Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cape Cod Adventures

It was with great gratitude, joy and delight that we were able to visit friends on Cape Cod over the weekend. They had bought a house there earlier this year, and once I became able to travel long distances in the car (in January) and sleep in a real bed (in May), we were able to come up with a weekend that worked for all of us -- the end of October.

So we packed up the car, including the dog (along with dog bed and toys and food), the air filter that makes white noise so that I can sleep, a cooler with food and Goji juice, suitcases, etc. -- we don't travel light -- and we headed off for an adventure. The forecast was for cool weather with a possibility of rain, but we knew that we would have a good time no matter what the temperature.

The last time I had been to the Cape was in July 2006, the week before my diagnosis. That summer, I faced a significant degree of anemia and would tire easily, but I didn't know why. Last summer, I was unable to walk or ride in the car, so going to the Cape was not a possibility. This time, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as we drove past the dunes and grasses, the dwarf pine and scrub oak, with autumn colors on the leaves of trees and bushes. I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and joy from being able to return to the ocean, to walk on the beach and look for beautiful shells and stones, to photograph the sea gulls as they soared and swam. And I looked forward to seeing our golden retriever Goldie play near the ocean.

For me, the time at the Cape was enormously healing.
It was a joy to walk in the sand.
It was a blessing to hear the sound of the ocean waves.
It was a surprise to hear the noise made by stones rolling at the water's edge as the waves returned to the sea.
It was a delight to see Goldie watch the waves, and then to see her bound away from the water when it approached her feet.
It was mesmerizing to see the sea gulls flying over the water.
It was beautiful to see the autumn colors in the place where the sea meets the sky.
It was a gift to be reminded that Life is made up of memorable moments.

And that even a vacation near to home can bring peace, gratitude, delight, and healing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Making Friends With Fear

I find that as I navigate my days, working diligently on my healing, maintaining a positive attitude and positive thoughts, that it is impossible to keep fearful thoughts away. No matter how hard I try, they creep in. And no matter how many times I push them away, they come back.

So I have begun to make friends with fear. My neighbor is a very wise woman and an accomplished healer. She reminded me recently that to feel fear means that I am human. After all, we all need to be afraid of the oncoming train to motivate us to get out of the way. And there is the familiar statement that courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in spite of fear.

One thing I have learned about fear around a health situation or diagnosed condition is this -- if I am fearful of what will happen in the future, "what if this?" or "what if that?", then I am not living in the present. Instead, I am trying to project onto an uncertain future. And NO ONE knows what the future holds, not the people with cancer diagnoses, not the people with AIDS, and not the people with the diagnosis that they will die someday (i.e. everybody). Anyone can play the 'what if' game -- what if I get hit by a car? what if she leaves me? what if I lose my job?

And when I go to fear, when I play the 'what if?' game, I feel it in my solar plexus.

So for me, now, when I find myself going to fear, I say to myself, "Thank you, self, for the reminder that I am human." I turn the fear into gratitude. I smile inside, and then I relax into the gratitude I feel in the present moment. And another lesson of fear for me is to remind me to bring my attention back to the present moment. And then to I ask myself, "How do I feel in THIS moment?" Because this is the moment that matters, the one that I live my life in, the one that I love in, the one that I am cured in.

One of the tricky things about a diagnosis is that is it easy to 'buy into' what the doctors tell you a diagnosis means. It means this or that will happen. It is easy to worry, to be fearful about the future. To believe that something is wrong inside, and to become attached to that way of thinking about what is going on in your body. That this or that is happening and always will be. But doctors only know about the physical body. They know the mind has power (such as in how well the placebo effect can work), but they do not know how much power there is in the human mind. Doctors do not and cannot know how much magic the human spirit can work, or what miracles the Divine can manifest.

So now I let fear teach me to be present in the moment. And I let fear teach me to be grateful for being human. And for being alive. I allow fear to be present in my life, not as something to be afraid of, but as something to learn from. I am making friends with fear.

For me, healing is about the acceptance and embracing of what is. And having faith in magic and miracles. And believing that in every moment anything is possible. It is about trust and patience, and about being willing to wait. Even if I feel afraid. For this, too, shall pass.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wild Ginger Surprise

Have you ever looked closely at a wild ginger leaf? I mean really closely. Have you ever looked at a dried, pressed wild ginger leaf and held it up to the light?

Last week I began collecting beautiful autumn leaves, in my usual fall way, and placing them in the back pages of the huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary to be pressed flat. Each autumn when I do this, I find the leaves from the previous year in the dictionary, all pressed flat, still showing the gorgeous color they did when I found them the previous autumn. I make the pressed leaves into collages of varying sizes, and them laminate them to make place mats or note cards or bookmarks or simple beautiful collages. I also make color xeroxes of the collages, before they are laminated, and these copies preserve the autumn colors forever (see post of Oct. 14 "Welcome Autumn!").

When I took the pressed autumn leaves out of the dictionary I found the usual beautiful red and yellow and green maple leaves of various sizes, I found oak leaves and dogwood leaves, witch hazel, catalpa, and ginkgo leaves, and then I found leaves from almost every plant in my garden. In looking at the leaves and holding them in my hands, I recalled that last fall I was unable to go for long walks in the woods as I had done years past, so instead, I wandered slowly through my own gardens and picked autumn leaves of many of the perennials I have growing here.

I found dried, pressed snake root leaves, columbine leaves, chameleon plant leaves, forsythia leaves, viburnum leaves, and turtle head leaves -- and then there were some leaves I could not identify. One leaf in particular got my attention, partly because it was so big. I could not remember what plant in my garden had leaves like this one. Its body was almost 6" by 4", rounded and very much like a violet leaf but bigger, and with its stem. I put it aside and wondered what it was.

And then I held this mystery leaf up to the light and was given a gift of huge proportion. There in the veins of this leaf, as I looked at it with light shining through, was the outline of a most beautiful lotus flower! I stared at this for many moments, taking in the beauty of this pattern, still wondering what plant the leaf was from, and acknowledging the beauty that is at all levels of the Universe, from the beautiful Sun and Moon in the sky, to the gorgeous autumn colors on the trees, to the pattern in the veins of this dried leaf from my gardens that I had collected 1 year earlier. And at the time I was unaware of the lotus in the leaf.

The next day, I wandered through my gardens and forgot to look for the plant that created this leaf. Back inside, I gazed at the magical lotus in the leaf and the plant popped into my mind. It is WILD GINGER!!! I have a large area of wild ginger under the pine trees in the back, where I planted it 10 years ago. It has spread well but not in an invasive way, and I remembered noticing before how similar the wild ginger leaves are to violet leaves, only larger.

So this morning, I went out in the cold air (it was below freezing last night) and found a wild ginger leaf that had not yet died and I picked it to press for next year.

Because I want to be reminded how much more beauty there is all around me, even more than I know -- and I have been able to find beauty everywhere in the world. Thank you, Universe, for the wild ginger surprise!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Rainbow Every Day

I love rainbows. And not just because I am an astronomer, even though the colors of the spectrum are extremely important to astronomers. For me, the rainbow is more than a conveyor of information about the Universe. It is a source of beauty.

I do not see rainbows very often. Maybe one or two per year in recent memory. I remember a very beautiful rainbow I saw at the beginning of autumn this year as I was sitting in a restaurant eating dinner. I had a front row seat for seeing that spectacular display!

And hanging in my windows at home I have some glass ornaments, so occasionally there is a rainbow spectrum which sends a splash of color across my wall.

So with my love of rainbows, I was delighted to find that I could apply the rainbow to my eating habits. One of the principles put forth in the book Food As Medicine by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa is that I should EAT A RAINBOW EVERY DAY.

What does this mean? Well, nutrient dense foods are colorful foods. [I have been hearing that for several years -- from nutritionists, from my chiropractor, from my acupuncturitst.] So, to eat a rainbow every day means to eat red, orange, yellow, green blue, and violet foods every day. And that means fruit and vegetables.

So now I shop for color. Tomatoes, raspberries. Carrots, oranges. Pineapple, squash. Lettuce, broccoli. Blueberries and more blueberries. Blackberries, plums. And I eat for color. I remember to eat more fruits and vegetables with this simple reminder to eat a spectrum of color every day. It's a fun, beautiful way to approach nutrition and health.

Of course I would much prefer to see a rainbow in the sky every day, but if I can't see one, then at least I can eat one!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making Friends With Multiple Myeloma

I ran into a colleague the other day at the local garden center. I was in search of lime, as I was preparing a new garden bed and the soil in our yard is highly acidic from all of the pine trees around.

This colleague approached me and asked me how I was doing. With a big smile, I said, "Great." We chatted for a few minutes, and then he said, "I'm going to say something awful. You look wonderful. You look better than you did a few years ago."

I replied, "That's not an awful thing to say. I am spending a great deal of time and energy taking care of myself, so it is wonderful that I look wonderful, and it is also a wonderful thing to say."

I understand what me meant, though. The fact that there was anemia in my body, and then cancer diagnosed from a condition in my blood and bone marrow, and then spinal collapse, and then chemotherapy -- all of this might not lead to someone looking wonderful.

But I am not just anyone. I have chosen my own path in healing, and in life. And in my healing journey, I am combining the physical and the spiritual -- using Western medicine and Eastern acupuncture, daily meditation and visualization, with careful attention to nutrition and exercise. I make sure to spend time every day in nature, to read inspirational literature, to listen to beautiful music, and to eat healthy organic food, to spend time with those I love, and doing those things that bring me joy.

Plus, I am not fighting what is inside me. It takes energy to fight, and I want all of my energy for healing. So I am in a place of full acceptance and embracing of what is. That is, I am living joyfully with what is.

The fact is that I have made friends with multiple myeloma, that I am grateful for all the gifts in my life, that I am taking very good care of myself -- and I feel wonderful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Welcome Autumn!

After 2 nights last week with temperatures near freezing, the trees have now gotten the message that autumn is here. In the past week, the colors have exploded on the trees in Amherst, combining vibrant yellows, reds and oranges with the greens of trees yet to turn and the browns of leaves past.

My neighbor paused to speak to me this evening, and mentioned that the maple tree in our front yard is looking very beautiful. I had noticed the orange trees up the street and the red trees down the street, but it is hard to get a full view of the tree right in our front yard. So I took the opportunity to walk up the street just as the Sun was setting.

As I walked, I looked down at the beautiful red and orange and yellow maple leaves at my feet -- small red leaves with yellow edges, orange leaves with dark spots, solid yellow leaves, deep red leaves with black veins, and even some leaves which look as if they were painted with a full array of colors.

I love collecting colorful leaves in the autumn, and then I press them in the huge Webster's Unabridged Dictionary -- where they stay until I retrieve them, dried and in full color. And I know it is autumn when I collect leaves every time I go for a walk.

When color xerox machines were first invented, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. I took the colorful autumn leaves I had collected, made a collage of them, and then made color xerox reductions of the beautiful array of autumn colors. Leaves that themselves had never been found together in nature or turned color at the same time could be displayed together, and the xerox would never fade like the leaves themselves. I had found a way to preserve autumn. And since then I have continued, year after year, to collect whatever colorful leaves I come across in my wanderings.

So now I can say that autumn is here -- the trees are in color, the air smells rich and damp, the days are cooler, the Sun is setting earlier, and the time is here for me to collect leaves. Welcome autumn!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reflections on a Healing Journey

Today was a glorious day, with the autumn colors dressing the trees in bright reds, oranges and yellows. It was a perfect day to go for a walk in the woods.

I hadn't visited the local conservation areas in many months, as most of the walking I do is in my own neighborhood, so today I gave myself a treat. I went to the Amethyst Brooke Conservation Area, and walked on the Robert Frost Trail. As I walked through the woods on paths covered with leaves, and smelled the smells of Earth and Autumn and Nature, several lines from Robert Frost poems went through my head. "Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though." And my favorite, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth..." I even imagine that the woods Robert Frost wrote about were the very woods I was in, with two roads in a yellow wood.

It was just 11 months ago that I went for my first walk in the woods after I experienced spinal collapse. At that point I had grown strong enough to walk with trekking poles on uneven ground, and my destination one warm November day was the very same Amethyst Brooke Conservation Area that I visited today. But today I needed no trekking poles. And today, when I came to the log over a small stream, I recalled that 11 months ago I had been unable to continue.

But today, as I stood before this log, I took a deep breath, focused on my core stability and my balance, and walked 10' across a narrow log spanning a small stream. It was wonderful! It felt like a right of passage, a gateway, a milestone.

Crossing this log over the stream marks a significant stage in my healing journey. It marks my independence, that I can go for walks on my own in the woods and not be impeded. It marks my ability to navigate a challenge. It marks my courage, to face what was once impossible and to find that it has become possible. And it symbolizes the obstacles I still face, and the knowing that I will surmount them.

It is as simple as taking a deep breath and crossing a narrow log over a stream.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Is My Story?

During Yom Kippur services yesterday, the Rabbi spoke in general terms about our stories, and I began to wonder about my story, that is, the story I tell myself.

What story do I tell myself about my life and what I face?

1) I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, even if we may not discover those reasons during our lifetimes.

2) I tell myself that every moment contains unlimited possibilities, that anything is possible in the ongoing magical unfolding of Creation.

3) I tell myself that my story today does not have to depend on my story of yesterday, or on my father's story, or my doctor's story. I am free to create my story anew each day.

4) I tell myself that my soul's gifts -- being an inspiring teacher and a creative artist, always looking on the positive side of a situation, being able to find beauty all around me, being a loving and generous human being -- are given to me by Great Mystery. And the way I use these gifts in the world is my gift back.

5) I tell myself that I deserve a life of joy, ease, love and abundance, and that is what I find.

6) I tell myself that it is my story that matters for me, and that I never need to give up my power of creating my ongoing story.

7) I tell myself that there are no rules. There are only choices, and then there are consequences of those choices.

8) I tell myself that I love gardening, singing, writing, reading, Sudoku, meditating, walking, hiking, playing, eating, smiling and laughing.

9) I tell myself that I love my family and friends, that I am a good mother, and that I am a respectful and compassionate member of society.

10) And I tell myself that it is crucial for each of us to make choices that reflect a deep understanding and reverence for the web of life that we are all part of.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This Diagnosis of Has No Authority Over Me

A friend came to visit over the weekend, and as we were talking she said she wished a friend of hers with tongue cancer could meet me because I am so positive about my health. I realized in that moment that I am now in a place that I continuously forget about my diagnosis. It holds no authority over me.

How did I get to this place?

Partly, it has to do with the collapse of my spine. For the past 16 months, my attention has been intensely focused on living with and healing from spinal collapse. And while this situation was caused by the cancer, the healing of the fractured vertebrae is simply that, the healing of bones in the spine that help hold up the skeleton. In my healing, as I have gained strength of body and spine, flexibility of muscles, and stamina for simple daily activities, the fact of positive progress -- no matter how slow -- gives me great joy in my improvement and faith in its continuation. In seeing the miraculous healing of my spine, I have (gratefully) forgotten about the cancer in my body.

And there is another reason why the cancer diagnosis holds no authority over me. Every morning, I do a meditation in which I slowly send golden sparkling light to every part of my body -- each bone, each joint, each organ. And as I do this meditation, each time I inhale I say in my mind, "Thank you, Great Mystery, for my curing." And each time I say these words to myself, I feel in my body the true joy and gratitude that accompany a deep knowing of being cured. So after 6 months of doing this meditation for about 20 minutes at the start of each day, and thus saying to myself "Thank you, Great Mystery, for my curing" and feeling the joy and gratitude of curing ~50 times each morning, at this point it appears that my body believes it.

And I believe it, too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So Grateful for Zometa

Today I had my bi-monthly trip to the hospital for an IV infusion of Zometa, the bone strengthener which I call my 'sacred nectar'. Zometa has helped to rapidly build the strength of my bones, and to counteract a consequence of the multiple myeloma in my body, which led to an excess of plasma cells in the bone marrow. This excess of plasma cells in the marrow causes normal bone building (by cells called osteoblasts) to slow down, and normal bone breaking down (by cells called osteoclasts) to speed up, which led to the weakening of my vertebrae and to spinal collapse in July 2007.

I have been receiving Zometa as an IV for 16 months now, and I am very grateful for Zometa for helping strengthen my bones -- along with the chemo (which helped halt the myeloma), physical therapy, eating nutritiously, a regular meditation practice, and daily bone strengthening exercise such as walking, gardening, and going down stairs. As much as I want to put only natural and healthy food into my body, to be alive in the 21st century with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma is to be able and willing to take advantage of such discoveries as Zometa when necessary.

So I am very grateful for Zometa, the sacred nectar for the strengthening of my bones.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Back from My Travels

It is autumn and I am home, back from travels to points West, where I went for rest, for retreat and renewal, for connecting with friends, for adventure, and especially for time in nature.

For many months, when I was healing from spinal collapse and a flare-up of multiple myeloma in my body, friends would mention the places they were going, and I would be very excited for them and then I would get starry-eyed. At the time, I knew I couldn't travel -- I couldn't sleep in a regular bed, I needed to rest my back by sitting in a reclining lift chair every other hour, and I could barely walk. One year ago now, I was able to travel by car for only about 1 hour. And I did. We drove to see the autumn leaves, and visited quaint towns nearby us in New England. And if I pushed myself to do more than I was used to, it would take at least 2-3 days of complete rest to recover my previous level of energy.

So I have learned a new meaning of patience, and I was already a patient person. I have had to live patience in order to heal -- since healing bones is normally slow, and with multiple myeloma it is even slower. In the past I would be patient, and then eventually get to the limit of my patience. But with slow healing, there is no limit to how patient one needs to be. The patience needs to be there, and keep coming, and coming, and coming. Healing from spinal collapse (with 15 fractured vertebrae and a height loss of 3") is probably the most challenging thing I have ever faced in my life. It has required extensive patience, deep acceptance of what is, willingness to do what needs to be done, and more courage than I knew I had.

And all along, I never doubted that I would one day again be able to travel. And now that I can travel -- that is, I can sleep in a regular bed, I can walk more easily, at least in the early part of the day, and I can sit relatively comfortably on an airplane for 2 hours (which is more than some people can say!) -- I find that it still takes a great deal of strength of back to travel. In the afternoon, when my back is tired, I can pull a rolling suitcase but I don't have the strength to lift one.

So I still have much healing to undergo before my body can do what I could do 2 years ago with ease, and before I become a world traveler again. How long it will take I have no idea, but that's OK, because I'm patient!!