The learning curve: two months ago I didn’t know I had cancer

I went looking for something today and came across this photo of myself. I took it driving back to work from lunch, relaxed on a Wednesday afternoon in October. I took it immediately before I went to my gastrointestinal doctor and learned that I had cancer.

Life changed rather swiftly that day. I was expecting the doctor to say, “Yep, it’s just a little growth, but it’s fine.” He didn’t, and I remember crying in the car outside of his office because I wasn’t sure what the word “cancer” meant. I went home and saw my husband’s face, and it was as if someone punched him.

In the weeks that followed, I explored my own personal reasons for living. I told the whole world frankly about my condition (because it helped me process the emotions), and began to think of myself as someone with cancer. That was a big step! It’s hard to get past the word, no matter what kind of cancer. I’ve since met people who say that they go through denial about their condition; I don’t think I ever did, but I went through other kinds of grief, and found strength through meditation and knowledge.

To find out more about what my own cancer meant, I went through four pretty invasive tests that told me a lot about my body, read up on my father’s in-depth research on Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and began to think about options for a cure. My veins began to look like pincushions!

Along the way I did as much as I could using alternative medicine to try to feel like I was actively working on the issue. This was extremely important to me — meditation, yoga, cutting meat out of my diet, nutrition, everything that I could possibly do to enhance the health of my body meant that I was “fighting” cancer.

Then came the day that I found out to my great relief that my cancer was small, found early, and localized… and we picked my poison, the chemotherapy that I’m going through now. I have one more week of it… And then the long wait (a month or two) before we glance down my throat and see how the Rituxan worked. I know I’ll go nuts in that month, my imagination is strong. But I’m hoping that the words spoken to my aunt by a Thai healer are true, that after this treatment, the cancer will go away.

If it didn’t work, there are other options, stronger chemotherapies. But for now I’ll consider each step a success, including the completion of this first treatment.

I know that I’m going to have to check myself out thoroughly once a year for the rest of my life. I know this means an endoscopy once a year. I know it means more CAT scans and PET scans and fasting… but it also means keeping my life as healthy as I can, and living FOR something. Could I get more cancer? Who knows, maybe. But the important part is crossing things off my bucket list, and being a good mom for as long as I get to be in this body on this earth.

You can probably sense my joy today because I’m almost done with the Rituxan treatment – one more to go! Even though I know my body’s going to feel like crap until three or four weeks from now, I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks about how to handle the discomfort (yoga and smoothies), and because of this, I feel a lot more in control of my condition.

I think it’s also helped me learn to reach out to people, especially family and my family of friends, and know I can always lean on someone when I need a good chat or a hug. It has taught me that humans are all intrinsically and deeply kind, and give much love to their fellow humans who suffer. This is the God in all of us!

Yeah, it was two months of intense learning that I didn’t see coming at all. But in general, I have to say I’m glad for the hard, solid truths it taught me. Life’s pretty awesome, and the best way to live it is with joy.

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Just keep me moving…

It’s funny how much my body dictates my mood.

I saw this pattern after last week’s chemotherapy too — at first I felt some euphoria that I wasn’t worse, then slight panic as I realized that my body was doing stuff that I couldn’t control or handle, and the way my body felt made me head to the emergency room a week ago because I was sure my body was failing me.  …Only to get better by Monday.

This week I felt my mood skyrocket after acupuncture… and then fall just as hard when I realized that some issues persisted, including today’s complete slump in energy.  I guess there’s no panacea or cure-all when you’re on the chemo train.  There’s really just doing whatever it is you can, and enduring.

The lesson I take away from this is that our bodies are the nodes through which our souls appear at this place, at this time. Our souls’ decisions impact our bodies immediately, and the frustration and depression comes when there’s nothing our decisions can do to help out our physical manifestations.  Makes my body feel really fragile.  Makes me know how truly random happenstance can be, especially the kind of random events that can happen to these bodies.

Yoga felt good tonight, though.  I think I need to keep reminding myself that when things feel stuck, moving is the best medicine, not sitting still. And yoga pays proper respect to this poor body that I’m beating up.

And I keep telling myself, half done, half done! (I hope.)

Hugging strangers with cancer

I stood in line at the supermarket today, talking with a friend.

“It’s odd how I can’t have antioxidants…“  I said. “I guess they want the chemo drugs to remain in my body.”

The woman in front of me turned.  “Hi…I’m sorry to interrupt.  Did you say you can’t have antioxidants?  I was just diagnosed with breast cancer…just last week.”

She still had that look about her, the one where she didn’t quite believe that it was real.

We stared at each other for a moment, and then I gave this complete stranger a hug.

“One day at a time, right?”

“Yep.”

I guess cancer is one shortcut that gets rid of all the bullshit.

~

Tomorrow is round two.  Then I’ll be half done.

So, how does chemotherapy feel?

I was pretty positive about it yesterday, because I went through the drip process and I wasn’t completely helpless afterwards. Today I woke up and realized that the headache, water-retention, muscle ache and swollen fingers persisted… and felt slightly depressed. “When is this evil feeling going to go away?” I wondered.

Well body, three more times. I’ve got to also remind myself that once I’m full of chemicals, the chemotherapy hasn’t stopped — it’s just begun. The real work of the drugs takes place in the days following. It’s going to be harsh, but here I am, and I’ll survive it as best I can.

Then I realized that I basically feel extremely hungover. In short, I’m really amazingly grumpy.

This is the kind of physical depletion that I’ve felt before, after one of the (very few) times I’ve been on benders in my life. Or after a few days of intense migraines. Thinking of it this way, it isn’t so bad. It’s kind of like my body’s looking at me very sternly for whatever it is I did, and would like to remind me not to do it again.

What’s flabberghasting to me is that some people CHOOSE to go through this, every single weekend. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

I did bow to the optional steroids they gave me to reduce inflamation. I will take those until I find a good Chinese doctor (I am about to pick one at random, my body seriously doesn’t feel like waiting around any longer).

What’s also amazing is that there are people who go through much worse than Rituxan. Respect to the people who endure the worst. So much respect!

Enduring,

Tanya

Health for us all: Natural headache remedies

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This morning I spent some time researching Orlando-area Chinese medicine doctors to help my body out while immunity is low, because one of the side-effects of Rituxen is that my B-cells (good and bad) will be eliminated. I haven’t found an alternative healer yet (got any recommendations, people?), but I did find this great list of seven things to do to alleviate headaches without drugs!

I tried the shaofu acupressure point (above) and it had the insane effect of making my entire body relax instantly. Totally try it!