Category Archives: Cancer Gift

Robot Kisses

Eva! Well, this is Pixar’s EVA, but my Da Vinci robot was named for her. #nastywoman

You’re separated from your family at 5:30 am and taken with a group of six down a wood-paneled hallway into an older, darker portion of the hospital. You’re assigned a bed and given a plastic bag for your clothes. You have to take your third pregnancy test in three days because, why the eff not, even though you haven’t had anything to eat and very little but Gatorade mixed with Miralax in three days in preparation for your second colonoscopy in two weeks and the major surgery, and besides, you haven’t felt very sexy since December. You wonder if men have to take a fertility test before surgery. Seems only fair.

You tell them your name, again, confirm your birthday, again, and they scan your barcode on your ID bracelet, which is next to a wristband that contains the numbers for your blood vials, which are stored somewhere in this building should you need a blood transfusion, permission for which you had to give 48 hours previously. Your allergies are marked on a red band, and now you have three bracelets.

Judy the ostomy nurse comes in and you like her, but you’re afraid of her because of what she means. She tells you your belly is perfect for a colostomy bag as she puts two blue dots where the bag would go, and since it is, you won’t need one, but you know she must say that to all the bellies, all the days, before all the surgeries. Still, you like her and very few people have said your belly was perfect. The anesthesiologist comes in and you again confirm your name and date of birth and she scans your barcode and tries to assure you that she — that they all — have done this before. She tells you what they will be giving you, how they will be monitoring you, but you do not have a medical degree and you have no idea what she is saying.

Your doctor comes in after you’re hooked up with your IV and your various other medicines that you don’t understand but you put in your mouth anyway because those are the rules. Your feet are strapped in compression socks and held to the bed in automatic compression sleeves, which squeeze your calves every sixty seconds. They are tethers to the bed. Tethers to the earth. You hate anything on your toes, but you don’t want a blood clot, and they don’t appear optional, and you most definitely want the tumor out — you’ve already paid for it — so you don’t say anything.

They told you you would be slightly upside down, with a ventilator tube, so that the belly would be most exposed, most available to Eva. You don’t remember the ventilator tube, but you felt the rawness on the roof of your mouth like they told you you would. You have never worn a bikini. You have never worn a belly shirt. But now everything depends on your opening up your most yin side — your most vulnerable parts — to fluorescent lights and strangers in masks and gloves. And you have to open. You have to welcome in the robot so that your body won’t be afraid. So that when this is over and Eva is done, your body will grasp itself with love and rebuild its muscles because it knows that we’re in this together–for the long game. My beautiful, beautiful body.

Whatever they give you upon leaving pre-op kicks in before reaching the operating room and you never see the room. Never see the floor-to-ceiling robot named Eva who will be doing the cutting and the sewing and the biopsying. You are glad her name is Eva and you are glad that you are with people who would name a robot and you are sure your surgeon has done this before and all will be well. But you don’t think any of that in the operating room because you don’t have any awareness there.

You wake up in post-op. First thought: You are not dead. Second thought: Is there a bag? Your hand goes to your belly and feels only your flesh. Your body is wracked with pain from the gas they blew into your belly so they had room for Eva to work. There is nowhere for it to go. It has to take its time. You have to wait it out. You’ve felt very little physical pain in your life, and it is strange that the body takes its own way without your mind to stop it or control it. You can’t roll over because of the compression socks and there’s a strange tightness in your belly as if you didn’t really believe they were going to cut it open, or if they did, that the belly wouldn’t remember.

You watch your body contract and expand, trying to shift on the tiny bed, which has your feet held prisoner in the ever-compressing compression sleeves and you have a moment of clarity in which you realize that you are calm, even as your body screeches. You float inside of it. You are not it.

You’re hot, so they bring you ice. You’re cold, so they take it away. Someone wipes your mouth with a swab because you’re so thirsty but you can’t drink anything yet. You think you’re a horse, baring her teeth for a brush. You press your morphine button because you can. You don’t really see anyone’s faces. Only their hands. The 10,000 hands that are always with us all.

You wait in post-op for six hours until a room is ready. You are regaining some lucidity and you are ready for a different gown. A shower. A fucking cheeseburger. But there’s none of that. You’re sweaty and your hair is matted to your head. But there is no colostomy bag. You have a catheter and a urine bag, but that is OK.

You are alive.

And there are 10,000 hands.

They take you up to your room and just like in the movies, six pairs of hands, three on each side, lift you on your sweaty sheet onto the new bed. They roll you onto one side and pull the sheet out. They roll you onto the other and straighten a new one. Your room has two windows and a bathroom, but you remain tethered to the bed with compression sleeves, a catheter, and an IV drip for food and a morphine drip. You can’t eat. You want to. You want to sleep. You want to roll into a ball. You want to storm the castle and say hell, yes, I am here. But all you can do is hit the morphine button, which doesn’t do much except make things fuzzy. You don’t like it. The pain is better, so you start to wean yourself off the morphine and on post-op day two, they take it away, along with the catheter and the urine bag and the IV feeding tube. You remove the compression sleeves because you hate them and you hide your feet under the bed when the nurses come in. You massage your legs yourself. You walk around the hospital on your own. You are over it.

You get to move from clear liquids to full liquids, which is essentially ice cream, which is not really that good for you, and you feel that you have too much sugar too fast. It’s been five days since you have had solid food. The next day, you get to move to a low-residue diet, which you’re still on, which is mostly bananas, white bread, eggs, processed pastas, and clear liquids. You want your resection to stay together, so you buy foods you’ve moved away from over the years as you’ve pushed toward eating more healthfully. You’ve already lost 15 pounds since the first colonoscopy. Maybe you’ll write a weight-loss guide and finally get to meet Oprah.

You have to hold your IV hand outside the shower door because they left the tubing in your hand just in case, but still you take a one-armed shower all by yourself and you are the fucking bomb. You brush your teeth in a sink, not a plastic tub. The nurses say you can have either Oxycodone or Tylenol and you laugh. Is there nothing in the middle? But there isn’t, so you take two Tylenol at 350 mg each and call it a night. You use your aromatherapy oils from your massage therapist: Release and Trauma. You put on your chakra balancing music on your iPad. You hold your belly in your hands and tell it she is the most beautiful thing. That your whole body is the strongest, most beautiful thing.

The next morning you want some more Tylenol and the nurse says you’re only allowed one Tylenol and you laugh and tell her you can walk across the street to CVS and buy Tylenol in 500 mg tablets and take ten of them, and just last night they were offering Oxycodone. You call them fickle and everyone laughs. You like your nurses. They like you. You are not interested in staying here. You are not interested in being identified with your surgery. You are interested in rebuilding.

You talk to them and make jokes and they start to tell you about their lives and you sit in the hall together and look at the photographs. One of them tells you about her own cancer scare. Another tells you about the death of her daughter, and you just sit together on the bench, a picture of Bryce Canyon in front of you. You miss them when you leave.

You walk out four days later. No Tylenol. No prescriptions. Five robot kisses on your belly, a large incision above the pubic bone, and two perineum incisions. As you prepare to leave your room, 2611, you give thanks to it for holding you in the dark, for all the machines that beeped and compressed and fed and drained you. You write a thank you note to the nurses of post-surgical oncology, and a note to your surgeon.

Your tumor is gone. There is no cancer in the lymph nodes. You are the luckiest woman on the planet, but not because the outcome was so good. You are the luckiest woman on the planet because you touched the 10,000 hands, and you said thank you to them. You felt, especially in post-op, that no matter what is happening, all is well. You felt the eternal part of you–the part that one day will be stardust–and you now know in your body what you have observed as you’ve watched the illnesses and deaths of others.

You are not alone. There are 10,000 hands. Everywhere.

You felt it. So you can never forget it.

 

Post-op Day 1: Morphine and apple juice.

Post-op day 2: No morphine, but chocolate ice cream!

There are five robot kisses. They look much better now. This was post-op day 1. The blue dots are where the colostomy bag would have gone, had I needed one.

Post-op day 4. Walking out of Honor Health Shea.

The Transcendent Music of the MRI

My cat & I set off to the underworld!

You don’t find light by avoiding the darkness.

S. Kelley Harrell

The MRI machine is a miraculous merging of prehistoric sounds and 21st century technology. It captures and records images of ‘you’ that are nothing like what you conceive of yourself as, which allows you to let layers of illusions about “what” you are fall away into stardust, and it does something even more wondrous and unexpected: It offers you time to let go and journey into its world. My mantra from the first awareness of the tumor has been to embrace it all. Befriend every part of the experience. Do not use my energy to resist what is coming. Instead, step into whatever comes, and when its usefulness is over, shake its dust from my socked feet and say thank you. I preserve my energy for healing.

I named the MRI Ganesha, the Hindu diety, the Elephant God, remover of obstacles and lord of new beginnings, companion for all new ventures. (And incidentally, associated with writers!)

Ganesha’s mantra is Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha, which we can loosely translate to: Yo! Wake up Root Chakra energy of transformation so I can move through any obstacles in my life. Hooray!

___________________________

Dear Ganesha,

When you lie on the ‘plank’ to go into your belly — the womb of the machine, they wrap you with straps. One of the straps monitors your breathing and heart rate. Like an umbilical cord, it sends your vitals back to the mother behind the glass. You hold a rubber “panic” button so you can send a signal if you’re needing to leave the machine. It feels like a stress ball, comfortable and solid in the hand. You put bright yellow ear plugs in and then you enter the tube where you are unable to move, so your only choice is to let it all go, give it up to the solid plank beneath you — the plank that represents not just this technology, but the 10,000 hands of all the people who have helped you in your entire life, living and dead. The 10,000 hands of the helpers you have yet to meet. All that is.

You close your eyes because they blow air on your face and the machine starts a slight low shake, which takes you back to the churning sea and the forced air is the dance of the wind and then the first sound begins. A sharp alarm sound, followed by the low pinging of a submarine deep in the darkest parts of the ocean — you see octopus and squid and dark fluorescent things — followed by the knocking of a bird’s beak against a tree, followed by a chirring sound and then a siren. You count five sounds, but there could have been more or less. Each sound you associate with a character — a co-creator in the symphony that the machine makes. You think of the film “Arrival” and wonder what language this is — this ancient song wrapped inside the arms of modern Western medicine.

It’s a beautiful song, and soon you hear the rhythm and you stop wondering what each sound correlates with and instead let the music take you down the shamanic tunnel of your mind. You move into the most recent series of dreams you’ve had since learning of the tumor, and you begin to unpack each image, asking questions of it, learning its purpose and its place. You want something to write on so you don’t forget, but you can’t move, so you just keep watching the stories unfolding in your mind with each shift of the rhythm of the machine.

You think you feel heat from the radiation on your belly, but you’re not sure. It could be the contrast dye. It could be something awakening. The submarine pings, the woodpecker knocks, the siren calls, the alarm sounds and the chirring rustle starts to remind you of a jungle in the dark. Your soul is dancing. She is safe and held and the sounds are an ancient home, a music from long long ago.

It’s over before you’re ready. You have more layers in which to journey. But you have emerged with key questions for exploration, and new insights into energetic blocks and old dust that still clogs your field. That is more than enough from one trip, one meeting with the machine. You go into the lobby beaming and you tell your husband, “This trip is just the most amazing thing.”

E = mc (squared). Basically, energy is all there is.

____________________________________________

Update on treatment: I am going into surgery at 7:30 am on March 10. They will remove the tumor and resect the colon to the rectum, where they anticipate I will not need a colostomy bag. If at all, it will be temporary.

There will be robots (!!!) doing the surgery, who I have envisioned as helper monkeys, with of course, my super-amazing Keezel-monkey as the one in charge. See, the doc is even wearing monkey green! I will be in the hospital a few days and then on Family Medical Leave until April 5.

Isn’t that freakin’ wondrous?

Prior to the surgery, I have worked with an acupuncturist, massage therapist, energy healer, my long-time teacher and multi-faceted healer/writer/yogi extraordinaire, and an ayurvedic doctor, and after the surgery, I will continue my work with them and will be meeting with an alternative cancer doctor who is both a board certified medical doctor and a naturopath.

I don’t know what else I may or may not do, traditionally or otherwise, and I cleanly and lovingly request that you withhold additional suggestions or concerns regarding my treatment choices and options, as I am integrating many different things at this time. I am keeping an Evernote file of all the resources people have already sent me, and I am practicing discernment and patience with it all. I will ask for what I need, and I have lots of varied, rich sources to draw from. I intend to use my time on Family Medical Leave to journey inward, so please don’t take lack of communication or a delay in a response to your notes as anything personal. I have been given a chance to do absolutely nothing but listen to myself. That’s extraordinary.

It will be just a little over two weeks from awareness of the issue to surgery. Goal one has been to prepare my body, GI tract, and soul for the challenge of surgery so that I have the least resistance to it and fastest healing. Goal two is to remove the tumor, and goal three is to make the best, most healthful and integrative choices for my whole body afterward.

I am not in a panic or a rush. My primary guide is my own body and its intuition, and I am ridiculously excited about the messages it is sending me. I have so much new work to share with you all very soon. This has been a wonderful opportunity to cast off what no longer serves me, and I am very grateful for what I’m learning. I will walk into the hospital with arms and soul open to receive the gifts that fall under their highly specialized area of expertise. They are no less wondrous than the healing work of other modalities. I will walk out of the hospital with gratitude and leave its energy at the door. To every single person who has helped me so far, from the receptionist to the scheduler to the lab tech to the surgeon, I have said, “Thank you for helping me.” That is what each of them has done. Strangers. Helping me reconnect.

Thank you profoundly for your love and concern. I have been overwhelmed by your notes and comments on Facebook and in my non-virtual life. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your stories of your own journeys with illness and your thoughts on the writing in my blog. Please keep doing that.  My request to you above is only regarding unsolicited advice on my personal treatment decisions. Setting this boundary is essential for self-care.

Your stories are helping me shape questions for the next piece of creative work for me.

I am well. This is simply a necessary step forward into what is next for me.

With love and monkeys,

Laraine

Hello! It is I, Keezel! Do not worry. I got this.

#sisu #cancergift #persist

“Whatever comes, good or bad, don’t make a move to avoid it.”

Maurine Stuart Roshi

I think about the ways that we construct a reality. I think about how we absorb emotional experiences, intellectual information, challenges and mythologies – cultural, familial, personal –  and determine a ‘view’ for the world we inhabit. This view is only ours, and it is subjective, limited, and perilous.

I think about how what is simply is, regardless of whether we have integrated it yet.

On Tuesday, I learned that I have colon cancer. When I woke up that morning, I reminded myself that whatever I learn at the appointment already is. The cancer didn’t just arrive at 2:15 that day. It had been building for a long time. My awareness of something in my body being imbalanced began several months ago, but the imbalance began long before my awareness of it. The groundwork for its manifestation began a long time ago.

There’s the micro-second between sleep and waking up where I have forgotten, and then I remember, and the remembering settles its downy wings over me. This happened the morning after the election. And the next morning, and the next morning. It happened the morning after my dad’s death. And the next morning, and the next morning. This is part of the grieving process. The old view — the default — is still a residual part of the burgeoning view. It has to reshatter each morning as it reconstructs itself. This is part of integration.

I have spent most of my life working on grief and loss and transitions in academics, in practice, and in art. My first thought after I received the news was that this will transition into some fantastic art. It will give me the next layer of my teaching and my writing. It will forge my soul into its next thing, and what I learn I can bring back to others through my books and classes.

Absorbing this knowledge of cancer is a slow process. It’s like pouring water on the earth. A little more awareness seeps in each day. A little more integration. But the cancer was there before I knew. That’s the first piece to address holistically.

I am not fighting this cancer. I will not be at war with my own body. I will not hate it. It is a tremendous body, and it has done good work. I do not like the language of illness most of Western medicine uses and I will not use it. I will not stand in a place of aggression towards myself. I will not “beat” this thing. It is not a villain to be destroyed. It is not an invader. It is my own body’s response to too much inflammation. It is, ultimately, a gift to be unpacked.

I will alchemize it. I will integrate it and I will transform it into something else. I will not kick its ass or blast it away. I will not put my emotional energies toward destruction and I will not let the dualistic language of medicine turn me against my own flesh.

I will extend my hand to this gift and I will put my energies toward reconception. Rebirth. Renewal.

This is not passive.

I am actively seeking help from a blended group of sources. I am meeting with a surgeon on Wednesday and I will have the tumors removed. I feel like this step is the equivalent of first putting out the house fire so you can understand underlying structural issues. The ‘fire’ must first be contained. But there is more. I do not want to rebuild the same structure. This is my opportunity for new architecture. I have several incredible healers in various modalities in my life who I am privileged not only to have in a professional role, but also in a deep-love space. From my Taoist yoga writer friend Cain Carroll, to my acupuncturist Traeger Stertzbach, to my massage therapist Carolina Morton, to my genius Jungian therapist Dalena Watson — I have help.

I am grateful to have access to top surgeons down in Phoenix. I am grateful to have a flexible job and loving friends and family and cats. I am grateful for health insurance. I am grateful for my panel of alternative healers and my background in psychology, grief theory, trauma and mythology and story.

Everything I do in my life revolves around writing and teaching. I am at the threshold of the next door, and I will not look away.

“In the heart of the fire lies a hidden spring.”

Giun

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#persist #sisu #cancergift