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cancer is a symptom

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My story as told by treatments

Love & loss

That face you make when you’re on oxycodone and you have your mala beads and a salmon colored scarf and you can’t tell if you’re crying anymore from all the love or all the loss.

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Biopsyasana

It appears, at least to the magnetic resonance imager, that I have a little more cancer in September than I did in August. So, I had a triple biopsy last week and they postponed my surgery until we have a better idea about how much to take out.

By that I mean we spent a marathon 5 hours at the hospital on Friday where they used a big needle to suck approximately 15 tissue samples from three locations while I lay on my side with my left arm cramped up over my head and my right butt cheek completely numb. Biopsyasana.

By like, hour three on the procedure table I had laughed, cried, and was trying out my more esoteric cancer theories on the doctor and ultrasound tech. They were both just lovely, dabbed my eyes with tissue when necessary, and humored my rambling, adrenaline fueled ideas on tooth meridians and energy blocks. We also got to discussing how to improve end of life care (morbid, I know) and how doctors sometimes act like technology-wielding robots and it would be cool to have more of them act like humans more often. Somewhere in there the doctor discovered my first suspicious lymph node, sighed audibly, and said the words I am starting to fear most from her kind: I’m so sorry.

Having verified that she was an actual human, I floated a confessional about my decision to not do radiation last year and the doctor was so kind. She said you know, we over treat thousands of women and you didn’t want to be one of them. You didn’t know if it would come back and hey, now you know. No shame in that.

Man did I need to hear that. The relief. Though I wish it weren’t so, sometimes just having your perspective validated by someone in a white coat (or in her case, a super cute black silk sleeveless little number) is so soothing. It is pure magic to feel as if you’re not alone in how you see things and that your actions, while unconventional and maybe dumb, are understandable.

My judgment clouded by emotional exhaustion and physical discomfort, I lapsed back into Grey’s Anatomy that night (thank you Shonda Rhimes for the multi-episode lessons on addressing racism in the work place in Season 12 and I have found it in my heart to forgive you for endorsing Hillary Clinton).

I awoke the next morning, purified by pain and TV, and felt like a million bucks. Eric and I walked in the forest near his parents house and I was wowed, for the thousandth time, by the pattern and color of vine maple leaves against the sky, the swaying and soaring of the big leaf maple canopy in the breeze. I sampled some early high bush cranberries, feeling that each sour bitter drop of red juice was somehow fortifying me for the days ahead. I held onto the voice of the ultrasound tech hovering above me during the biopsy, her masked face so close I could see the designs in the irises of her eyes: “you’re going to get through this and go one with your life and be fine.”

Recurrence

So, friends, the journey continues. I found a super tiny bit’ o tumor at the site where I had my first one removed last year. It turned out to be the real deal, though it is not as advanced or severe as my first. Since I declined radiation, I accepted the risk that local cancer cells might continue to grow and so here we are.

I have been processing what this means by doing a lot of yoga and getting my Illustrated Rumi off the shelf, and let’s face it, occasionally losing my shit. A lot has bubbled up, and I am feeling it and releasing it and repeat and repeat. A dear yogi quoting Pema said, we’re the sky and everything else is the weather. Yup. Of course I’m also dealing with an impressive natural disaster here so there’s that.

Anyway I think I’m going to be ok. It takes time to heal and change patterns that were years and generations in the making. But I know we have tremendous power to heal ourselves, and to transform even on down to the DNA. Damage was inflicted on my grandma or my mom’s endocrine system that provided a path for cancer to walk through my body. But just as their DNA may have changed in one generation, so can mine. Just as we have inherited a lot of toxic crap that leaves virtually no body or mind unsullied, so can we flip that and give the next generation true healing. That shit we were taught in high school bio – that we are helpless victims before mysterious genetics that control our destiny and all of evolution… turns out epigenetics says it’s not so true.

So I’m headed back to Seattle in an odd anniversary of my trip there last fall, to have more surgery and get some big scans and see what else we are dealing with. I will be given the same ugly binary: whether I want to nuke my breast, heart, and lung with radiation, or whether I want to cut the boob off (the old Trump v. Clinton!). They will also again push the only drug Western medicine has for my estrogen-driven cancer – one that will stop my hormones all together, sending me into false menopause at age 38. I will have to get real with myself and my god (nature yo!), be humble before the storm, and choose wisely.

After a Bernie Sanders infused hiatus from my holistic cancer care regimen of research and multifaceted healing, I am jumping back in full force. For me, the prospect of a national political revolution was worth more than what often feels like a self-obsessed cancer battle. But I do want to be around to be a part of Our Revolution so it’s time for me to gaze inward again and do the work of establishing new patterns, researching all I need to know, and finding the guides out there who can help me. I have made some real accomplishments this year with reducing stress, finding community, and simplifying my life, but it’s time to take it to the next level and heal this.

I ask with my full heart that you avoid feeling bad for me and that you make your prayers or thoughts or love real by joining Breast Cancer Action or finding the group in your area that is taking real action on pesticides, chemicals, fracking, or any of the other ways we are still inflicting cancer on vulnerable new humans. Please #ThinkBeforeYouPink and don’t donate or participate in breast cancer crap that often turns out to be marketing spin – they actually do make giant pink fracking bits and put pink ribbons on make-up that causes cancer. Remember that medical science is confounded by young women getting breast cancer – it ruins their hypothesis of how cancer works. I have stood in the exam room and asked why they are explaining a cancer hypothesis to me that does not account for my age or health and been met with silence. It’s time to end that silence friends, and it won’t happen by itself, and I can’t do it by myself, so please join me.

And thanks to all who’ve been with me and love me and are patient with my craziness, and also to my new community of Petersburg for caring for me and doing yoga with me! And, of course, shout out to the ocean and mountains and the traditions of yoga and Thai massage that welcome me into something bigger than me and last but not least to the salmon that give me sustenance and our family’s livelihood.

Mammograms didn’t save me

So, in case you were wondering, my tumor was not detected by a mammogram. Despite its 1.6 centimeter girth, the mammogram machine couldn’t see it.

Continue reading “Mammograms didn’t save me”

Radiate this.

I have so much to say about my decision to not do radiation that I don’t even know where to begin. What I know definitively is that the day I made the choice to forego it was one of the best days I’ve had since this whole cancer thing started.

Continue reading “Radiate this.”

Nuclear medicine & the sentinel node

Before you have surgery for breast cancer, they force you to have radioactive liquid injected into the tissue surrounding your nipple. Then they track that black plume of radiation as it travels through your lymphatic system, in my case using an x-ray detector and computer from 1986 (I asked). Note the 8” floppy on the desk. Continue reading “Nuclear medicine & the sentinel node”

The poetry of painlessness

This morning my tumor was removed by a beautiful and intelligent woman who listened carefully to my ideas about breasts. Mom and Ken bought me a poem at Seattle’s Columbia City farmer’s market this evening (the guy on the left, AKA “Trip”). I think the poet makes a nod to Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese.

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With the last drips of painkillers coursing my veins and the hospital bracelet like an all hours pass to a really great show, today I sampled that farmer’s market like a garden of delights. Between my unhinged chats with various booth owners, Eric indulged me in buying African sun hats, wisely choosing to stay quiet about how we live in one of the rainiest communities in the United States. I spent no less than 30 minutes bargaining with the African hat man, leaning back in the sun against his Previa minivan like I had never experienced metal so warm, conversation so beguiling, hats so sturdily crafted. I believe I agreed to market his hats and baskets in Alaska, where, I assured him with an earnest nod, the sun hat market is untapped.

I know pain will settle in later, that I will need to peer under the Ace wrap that now comfortably hugs my new chest. But today was for the poetry of painlessness. For “clean fresh fall air,” and the “weeping need to be well.” For the “River taking us somewhere we needed to go.”  For my family, for joy, for “togetherness.”

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