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When Fear Raises Its Head – Again

4 Nov

When Fear Raises Its Head – Again

November 1, 2012

Whenever someone has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the specter of fear is always waiting, ready to haunt again. After taking a long hiatus, it raised its ugly head again recently.

There is a beautiful Cherokee elder who lives in Bucks County.  I had met her many years ago and recently had the opportunity to reconnect with her because she knows my housemate well.  One day a couple months ago, we sat down and had a nice long chat on the back patio.  In the course of the conversation, I had casually mentioned I’d had a health scare last year.  When she asked for more details, I told her briefly and afterwards I noticed her gazing at my chest a few times, as if trying to discern something.

She showed up again the end of September and knocked on my door.  She asked me if I’d be interested in trying some mushroom medicine she had.  (Turkey tail mushroom has had remarkable success in altering the course of some people’s cancers.)  She also wanted to pray for me.

We were outside at this point and I stood facing her with my hands upturned in a receiving posture.  She placed her hands over mine facing downward but not touching, and then she began to sing in a loud and clear voice this beautiful prayer in the Cherokee tongue.

I stood there in humble gratitude with a huge smile on my face, filled with the grace and beauty of this prayer.  The prayer came to an end and then she spoke a prayer in English so that I would understand.

Interesting, isn’t it, that such an act of grace and beauty would subsequently begin, once again, the niggling dance of fear?

I found myself thinking, ‘What did she see?  What does she know?  Do I have cancer again?’

I found myself looking for other clues.  I began to notice that once again my breast, after being completely pain-free for many months, would sometimes be a little achy/uncomfortable/sore.  (And no, it is not related to my menstrual cycle which has been “on hold” for a few months now.  And yes, I’m quite aware that this could be psychosomatic.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not  uncomfortable and disconcerting.)

I decided to do an inventory of my dreams from the last month, as the elder had indicated I might have a significant one.  I noticed the following:

  • I was startled to remember I’d had a “cancer dream” just a couple days before  the Cherokee prayer.  At the end of the dream I said, “Okay, I’ll get myself checked out.”
  • In the first dream after her visit, I wrote in my journal:  “Waiting for a little message.  Instead it’s a big wave – an over-the-heads, can’t-be-ignored, get-everything-clean message.”  (That’s all I remember about the dream and it’s all I wrote down.)
  • I had two doctor dreams.  In one, a doctor was helping me birth a baby.  He knew I was stubborn and literally prayed I would come to my senses and do things in a way he felt was safe.
  • There is a coffin-sized box downstairs with someone in it.  I am freaked out by the thought of that coffin.  (Yes, I’m sure this is symbolic of me being afraid of death.)
  • In another, I am signing into a cancer center.  In this cancer center, the patients are expected to dance every day.  I am dancing – kind of cha-cha-cha-ing backwards, and am full of joy.  It’s fun!
  • Three young women approach a health food store.  It’s dark and looks closed.  The door appears to be locked.  But then I see them inside walking down the aisles.
  • I have a few dreams of family members being sick or in dangerous situations or being suicidal.
  • I have one dream of an explosion, and one dream of a gun being fired.
  • I have two dreams about rats.  In one, I am being bitten on the toe by a rat and call out, “Help me help me help me help me help me!”
  • I dream also of sharks (they don’t appear ominous), and I have a wonderful dream of a praying mantis on a flying carpet-type leaf which comes to land on me, and also a dream about finding beautiful feathers that look like they belong to a phoenix.

In the face of all this, I have decided to get another mammogram. The last one was in January.  My breast doctor wanted me to get another one in July.  A November mammogram will be my compromise.

I also started acknowledging my fears to a few friends, which helped emotionally but did not necessarily help the fears to fade.  Then I found myself voicing my fears to my therapist, and that helped greatly.  (Thank goodness for both good friends and good therapists!)

Meanwhile, I am getting back on track with my supplements.   And my diet.   My diet is largely “not bad,” but there is certainly room for improvement!  I confess I do still veer off-track with my food choices, but I come back on track more quickly and stay on track longer.  (I don’t know if I’ll ever be the kind of person who can be totally strict and rigid with anything.  But I am the kind of person who can keep fairly balanced.)

This is my update, friends.  I share it not so that you’ll worry about me, but so that any women out there in a similar boat will know that this dance with fear is normal.

(And yes, I will keep you updated.)

May you be well.

Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

2 Sep

Tips for the Newly Diagnosed

September 1, 2012

I found out this morning that another friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It really does feel like a bit of an epidemic.  At least among those in my age range (40- 60 years old.)

Now I know that the idea I had a couple of days ago is right on target.  I need to summarize what I’ve learned in the last fifteen months so that someone who is newly diagnosed will have some tips on how to navigate the first month or two following a diagnosis.

So here you are, Lisa.  And anyone else out there who has just received “the news” that they have breast cancer.

 

  1. Give yourself the time and space to feel your feelings.  It is normal to “freak out” emotionally when you get this news.  You may look normal to the outsider, but on the inside, be assured there is some panic going on.  Even if you seem strangely calm, do not be deceived – you are likely in shock.  You may notice, for instance, that your normally assertive and intelligent self fails to ask for definitions of the many new terms being thrown at you by the radiologist who reviews your mammograms and/or your primary doctor and/or your breast doctor.  You may notice that when asked if you have any questions, your mind draws a blank.  It’s because you’re in shock, my dear.  Believe me, the questions are likely to come later – probably when you’re trying to sleep.  If you don’t give yourself time to feel your feelings and begin to process them, you may find yourself a bit vulnerable to accidents (hopefully minor) or unexpected outbursts.  Like the time I was getting ready to go for a consultation and I found myself bumping into furniture, stubbing my toes, and dropping things.  I was so nervous.  I finally realized that if I didn’t take the time to sit down and really breathe – or cry, I was probably going to really hurt myself!  If you allow time and space for emotional outbursts, you are less likely, as well, to freak out in an inappropriate situation like at work or with your children.  If you actually schedule time to be alone – at home, at a park, or (I know this sounds oxymoronic) with a dear friend, you can allow yourself to scream, to cry, to rant, or to curl up in a fetal position.  Just try not to hyperventilate.  Remember to breathe.
  2. Make sure you’re comfortable with your doctors, surgeons, radiologists.  There is a good chance you are going to be seeing them several times and it is imperative that you trust them and that they show you respect.  If you have a good working relationship with your clinicians, it makes the whole process ever so much easier.  The very last thing you need right now is someone who is overbearing, rude, abrupt, or untrustworthy.  If you have any doubts, get a second opinion from another doctor.  I changed to a second doctor/expert early on and I was so very glad I did.
  3. Take time to make the decisions regarding treatment that are right for you.  This was the most helpful advice I ever got.  My dear friend, Julia, reminded me that the vast majority of cancers grow slowly over a period of time.  If you need a week or two or three to sort through the many options, do it!  This is your body and you must feel comfortable with your course of treatment.  Do not let doctors or clinicians pressure you to do something unless or until you have decided that it is an appropriate course of action for you.  Take the time to do research.  Look online, read books, talk to other breast cancer patients and survivors.  My advice is: use your brain, but in the end, trust your gut feelings.
  4. Change your diet right now.  Chances are there is room for improvement.  If you eat meat and dairy, greatly reduce consumption of both or make sure you are using hormone-free products – preferably also organic and/or locally raised.  (Locally raised livestock are less likely to be filled with all the chemicals and toxins that agribusiness routinely uses in their food “production.”)  Double, triple, quadruple the number of vegetables and fruits you consume.  Most veggies and fruits are not only extremely nutritious and supportive of your immune system, but many actually fight cancer.  They fight free radicals, they slow tumor growth, they neutralize nitrosamines and toxins, they balance out hormones, and they even help make changes at the DNA level.  You can’t afford NOT to eat lots of produce.  (Again, please try to make it organic if at all possible, or from local farms and gardens.)  Consume lots of salads and soups and smoothies.  And throw in things like chopped kale, onions, carrots, and flaxseed into almost everything you consume.
  5. Make your environment as pure as possible.   Drink pure, filtered water whenever possible.  Use natural cleaning products and detergents.  Don’t use air fresheners, hair sprays, and certainly no weedkillers on your lawn or pesticides around your home.  Consider not using nail polish or hair gel or perms or harsh dyes.  And definitely don’t drink out of plastic drink containers that have been left in a hot, sunny car.  And definitely don’t microwave in plastic containers.  (In fact, try to avoid microwaving as there are some studies which show the nutrition is completely lost in the process.)
  6. Cut way back on alcohol consumption.  Quit smoking cigarettes.
  7. Exercise.  Maintain a healthy body weight.  Personally, I find walking good for my spirit as well as my body.
  8. Try to get as much sleep as you can and make your bedroom dark at night. (Except for moonlight.  Moonlight is very good for you.)
  9. Under your doctor’s guidance, make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D.  Those lacking sufficient Vitamin D are more prone to cancer.  Consider also the possibility of adding other medicinal herbs or supplements to your health regime.
  10. STOP DOING THOSE THINGS THAT STRESS YOU OUT!  If you hate your job, now might be an excellent time to leave it.  If the company of certain people makes you anxious, stop spending time with them.  If you are over-committed and overwhelmed, let go of as many commitments as possible.  This is major TAKE-CARE-OF-YOURSELF TIME!!!  Everyone and everything else must take a lower priority right now.  Even if you have children, you must place your needs at the top of the list right now.  After all, if you don’t do all that you can to get well, they could lose their mother.  YOU are the priority!  YOU!!!
  11. Enlist and/or accept the support you need right now.  If someone offers to take care of your kids, if they are a responsible person, by all means, say yes.  If someone offers to accompany you to an appointment or to drive you, if that would be comforting and helpful, say yes.  If someone offers to make you some healthy food, say yes!  Now is not the time to be a martyr and do it all yourself.  Allow yourself to be supported.
  12. If you are uninsured or do not have the funds to pay for your treatment, ask the doctor’s office to put you in touch with a social worker.  All hospitals have social workers and they can help you navigate the system and get the care you need.  In Pennsylvania, at least, if you have breast or ovarian cancer, my understanding is they will expedite your medical assistance application.
  13. Give yourself time to do the work on your emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues.  Oftentimes there is an unexplored or unresolved old issue or habit that can be part of the root of your illness.  For instance, many women are trained from a very young age to take care of everyone else first.  If this describes you, you may need to learn the lesson that you are important and worthy of care.  For others, they may have had a lifelong dream to do something very big or meaningful or special or exciting.  It may be time to dust off that dream.  For others, they may have a deep spiritual yearning for greater connection with the divine or greater peace.  This may be time to deepen your spiritual practices.  Find friends that you trust, a good counselor or clergyperson or spiritual advisor, and give yourself permission to work to get healthier on many levels – not simply at the physical level.
  14. Above all, now is the time for MAXIMUM SELF-CARE!  Now is the time for flowers on your table, delicious healthy food, movies, books, time in nature – whatever represents nurturing to you.  And now may be the time for massages, facials, Reiki, or acupuncture.  (Check with your doctor about any contraindications.)  Treat yourself the way you would treat an especially beloved friend or family member.  You deserve to be treated well!!!

May you be well, friends.  May you be healthy and well. This is a scary time, but it can also be a powerful, life-changing time.  Take it one day at a time.  And take care of you.