Fish with a tophat pooping glitter

I’ve known about my cancer for a little over two weeks now, and I’ve talked to many people about it. Everyone has given me different wisdom and different insights into the process of dealing with illness. Tonight’s awesome gem comes from Sileny, an online friend that I’ve never met in the flesh. She had this to say about depression, and I thought people might enjoy it:

“Ok…so…I am going to sound crazy, but when I get in my really bad depressions sometimes I imagine a weird fish with a top hat coming in and eating my bad thoughts and pooping them out as glitter. it makes me feel better.”

Pink pigs and fish in top hats pooping glitter. Sometimes laughter is the best defense.


Just Ask

Dogs and cats, living together

A lot of people have said this to me in the past few weeks: “If you need anything, just ask.”

This is such a lovely phrase. It also has a lot of leeway, and for a while it stymied me. What should I think about it? Was it just a vague way of saying “Text me between the hours of 6 and 8 PM”? Or “If you’d like lasagne, I will make it and deliver it to your house”? Or “I am available for childcare”? I suspect that whenever people use this phrase, they mean a different (and very personal) thing, the one magical thing that they want to and are able to give to a person with an illness.

I admit that I came up with an impossible laundry list just to take people off the hook. “I need the following things, since you asked: A new small intestine, a year in Middle Earth with Elrond as my doctor, a dwarf mountain lion (housebroken), a harem of Hobbits all skilled in the art of making seed cakes.” Can’t do any of that? Then don’t worry about it. ūüėČ

But then I had an experience yesterday that opened my eyes to what I DO need.

At lunch, I had a number of medical errands to run (part of the ‘work’ of cancer, making sure I gathered all the records that I needed for my own files). Before I left, I knew that if I did all that driving by myself, my brain would start on a downward hamster-wheel spiral that generally ends up with me dead in a year and my daughter sobbing over my grave. Never wanna go to that place, so I asked my coworker for a very simple thing…

Her company. Christi (thank you Christi!) grabbed her sandwich and drink and joined me during my errands. Having someone to chat with about random stuff stopped me from plotzing (yiddish word for mulling over depressing stuff), and we didn’t even need to talk much about cancer. Her company kept my focus up, and the errands were even kinda fun.

So the next time I’m asked if I need anything, I will say this: Drop me a line sometime and talk about your life. Chat with me and distract me from my own mind for five minutes. Just give me a bit of your time and company, and it will benefit me enormously.

And that’s my answer.

Let me praise you like I should

This one’s for my body.

The biggest thing that gets me down right now is the fact that my body is turning into a chemical experimentation lab. I’ve spent my life living pretty cleanly — eating very little junk food, barely drinking, not smoking, doing no drugs. So the fact that I’m spending a month getting injected and dosed and drugged and fucked up in a billion different ways makes me so. Amazingly. Goddamned. Angry.

I love you, body! No matter how normal you are with your childbirth pudge that never went away, I’ve spent 38 years figuring out how to be with you. I know your migraine triggers, and I know how to keep you hydrated. I know what kind of alcohol you can deal with (rice-based, agave-based) and not. I know how to keep from overdoing it on a hot day. I know how much to push you exercising, and I know that yoga always, always makes your hands and feet stop swelling.

I know how much pain you can take, which is a ton, because you made it through natural childbirth. I know your weatherwise neck ache and your still-healing shoulder that hurts to lie on. I know how much fun you had in ballet and modern dance classes, moving and pushing the boundaries of what you could do, sweating like a waterfall and jumping so high it felt like flying.

I know how much you feel the stoke when you skate!

And because of that, when I got depressed today, I got off my ass and did some yoga. It reminded you that even though I’m about to get injected with some goddamned fucking radiation tomorrow, I still love you. And somehow, even though this feels like the worst possible thing to do to you and is a shitty way to spend a month, you’re going to come out the other side surviving it‚Ķ

And body, you’ll keep dancing.

We’ve come a long long way together,
Through the hard times and the good,
I have to celebrate you [body],
I have to praise you like I should…

Orange for my stomach, green for lymphoma

Lately I’ve been meditating a lot thanks to a friend’s gift of a guided cancer-fighting meditation CD. I’ve done guided meditation before, especially in college, but it’s been a long time since I’ve returned to it. What was interesting to me is that the tape immediately suggested that I envision a safe place… I’ve been working on this imaginary safe place for years, and returning to it was exactly what I needed.

Meditation has helped me get through a lot of depression.

As to be expected, my mood’s been up and down a lot. The first feeling was obviously “Oh no! Death sentence.” Then some adrenaline-infused energy to figure out what to do next…and then I expended a whole lot of energy on reassuring everyone around me that everything was fine and I was fine and life was fine, when actually none of us can really know.

This caused such an enormous crash this past weekend that I sent dark emails to the people I love most saying things like, “I wonder how many years I’ll get to see my kid grow” and “I feel like I haven’t done anything worthwhile on earth, yet” and stuff. The darkness was tough to get through, and I admit that I spent a few days verging on tears, simply because I had no idea what cancer was going to mean.

Things got much better after meeting with the oncologist, simply because we had a plan of sorts in place. Tests, possible treatments. We still don’t know how widespread it is, but we’re going to find out.

Writing about my process here helps too, especially the list that shows my progress every day. Simply getting stuff out on the screen helps my mood enormously, because it pushes it out of my mind.

Meditation got rid of the depression because it cleared my mind of a lot of things. It struck me while meditating that in general, the older one gets, the more one’s mind resembled Times Square at rush hour. Focusing on the guided meditation reduced the mental noise down to a few things, and everything felt lighter after that.

Part of dealing with physical pain is dealing with emotional pain, and the meditation also helped find the source of sorrow in me and unravel it, reconnecting to a place that fills me with joy. This was definitely worth rediscovering. Even without a disease, shutting my eyes and thinking about a mental home fills my mood again like helium into a balloon.

So this is what I’ve done to fight cancer, yesterday and today:

  • Yesterday I took a day off from calling doctors and bugging them about my final two tests. I also went to lunch with my coworkers, laughed a lot, and bought some green ribbon to turn into ribbon pins for today’s (breast) cancer awareness day. I also did 20 minutes of yoga, meditated, and continued my vegetarian diet. Most importantly, I thought about the fact that I need to spend more time writing — just like I am right now.
  • Today I hunted down one of my “lost” tests, and found that the GI doctor had forgotten to send a note to the hospital about it. Gotta be on top of those damned doctors! I’ll call them again Monday to make sure they didn’t lose it, again. This is the work part of being ill.
  • I brought in lime-green ribbons for people at work to raise their awareness of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Many people wore the ribbons for me, and I was able to talk about something as “unsexy” as stomach cancer. Many of my friends also wore orange, the color I chose to represent intestinal cancer. This made me feel so loved. Thank you to everyone who wore the ribbon or wore orange today.
  • And tonight, I’m going to eat grits (part of a suggested diet of cancer-repellant foods), do yoga, and play with my kid. Whenever my mood gets dark, I will shut my eyes and reconnect to that feeling of love and home.
  • And if you believe in non-western medicine, here’s the report from Thailand from my mother:

Dear Tanya,

Na Kop talked to one of the Ajans (holy person, healer, monk), and was told that your issue is minor and curable. The Ajan said the issue is in your small intestine and is very small. You will be as good as new after the treatment. Without knowing, she also said the physician (she) is very capable.

I think it is very encouraging and I know that will be the case too.

Meditation, pray, exercise, and food, is the way to go.

Have a good day.



Circling the wagons

This is a simple list, but I suspect that the more I think about it, the more deep it’s going to become.¬† It’s my daily list of things that I did to “fight” cancer.

Perhaps if I look back and what I’ve done every day, it’ll help me feel like I’m accomplishing something, even if it seems like these few weeks (between the initial diagnosis and the conclusion of all the tests) are simply a lot of waiting.

  • First, and most important, after finding out that I have non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, I reached out to my friends and family.¬† There is an enormous power in coming out of the cancer closet.¬† The second I told people, it felt like an enormous step toward normalizing it in my life.¬† Immediately people began to share their support, encouragement, stories, tips, tricks, research, and a vast wealth of other kinds of support.¬† Telling people is key!¬† The more good-hearted people know, the more connected I feel, and the more certain I am that there will be a good conclusion to all of this.
  • (Here I am going to insert a thanks to Matt for sending me the guided meditations, Courtney for baking me cookies, Genie for ways to deal with a chronic illness, Becky and Justine for writing about how my cancer affected them, other friends who did awesome stuff, and my family for the incredible support offered carefully so that I wouldn’t feel too overwhelmed.)
  • Second, I’ve done all I can to facilitate my oncologist and all of the other doctors.¬† I’ve badgered for tests, I’ve called to keep track of things, and I’ve made myself a sticky, thorny (but polite) nuisance at the office so that I could get answers.¬† I have not allowed them to think of me as a “patient” that can be filed away.¬† I’ve talked about my family, my parents, my kid, and made myself into a human to them.¬† I think this is important too — never let the machine assimilate you!
  • Third, while waiting, I’ve enacted a bunch of lifestyle changes that hopefully will aid and assist my natural physical processes of healing.¬† One part of this was diet.¬† Some research (although this needs more study) seems to show that my kind of lymphoma “feeds” on animal protein.¬† I’m going to eat as little of that as possible for a while in order to starve the cancer cells.¬†¬† I’m also going to increase certain foods in my diet (asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, brussell sprouts, spinach, squash, string beans, black tea), and drink a grape seed extract supplement.
  • Fourth, I’m going to maintain my normal yoga routine, but I’m going to add to it a set of guided meditations that a lovely friend sent to me.¬† I tried the first of these tonight, and it seemed really positive, a reminder that the body and mind are deeply interconnected.
  • Fifth, I found a handy and portable friend for the testing I’m about to endure. Below!

I believe that illness like this is a wake-up call.¬† It’s telling me that current patterns are not healthy, but that if I choose, I can take this opportunity to explode my life and make different choices.

I’ll write my process here as often as I can!