A Shadow

January 19, 2019

So, this happened (as they say).  An unforced error, just me taking a tumble not more than 2 metres from my house, walking the dog.  The ground was much frostier and slippery than I anticipated and … WHOMP.

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Day 5 – Swelling going down, bruising increasing!

That slo-mo feeling is so strange. It’s like you are watching what’s happening, but as a third party — removed from it all. I saw my foot lurch forward – toes pointed – as I slipped, and then, strangely, I landed on the top of my foot, curled as it was (perhaps hiding for cover).  Thank goodness I was able to brace myself and not smash me ‘noggin. {{{You know, the silver lining}}

And all the time my dog is looking in the other direction, seething and shaking, certain that he has caught the scent of a raccoon (they’ve been active lately: squealing, nocturnal fights, and tossing over and somehow getting into my bungee-corded garbage cans).

I eventually got my breath back, and made my way, half-crawling, to my door and inside the house; I think I was in shock. After about 20 minutes of sitting on the kitchen floor, staring like a zombie at my ice-pack covered foot, I burst out crying.  Bawling. And wailing.  I was in pain, and I wanted comfort. I needed help, and there was no one but me to try and put things right.

And this is where the trauma of cancer — the diagnosis, the treatment, the overwhelmingness of C. A. N. C. E. R. — reared itself. In that flash fire of physical pain, adrenaline and emotion, there was no avoidance.  Memories flooded my head and heart:  every self-injected needle, for months, on my bruised abdomen – first to increase white cell counts, and then to reduce chances of another blood clot.  The drop from the ‘high’ of post-chemotherapy dexamethasone into an unknown zone which, at worst, was painful and dark, and at best, a twilight place where all was blurred.  The scans, the post-surgery drains, the blood transfusion ::: the weakness {{{oh, the weakness}}}. The eyebrows and eyelashes that never grew back the same.  The scars.

The naked reflection in the mirror that at times still doesn’t feel (or look) quite right.

The chemo-brain.

The fucking trauma of it all.

And the fear of recurrence ::: for me, it can lay dormant, but it never leaves.  A sore neck, aching bones, persistent cough, recurring headache.  Sign of aging, menopause – or metastases?

Sound dramatic?  Well, it is.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about the positive aspects of what having cancer brought into my life — experiencing the purest agape love, the opportunity to reflect deeply on the mystery of our short time on this earth.

Alongside (and sometimes overshadowing) these reflections are distress, insomnia,  isolation, fear ::: the more traumatic fruits of life after cancer treatment.

Because light and dark co-exist; the sun casts shadows.  Each gives rise to the other, and each is deeply felt.

~

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This Life

December 24, 2018

A couple of days ago – December 19 –  I posted the item below on Facebook and on my Instagram account.

Wishing each and every one of you the blessings of the season — the gift of loving, and to be loved — in this holy mystery that is our human journey.

I post fairly regularly on Instagram. If you would like to follow my journey there, look me up:  krunchykreature

~~~

Two years ago today, in the midst of a rare heavy snowfall in Victoria, I spent the day at the hospital getting 3 new pints of blood . I needed it because my hemoglobin was so low (82) from the impact of chemotherapy that I couldn’t walk without tiring quickly — not to mention being at risk of not continuing with chemo.

48376867_10156137480367060_9060950233579520000_o:::
You would think that having cancer and the associated treatment would be in the rear-view mirror, but it doesn’t always work that way. For some reason, these year-two milestones have been hard. Really hard. My mind and heart race when I think of what I went through. My sleep, and my dreams, are affected. I feel panic thinking about my blood clot and fear it recurring in my neck.
:::
Honestly, I don’t know how I made it through surgery and treatment in one piece – but I did. For whatever reason, I’m feeling some of the emotional and traumatic impact now, 20-24 months later. I’m told that this is not out if the ordinary ::: that one can’t always process everything during treatment, and that it’s normal to look back with a variety of emotions.
:::
I haven’t written much in my blog about what’s going on with me because I just can’t find the words right now. But I know that they will come.
:::
Today, I look back at that woman in the hospital bed, with her wig, her pencilled-in eyebrows, her beautiful handknitted cap, and I take a deep breath. I send gratitude to the universe for being here in this moment, and gentleness to myself as I continue to navigate the ebbs and flows of life.
:::

#cancerlife #fuckcancer #tnbc #postcancerlife #breastcancer#triplenegative #mastectomy #getbusyliving #feelthefeelings
#onedayatatime #grateful

Tending the Well

October 8, 2018

Just over two years ago, I had a consultation with my oncologist in preparation for my first chemotherapy treatment, which was scheduled for October 17.

I recorded all of my meetings with health professionals at the BC Cancer Agency (even when a friend was also present with me) because I wanted to be able to refer back to conversations to recall details etc.

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When I listen to the voice note from October 6, 2016, the patient speaking on that recording is almost unrecognizable to me.

It’s not the veiled fear in my voice, or the periods of silence after my oncologist mentioned something that was difficult to hear .  And it’s not the ::: really annoying ::: use of wit or humour to “lighten” things up a bit.

It’s that she has no idea what’s ahead of her.  Or, rather, that she has no idea how it will change her.

Oh, I am changed. In ways that I can’t – or find difficult to –  describe.  In ways that don’t lend themselves easily to words.

Returning to the “real world” after cancer treatment is not easy, for innumerable reasons.  For example, what used to be considered “important” can sometimes feel … less so — and vice versa.

A big shift I’ve experienced has to do with my sense of alignment, of relationship with the world.   If I’m out of alignment with my spirit, or my values, it’s as if my vision gets blurry, and I don’t operate well. When I’m in alignment with my spirit and my values, and I’m jazzed about things, I shine.

::::

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Yesterday I came home after spending a few days in retreat, with Toko-pa Turner, at one of my very happy places on earth, Stowel Lake Farm.

I have learned that with extended exposure to the “real world”, I can feel remarkably fragile {{{and unseen}}} if I’m not taking care of myself :::  not taking care of my heart, my dreams, my inner well.

An important way in which I tend to my inner well is in ceremony, in ritual, in community with other seekers.  The known world falls back, and I feel so alive, so grounded, it’s as if my feet touch the earth’s core.

In this liminality, I feel total ::: freedom ::: I can do anything.  I am whole; my heart is wide open, and safe.

:::

Today, my kitchen is full of luscious and vital leeks, squash, carrots, apples, beets and other produce from the farm. I’m preparing meals with love, to nourish me and to ease the transition back to work.

I am taking care of myself ::: my heart, my dreams, my inner well ❤

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Embodying the Dream

September 14, 2018

Less than a month until this retreat at Stowell Lake farm with @tokopa and other women seekers. I can already feel my spirit there.IMG_20181002_055343_119
The timing is good. I’m encountering some tough moments of late. At times I feel that there is a tension ::: you could call a dynamic tension ::: between the pre-cancer diagnosis me, and the woman who I am today.

I’m the same person, but there are things that changed for me, in me.

At times I wonder if who I am today remains a strong fit in my current professional context.  It’s not about whether I can do the job; what I’m talking about is resonance and alignment with who I am today. I understand that this is something that people commonly experience upon return to work after a serious health or personal issue.

When I was on leave and regaining my strength after cancer treatment, I experienced something like a “re-set” ::: I learned (or confirmed) some important things about myself. One of these is that I need to put loving boundaries around how I contribute energy to things in my life, including my work. And as I enjoy my work, I need to pay close attention to these boundaries.  Continuous 10 and 11-hour days don’t serve me — they impact my sleep, anxiety, stress level, mood and personal life. Another element is that, in some instances, I am more emotional than I was before cancer. Before full menopause at 45. Before I spent a year out of the workplace and allowed myself, through the ups and downs of cancer treatment, to express my emotions – and my needs – to the people in my life.

Despite all my core beliefs to the contrary, deep down I have feelings of shame and weakness associated with being emotional — especially feelings of sadness, or being scared, or angry.  Bringing this ‘new’ me into my professional world isn’t necessarily incompatible ::: but it is unfamiliar, often surprising (offputting, even) and requires new approaches to honour myself, and also honour the work environment I’m in.
:::
Going on retreat with women seekers is what fills me up, what grounds me, and is what I truly feel is “real life”. It’s when I am able to tap in and listen to the soft under-current of the dream world and my intuitive knowing. It’s where I feel true community and belonging and acceptance.
I felt so tapped into my deepest self as I recovered from cancer treatment and spent time recuperating. Now, as time moves forward — two years out from my surgery and 18 months post-chemotherapy — I try and make a practice of staying in tune, listening, being patient.
I like who I am; I am not perfect (goes without saying). But I am a good person. Ethical. Kind. A hard worker (too hard).  On this retreat I see myself planting ideas (and perhaps getting dream insights) about the next 3 to 5 years:  how I see myself living, working, loving, and relating.
I’m so excited to reflect and relax and to just be myself.

 

These Moments

August 21, 2018

These moments.

The 4 a.m. wake-ups.  {{{ Hot flash }}}

The heat subsides ::: and what’s left is stillness.

The pull of the everyday puullllllllls.  And, with some encouragement, it retreats.

What’s left is stillness.

13217366_10153579013897060_6520462653248107816_oAnd I remember ::: I feel ::: that time when the warm ocean breeze blew on my face.

Before cancer spoke.

Sitting on a rooftop, surrounded by love.

::: My body alert and alive :::

::: Peace flowing, flowing :::

These moments that open us up and change us forever.

Ong Namo (Wisdom), Snatam Kaur

Oh, my beloved
Kindness of the heart
Breath of life
I bow to you
And I’m coming home
And I’m coming
And I’m coming home
And I’m coming
Ong namo guru dev namo
Ong namo (I bow to the subtle divine wisdom)
Guru dev namo (I bow to the divine teacher within)
Guru dev guru dev namo.
Ong namo guru dev namo…
Guru dev guru dev namo…
Ong namo guru dev namo…
Oh, my beloved
Kindness of the heart
Breath of life
I bow to you
Divine teacher
Beloved friend
I bow to you
Again and again
Lotus sitting on the water
Beyond time and space
This is your way
This is your grace
Ong namo guru dev namo …
Namo namo, namo namo…
Guru dev guru dev namo…
Ong namo guru dev namo…
This is your way,
This is your grace.
This is your way,
This is your grace.

 

On Retreat

July 27, 2018

For the third summer in a row, I’m spending a few days at Stowel Lake Farm on Salt Spring Island.   The location and yoga are divine, but it’s the community of women who gather to connect that keeps me coming back to this retreat. Waking up to the sounds of sheep baaaa-ing and roosters crowing is pretty cool too 😀

For me, I find it easier to carve out time for a ‘sacred pause’ when I go off-site to a physical retreat location, away from the stress of the {…growing} to-do list at home, and the distraction of the day-to-day.  The fact that there is no cell/text service (wifi in select areas, hence this blogpost) is also a good thing.  This means more connecting in a ‘real’ way, both with others, and with myself.  There’s lots of meal-time laughs, listening and conversations; laying on a blanket – in the blessed shade, as it’s been 31C the last couple of days! – and quiet time reading, writing, daydreaming, napping {whatever the spirit moves me to do} under a large pear tree;  and twice-daily yoga in the most beautiful, safe space.

Being on retreat helps me ‘reset’ and turn my mind to the more important areas of my life.  It helps me approach the challenges or ‘questions’ ahead of me – both big and small – more clearly, and with a renewed energy when I’m back home.

{enough writing ::: blanket time ::: quiet}

 

Threads

July 24

I finished this novel on Friday night. I’m in mourning. And I’m roiling, reeling from Barnes’ forthright story of two lovers and their hubris, youth, and descent into resentment (cue tIMG_3006he passing of all youthful naïveté). Barnes’ writing is exquisite: sparing and precise, yet it flows as music would.

“And love always happens in the overwhelming first person. How can it not? Also, in the overwhelming present tense. It takes us time to realise that there are other persons, and other tenses.”

“Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.”.

It’s so reasonable, and common, I would think, for the story — the only story — of our lives to be one of love.  Love, which involves two (or more) souls.  Love in the full range of possibilities, be it joyful, desperately sad, dark, redemptive, or nursery-rhyme sweet.

Through Barnes we hear Paul’s story of his life – and love – with Susan. It’s captivating and, at times, nostalgic, and he does not pull punches.  Everything is laid out for us to witness.

About Paul, of course.

Susan, we see through Paul’s eyes. Her playfulness, her choices (and compromises), her descent into darkness.  Her silence.  I have wondered, these past couple of days, what her story would look like.

I am reminded of the line in Muriel Rukeyser’s poem ‘Käthe Kollwitz’, named after the German artist.

What would happen if one woman told the truth about
        her life?
     The world would split open

 

At age 46, now ::: I think about my story. Midlife, in particular, is fertile ground for this, and going through treatment for a life-threatening illness amplified my self-awareness.

I’m not certain I have an only story.  I see threads of my life, where knots have tightened, and places they have unravelled.  There are threads that blow in the breeze today, and threads yet to be spun.

God-Awful First Drafts

July 9, 2018

I love Anne Lamott. She has a way of story-telling, interspersed with bits of observational wisdom, that captures me completely.

In late 2015, a few months after my separation, I felt a need to find some kind of “wellness” retreat.  I didn’t *really* know what I was looking for, but I felt both antsy and kind of empty inside. I envisioned tranquil spaces, a beautiful, natural setting, and gentle, restorative yoga.  [And maybe unicorns]. Anyway, surely the internet would provide!  And, behold, it did.

So, back to Ms. Lamott.  When I headed to the aforementioned wellness retreat a few months later in May 2016 [on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera], I was prepared.  Prepared for the epiphanies (plural, surely!) that would reveal themselves whilst napping or reading her books at the beach, while meditating or walking at sunrise to the sound of the waves, or during roof-top yoga [with unicorns?].  I was ready for new wisdom and life lessons to be revealed!  Or, at the very least, an escape from the running story in my head – one of failure, fuelled by the anger of infidelity and, perhaps more than anything, my own naïveté.

Oh yes, I came prepared with three books by Anne Lamott, respected purveyor of hope, grace and mercy, delivered in the form of magic stories.  It’s all a bit of a blur now – perhaps because of so much that has gone on in the two years since that retreat – but I recall plowing through “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” followed by “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair”. Not all that difficult to do, really, as these are both more recent and, dare I say, ‘lighter’ books.  It was when I started to turn the pages of “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” that Lamott’s magic really started to work on me — and brought home for me the message that I think we all know already [but avoid, fascinated as we are by the shiny quick-fixes, not to mention the distractions, that appear on our path]:

There’s nothing outside of you that will help you in any lasting way unless you’re waiting for an organ.

Huzzah.

Fuck.

I sat there on the beach. And I cried.

And I went to yoga. And I cried.

And then I cried again at the evening sharing circle, and I felt something magical in that space:  deep acceptance and care from the women around me. Women who were each on their own healing path of some kind; each of us fumbling our way forward, and brave enough to have acted on the call.  A call that might’ve been muddy or unclear, but a signal nonetheless. My call started with an inner voice that urged me to listen. Not to Anne Lamott. To something, or someone, within me.  Listen.

::: Listen ::: Hope ::: Love ::: Recovery ::: Renewal :::

The feeling of renewal, of starting my next chapter, so to speak, actually felt ::possible:: to me in those moments. Just feeling the possibility of renewal was a big step forward, and it stayed with me when I returned home.  So did the friendships and connections with many of these women that I cherish and nurture to this day.

When I got home, I re-read parts of Bird by Bird and let Lamott’s wisdom wash over me once more.  Lamott often refers to ‘God-Awful First Drafts’ being a given as a writer, but that you must keep your butt in the chair.

This stayed with me, in the writing and editing sense, but also as a metaphor.  Keep your butt in the chair. Keep looking forward. Rewrite that God-Awful draft if you don’t like where it is headed. Take a break. Now, edit or start again. Bold! Backspace! Shift! Page Break!

One sentence at a time.

One day at a time.  

::: Listen ::: Hope ::: Love ::: Recovery ::: Renewal :::

 

 

 

 

Hello, Old Friend

June 20, 2018

Like a friend you keep [half heartedly?] playing phone tag with, or a gift card that sits, full of potential, and yet collects dust, unused :::

So has been the state of my writing life the past eight weeks or so.

It has been a busy,  mostly ‘up’ period, personally and professionally.

  • My birthday (milestone: still above ground at 46. oh YEAH!)
  • Busy, busy work (full of high moments, fulfillment, and, at times, intentional reframing and breathing through the unknowns; some shades of overwork, then stepping back)
  • Little Murr Murr, my sweet little kitty [who I only adopted in November] died unexpectedly (shock ::: still having a hard time talking or writing about it)
  • Personal relationships (trying not to overthink, instead, tap into, allow my TRUE feelings to surface, and …. still not finding the clarity I seek ::: why is that?)
  • Much anticipated family vacation and visit: Alaska cruise and then time chez Kimberley (Transformative, healing, joyful, heart-opening <3). And then there’s the beauty of Alaska (two photos below), just stunning.

And, speaking of an Old Friend, I got a message from my oncologist (I can still call her that, right?) that my one-year post-discharge from the BC Cancer agency MRI was all clear. I think “looked normal” were her words.

HOORAY for NORMAL!

In my mind, I often think of where I am at vis-a-vis the three-year mark from my completion of cancer treatment.  That’s because the subset of breast cancer that I had – triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) tends to reoccur more often and earlier than the more common hormone receptor positive (ER+, PR+) cancers (at the same staging level). Risk of recurrence (local or metastases) for TNBC is greatest within the first three years and after five years, it declines rapidly.

ONE YEAR CLEAR! ❤

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Endicott Arm (Dawes Glacier in the distance), Alaska

 

 

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One of many stunning Alaskan sunsets

 

 

 

 

 

Only the Shadow Knows…

April 10, 2018

Life just keeps doing its thing …

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Artist: Loryn Brantz.

… but I’m rolling with it …

…. adjusting my sails …

{pick your metaphor}

Little shifts, big shifts happening …

Sometimes with success …

Sometimes a struggle …

Trying to remember to be gentle with myself …

… One day at a time …

 

A “little” shift :  remember those chemo curls?  {I had come to really, really like them, especially with my hair shorter}

Well, here’s a snapshot from last week — wavy, wavy — curls on the tips.  My stylist confirmed that it looks like new hair growth is coming in straight.  Whaaaaaaat. IMG_2808

{self judgement:  Dear G-d I look tired :|}

Now I reached out to my Instagram gals and apparently this is quite common.  Some have had their chemo curls come and go (!) ::: others similar to my scenario – after approx. a year the curls went away.

So, does this mean that I need to start putting effort into styling my hair ::: noooooooooo

Curls were/are so easy:

Wet/mist hair with spray bottle.  Never comb. Add curl enhancing goop. Spray/mist again. Finito!

What will come next in the cosmetic / body / spirit changes post-cancer? (oooh, writing that last bit feels good).

Only the shadow knows ….

Maybe we can keep the list at early menopause {umbrella term for all kinds of FUN STUFF}, joint pain / arthritis {impact of Taxol chemotherapy}, body image issues {just when do you start dating, and then, when do you reveal you have one JELLO boob?? and a whole lot of other baggage} {{especially when your previous double rack was pretty awesome. sigh}}, and anxiety re recurrence {under management, but with lots of ongoing attention}.

Ideally, maybe we can whittle down the list …

Yes, OF COURSE, I’m happy to be alive.  But I’m not going to gloss over what is hard and what still HURTS.

I feel better now :::