Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2010

About a month ago, I had my very first acupuncture treatment (ever!). For years now I’ve heard and read about how helpful acupuncture can be, especially for symptoms that don’t always respond well to traditional Western medicine. But I was so put off by the whole idea of getting stuck with a bunch of needles, I never tried it. Besides, before this dance with cancer I was really darned healthy and never felt a real need for acupuncture.

When my discomfort from the “hand and foot syndrome” (a nasty side effect of Xeloda) was enough to keep me from doing things I enjoyed, a fellow yoga student, who also happens to be a well respected acupuncturist, offered to treat me in hopes of relieving some of the chemo side effects. I was reluctant, but my pain was great enough to get me to go. Now, five treatments later, I’m so glad I kept that first appointment!

So, I’ve found myself in the unlikely role of telling everyone I meet how great acupuncture is. Seems like time to post a blog entry about this whole acupuncture thing.

Look closely - there are needles in my back!

First: It makes a difference who you go to.  I really like Leah Fineberg. She’s compassionate and nurturing at the same time as being funny and direct. We talk and laugh throughout the appointment, sometimes comparing notes about our families (who’s driving us crazy and why), sometimes dissecting the last yoga class (“were there an awful lot of deep twists, or what?”), and sometimes she just listens while I complain about the lingering side effects of chemo. But the thing that really matters to me is that I like how I feel after my interactions with Leah. That hasn’t always been my experience with “healers.”

SecondIt’s not about the needles.  At my very first appointment Leah told me, “I don’t have to use needles on you.” She took my pulse at several points on my wrists and throat. She applied pressure with her hands to my shoulders, back and hips. And then, when I was comfortable and she decided she’d like to try the needles, it was really no big deal at all. I was nervous enough before she inserted the first one to jump a little when her hand touched my back (before the needle even came close…). But then I didn’t even notice when the needle itself went in. Since that first time, if I feel anything at all, it’s as if a finger thumps me lightly. Usually it’s not even that much. Once in while (infrequently) I’ll feel a tiny poke or pinch that happens briefly and then it’s over. It’s not nearly as bad as having blood drawn – not even close.

ThirdIt’s so soothing you won’t believe it.  I tend to feel cold more often than not (except when I’m having a hot flash – which is a new phenomenon for me – but afterward I go right back to feeling cold). So when she heated up needles on either side of my spine I was in heaven. For the first time in ages my spine felt warm and supple, not stiff and achy like is has while I’ve been in treatment for cancer. She uses something called “moxa” (an herb that’s applied externally and burned like incense). Apparently, using the moxa together with the needles allows you to relax even more. Now, I look forward to this part of the session more than any other single thing she does. The overall experience of acupuncture has turned out to be very comforting, but the heated needles are the bomb!

Heated needles ... mmmmmm!

FourthThe healing effects are almost immediate.  I usually leave Leah’s office feeling light and peaceful – even if we’ve talked during the entire session. Something about the treatment calms me immediately. And Leah has said my “pulses” have gotten better with each visit (I’ll just have to trust her on that one). I feel certain I’m getting benefit from having these acupuncture treatments, but – in answer to those who ask if it’s “effective” or not? – it’s something I experience as being very healing, and that counts as “effective” in my book!

Acupuncture is also a very individual experience. It may not be for everyone. I’m normally kind of reluctant about things I don’t understand. But, in this case, I can say without any hesitation that acupuncture has helped me better deal with the side effects and stresses of cancer treatment. And for that I can only be grateful!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Time to tie it all together! (I stamped words on the ribbons to remind me how far I've come)

Over the weekend, I attended a wellness workshop for cancer survivors hosted by the St. Vincent Cancer Center. Marla, the center’s social worker, had invited me ages ago, even before I thought to call myself  “a survivor.” But as the workshop date approached, I found I was a little reluctant to go. I couldn’t really explain why. But I had told Marla I would be there, so I went. Then, sitting in a circle with twenty-five or so others, I heard another participant articulate beautifully her own reluctance to attend. She said she’d already put “having cancer” behind her and she really wasn’t interested in dredging up all those difficult emotions again. I immediately understood exactly what she meant. And yet, by the end of the day, we both agreed the workshop was a truly valuable experience and had helped us renew our commitment to making the most of this gift of life we’d been given!

The front cover of my little "collage" book made during the Wellness Workshop

(This will seem a bit odd, but way back when I was diagnosed I remember telling my therapist that I didn’t look forward to having the label “cancer survivor” attached to me. Of course I wanted to survive – I just didn’t want to live with such a narrow label of who I was…But here I am today talking enthusiastically about attending a “cancer survivor’s” workshop!)

The program was held at the Hotel Santa Fe and funded entirely by the Heidi Paoli Fund of the New York Community Trust. Of all the women in the room, only two had not had cancer: Cynthia (my nurse practitioner, who I was delighted to see there), and a woman named Joyce, who was introduced to us as the person behind the Heidi Paoli Fund that made the workshop possible (both her husband and his daughter, Heidi, had died from cancer). Nearly all of the others there had lived through breast cancer, but there were a few of us with other types: Nanci had lung cancer, Sarah had throat cancer, and me with colorectal cancer.

Inside, with pieces that can be removed and replaced as I wish!

Each of the two facilitators had survived breast cancer – both more than once! Marla, who compiled a huge notebook for each of us with tons of resources and information, had been through it twice. The other presenter, Pasha Hogan, a wonderful inspirational speaker as well as yoga instructor, was a three-time breast cancer survivor! She impressed me even more with her passionate way of leading us through some stress reduction techniques, including guided meditation and yoga.

And, we had a nice lunch under a portal in the Hotel’s courtyard. (I could overhear the other tables exchanging cancer war stories with each other, but thankfully our table talked mostly about gardening!)

The outside of my collage book...

By far my favorite part of the day was the “creative arts” project we worked on in the afternoon. We created these sweet little collaged accordion books. Of course I launched into mine with gusto! We were asked to set aside our “inner critic” and just cut and paste without questioning what or why we chose the images we did. Afterward, we were asked to share a little bit about our collage. I couldn’t help but notice that my perfectionist self hadn’t fully stepped aside while we were creating. So, I decided to honor that bit of me by including an image of a book with the title “Perfection.”

I know that I’ve been dramatically changed by my experience with cancer, but I discovered during this workshop that I like the fact that there are still some aspects of me I haven’t lost. I admit that I’m actually glad to find my “perfectionist” has survived along with the rest of me!

So, here are some photos of the artsy little “cut and paste” project I came away with. I can also say that I am very grateful now to be called a cancer survivor. Let’s hope the label sticks with me for a long, long time!

The back cover...

Read Full Post »

Spent the early part of the day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day together – something we’ve only been able to do since she moved to Santa Fe a few years ago. Before that, we mostly had to settle for a card and a phone call (okay, sometimes I’d send a small gift). I recall writing on so many of those cards “Wish we could spend the day together.” And, now we can!

This morning we went to Mom’s church, the Christ Church Santa Fe, which is in a beautiful contemporary building, has two great pastors (both very different!), and a congregation that has been especially warm and supportive to Mom (and who’ve said many, many prayers for me). She’s really found a wonderful community to be a part of, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Dadou - the French accordion player at Café Paris

After the service, we went down to the Plaza area for a late breakfast/lunch at Café Paris. It’s located on a little pedestrian street called Burro Alley (where, in the old days, locals sold their firewood off the backs of burros). It has the most charming French country atmosphere. Sitting outside under the market umbrellas, looking at the old windows with their Provence curtains blowing in the breeze, listening to the distinctly French music of the accordion player – you really feel you could be in some little out-of-the-way village in France.

I was delighted to find that their menu had several items on it that Mom would be willing to try. That’s usually not the case when we go out for a meal. She’s possibly the most picky eater I’ve ever known (which does make one wonder how I became so willing to eat just about anything!).  So, I’ve made a mental note to take her back there again when I run out of other ideas for restaurants she’ll eat at! (In this town known for its phenomenal southwestern style food, Mom absolutely won’t eat what she calls “Mexican”).

So, she had her Strawberry Pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice, and I had my Eggs Benedict with homemade Hollandaise sauce and a Café Latte served the proper French way – in a big wide cup! We so enjoyed the warm day, the colorful and diverse crowd, and the music provided by the accordion player, Dadou. The owner of Café Paris, a full-figured dark-haired beauty with a thick French accent and a frangipani blossom tucked behind one ear, occasionally stopped to sing with Dadou, adding a tambourine to the mix when she wasn’t scurrying around delivering dishes to customers. It was just wonderful!

Mom at Café Paris on Mother's Day

Afterward, we walked in the direction of the Plaza but got sidetracked by a dress shop called Maya. I tried on every hat they had that didn’t have an enormous brim (and I mean enormous!), but none were quite right for me. I’ve been losing big clumps of hair as a side effect of the chemo and my hair’s so thin now my scalp is mostly visible, so I wear hats as often as I can – but, of course, once must have the right hat for each outfit!! None of this just-shove-any-old-hat-on sort of thing for me!

So, as you can see, we had a nice outing for Mother’s Day. I’m very thankful to be alive and well enough to spend it with Mom.

And a very Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who’ve been there to nurture me over the years! Merci beaucoup!

Read Full Post »

I got the nod from Dr. Fekrazad yesterday – it’s OK to call it quits with chemo!!

AND - the first iris opened today!

I’ve been leaning in the direction of stopping for several weeks now.  I finished my 5th round last week – and I decided “enough is enough” when my hands were so bad that I couldn’t open the yogurt container, my feet kept me from being able to go to yoga, and my eyesight so blurry I couldn’t work at the computer.

I called the Cancer Center to make an appointment to discuss the decision with my oncologist. When I explained the reason, the front desk folks wanted me to speak to Dr. Fekrazad’s nurse practitioner, Cynthia, before scheduling anything. She picked up the phone, and before I could utter a word I heard, “I just want to applaud you for making it this far! You’ve done a great job!” She went on to affirm my choice to stop the Xeloda and said she’d be there for me when I told Dr. Fekrazad. Hearing her kind words brought me to tears! What a relief to know I wasn’t going to have to fight them over this.

So, I was grateful yesterday when Dr. Fekrazad was accepting and even supportive of my choice. One of the most encouraging things he said was that my attitude about the experience of cancer played a significant part in my return to health. He gave an interesting analogy: You’re walking along and all is well. Then, suddenly, you fall into a deep hole. Some folks will simply muck about in the hole and not really attempt to climb out; some will climb out, only to sit on the edge and stare back into it; some will climb out and limp away, occasionally glancing back and shaking their head; and some will climb out and walk away, putting the entire experience behind them. He said he felt my attitude put me in that last category – which is a good indicator of continued health in his opinion.

The newest addition to the garden - a lovely crabapple tree!

A few facts I learned yesterday: it should be about six weeks before my hands and feet begin to really clear up, but it will be about six months before the Xeloda is completely out of my system and I’m feeling 100% like myself again. The skin discoloration and all the new moles that have cropped up will probably fade over time (yay! perhaps one of these days I won’t have that shadowy mustache!). My eyesight should begin to correct in a few weeks, but I’ll need to get checked for cataracts (Dr. Fekrazad’s mother, who was on Xeloda much longer than I was eventually needed cataract surgery as a result).

Even though I’m done with the chemo, there are still a bunch of medical appointments to come:

➢  Tuesday, May 11 – Dr. Damara Kaplan, Urologist (for the bladder condition that’s arisen as a result of my surgery; with any luck, she’ll recommend physical therapy to try to correct the condition and NOT more surgery!)

➢  Wednesday, June 2 – Dr. Brown, the colorectal surgeon (for another follow-up visit)

➢  Wednesday, June 9 – Bloodwork, and office visit with Dr. Fekrazad to review labs

➢  June (to be scheduled) – Mammogram

➢  July (to be scheduled) – Colonoscopy

➢  August (to be scheduled) – CT Scan

A small aspen joins our little "grove" of aspen trees

The colonoscopy will be done through my stoma, which will be WEIRD, but if the results are good I may not need to have another for five years!  I’ll probably be scheduled for CT Scans annually for at least two or three years. And there will be regular bloodwork and office visits with Dr. Fekrazad (forever, he tells me!).

Last fall, my Dad gave me a very generous gift certificate to a local nursery. Back then, I was reluctant to get anything and plant it, as I knew I couldn’t care for it while I was ill. But, in honor of being done with my treatment, Tim & I went over to “Plants of the Southwest” and picked out two small trees: a beautiful crabapple and a tiny aspen. They were planted on May Day. I plan to see them grow tall and become strong over the coming years. I plan to grow and become strong along with them!

small today, tall tomorrow

Read Full Post »