Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Mystery of the Disappearing Bloodroot

I love to watch the flowers come up in the early spring. As the snow melts, and I clear away leaves and stalks from last year's garden, I look closely for all signs of green growth. The first plants to flower in my garden each year are the Snow Drops. If the snow melts early, or the snow cover is slight, I can spot the Snow Drops in January as tiny green shoots, and by mid-February these become lovely white flowers dangling from 6" tall stalks. The next to flower are the Crocuses, and knowing where they are all planted, I watch daily as they emerge from the ground and the buds acquire color and then open. The bees also know where they are all planted, and there is an audible hum on that first warm day each April when the bees visit the sea of purple and white which the Crocus create as they open.

A favorite flower of mine that also blooms early in spring is Bloodroot. I don't remember when it first appeared in my garden, whether is was a volunteer or a plant I purchased, but I have had Bloodroot growing in the woodland area of my garden for about 10 years. It has a single beautiful leaf, and a mature plant produces a second stalk with a single beautiful daisy-like flower, 4-5" tall, which opens in the warm sunlight and closes each night. The flower lasts only about 3 days, at which point the the petals fall off and the flower begins to go to seed. Because of these seeds, Bloodroot multiplies well where it is happy, and it has been multiplying in my garden for the last decade. What started as a few specimens grew to over 50 flowering plants last year.

This year, as I watched spring unfold, I eagerly kept an eye out for the Bloodroot. While this was my usual way to greet spring, what was unusual for me this spring was that I had been unable to garden last summer. In fact, I had been unable to walk, to bend, or even to care for myself in the most basic ways due to a serious flaring up of cancer -- multiple myeloma -- which had settled in my bones and caused my spine to collapse. My treatment began in July 2007, and I responded well to it. Now, after 10 months of chemo, physical therapy, and training my muscles to work again, I am able to walk, bend, reach, care for myself, and even garden. It is such a blessing to have the use of my body again, and especially to be able to bend down and touch the Earth as I garden.

So I kept looking for the Bloodroot this spring, and I never found it. Oh, there were many tiny leaves of Bloodroot, probably from the seeds which resulted from recent years' flowers, but the 2 big clumps of flowers which grew in my yard under the hemlock tree were gone. I kept watching and waiting for the beautiful white flowers to appear, and then I did what any respectable gardener would do -- I went to the internet and searched for information on "Bloodroot that disappears suddenly." What I learned was amazing.

First, I learned that the name 'Bloodroot' comes from the reddish orange juice that exudes from the root of the plant. And second, I found that Bloodroot is used medicinally to treat a number of things (including cancer), as well as to purify the blood. This is very interesting to me, because multiple myeloma is a form of blood cancer, and if I needed anything last summer it was certainly for my blood to be purified! Pam Montgomery, an herbalist who I was privileged to learn from on several occasions, teaches that the plants which venture into our gardens are the ones which we need for our health. And conversely, it makes sense to me that the sudden disappearance of a plant can mean that it is no longer needed.

So rather than be disappointed at the disappearance of the Bloodroot in my garden, I found that I was stunned and amazed and hopeful and grateful that this plant had communicated to me of my healing. My blood was already purified from chemo, and I was on the road to health! Thank you, Bloodroot, and thank you, Universe, for the message. I got it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

25 Good Things About My Diagnosis

Within 12 hours of being diagnosed with cancer on July 25, 2006, I began creating a list of the good things about my diagnosis. That first day I was able to identify 5 good things. After another day, I had listed 10 good things. After another week I had found 18 good things. And after a month, my list had expanded to the 25 good things about my diagnosis.

For the first year following the diagnosis, I had no symptoms of multiple myeloma (cancer of the blood plasma) other than anemia and low immunity. Then very suddenly, in June 2007, I experienced a serious eruption of the myeloma, and my spine began to collapse. It was then -- in the midst of pain, grief, and inability to move and care for myself -- that I turned to my own list of the 25 good things about my diagnosis for inspiration.

What follows here is my list of "The 25 Good Things About My Diagnosis".

1) TREATMENT -- The most challenging part of recent months has been my low energy and low immunity. Being treated for the anemia could only happen with a cancer diagnosis, so for that I am grateful.

2) CLARITY -- With a diagnosis of cancer, it becomes clear that using time wisely is of highest priority. It becomes clear what to say yes to, what to say no to, and how to spend my time. It becomes clear to me that spending time with friends and family is of highest priority. And it becomes clear that taking care of myself is also of highest priority.

3) GRATITUDE -- Being so face to face with my mortality makes me very grateful for all the gifts in my life -- for family, for friends, for my beautiful gardens, for our golden retriever puppy Goldie, for all the support and caring that is coming my way, and for being alive on this beautiful day. For me, a continuous stance of gratitude brings with it an open-heartedness that is often accompanied by tears of overwhelm, and I am grateful to feel so full. [I am also grateful for gratitude.]

4) BEING PRESENT -- With no clear idea of what the future holds, I am guided to keep my attention focused in the present moment. It is impossible for me to know the course of this multiple myeloma in my body, so worry is futile. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Worrying about something that hasn't happened yet is like paying interest on a loan that you haven't taken out." Much better to live in the present.

5) HOPE -- Multiple myeloma treatments are getting better, and there are people who live more than 20 years after diagnosis -- so I am filled with hope.

6) CONNECTION -- I am more connected to family and friends with this new vulnerability, and I value that connection. I wouldn't have chosen this as the reason for connection, but since it is here, I accept the resulting connections as wonderful.

7) OPTIMISM and REFRAMING -- I am honing my skill at looking on the positive side of things! I have always been an optimistic person, so this skill isn't new, just the challenging situation I am applying my outlook to. When I walk into the garden and look at the beauty of my roses, I don't first look at the thorns. I know the thorns are there, but I look at and see the beauty of the flowers.

8) ACCEPTANCE -- Learning acceptance has been a challenge for me at times. This acceptance is allowing the present to be what it is, without needing to change it. Now, I find that acceptance of what my blood is doing is what I am called to do. In this acceptance, I also remember that it is important to take every action possibleto effect healing, but in this moment, I embrace all of me, including the cancer.

9) UNCONDITIONAL LOVE -- A diagnosis of cancer brings me face to face with the concept and expression of unconditional love. That love is expressed to me continuously by family and friends. I ask myself, "Can I love everything about myself, including the cancer? Can I offer myself truly unconditional love?" I'm working on it.

10) SLOWING DOWN -- The fatigue and anemia I have been experiencing has caused me to slow down over the past 6 months, and now taking care of myself -- remembering to drink at least 64 oz. of liquids each day (and keeping track of my fluid intake), remembering to take my vitamins, remembering to take my flax oil and flax seed -- all of this reinforces the notion of slowing down. I am not in a race, and I do love to stop and smell the flowers, to stop and watch the Sun set, or stop and watch the Moon rise, so slowing down is a gift that helps me enjoy the present moment.

11) SPIRITUALITY -- My spiritual practice (prayer, meditation, yoga, reading inspirational literature, and living mindfully) has been an important part of my life for the past 16 years. Now I find that this practice is no longer practice -- it provides a foundation for my way of being with my new reality. I am grateful for the time and the opportunity to seek even deeper wisdom and guidance that will help support me on my path.

12) COURAGE -- It is said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in spite of fear. My cancer diagnosis has shown me a level of courage that I didn't know I had, to face and move through obstacles, and then to do the next right thing. To have found and experienced this well of courage within me has been a surprising gift.

13) POWER OF MIND TO HEAL -- It is well known that there is a strong connection between the mind and healing, and that there is enormous power in the mind to heal. After all, what is the placebo effect if not the mind engaged in healing the body when medical intervention has been in word only? I am thrilled to have this opportunity to explore the power of my mind to heal -- this exercise is in no way theoretical, because of both my interest in the subject and the importance of the outcome to me.

14) COMPASSION -- A diagnosis of cancer instills in me a deeper sense of compassion for human suffering and understanding of the human condition and human experience. This compassion stems not only from the intellectual realization of the universality of human frailty and illness, but from the experience as well.

15) EMPATHY -- Given my cancer diagnosis, I now have greater understanding of what it is to face cancer, and empathy for those who do.

16) SELF-REALIZATION is not to be put off.

17) SERVICE -- Being of service takes on new meaning when I can inspire others from the stance of being a cancer patient myself -- sharing wisdom, teaching the power of optimism and hope. I look forward to teaching meditation workshops for cancer patients and their families, and helping people create peace of spirit and ease of heart.

18) FREEDOM to do what is best for me, without guilt, is empowering.

19) MEDICAL LEAVE, with time off to take care of myself, is a great gift.

20) WILLINGNESS – I find that I am blessed with the strength and willingness to do what is needed to take care of myself. I am learning an enormous amount about the body and about nutrition, and I willingly apply what I learn to my own situation.

21) LIFE’S RICHNESS – To experience life’s richness is a gift beyond measure, including both the joys and the sorrows. The moments of my life are becoming deeper and richer, and even when the moment is one of sadness, I recognize that this is the stuff of life. I am grateful that my capacity to experience life’s richness is expanding.

22) PLAYFULNESS (and even a bit of REBELLIOUSNESS) – I find myself spending more time being playful, given that I have no idea what life has in store for me. I also feel a bit rebellious that I am finding so many good things about my diagnosis. As the saying goes, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

23) PEACEFULNESS surrounds me as I live with acceptance.

24) EMBRACING LIFE – Being able to live joyfully with what is -– now that is a very good thing.

25) CURIOSITY is leading me to search for more good things about my diagnosis, and I have faith that I will be able to figure out what they are.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Beginning of this Blog

This is my first post to "Living Joyfully With What Is". How exciting!!! And what a JOY.

For me, it all begins with gratitude -- living joyfully, that is. Of course, living joyfully with cancer can be a great challenge, and it is at times. And yet, none of us know what lies ahead in life, although we may sometimes act as if we will live indefinitely. We all face challenges, and all of us have the capacity to embrace these challenges, to see the lessons in them, to act with love and acceptance, and to embrace our lives with joy.

This spring, I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for being alive, for being able to walk, to bend, to touch the Earth, and to tend my gardens. Gratitude for the beauty of my gardens, for the warmth of the Sun, for beautiful flowers and trees. Gratitude for the baby squirrels in our yard. Gratitude for the hawk cries which pierce the afternoon. Gratitude for all the gifts that surround me.

In addition to gratitude, for me living joyfully involves acceptance, which means allowing the present moment be what it is, without resistance. Acceptance does not equal complacency, for I can always endeavor to improve what I choose, but acceptance removes struggle. It allows ease and peace.

I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma 2 years ago, in July of 2006. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood's plasma cells, so it is throughout my body. My life since being diagnosed has felt like a roller coaster at times, especially physically and emotionally. My daily spiritual practice -- prayer, yoga and meditation -- has helped sustain me through this time, along with the love and attention of family and friends. And in spite of this serious physical condition that I face, I feel joy every day. Just as I would be gentle, compassionate and loving toward a friend with this diagnosis, I choose to be gentle, compassionate and loving toward myself. There is no war inside of me. I choose peace. I choose gratitude. I choose acceptance.

Within 12 hours of receiving my diagnosis of cancer, I began a list of the good things about my diagnosis. I expanded the list as the days went by, and by September of 2006 I had a list entitled "The Twenty-Five Good Things About My Diagnosis". I will share this list in my next post to this blog. Suffice it to say that I have shared this list with family and friends, and many have found my words inspiring and shared them with others who face great physical challenges.

Sixteen year ago, on Mother's Day of 1992, my daughter Laura named me "Joyous Judy". I know we are not usually named by our children, but then Laura is not a typical daughter. I loved the name "Joyous Judy", and it stuck. Through the years it has served as a reminder to me of Who I Am.

And if I have learned one enormously important lesson about Who I Am from having cancer, it is this: I am not my body.