Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The On-Going Saga of the Carrot Cake

When my daughter was married last August, the wedding cake of choice was a carrot cake with cream cheese icing. We went to great lengths to make sure the icing would be a real cream cheese frosting, and not simply the white wedding cake stuff. No problem, we were told. And because a carrot cake is so dense, the cake would not be the usual wedding cake tower, but 4 separate rounds of successively smaller sizes arranged beautifully on a table.

In the end, there were only a couple of things that weren't quite right about the carrot cake -- the frosting was not cream cheese frosting, the cake tasted more like a spice cake than a carrot cake, and the usual small round top that is saved for the bride and groom's 1st anniversary was never made. Instead, there were 3 equal-sized rounds that were all consumed at the wedding. But otherwise, the cake was fine -- we were quite full by the end of the dinner anyway.

We called the caterer after the wedding was over to ask for this small cake, and when we went to pick it up, it was a full 14" diameter carrot cake that could not possibly fit into our small freezer. So we ate some and gave the rest away, but still had no carrot cake to offer my daughter and her husband for their 1st anniversary celebration.

Now, as it happens, yesterday morning we decided on the spur of the moment to go to Maine for 2 days to visit my daughter and her husband and in-laws. And since it is close (within 1 month, anyway) to their 1 year anniversary, I decided I would bring a carrot cake to Maine for us all to celebrate together.

So I called a local ice cream parlor and ordered a 12" diameter carrot cake, which I picked up this afternoon. But when I got home and opened the box, the cake had clearly fallen apart -- icing was covering the sides of the box, and the cake was crumbling. So I took the cake back to the store and got my money back, went to a local bakery and got a cute 7" diameter carrot cake to take to Maine.

I have been laughing to myself all afternoon about the saga of the carrot cake. I hope it tastes as good as the one I make. This one that we are taking to Maine is a surprise for my daughter, so that adds to my enjoyment. But now I think maybe I'll get a food processor, and then the next time I want a carrot cake, I'll make it myself.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Calling a Hummingbird

Yesterday I returned home after spending 5 days with my family to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. This was my first vacation in 2 years, so not only was it wonderful to spend time with my immediate family, but it was additionally wonderful that I could travel, see new sights, and go for walks in a new place. My brothers had not seen me since January, just after I had stopped using the walker, and I have made tremendous strides in healing since then -- becoming stronger, more energetic, and looking "like the picture of health" as someone remarked.

Upon returning home, I went for my usual garden tour, following the paths and exploring the perennial beds around my yard, looking for the flowers that had opened in my absence. After all, during the warmth of summer, a lot can happen in a garden in 5 days. If it is hot, the plants may wilt and die. Or some that have a short blooming time may flower and fade without being seen. Luckily, while we were away the temperatures were not too hot, and there was plentiful rain -- so the garden didn't need me to water it.

The flower I was most excited to see upon returning home was the cardinal flower, lobelia. It likes to grow in the shady woods along stream banks where the soil is rich and damp, and there are 2 areas in my yard where the cardinal flower thrives. Or there used to be. In fact, it is doing so well now that this year I have over 30 flowering stalks of the deepest vibrant red color, and the cardinal flower has even spread outside of the garden borders, as well as to new spots entirely.

As I strolled in the garden yesterday and stood in front of the cardinal flower, I was struck with deep gratitude, feeling great joy and a tinge of sorrow -- that I was standing before this gorgeous plant and able to walk in the garden, unlike last summer this time when I was in the hospital and missed seeing the cardinal flower completely.

Today when I strolled through the garden and came to the cardinal flower, I had a different thought completely. I was reminded that the hummingbirds love the cardinal flower, and I wondered if I would see a hummingbird in the garden enjoying these brilliant red blooms as much as I do. My mother was with me, having come to visit us after her birthday last week, and I told her of the 3 times this year that I had seen a hummingbird -- once when we were in Arkansas in May, once when I was visiting friends in June, and then last week during our family gathering for her birthday in July.

As I said this, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, and I turned around see what it was. A hummingbird had flown to the pink sweet peas about 8 feet behind me, and as it hovered near the flowers I cried out to it with great glee. I know I said something, but now I cannot recall what. I was SO excited to see the hummingbird -- the first hummingbird I have seen in my gardens this summer. My mother turned to me with a look of complete bewilderment on her face and said, "It was like you just called the hummingbird -- you're magic."

It was like magic, this most recent time that I saw a hummingbird! So tomorrow, I plan to sit outside near the cardinal flower to watch for hummingbirds. Kind of like a vision quest in my own yard. Because I know that the hummingbirds love the bright red blossoms, and sooner or later these joyful little birds will hover nearby. And this summer, not only will I will be there to greet them, but I will also be there to say, "Thank you for Who You Are!"

Friday, July 18, 2008

So Grateful for Where I Am Now -- Chemo Began 1 Year Ago

One year ago, on the 3rd Friday of July 2007, I began chemotherapy. At the time, I was unable to walk very far or move my legs to get into a car -- not because of pain but because my legs just didn't move. So the nurses checked with my insurance company, and it was arranged that an ambulance would take me to the hospital for treatment. A 30-minute ride each way.

What I didn't know was that ambulances don't have very good shock absorbers. Also, the stretcher they had me in would recline back significantly, but it wouldn't lie flat. That meant I was lying back as the ambulance went over bumps, and having back spasms every time. Of course, there was significant road construction last summer, with gravel roads for part of the way... I will never forget holding tightly onto the side rails of the stretcher, desperately trying to lift my body off the cushion so that my back would not feel any of the bumps.

It was hell.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was delivered to the infusion center and transferred to a bed for receiving my first round of chemo. There were papers to sign, nurses to listen to, side effects to learn about, drugs to take orally, drugs to take trough an IV. I was given a notebook full of information. I was told about the side effects of drowsiness from thalidomide, of possible neorological damage, of constipation. I was told about the side effects of dexamethasone, including bone loss (and my bones were already breaking down) and constipation. I was given phone numbers to call if I had questions. And lastly, I was given a 3 second long IV of velcade, the new drug for treating multiple myeloma that makes everything else more effective, except one's intestines. You guessed it -- velcade is constipating.

Leaving the hospital with a body full of toxic chemicals, a notebook full of information and a hand full of prescriptions, I joined the ranks of millions of cancer patients who experience chemotherapy. And even though I loathe putting toxic chemicals into my body, for me chemo made the difference between life and death. And for that I am immensely grateful. I wouldn't be where I am now, had it not been for chemo, and I am very grateful for where I am now.

I have no doubt that I would have died last summer had it not been for chemo, beacuse even with chemo, I almost died. But that story is for another post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Keys to Living in Alignment

Here are the keys I use in order to live in alignment with the Universe:
  • ATTENTION -- keep it in the present moment
  • INTENTION -- keep it focused on living in good relationship with all Life, respectful of all creatures (although it is still OK, and sometimes necessary, to set boundaries)
  • ACCEPTANCE -- allow the present moment to be what it is, and embrace it as it is
  • TRUST -- this is a big one, learning to trust yourself, your instincts, and your intuition
  • BEAUTY -- see it everywhere around you and also inside you
  • GRATITUDE -- feel it, express it constantly, and see it everywhere in everything

When we keep our attention and awareness in the present moment, we create the container within which anything can happen, including miracles!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Healing Power of Mind

My friend Susie recommended that I read Deepak Chopra's book Quantum Healing, and I am thoroughly loving it. Although it was published nearly 20 years ago, this book is remarkably clear, insightful, inspiring, and current. Deepak Chopra describes stories of curings and spontaneous remissions of cancer, along with insights into the minds of patients. From this book and the stories in it, I am reminded of the healing power of words, and also of the enormous power for words (especially from doctors) to discourage. I feel grateful that my own oncologist said to me earlier this year that in his opinion the meditation I do is at least as important as the chemo. Coming from a doctor, I view this as inspiring, supportive, and opening the door for possibility.

Reading Quantum Healing has inspired me to continue diligently with my practice of meditation and healing/curing visualizations.
I was also inspired to create a new visualization which I have added to my daily regimen, in which a team of Ms. Pacwomen go through my bone marrow gobbling up any identical plasma cells, starting at my feet and going out the top of my head. When finished, they convert any cells they have gobbled into usable energy -- so far both love and hummingbirds have emerged from the top of my head in this process.

In one story, a woman with a tumor on her breast chose not to have conventional treatment (radiation, chemo, or surgery), and visited Deepak Chopra to get advice from the Ayurvedic perspective. He did encourage her to have surgery, to have a more beautiful life and to not have to take care of the tumor. As she left his office, this patient told him that she had never felt threatened by the tumor, and never identified with it. Her comments contained the essence of the words I wrote on the post entitled "Healing and the Wind", to not make a diagnosis part of you, to not identify with it, but to just let the energy flow through and past you.

Deepak Chopra describes a major study of 400 spontaneous remissions of cancer, which was later interpreted by Elmer and Alyce Green of the Menninger Clinic. They found that "all the patients had only one thing in common -- every person had changed their attitudes before the remission occurred, finding some way to be hopeful, courageous, and positive."

It it clear that the body has the capacity to respond with health to thoughts that are uplifting. So, bring on the joy and live each moment to the fullest, and the space for miracles will be created!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Living in Alignment with the Universe

Over the past month, since I commanded my curing, I have noticed something very interesting occurring. It is a transformation of my life, at a very basic level, and the result is what I call "Living in Alignment With the Universe." There is no other way I have to describe it.

For the past year, I have been living with my attention focused fully on the present moment, more fully than I have ever been present before. At first, this was by necessity, when I was in so much pain that it took all my attention just to move, being careful so as to not hurt myself. As I have regained the use of my body, for moving around the house, walking in the yard or on nearby streets, I have continued to keep my attention focused in the present moment as much as possible. Of course, this includes making plans for the future during the present time. But the main difference between my way of being in the world now as opposed to over 1 year ago, is that I no longer waste time and energy on fearful thoughts, on worry, or on creating scenarios in my mind regarding this, that, or the other that I have no control over.

In the present moment lies the infinite potential of the Universe, and that is where my attention is. For I know that I am unlimited and that anything is possible (see first post of July 6).

During the week of July 4, I was on my own at home and had the opportunity to have 2-day solo silent retreat in my own space. I had been planning this retreat for over a week, so I scheduled no appointments during this time, did all the shopping beforehand, and told family members that they would not be able to reach me. I planned to turn off the phones and the computer that I use for e-mail, so that I could enter silence on Wednesday July 2 at 5 p.m. and stay on retreat until Friday July 4 at 6:30 p.m. I love to have these retreats at least once every year, but this was my first retreat since the beginning of 2007. My intention in planning the retreat was use the time to figure out how to incorporate writing into my days, so that I could finish my book on the Sunwheel and begin writing one on my journey of the last 1-2 years since my diagnosis.

I picked a Rune just before starting the retreat, and it was the Rune of Wholeness, Sowelu, signifying the availability of Life Force, symbolized by the Sun's Energy. I love this Rune -- it looks like a lightning strike, a zigzag. From the Book of Runes, I read familiar words, "Sowelu embodies the impulse toward self-realization, and indicates the path you must follow, not from ulterior motives but from the core of your individuality." I was reminded that:
  • seeking after wholeness is the quest of the Spiritual Warrior
  • what you are striving to become in actuality is what, by nature, you already are
  • become conscious of your essence and bring it into form
  • a Rune of great power making life force available, Sowelu marks a time of regeneration down to the cellular level
  • timely retreat is among the skills of a Spiritual Warrior

So the Rune of Wholeness sent me off on my silent retreat, reminding me that timely retreat is among the skills of the Spiritual Warrior. Here it was -- I was taking action and then I was receiving supporting guidance, so I was effectively hearing the guidance before it arrived. That is what I call "Living in Alignment with the Universe."

When I came out of retreat on Friday evening, I saw an animal eating some of my flowers in the back yard, so I ran out into the yard to chase it away. It had the coloring of a rabbit, but I didn't get a good look at it as it ran along the fence. It was then that I discovered a sizable hole and a large amount of dirt under the day lilies in the back of my garden. A creature had burrowed into my flowers and then invited itself to a dinner of wood aster and pholx.

The next morning as I was drinking tea and looking out the window, a crow landed in the yard to watch the cardinals and blue jays and black capped chickadees eat out of the bird feeders. The crow walked around the yard peering this way and that, and then suddenly flew off as the creature wandered into the middle of the yard. I couldn't tell what it was. Its color was light but it wasn't a porcupine because there were no quills. Its shape was large and and a bit flattened but it wasn't a badger because of the coloring. It chewed on some grass, then picked up something from the ground, and as it ate its stance resembled that of a big fat squirrel. I wondered if it was a woodchuck, but didn't really know what one looked like. So I did a Google search on "woodchuck" and up came a picture of the creature I had just seen in the yard. And I learned that woodchuck = groundhog = marmot. I never knew that.

Next thing I did was to go to my book Animal Speak and look up woodchuck/groundhog. This is a burrowing rodent, which symbolically indicates the ability to go deep within an area of interest. In the winter they hibernate for 4 to 6 months, slowing their breathing (to 1 breath per minute), their metabolism, their body temperature (to just above freezing), and their heart rate. Hibernation symbolizes death without dying, and is then symbolically followed by renewal and rebirth. A friend sent me more information about the woodchuck, which is related to the prairie dog. She wrote, "Prairie dog teaches you that, in order to access great gifts of inspiration and renewal, you must be at peace with yourself and rested enough to recognize the blessings being offered. The overall meaning is take a 'retreat'."

So after my retreat, I found a mammal that had come to me to teach me about the value of retreat and renewal in accessing my gifts of inspiration. My intention while on retreat had been to figure out how to make time and space to write, which I did by meditating and then writing. I learned from the woodchuck, after the fact, that being rested and at peace will help me access my gifts of inspiration and renewal. Again, my actions were in sync with the guidance before I received it.

I am just loving living in alignment with the Universe.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Commanding the Universe

While I was in Arkansas at the Myeloma Institute (see previous post of July 6) I began reading "The Eagle and the Condor", a book by Jonette Crowley about her spiritual/mystical journey. After arriving back home, I was up to the part where Jonette describes a trip she led to Machu Picchu, which included 4 days of hiking along the Inca trail. On about the 3rd day of hiking, the trail was so strenuous that 10 members of the group were having difficulty arriving at the destination -- they still had 1 hour of hiking left as the Sun was setting. As leader of the group, Jonette thought of going back to be with the lagging hikers, but realized that wouldn't really help. Instead she decided to pray, and as she stood up she said aloud to the Universe "I command safety and light for my fellow travelers." As she listened, she heard the mountains reply 'We have waited to be commanded.' What a remarkable concept -- commanding the Universe! And when the lagging travelers did arrive at camp, they said the last hour had been the easiest of the day, as if the trail was lit from below.

So without hesitating, I put down the book and walked outside into my gardens. I prayed aloud to the 4 directions, and then spoke to Great Mystery and the Universe, saying "I command the curing of the cancer in this body." And I didn't tell anyone what I had done.

The next day began as usual for me -- doing PT in bed, then a visualization to bring golden light into every part of my body, and then my morning routine including Yogi Detox tea. I love Yogi tea, especially for the fortunes on the tea bags. And on this morning, the day after I commanded the Universe, my fortune was, "You are unlimited." I was stunned -- not only was this a great fortune, but I saw it as a message back to me from the Universe. Breathe.

About 1 hour later I went onto the front porch to do yoga, and I found a pile of sawdust by the side of the wooden rocking chair. I looked at the underside of the arm of the chair, and there was a round hole about the size of a dime -- I knew it was from a carpenter bee. How I knew, I'm not sure. I've lived in this house for 25 years, and never before had a carpenter bee bore into the furniture. I came inside and looked up Bee in "Animal Speak" and found that it has 2 meanings -- the first is 'fertility' (which was the Rune I had picked the day before), and the second is 'anything is possible'. That got my attention. I left the pile of sawdust on the porch as I digested this message and the last one -- anything is possible, and I am unlimited. It was seeming like commanding the Universe should be as easy as singing a song.

At the end of the day, I had my first Feldenkrais session (gentle bodywork that helps reprogram the nervous system), and at the end of the session the teacher told me the Feldenkrais philosophy -- (1) to make the impossible possible, (2) to make the possible easy, and (3) to make the easy elegant. So here was the message about making the impossible possible, which is a lot like 'anything is possible'. And I would have to say that by the end of the day, the combination of all the messages I got was astoundingly wonderful. First I commanded my curing, and then I got so many independent messages that anything is possible, that I was humbled. And excited.

A few days later I was on my hands and knees in the garden, and I heard something (plant, tree, or rock) say to me, "If you are going to command the Universe, you need to live in different relation to All That Is. Like asking permission to prune a tree, or pick a flower, or pick up a stone." And I remembered that when I was in Montana for my vision quest and picked sage, I offered tobacco first. But I am not used to this was of being here at home. So I need to remind myself of a new way to be in my garden. And in general. More respectful of all Life, and asking permission before I do things. The next day, when the Daily OM came over e-mail, it was the one about conscious gardening and asking permission, the same message I received in the garden. I had gotten the message through my intuition before it came over e-mail.

That same day, I was thinking about the Divine in All Things, which I believe there is. And also that the Divine can do miracles, which I also believe. So here is my question to all of you -- if the Divine can do miracles, and there is Divinity in each of us, why can't WE do miracles? Why don't we? After reading Jonette Crowley's story, it seems so obvious to me -- we should all be able to command the Universe, and we should all be capable of consciously creating miracles. Is it just that we think miracles will come from the outside, and we don't know that we can command

Since the day I commanded the Universe, I have noticed that coincidences are much more frequent in my life (now several per day rather than several per week), and animal visitations are more common. Two days ago when I went out into the garden, a beautiful dragonfly flew to the leaf of a phlox plant in front of me. I watched for several minutes, and then moved slowly around the garden. The dragonfly followed me, first to the iris, then to the roses, then to the lilies, and then I decided to get my camera. Of course, when I got back to the garden the dragonfly was gone -- until I stood by the daylilies, and who should appear but the dragonfly!

In "Animal Speak", dragonfly means 'the power of light', so it is interesting the dragonfly came to me the week of the summer solstice, that time of maximum light, and also when I am being diligent about the visualization where I bring a golden light into my body. Dragonfly means "Illusion" in the Medicine Cards, so I reflected on the thought that Life is an illusion, and I asked dragonfly how to create a new illusion. Like the one where the cancer in my body is cured. Dragonfly told me that I need to let go of the old illusion to make room for the new one. Like letting go of personal history, according to Carlos Castaneda. So I closed my eyes and focused on letting go of the illusion that today will be like yesterday. Letting go of the thought that the pain in my body will be as it has been. I did my best to erase personal history. And when I opened my eyes, the dragonfly was gone.

Time for Spine Surgery

Just 2 months ago at the beginning of May, I made a radical decision. I decided I needed back surgery to help stabilize my spine -- an outpatient procedure called kyphoplasty. I had shrunk 3" in the lumbar and thoracic spine region over the last year, bringing my lowest rib on the left side to be in contact with my pelvis. Not only was it uncomfortable (I could feel the pressure on my ribs themselves and also in the middle of my back), but it seemed to me to be an unhealthy condition since the pelvis was not meant to support the rib cage.

I contacted my oncologist, who set up a consult with an orthopedic surgeon, but the consult was 1 month away, and then there would be tests, and then another appointment, and then scheduling the procedure, and to me it looked like the end of the summer before I would get help. I needed the surgery in May, not in August.

Kyphoplasty is a procedure that is usually used on older people with osteoporosis to help with the pain of spinal compression fractures. The surgeon inserts a needle into a collapsed vertebra, blows up a balloon to help the vertebra regain it's original shape, removes the balloon, and then fills the space with cement. With this procedure, the pain of a fractured vertebra is relieved, and when the vertebrae have regained their original shape, the spine regains it's more natural shape. Untreated compression fractures make the spine curve forward, because the fractures are often on the front side of the vertebrae. I had so many compression fractures that I had completely lost the lumbar curve in my spine.

At first I was hesitant to contemplate the surgery, but after talking to people who were helped instantly, I realized it would probably help me. However, I wanted the surgery in May, not in August. So I made another radical decision. I would go to the Myeloma Institute in Little Rock, Arkansas to become a patient. This is one of the best places in the world to be treated for multiple myeloma -- that is all they do at the Institute. And the Institute is associated with the University of Arkansas Medical Center, so there is ready access to a highly experienced surgeon who has performed over 1,000 kyphoplasty procedures. I knew from the Myeloma Institute web site that they would be able to have me visit with 2-4 weeks, and during that time I would have 5 days of testing. I also knew, from speaking to a friend who was treated there, that during my week-long visit I would be able to have kyphoplasty on my collapsed vertebrae.

So I called the Institute and made the week-long appointment for my visit to Little Rock, Arkansas at the end of May. This would be my first plane flight in 18 months, and I knew it would be a challenge. I am used to lying down several times each day, and I also recline from sitting vertically by afternoon. To fly would mean no lying down until night when we arrived in Little Rock, and only minimal reclining. So the way I managed was to take the maximum amount of pain medication that my prescription allowed, bring my lumbar pillow, and to move slowly and carefully. I brought a cane to help if walking became difficult, and I was able to get on the airplanes early since it took me a long time to get arranged and comfortable.

My mother an my partner came with me to Arkansas. It was a grueling time -- a trip of 12 days, with 2 days of traveling, 2 days off over Memorial Day weekend, and medical appointments and procedures during 8 days. In retrospect, it was interesting to be totally steeped in the Western medical establishment, as was the case during my entire time at the Myeloma Institute. I believe so strongly in the combination of Western medicine and complimentary therapies (like homeopathy, meditation, and acupuncture) that something big was missing for me in their approach to healing cancer in Arkansas. At least here at home, I engage in a wide range of therapies to increase my health.

In Little Rock, spending time in the Medical Center each day was totally draining -- it felt like the life was being sucked out of us. I meditated during the 2 hour MRI and PET scans, and that was wonderful, had full body X-rays and a bone marrow biopsy, and I now have the most photographed body in Western Massachusetts, on the inside, anyway. More blood (25 tubes the first day) was taken than I have ever experienced, and during the medical tests I was poked with more needles than I care to remember. The bone marrow biopsy left me feeling for weeks like someone kicked me hard in the right hip.

The good news -- I did have back surgery, on the last 2 days I was there. The surgeon could only treat 4 vertebrae per day, so I was scheduled for 2 days of surgery to have kyphoplasty on my lowest 8 vertebrae -- lumbar L1-5, and thoracic T10-12. The MRI showed 15 compression fractures in my spine, and the surgeon told me he could help me and even restore some of my lost height (although that hasn't happened yet). So I willingly consented.

The surgery is outpatient, so after 2 hours of surgery and 2 hours of recovery I was sent home each day (and slept). In total, with 8 vertebrae treated, I came back to Amherst with 8 band aids on my back. My back was sore afterwards, but I have noticed that my spine has regained the lumbar curve and I have less pain in my back. I have also noticed that my muscles inside are quite tight in response to the expanded vertebrae (the muscles have had 10 months to shorten). I am not yet much taller, but I am on a course of regular acupuncture and Feldenkrais body work, which may help my muscles lengthen as much as an inch. Then I'll be 4'11"...

The miracle for me now is that I am quite healthy looking and feeling. When I stay present to each moment, I feel strong and clear -- I am grateful to be alive, love being in my gardens, and have a deep yearning to create and give my gifts to the world. This trip to Arkansas taught me that I can travel by plane, and that I can sleep in a regular bed. So I have now given up sleeping in the lift chair after 10 months of sleeping away from my honey. Yeah!!!! This may be one of the best things to have come from the trip!

The journey just keeps going on and on ... and life is definitely rich.

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Goji Juice Story

This post continues the saga of my healing journey following the spinal collapse I experienced 1 year ago. The serious symptoms of spinal collapse began on Sunday June 17, 2007, when I was taken by ambulance to the ER because my legs collapsed under me. I couldn't stand, I couldn't sit, and my back was contracted in uncontrollable muscle spasms. At the ER, their approach was to give me pain medication and send me home when I could walk later that day.

I called a spine doctor then next day, and made an appointment -- 2 weeks later was the soonest they could see me. I didn't know how I was going to survive those two weeks until the end of June. I needed a walker and could no longer walk without support. I had so much difficulty walking up stairs that I slept on the couch at night. I was told to move as much as possible -- that immobility breeds immobility -- so I made sure to get up from the couch in the morning, to walk in the house with the walker, to sit at the table and answer e-mail, and to lie down when I needed to rest.

The hardest part for me was that I had these uncontrollable and painfully intense contractions of my back muscles, called back spasms. Every time I would get up in the morning (which took 30 to 45 minutes to maneuver myself carefully off the couch to a standing position), and every time I would get up from lying down to rest, no matter how careful I was I would eventually have a back spasm. And just like with a sad movie that I cry while watching, in retelling this story now and remembering the details of my life 1 year ago, I cry tears of grief now that I didn't cry then because then I was trying so hard just to survive.

I now know that my back muscles were doing 2 things -- they were trying to protect my spine, and spasming was their way of trying to keep the spine immobile (but I didn't pay attention, since the doctors told me to move). Also, I learned from my oncologist that muscles tend to spasm when they experience extremely high levels of calcium, such as when the bones are breaking down rapidly. The blood registers this condition as hypercalcemia, and in early July 2007 -- just 1 year ago -- my blood showed that I did have hypercalcemia. The breaking down of bones is a symptom of multiple myeloma, and for me the hypercalcemia and condition of my back indicated that I needed treatment.

On the first Friday in July 2007 I went to see my oncologist following an MRI of my lower back and pelvis. Just getting the MRI had been hell, because it meant lying on a hard surface (which gave me back spasms). And at the end of 1 and 1/2 hours when I asked for help getting up, the technicians had no patience for my need to move slowly and they lifted and turned me. My back arched in spasm, and I could barely walk to the waiting room. I was pale as a ghost and didn't leave the waiting room for 30 minutes as I waited for my body to recover from the trauma. Needless to say, I don't want to go there for an MRI again.

So on this visit to my oncologist in early July, he indicated that it was time for me to start getting chemotherapy, and it would start that day with dexamethasone, a steriod that is part of the protocol for cheomtherapy treatment of multiple myeloma. I was aware that long term use of steroids can cause osteoporosis, and for me bone health is a serious concern, but I needed treatment so I cooperated with my oncologist's suggestions. If it would help, I would do it.

As my partner and I left the hospital that day, there was a woman waiting by the door with a big black dog. We were waiting for our car from valet parking, and also waiting for ice for my ice pack that I used on my back during the drive to the cancer center. This woman was waiting for ice for her black dog, named Shadow of the Thunder Beings, since it was a hot July day. When the valet parking assistant arrived with a cup of ice, it was not in a form that would be helpful to me, so we gave it to the dog. Then the woman came over to me and said, "You look like a person who would be open to alternative treatments," to which I replied, "Yes, I am." She then said only 2 words, "Goji juice."

I laughed inside. I had never heard of Goji juice until 3 days earlier when my friend Batya came for a visit and offered me 2 suggestions that have changed my life. First, she suggested that I drink Goji juice. Batya herself had been drinking Goji juice for several months, and found that she slept well, had more energy, and her acupuncturist noticed her increased health. Batya offered me a gift of 2 bottles of Goji juice that she would leave on her back porch. Second, she suggested that I get a recliner so I would not have to get up from lying down. When I told her that being a small person (at that point just 5' tall) I didn't want a recliner that would fit a large person, she told me that she knew they made reclining chairs in small sizes. I began searching the internet that day.

And that reminds me of an aside that I just have to include here. Using my computer, I did a Google search on the words "reclining chair that ejects the sitter" to which Google responded: Do you mean reclining chair that executes the sitter? Executes -- do you believe it? I was in hysterics reading that, except that I couldn't laugh or I would have a back spasm. I learned to laugh inside, to smile instead of laugh. I told everyone in my family that story, and they laughed for me. Needless to say, I did find a reclining chair that ejects (not executes) the sitter. But that was a few weeks later.

So here I was at the hospital in early July, and this woman with a long flowing dress and beautiful earrings said the words "Goji juice" to me, and I laughed inside. Her dog came to sit by my feet on the pavement -- he was a healing dog, and I remember his name because my first dog ever had been a golden retriever named Shadow who had died just 18 months earlier. I said to this woman that 2 times in 1 week was enough for me -- I didn't need a 3rd person to mention Goji juice for me to be convinced to try it. And that night, after Gene picked up all of my new prescriptions, I sent her to Batya's house to get my Goji juice, and I have been drinking it ever since.

I have tried several kinds of Gogi juice, and the kind I like is Himalayan Goji Juice. It was discovered to have great health benefits because people in the Himalayas who drank water from wells that goji berries were falling into tended to live unusually long lives. Himalayan Goji Juice has 34 scientifically validated health benefits, including that it increases your energy and strength, extends your life, helps you look and feel younger, lowers your blood pressure, helps you lose weight, reduces the toxic effects of chemotherapy, improves the immune response, and manages and fights cancer. I especially liked the part about reducing the toxic effects of chemo, as I was getting ready to start chemo, so I began drinking 4 oz. of Goji juice per day. That was last July.

Then a few months ago a friend suggested that I might find it helpful to drink 8 oz. of Goji juice per day, given my health challenges and that I am trying to rebuild my spine. I said I really didn't want the extra calories of drinking more juice -- I was having trouble shedding any weight -- and she said that some people found that they lost weight when they drank more Goji juice. So I upped my intake, and 2 wonderful things happened. I lost 7 pounds that first week I drank 8 oz. per day, and my bowel became much more regular. For me, having shrunk 3" mostly between my pelvis and rib cage, there is less room for all of my internal organs, so emptying my bowel every day is now a necessity.

In fact, I like Goji juice so much that I have become a distributor. Here is my Goji juice web site http://www.youngberry.freelife.com/ and you will also find my contact information on the above link.

Last month when my mother spent 12 days with us, she commented on how much energy I have and how fast I was walking, even though my spine is healing from compression fractures in 15 vertebrae. I have more energy than either my mother or my partner. And while I can't tell what one of the many things I am doing is contributing the most to my energy, I am sure that a significant part of my great store of energy is due to the fact that I am and have been for the last year been drinking Goji juice.

In fact, Goji juice has probably contributed to the miracle that I am alive today.