Tag Archives: emotions

the soft song of the white beauty

Searching for the sacred in the midst of my second cancer diagnosis

“The sound we hear when it snows is the soft song of the white beauty!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan

My mother, I think, realized that I was falling into a kind of despair. I professed that I had lost my faith, though I had not become someone who hates faith – it was just gone.  She had noticed my flailing to make sense of my world, again and suggested a trip up north. A trip that included good food at The Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow and drives up to Hopi.

I pondered her offer, and thoughts of how I always loved going up to Hopi as a child were recalled.

I grew up in a magical place, there is a reason it is the birthplace of magic realism. My move to the USA (because I refuse to call it America, because frankly there is North America and South America and the USA being called America has never sat well with me) was not an easy transition, the USA doesn’t understand that kind of magic. There are exceptions to that. One such place was on my regular visits to Hopi as a newly transplanted child. There were two Hopi women who brought me back that magic. One was Helen Sekaquaptewa and the other was Elsie James and interestingly enough I just learned that they were related.

Elsie was local, and I got to see her more often. knew my great-great grandfather from when they both were at the Indian School in Phoenix, as a matter of fact he apparently introduced her to her husband. Whenever I would see Elsie, she would smile and tell me how much she loved my grandfather. She taught me how to make fry bread, often sitting with me at festivals at the heard Museum – teaching me the right consistency of the dough and the best way to pat the balls into a good piece of fry-bread, poking your fingers just so in the middle to prevent it from getting too puffed up when put in the oil. I cried deeply when I went to her funeral, she was extremely special to me.

Helen was the person that showed me that the special kind of magic from my youth in the Andes was present in the USA. I was relatively new to the USA, when my family went up to Hopi for a snake dance (probably back before non-Hopi were banned from freely joining them). I remember sitting on the roof, watching the most amazing ceremony – if you ever get a chance to see a snake dance, you should – they are memorable. I remember being in her kitchen, helping her fix food, and then I remember her taking me outside with her great-grandchildren to forage for wild spinach. Pointing out things that she thought I would find interesting as we walked to the edges of the village on the mesa.

So it was with these two influential Hopi women in my life that gave me a tie to my ancestors and the ability to see the magic in the land that I said yes to my mother, regarding a trip to what I could call my most local sacred space. It was a pilgrimage.

The drive up to Winslow was nice, we took the route through Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook. The Hotel La Posada is a fabulous space, designed by Mary Colter. I have a friend who claims, and rightly so, that it is a space full of feminine power that one can draw upon. We dined at The Turquoise Room.

I struggle as I write the next parts, as I want to honor Hopi guidelines on etiquette and yet share my experience as it relates to coming to greater peace with my own mortality and my hopes that I am of a Pahana clan. I met a Hopi prophet once.

We drove up from Winslow through to Second Mesa and the Hopi Cultural Center (HCC), stopping at the Little Painted Desert (in Navajo) on the way.  One of the things I like about visiting the Hopi Cultural Center is that there are carvers at the edge of the park next door.  There is something special about meeting the person or their family when purchasing something from them. You can find baskets, teas, rattles, bows and arrows, sculptures and Kachinas. I was able to bring to my life, five Kachinas; Crow Mother, Grandmother & Long-Haired. and Snow Maiden & Warrior Maiden.

I didn’t bring Snow Maiden to me at first. We decided to drive to K-town and see what was going on. The story is that a bunch of MIT student drove through once and fixed up a bunch of their computers, promising to return only to not be seen again.  One of the people with me has a son that teaches there and so we went to take pictures to share with them and see if we could get some MIT students to return. The whole ride, the image of her was in my mind, she was beautiful. We drove back to the HCC and held in my heart that she was still there. She was. I talked to the artist and his friend (who made my Warrior Maiden). They shared that the dances were happening this week and that I might see the Snow Maiden if I visit the ones at Shungopovi.

Front and back of my Snow Maiden

There was some discussion about going, but I was given the ability to decide and I did, I chose to go. If you are unfamiliar with attending ceremonies, revisit my link  above for etiquette. We drove to Shungopovi and looked for people standing on a roof, and headed that direction. We found a place to park and walked toward the sound, following people who were headed toward it. W walked through half-finished houses, through water puddles and made our way to the ceremonies.    There were not many white people there, maybe four aside from the three of us.  We sat on a door step and watched the ceremony.  It was special, oh so very special. And it was more exciting that I actually did see the Snow Maiden.

One of the things I learned from my friends on Hopi is that in a ceremony, the Kachinas are the gods… so, being able to see the ceremonial Kachina of the one that called to me was extremely special.

I ended my trip with four female Kachinas and one male.

Another goal of the trip was to find my tumor rock. This is something that my boss entrusted upon me.  When she got cancer she was in Sedona and saw a colorful iguana-esque lizard on a rock.  This was a message to her and she kept that rock, it was a representative of the cancer experience she was going through.  She came back and told me about the experience. I was in a shop a few days later when I found a lizard that could be put on the rock, as a representative of the experience.  When I was diagnosed with my second cancer, many years after hers, she brought me the lizard and said it was time to entrust it to me, that I had to find my rock.  So, I looked for my rock. I actually found two, one just outside Winslow and the other near  Heber.

My tumor rock while Warrior Maiden and Crow Mother watch.

I feel more optimistic about everything now. Instead of saying, for example, “my appointment tomorrow will tell me if I have metastasis” I am thinking in terms of “tomorrow I will learn if we can rule out metastasis”.   A simple exchange of words, but they have so much power.

 

 

the sky is empty

“I talk to God but the sky is empty.”
~ Sylvia Plath

Ge’ez, Sylvia Plath is sure a downer!

When I was little, I thought my grandparents lived in heaven, not because they were dead, but because they lived in Arizona (a stretch to see how I got here, I can imagine, but bear with me)….

I came to visit them with this kind of sky:

From this kind of sky:

So, when we went to visit (usually in early summer) our plane went up above the clouds, but never came back down through them… so, they must have lived in heaven, right? Please, also note that this was also around the time I was very saddened that Zeus and the pantheon of gods was not “real” and that my mother found me once, kneeling in the front yard praying to the moon-god. I was a wildly spiritual child.

Considering my family did not practice any real form of faith as I was growing up, they were Protestant in Roman Catholic countries after all – and any Protestants that lived where we were tended to be evangelical missionaries and not the most fun to be around – add in that we were considered to be “converted” and there were all those heathen Roman Catholics and indigenous cultures that needed to be saved. 

Many people tell you to lean in to your faith in trying times like this. It is amazing how much you seek something out, something that requires faith. But looking for something that is comfortable, that does not mean I must have a rebirth in any fashion, that means I don’t have to believe fossils were put on earth by satan to lure us to his evil ends,  something other than the spiritual connection to the cancer I got is because I have mommy issues, something other than I am not godly and got cancer because I am being punished… 

fuck – fuck – fuck – fuck

FUCK

How do you find faith in the midst of such fucking insanity.

Notice that is not a question, though it probably should be.

Anyway.

I learned that I had a sizable chunk of muscle removed with my last surgery. Granted, it was not the breast surgery removal of days of yore when women begged for a radical (nay, they wanted uber radical) mastectomy – the kind that took out muscle and bone (think ribs and clavicles). I’m missing 2 inches of chest wall muscle… and I’m still in disbelief… faith.

The way humans think is sometimes shocking to me. BUT, and it is a YUUUUUGE “but”, I get it. While my head understands that if treated correctly a lumpectomy has the same results as a mastectomy and you heal faster – but WTF does treating something correctly mean? My tumor was muscle adjacent, so does that mean that one of those a$$hole cancer monsters escaped and is it hiding somewhere? Somewhere that chemo and radiation can’t find?  Faith.

This is where finding faith again is crucial – but it is so freaking different this go around, faith that is.

If you are prone to that which is beyond the physical and don’t judge, I can share how I am re-learning how to lean in to faith again.  The thing is, I will most likely appear a heretic to you.

The one thing I know, is that I don’t think faith is about re-birth (that concept is what caused me to abandon faith before)… if it is for you, that is awesome – but I don’t buy it one effin’ iota.

I, beautifully enough, am finding this process of rediscovering faith kinda cool. and a bit painful.

It is especially nice since there is a disquiet in this process, of being a person diagnosed with cancer. It was present the first time and it is present again this time.  The subtleties of it that I experienced the first time is magnified, but both of my cancer experiences, so far, are incredibly similar… at least internally.

Because my first round was stage 1 and caught super early and only required surgery it was subtle. I felt like a fraud of a cancer patient because phht, it just needed surgery. People (most of them), aside from the time during the surgery put me at the bottom or low-end of a cancer continuum (that was practically equated with being cancer free).

In this round, where I am currently listed as stage 2B (and probably only because they did not take out more nodes and we will see if that changes after the next battery of test results come in), it is still sufficiently low on that continuum that I still feel like a fraud (though only less so because, after all, it looks like I am getting chemo and radiation this time) and the news about the cancer itself has just gotten progressively worse. Many of those same folks from my first experience are still like “well, you aren’t dying”.

I am adding silently  in my head; “that I know of” because I am still waiting for more tests and results of tests.

No, I am not dying (well, at least I don’t think so, but as I said… I will have a more definitive answer after I see the results of the next test). Trust me I celebrate that!  I am not healthy, I have a chronic disease that gives me (according to my radiation oncologist) an 81% 5 year survival rate (though this varies depending on the sites with such data). Yes, 81% is super awesome, but before this all went down I was with most others and had the general average population of a smidgen over 98% . A 17% drop in my life expectancy is still a crappy thing to have as a part of my life.

Trying to balance a good attitude with crippling doubts is a strange place to be.

I struggle. The struggle is real. Not because I have a Christian need for an after-life – but because I want to be more than just a life form – I want something divine to be a part of this experience, I want to lean in to something when I am so riddled and consumed with anxiety. A set of rituals that I can be a part of, a community where I feel like I belong. IN my head I often say to myself, I just want to be loved through this.

I read about Sherman Alexie today, something that I struggled with, but which spoke to the spiritual little girl in me that the unseen world is there for those that listen.  (the story is here).

I have found great comfort in so many people in my life, women and men – willing to be a part of this process with me.  I hate to lean on them, how do you answer the unanswerable to someone like me desperately seeking?

 

 

Intellectual fugitives – update

He was interested in research (or at least feigned interest), but Li was considered an intellectual fugitive, unable to commit to any one question or plan.
~ Siddhartha Mukherjee, “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”

I am listening to Dr. Mukherjee’s book right now and this phrase caught me. I love the idea of being an intellectual fugitive.

For the record, Li was the physician responsible for the first successful use of chemotherapy, he was fired by the NCI because they though his idea too aggressive. 

One of the things that I love about anthropology is that it, out of the plethora of other intellectual disciplines, allows for more of this than any other.

Someone I knew called me a dabbler once, I think they meant it in something akin to this idea – but dabbler doesn’t sound as nice.

I think we need to have intellectually curious people, a cohort of intellectual fugitives, people who can see relationships beyond the one question or plan. It is arguably a part of that road map to discovery, and a necessary aspect of the path.

But that is merely a musing and not what and why I am here today.

you crazy nipple haters
that orange circle is a modesty patch for all the nipple haters I know.
This cancer shit is tough no matter what – there is so much fear that needs to be managed. It is actually surprising, a test of human resilience perhaps – makes me think I am a devout coward, because I frankly hate having to do this shit.  I find that even keeping busy is not enough to bring peace of mind for a stretch of time longer than maybe 15 minutes.

Where am I right now…

  • I am very close to three years of remission from my first cancer.
  • I am newly into the diagnosis of stage 2B breast cancer, the edge of what is considered early detection.  Yay right, but my heart gets heavy when I think about how my lead in to surgery was so close to being sure that it was stage 1A – and that  following it jumped to 2B and that this is huge and makes my heart feel heavy and squeezed.

My cancers are distinct and unrelated. I write this for those of you that might be thinking this, it is not metastasis. A blessing – and how weird is it to call having two cancers a blessing.

I do know that I must have both chemo (regimen is still to be determined)and radiation (six weeks), with hormonal therapy for 5 to 10 years.

I just don’t really and fully know what that will look like yet.

 

 

 

tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon

“tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon”.
~ Richard Feynman (the story behind this quote)

There is an infinitesimal moment in certain kinds of situations that have about them a sense of the surreal, of suspended animation, of some sort of unexplainable something that detaches you from your surroundings and yet manages to implode you into them. Everything makes sense, yet nothing does.

Getting told gut wrenching news can be one of them.

I had wanted to come here and put into written posterity my fight with Hello Kitty that lead to a paisley shaped second degree burn. A story such as this had elements of the absurd coupled with a funny anecdote about managing pain, discomfort, and numbness after surgery.

I’ve been pondering, as well, putting down the why… as in why I share this “journey” in the way I do. (side note: I hate the word journey in this case… Journey is a beautiful word, cancer should never be a part of its etymology)

But really, all I “feel” like I want to do right now is to throw things and break them while cussing like an angry drunken sailor… at least until I see that in the whole scheme of things I’m pretty lucky and behaving like that impulse, is pretty self-indulgent and whiney so I don’t and just end up having to tell my husband that I’m talking to myself again.

I do talk to myself quite a lot now, primarily because I start thinking of people who have expressed some dislike towards me and it’s me asking them if they’re happy now that I’ve got cancer… again.  It’s a crazy conversation I am having with myself. I figure it is how I am processing the whole fault of this situation – as in it is my fault while trying to understand why – I must be a terrible person, but I don’t think I am but maybe those who do think I am can understand this and I am, I guess, trying to see it through their eyes. Again, I can see this is a clinical process, but it is one I am going through – it is so weird.

May be that I need to be appropriately embarrassed by my “fight” with Hello Kitty, and get my mind off of this sinking hell hole of self-pity or self-loathing.  The “why me” is a constant battle in managing a chronic disease such as mine, even more so this second go around. I fight it through humor and laughing at myself.

So, back to Hello Kitty, and this popsicle eating dollar store Hello Kitty gel ice pack in particular…

This is the beast that burnt me

In a nutshell, I wasn’t thinking one single bit.

I sleep on my side, and on the side where I had my surgery in particular. I am one of those people who turns in to a heat emitting furnace when sleeping which made my incision sites (yes, there are two) feel warm, too warm. So, I would wake up and stumble to the kitchen, open up my freezer and take out one of my perfectly sized Hello Kitty gel ice packs and put them in my sports bra and head back to sleep. The instant cooling felt wonderful and in such a state nary a consideration was given to the fact that I put a gel pack straight on my skin. Please take this as a warning, doing this is unbelievably stupid and I know better and still did it.

The resulting second degree burn is paisley shaped and about two inches long and an inch wide, its blister has popped. I will admit that I have to fight the urge to draw on it and make it pretty, if only to be a distraction that I jumped up a whole stage in cancer.

All of these distractions I give myself feel like I am tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon, because the medical news I get never seems to get any better, just gut-wrenchingly worse.

::tickle::tickle::

 

like certain portions of the anatomy – 302/366 (catch up)

What was the best conversation I had today in the last twenty-four hours?

I think it was with my son, about our experience listening to the audiobook; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

What a magnificent audiobook, it is a fabulous story. Science made real, and personal.. the way it should be. The book made me cry, it made me laugh, smile… it was profound, and light. It was family and academic.

I recommend the audiobook to anyone. I got mine through the library.

PS – I am now only twelve days behind in these posts!

 

“Conversation, like certain portions of the anatomy, always runs more smoothly when lubricated.”
~ Marquis de Sade

 

 

Making me mad 6/365

Today I am supposed to write about what is making me mad.

I used to love this magazine, the back page folding exercise was a favorite right next to Spy Vs Spy. 

Aside from nostalgia about the magazine, nothing much comes to mind. I am sure i get mad, but it is those fleeting surges that are really rather insignificant; like yesterday when I was standing at the top step of my porch when my mini great dane decides to jump on me and I almost fell back – but that isn’t anger it is really fear.

I drove to work this morning thinking about this… “what do I get mad about”.

  • One that has been pointed out to me is that I do not like being teased, especially if there can be any inference about my being stupid.
  • I hate people who make fun of others. I try really hard not to do this myself, not always successfully.

Other things upset me, but they do not quite make me mad.

 

 

(from here)

My favorite accessory 5/365

 

My favorite accessory is probably my extra earring. A small gold hoop on my left ear.

I have talked about it a few times before…. like here, here,  and here.

It seems so strange to talk about this earring on a day (day after, actually) that someone famous died.   And normally I think I would have let the fact that David Bowie died just slide past with a certain wistfulness. But not now.

The news says he died of cancer, that horrible fucking beast of a disease. He had been fighting it for 18 months.  Which fits the same schedule of my own “fight” with this beast.  18 months ago I cut a vacation short because my doctor called with the pathology reports. I don’t know what kind of cancer he had, but that is probably irrelevant. Cancer sucks, it just fucking sucks.  So here I sit, mired with some sense of something that is indescribable – a dash of survivors guilt, gratitude, thankfulness, sorrow – it is a crazy mix. It has its own sound track, his songs that seemed to play at those strange little milestones in one’s life,

One of the more interesting things to come across my social media feeds is a David Bowie reading list. A list of 100 books that he allegedly found to have some influence or importance. I have read 27 from that list, all of those would be on my list of 100 . Some I have no interest in reading, but in careful consideration I think it is more about the cultural milieu in which we found ourselves and I have my equivalence.

It’s a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling “No”
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks
through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it
ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

It’s a god-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling “No”
And her daddy has told her to go
But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks
through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen
But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it
ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

~ David Bowie – Life on Mars?

(from here)

What made me smile 4/365

 

 

It is nice to be smiling again! I lost it (the desire to smile) in the midst of my “recovery” from cancer surgery.  I think it is coming back!

So, it is bed time, and I lay here with my newly repaired laptop and wonder to myself… what made me smile…

There were a lot of good things that happened today.

I got up and made an amazing salad and a ton of turkey bacon for a meeting. I had an amazingly productive board retreat (where the aforementioned food items were served). My second meeting was canceled so got to take a break and go pick up my lap top. I then went to a coffee shop and got myself a latte, then dinner out.

Of all of these, I think the delight at getting my laptop back is the most inescapable. I am delighted that my “brother from another mother” agreed to look at it and fix it up! He even loaded some special treats (like the new OS) on it for me. I am actually smiling here as I type this out, looking at my feels almost new, but most certainly improved, lap top.

(from here)

Current favorite snack 3/365

A trip to get my laptop fixed delayed this post.

I must admit that this topic feels a bit too easy and simple to write about, I am in the mood for meaty, and  my current favorite snack doesn’t fall in to that category.

Currently, I am in love with peanut butter… actually, I am still in love with peanut butter.

I tried to use almond butter, cashew butter, powdered peanut butter to see if I could curb the hankering… no such luck.

I love with apple, and love it even more with a hint of chocolate and salt.

I wonder if this is related to some vitamin deficiency?

 

(from here)

Can people change? 1/365

OK, let me try this – writing every day for one year.

People change, very much and in very many ways. As my son likes to remind me… our taste buds get totally replaced every seven years (his justification when he doesn’t like how something tastes). Our skin gets replaced, our hair grows, our nails lengthen, our skin loses its elasticity… we physically change.

So, I guess we emotionally change too. We become something as a result of our experiences… kinder, gentler, fiercer, meaner, more cruel, more crazy, more lazy.

Change happens.

Doesn’t means it is all good.

Doesn’t mean it is all bad.

but we can hope for improvement.

(from here)