work” may seem inexplicable and hard to comprehend, I do believe it has a powerful healing ability. I came away from the first session feeling very much like a fog had been lifted from me. I also had a sense that energy was flowing through me more strongly than it had been for days. My second session a few days later was similar to the first, but she added the use of crystals in that session. She placed the stones on my body at various points and left them there throughout my time on the table. As with the first session, she said I had arrived with all of my chakras closed again. When I left, I definitely felt lighter and had a deep sense of well-being.

With each session, I’ve felt more renewed and more able to see myself becoming whole and healthy. So, whatever it is she does, I’m very grateful for it and will continue as long as I can with her. Did I mention she doesn’t charge for her services? I believe she is a true healer in that sense. She will accept donations on behalf of a charitable organization called Breakthrough Santa Fe, but she leaves it up to each client to decide if and how much to give. If I could, I would write a check for ten times as much as I did. I believe Diana is providing me with something very valuable in support of my healing, whatever her kind of work may be called.

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If you’ve read any of my previous entries, you’re already aware that I’ve chosen the conventional allopathic treatments for cancer (surgery, radiation, chemo – or as some have described it: slash, burn, poison). I guess I have to admit I never seriously considered not going the traditional route.  I’m aware there are people who forgo the conventional treatments entirely in favor of alternative options. I even met some folks who made that choice when I lived and worked in the Keys. I’m quite sure they were doing what was right for them under the circumstances. As an on-looker, it’s easy to make judgments about other people’s choices. Until being faced with the immediate need for cancer treatment myself, I don’t think I could have truly said what would be right for me.

Nonetheless, I am still considering alternative therapies to use in addition to (not instead of) the western medicine I’m doing. I’m researching ways to build my immune system up, both before the treatment starts and during it. I’m considering consulting with a nutritionist in Utah who works exclusively with cancer patients, who would create a nutrition plan tailored specifically for me, including diet and supplements. I’m thinking about trying acupuncture which, prior to this, I’d never been very keen on doing. I’m committed to continuing my yoga practice to the extent I am able (probably shifting to more restorative poses for a while). And I’m already working with a woman here in Santa Fe who is perhaps best described as an “Energy Healer” (more on that tomorrow!).

But I’ve been a bit inundated with information from friends telling me about various healing modes they’d like me to consider. I really want to stay open to whatever information crosses my radar screen, though I can’t help but be overwhelmed and even a little vulnerable to all the ideas people are sending my way. A part of me doesn’t want to turn down something that might really help. As an example, while I was in Vitamin Cottage the other day, I was persuaded to buy $85 worth of supplements that a guy who works there said would be good for me. Perhaps they’re great, and they probably won’t hurt, but afterwards I began to wonder if I’m just popping things “willy-nilly” for fear of saying no to something that might work.

So, I think this whole experience is asking me to really sit still and simply be with each bit of information that arrives and see if it feels right, rather than grasping at anything and everything. I believe I’ll be more likely to keep body and soul together if I stay focused on a few choices I feel are best for me and not allow myself to get scattered across too many options. There will be points at which I’ll need to say, “Here’s the path I’m choosing for my healing. Your understanding and support of my choice would mean so much to me.”

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Going Public

So, the blog went live this morning. The announcement email went out and within minutes a few folks were actually reading what I’d written so far…(eek!). When I first considered writing a blog about my experience with cancer, I was pretty nervous about “exposing” myself so candidly for the world to read.  But, then, after you’ve had ten or twelve strangers peering into your butt day after day, you tend to get a little jaded about “exposing” yourself.

As you can imagine, a diagnosis of cancer can suddenly bring about introspection in a big way.  As I was looking further within myself for answers to all sorts of questions, I came upon the idea of writing as a healing tool.  At first I imagined I would simply journal my thoughts privately. Then, as the flood of phone calls and emails began, it occurred to me to use a blog to keep people posted. But when some part of me began to consider posting my journal entries on the blog, that horrible little man behind the curtain also began to show up. (“What!? You can’t tell the whole world about the gory details of your rectal cancer! Are you nuts? Or, just totally self-absorbed! Why would anyone want to read about your dreary medical problems?”)

There is a book of daily meditations by Mark Nepo that I first began using when it was published ten years ago. It’s called The Book of Awakening and is truly poetic and inspiring. For several years, I faithfully read an entry each morning as a way of getting centered before heading off into the world for the day. When I moved to Santa Fe, my daily routine changed pretty radically and eventually I tucked the book on the shelf where it sat for many months.

A few days ago, I picked it up again for the first time in ages and turned to the meditation for that day. I saw the title: Revealing Who We Are. Then I read:

 No bird can fly/without opening its wings/and no one can love/without exposing their heart

followed by:

There is no chance of lifting into any space larger than yourself without revealing the parts you hold closest to your chest.

That brief bit of wisdom gave me the courage I needed to begin this somewhat uncomfortable form of public writing. Once friends and family members began to read the first few posts, I received even more affirmations that I’m taking a positive step toward my healing. So THANK YOU Angie, Cynthia, LuAnn, Melissa, Charles, Elaine, Mary, Christine, Celine, Tara-jenelle, Carol, Aunt Carol, Kati, Jenise, Nancy and EVERYONE else who sent encouraging comments (and no one, thank God, has had the nerve to tell me they think this is a terrible idea or that they don’t want to read about my shit). Thank you. I’m hoping not to whine too much.

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Upcoming Appointments

For those of you who want to know what’s scheduled to happen when with treatment, here’s a list of my upcoming appointments and procedures.  (By the way, I’ve learned already that these things are subject to change quickly).

  • Wed 8/5 @ 9:00 – Ultrasound at UNM in Albuquerque (this is to help “stage” the cancer)
  • Fri 8/7 @ 9:30 – PET Scan @ X-ray Associates in Santa Fe (another piece used in “staging”)
  • Wed 8/12 @ 10:30 – Office Visit w/Dr. Fekrazad @ Cancer Center in Santa Fe (he’s the chemo guy)
  • Wed 8/12 @ 11:30 – “Chemotherapy Teaching Session” w/nurse @ Cancer Center
  • Wed 8/12 @ 1:00 – “CT Simulation” @ Cancer Center (to create a mold of my pelvis for use in radiation treatment)
  • Mon 8/17 @ 10:00 – Out-patient surgical procedure @ St. Vincent’s Hospital to have the chemotherapy “port” placed (near collar bone)
  • Wed 8/19 @ 10:30 – 1st Chemotherapy Treatment (4.5 hrs) simultaneous w/ first Radiation Treatment

Thereafter: Radiation every day (5 days per week) for 5-1/2 weeks, simultaneous w/ weekly chemo treatments

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It finally hits me

It took a full week, but the meltdown finally came. 

On Tuesday afternoon, I had my first meeting at the Cancer Center (official name: Christus-St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center) with Dr. Han, the Radiation Oncologist who will be in charge of the radiation portion of my treatment. My dear friend Natasya (known to some of you as Tasya) accompanied me so I would have both moral support and another set of ears. We met Nurse Jan first, a very sweet lady who asked many questions about my health history and listened with the utmost compassion to my fears. When Dr. Han came in, he immediately put me at ease with his warmth.

He described the radiation treatment in detail, all the while giving me hope that with the combination of chemotherapy and radiation it might be possible to shrink the cancerous growth down to nothing, and potentially avoid another surgery. He reassured me that this combination of treatments is very effective and has a long history of use, and I would be very likely to have a good outcome. I asked about side effects of the radiation, concerned mostly that after a few treatments my poor little butt would be so irritated and on fire that using the bathroom would be a real horror. He explained that the more likely side effect would be diarrhea and possibly a burning sensation when I urinate, but he felt it would be “very manageable.”

Both Tasya and I left that meeting feeling quite hopeful and positive.

I was asked to come back on Wednesday to meet the Medical Oncologist, Dr. Fekrazad, who would be in charge of my chemotherapy treatments. Once again, Tasya agreed to join me at the Cancer Center so she could sit in on this meeting, too. That morning I awoke feeling the best I’d felt since last week’s surgery. I was walking fully upright (not hunched over as I had been for days) and feeling almost like “myself” again. I was still a little tender, but I started the day out hardly noticing any discomfort.

When Dr. Fekrazad came in, I noticed my tummy tightened a bit. He began by asking detailed questions about every symptom. He seemed surprised to learn I wasn’t already scheduled for a PET Scan (Dr. Han had indicated such a scan isn’t usually done right after you’ve had surgery because of the possibility of a false reading). Dr. Fekrazad said he thought I should have one despite the surgery. He explained that they wouldn’t be concerned about a false reading in the area of the surgery (the ultrasound would give them accurate information about that area), but the scan would be used more to look for cancer in other organs.

We moved on to a lengthy discussion of “staging” the cancer, complete with drawings and diagrams. I was hanging in there pretty well, taking in a lot of complicated information, but there was a point at which I felt myself “glaze over” a little. What I got from the “stage” discussion was that I really want this to turn out to be “stage 1” cancer. (Say a few prayers if you will that that’s where I am.)

Then we got into the details of the chemotherapy treatment. It will be a combination of at least two kinds (three if the stage is farther along). One type is a daily pill and the other is a weekly injection. When Dr. Fekrazad said something about installing a “port” near my collar bone to make the injection easier, I began to get dizzy. I asked if that meant another surgical procedure. He said it did.

Then, the conversation finally made its way around to “the side effects.” I should not expect to lose my hair with this type of chemo (some thinning perhaps, but not outright hair loss). It might make me somewhat nauseous, but supposedly that is managed quite well with other medicines now. He did not think I would become violently ill. But I could expect to have numbness develop in my fingers and toes, and some muscle cramping was likely. I’m sure there was more, but I was starting to have a hard time concentrating.

He said he wanted to examine me and left the room while I undressed. Once I was on the table with the flimsy paper wrapped around my waist, something in me just gave out. I looked at Tasya and burst out crying. The shear volume of information was totally overwhelming, not to mention the need for two additional procedures that I hadn’t been aware I needed the day before. Tasya held me as I wept and offered soothing words. Then Dr. Fekrazad came in again just as I was dabbing my eyes dry with a tissue and he grimaced. “What is going on here? Did you sneeze?” When I replied, “No, I’ve been crying,” his face softened and he came over with arms outstretched to offer me a hug. And a minute later he was putting his rubber-gloved finger in my ass.

I was ready to get the hell out of there and go home. But, no, they needed to draw blood. Carl showed up with a fist full of vials and started looking at veins. Now, I’d had two IV’s in the hospital last week and blood drawn at least four times during my stay. But, somehow, on this day when I was finally getting hit with the reality of my condition and barely holding it together, Carl couldn’t get blood out of me. He tried sticking me in each arm. I drank several cups of water when it was suggested that I might be dehydrated. The third poke was the worst. He tried a vein in my forearm. No blood. I finally got a bit snippy and said I didn’t think I could do anymore today. When I started trembling, he agreed maybe tomorrow would be better.

Tasya brought me home after a quick stop at Vitamin Cottage to pick up Rescue Remedy, Calms, some Nighty Nite tea and a handful of other items intended to relieve some of my anxiety and help me rest. My forearm was burning and throbbing like crazy, so I was holding it against me like I was protecting a broken wing. As soon as Tasya was satisfied that Tim was home and would take over the job of looking after me, we hugged and said good-bye. A moment later I was curled up in a fetal position wailing. I howled to Tim, “I don’t want this to be true.” He held me and we cried together. I finally fell asleep and awoke after dark noticing I had all my clothes on and my arm was still hurting.

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Surgery and Recovery

I walked through the doors of The Cancer Center in Santa Fe for the first time today. I’m scheduled to go back again tomorrow for another meeting. Then, in about two weeks, I’ll begin making daily pilgrimages there in the hope of shrinking a rectal tumor down to nothing.

I got the official diagnosis of colorectal cancer three days after my 48th birthday. I spent that birthday drinking clear liquids and giving myself an enema (what more could a girl ask for?) in preparation for an out-patient surgical procedure the following day. My surgeon, Dr. Wetherill, described the procedure as “not that much more invasive” than the colonoscopy I’d had two weeks earlier. It was during the colonoscopy that a 6 cm “villous adenoma” was discovered and I was told it would require surgery to remove.

The procedure apparently went fine. My recovery from the anesthesia did not. Several hours after the surgery, I was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital for the night so they could keep an eye on me. I was barely conscious enough to argue.

As requested, I’d arrived at the hospital earlier in the day with no belongings, no cell phone, no make-up. (For reasons that I still don’t understand, I hadn’t washed my hair either.)  My dear friend Shawn was with me as they prepped me for surgery and would be there throughout. As I was getting ready, the doctor popped his head in to ask how my birthday had been. I looked at him with complete seriousness and said, “Champagne is a clear liquid, right?”  It took him a second to realize I was only joking. They gave me the regulation hospital gown, complete with the back wide open. They had me put on these super-tall white knee high socks intended to prevent blood clots. Over those were the steel grey footie socks with anti-skid soles. But the very best part of the ensemble was to come when I awoke: the white fishnet (yes, I said fishnet) granny-sized underwear that came up to my belly-button and held an enormous diaper-like pad in place following surgery.  As they were wheeling me to my room for the night (wasn’t this supposed to be an out-patient procedure?), I felt dizzy and nauseous, but was somehow keenly aware that I looked like a bedraggled model for “Modern Nursing Home Attire.”

It was a rough night. I couldn’t make it from the bed to the bathroom, so they installed a portable commode next to the bed. I had to use it constantly. I wasn’t in much pain, but I was very weak. Each attempt to use the toilet created an opportunity not to pass out. At about 1:00 AM, the nurse was distressed that my urine output was too low. She announced that she was going to catheterize me. That’s when I started crying. I plead with her to give me another hour to “pee” adequately. After much wailing (“I’ve been so good, I’ve been so brave, I’ve done everything everyone asked”), she agreed to wait. I tried like hell to pee for the next hour and probably nearly killed myself. But an hour later, there was just enough urine to avoid the catheter. I thanked God like never before.

The next morning, Dr. Wetherill came in around 7:30 AM, gave me a hard time for being a “pharmaceutical lightweight” and asked if I was ready to be discharged. I said yes and expected to be home in an hour. The day nurse, who hadn’t seen me before, came in, took one look and said, “I’m not sending you home. You look terrible.” Gee, thanks. They drew more blood, decided the blood count was too low, and promptly announced I was going back to the O-R as I might be bleeding internally. Emboldened by having talked my way out of a catheter in the middle of the night, I thought I’d persuade them not to take me back to surgery, but no such luck this time. I was on the phone with Shawn howling, “they’re making me go back to the O-R.” She was at the hospital in ten minutes flat. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.  She asked everyone what they’d used to sedate me the day before and if I could have something else this time so as not to repeat the trouble I’d have recovering. A different anesthesiologist reviewed my chart and agreed to give me “just enough not to care.”

[Warning: if you get really frightened during horror movies, you may want to close your eyes for this next paragraph.] I had been blissfully unaware when they wheeled me into surgery on the previous day. Shawn said I was actually smiling as they rolled me away. This time was different. I was fully aware of everything that was happening as they transferred me from the gurney to the operating table. Six or seven masked healthcare workers were all in rapid action around me. They flung my legs up in stir-ups and began strapping me down. A huge black rubberized belt pinned my waist to the table and big black bands buckled my arms in place. I was panicking and trembling uncontrollably. Next, I felt Dr. Wetherill place four shots into the skin around my anus. I shouted for them to stop. I could feel the instrument enter my rectum that would spread it open for the surgery. I screamed. Then, thankfully, I passed out.

[If you closed your eyes a moment ago, it’s okay to open them now.] I awoke shortly after that in recovery and, amazingly, did not feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseous. Shawn was shocked to see me in such good shape after the previous day’s ordeal when she witnessed me faint each time I tried to get up. Both of us were shaking our heads in wonder at the remarkable difference. I was back in my room having lunch before noon!

So, after two surgeries and two anesthesias in two days, and round-the-clock monitoring of vital signs and elimination habits, an incredible thing occurred: they sent me home.

The following morning, three days after my birthday, I was resting in my own comfortable bed when Dr. Wetherill phoned with the news: the pathology report found cancer in the tissue he had removed. I heard him say some other things about appointments with oncologists and scheduling an ultrasound to “stage” the cancer and then something about feeling sure “we’re going to get you through this.” I was hanging up the phone just as Tim came into the bedroom to see who had called. A moment later, he was the first one to shed tears.

Next: My first appointments at The Cancer Center.

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