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Stalling on Getting Another Mammogram

30 Jun

(I wrote this on April 16, 2013.  It’s now June 30th.  Clearly I’m stalling not only on getting a mammogram, but on sharing this with you all.)

Hi folks.  I decided it’s time to admit to you all (and me) that I have been stalling.  My last mammogram was January of 2012.  It’s now fifteen months later and I still haven’t gotten another one.  For the average woman, this would be just fine.  But I was diagnosed with early breast cancer (DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ) during the summer of 2011.  General practice is to get six-month mammograms for a year or two after that to keep tabs on things.  I rejected that recommendation for reasons listed in a previous blog (concerns about radiation, etc.) however even I know that I’m kind of pushing the envelope here.  I was going to compromise and get a mammogram at ten months.  Then I pushed it back to one year.  And here I still haven’t had one.

Initially I tried to get one but found it too difficult.  I still don’t have health insurance and I was surprised to find that there weren’t any free or discounted mammograms available.  Or at least none that I could easily find.  Then I was caught up in caring for my parents, preparing for and leading a retreat, packing up and moving to Colorado, and I just didn’t feel I could put anything else on my plate.

I confess I am of two minds.  There is one part of me that is worried I might have cancer again.  I continue to second-guess myself about choosing not to follow the allopathic recommendations of my surgeon and the oncologists – ie, drugs and radiation.  I haven’t been as pure with my diet as I should be and I have gotten lax with taking the supplements that would help me.  (It’s kind of mind-boggling that I have let myself get so lax with the supplements.)

There is another part of me.  This is the positive-thinking, spiritual side of me.  (Some might call it a Pollyanna rose-colored glasses side.)  Although I may not be perfect in the care of my physical body, I have made great strides in the care of my emotional/mental/spiritual side.  I have made changes in my life that feel really good to my spirit.  I’ve moved to a place that makes me happy, I am doing work that I love, I have very little stress, and I am immersed in more spiritual practices than I have been for a long time.  I know of cases in which cancer has disappeared when the person began making much-needed changes and began living the life they always wanted to live.  There is a part of me that believes I am so on the right track now.  Haven’t I learned the lessons of cancer and embraced a new life for myself?

On the other hand, I worry that if I focus on cancer – ie, get a mammogram, I will be calling it to me.  As I write that last sentence I kind of cringe at how dumb that sounds.  Simply getting a mammogram does not exactly equate with “focusing on cancer.”  I’m quite sure the average person would say, “Just get the darn mammogram so you can set your mind at ease!”

I still have reservations about mammograms.  I still think they are unhealthy in many ways – not just the radiation, but the squishing of a breast that has already faced trauma multiple times.  It just doesn’t feel like a very respectful or safe way to treat an already injured breast with previous cancer cells.  (Why doesn’t someone invent another method???  Come on now!)

I realize if I get the darn mammogram and it looks clear, I don’t have to have these small niggling worries.  On the other hand, if it shows a possibility of cancer again, yikes.

I’m noticing I’m reluctant to share this post with my friends.  They’re going to get on my case and tell me to hop to it.  I know they are.

Well, I guess it’s time to be brave and ‘fess up.  I need a mammogram.

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

 

I found out this morning that another friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It really does feel like a bit of an epidemic–especially among those over 40 years of age.

It’s such a shock when we get this news.  It brings up so many questions–of mortality, of whether we’ll lose a breast or our hair, of what will happen with our jobs and our children.  It can be completely overwhelming.  I know because I’ve been there.  And so, as a veteran of this fight, I’d like to pass along some tips–not just regarding treatment, but about the need for radical self-care, about changes we can make in our environment and lifestyle, and not least of all, the spiritual ramifications of finding out we have what could potentially be a life-threatening disease.

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

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, there will certainly be 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 clinicians you suddenly have appointments with.  You may notice that when asked if you have any questions, your mind draws a blank.  Don’t worry.  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 with the breast specialist, for instance.  I found myself bumping into furniture, stubbing my toes, and dropping things.  I was a wreck.  I finally realized that if I didn’t take the time to sit down and really breathe–or cry, as I soon found out–I was probably going to really hurt myself!  If you allow time and space for emotional outbursts, you are also less likely to break down in a less-than-ideal situation–like at work or in the middle of a grocery store or with your children.  If you actually schedule time to be alone–at home, at a park, or with a dear friend (which I know is a bit oxymoronic, but you know what I mean), you can allow yourself to scream, to cry, to rant, or to curl up in a fetal position.  It’s really essential to give space for all your feelings.

Make sure you’re comfortable with your doctors, surgeons, radiologists, etc.  There is a good chance you are going to be seeing each of your clinicians several times and it is imperative that you trust them and that they show you respect.  If you have a good working relationship with them, it makes the whole process ever so much easier.  The very last thing you need right now is someone who is overbearing, rude, arrogant, abrupt, or untrustworthy.  If you have any doubts whatsoever, get a second opinion.  I changed doctors early on and it made a world of difference.

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, who was the first friend of mine to be diagnosed, reminded me that the vast majority of cancers grow slowly over a long 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 this: use your brain, but in the end, trust your gut.

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 things like chopped kale, onions, carrots, and ground flaxseed into almost everything you consume.

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.  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.  (The plastics leach into the water or food.)

Cut way back on alcohol consumption and try to quit smoking cigarettes.

Exercise.  Being overweight is one of several risk factors for breast cancer.   If possible, try to find ways to move more.  Personally, I find walking outside good for my spirit as well as my body.

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.)

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.

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!!!

Enlist and/or accept the support you need right now.  If someone offers to take care of your kids, and if they are a responsible person, by all means, say yes.  If someone offers to accompany you to an appointment or to drive you, and if that would be comforting and helpful, say yes.  If someone offers to make you dinner, say yes!  Now is not the time to be a martyr and do it all yourself.  Allow yourself to be supported.

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 navigate the system and help you get the care you need.  I learned that in Pennsylvania, for instance, if you have breast or ovarian cancer, they will expedite your medical assistance.

Give yourself time to work on your emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues.  Oftentimes unexplored or unresolved old issues or habits can be contributing factors to 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 exciting or meaningful.  It may be time to dust off that dream.  For others, they may have a deep spiritual yearning for greater connection with the divine.  This may be time to deepen your spiritual practices.  Find friends that you trust or a good counselor or spiritual advisor and give yourself permission to get healthier on many levels–not simply at the physical level.

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 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.

The Courage to Say No

13 Aug

So today I called to cancel my doctor appointment for September.   It was a regular follow-up/check-up with my breast surgeon – a little over one year after my lumpectomy.

My doctor/surgeon wanted me to get another mammogram prior to the appointment.  She wants me to get them every six months, for the time being.  My girlfriend, Julia, a breast cancer survivor, said this is typical after a cancer diagnosis.

The problem is I know a mammogram every six months following a cancer diagnosis is the standard recommendation for the first year or two.  But I don’t like it.

I have already voiced my concerns multiple times in this blog about the problem of the primary diagnostic method in this country also being a risk factor for contracting the very disease it is supposed to be diagnosing.  It’s a little crazy, to me, that we could be endangering ourselves while attempting to diagnose ourselves.  But there’s another issue.

Every time there is a mammogram that shows a slight irregularity – ie, microcalcifications, or something that could be either a tumor or a cyst, they’re going to want to do a biopsy.  And many of these biopsies are somewhat invasive – at least from my perspective.  When there are microcalcifications, they must do a stereotactic biopsy in order to properly locate the problem area.  For me, this was a painful procedure.  Twice.  And it does leave a little scar.  I could be wrong, but I have some concern that there will be several times my mammograms are “concerning,” and then several times I’ll have to have a subsequent biopsy, and before you know it, I’ll have received several extra doses of radiation and several more scars on my breasts.

I know what you’re probably thinking.  If it catches cancer in time, then of course it’s worth it!

But here’s the thing.  Most of us carry a few cancer cells in our body at any given time.  This is actually normal.*  The problem is when they multiply.  But if we live right – ie, eat well, keep our stress level low, exercise, keep our weight down, and stay away from toxins, excess estrogen, and radiation(!), those cancer cells will likely not multiply.  What particularly interests me is knowing that most vegetables and fruits, as well as some other foods like seaweed, nuts, beans, and grains, can actually prevent those rogue cells from multiplying.

So my own personal choice is this:  get off the clinical hamster wheel.  I don’t want a steady succession of mammos, followed by biopsies, potentially followed by more lumpectomies.  It feels like it could happen repeatedly – and with each time I’m sure I would experience the resulting stress and fear – all of which can further cause dis-ease!!!  Instead, I want to TRUST that I know what to do within my own inner wise self.  And I want to trust that my beautiful wise body can fight off cancer when I live right and eat right.

 

And I can guess what many of you are thinking.  ‘But I know so-and-so, and she has been a vegetarian and a yoga practitioner for years!  And she got cancer!’  Well, who knows what other factors were present in her life?  Who knows what part genetics played in her health?  Who knows what kind of emotional stressors or psychological issues were at play?  And besides, that’s not the point.  I am talking now only about me.

FOR ME, at least for now, I will do occasional mammograms and check-ups.  But I am NOT going to obsess about it and do it every six months. FOR ME, the obsession adds to the fear factor and is counterproductive to my health.

For whatever various reasons, I feel healthy now.  I’ve been healthy my whole life until last year and I trust that I got the message, I heard the wake-up call, and I responded by making some changes.  I feel back on track.  I am trusting my feelings.  I believe that I am cancer-free right now.

 

My current plan is to get another mammogram in December or January.  That will be eleven to twelve months since my last one.  And if that’s good, I will probably get the next one two years later.

This may sound wayyyy too risky or crazy for many of you.  And I get that and I honor your opinions and choices.  But I know I need to listen to my inner voice.  And I believe in her wisdom.

 

My hope is that gradually, I will shift my lifestyle to one that breeds truly exceptional health.  As I get my ducks in a row – greater financial abundance, more exercise and yoga, more consistent exceptionally healthy eating, wonderful healing herbs and supplements, and a joy-filled, love-filled life, I trust that I will live to a very ripe and wise old age.

But in order to stick with this plan, I have to have the courage to say no to many of the recommendations of the medical establishment.  And believe me, it does take courage to stand up to these clinicians.  I am very blessed with a practice who, though somewhat traditional in terms of allopathic recommendations, also respects the right of their patients to make their own choices.  And even so, I have felt extremely nervous voicing my own opinions.

When I spoke with the office manager on the phone yesterday, she was very nice and very respectful.  And I still had knots in my stomach just from talking with her and “sticking to my guns.”  My very non-invasive, intuitive, first-do-no-harm, personal choice guns.

 

I know I will probably receive a few comments from some readers and friends who will be worried that I’m not being aggressive enough in keeping tabs on what’s happening in my body.  But I ask that you please respect my choices.  I am choosing a slightly more moderate, less fear-based road.   For now.  If I find myself getting too far off-track, or if my intuition or dreams start ringing alarm bells, I promise to make an appointment for a mammogram immediately.

 

May you be blessed and healthy and happy and well.

 

* “Cancer is a perfectly natural process. A very small percentage of cells in every person who has ever lived turn cancerous. And the body usually gets rid of those cancerous cells before they do harm. This process has been going on for eons. It is only when more cancer cells are being created than the body can get rid of that the problem comes. With increased toxins, viruses, carcinogens, etc. our immune systems have become significantly overworked and weakened.” (http://www.angelfire.com/az/sthurston/understanding_cancer_and_cancer_cells.html)

 

The Latest Results and… What Next?

9 May

For those of you who may not yet have heard the results of my most recent stereotactic biopsy (I just realized the whole world is not my Facebook friend)….

It was benign.

Yea!  I am so grateful.

I find that since that acknowledgement, I have been able to live my life with considerably less fear.  And for that I am very grateful as well.

I continue to modify my diet.  Sometimes I fall off the wagon and eat stuff I know isn’t good for me.  But then I simply get back on track and eat wonderful mostly vegetarian food again.  And I can feel my body being grateful that I am truly nourishing it.

I am also continually in the process of re-evaluating what I need to do to nourish my spirit.   Because, as many of us are realizing, physical diseases and discomforts are often a result of the needs of our souls going unaddressed for too long.

Being healthy is a process.  I got wayyyyyy off-track for a while.  (For maybe ten years or so.)  And now I’m in the process of living what I hope is a more radiantly healthy life.

Interestingly, people have been telling me lately that I have been glowing.   I figure that’s a good thing.  (And no, I’m not pregnant!)

Thank you, as always, every one of you.

May you be well.  May you be happy.

Facing another biopsy – not very calmly

16 Apr

April 16, 2012

So, today is my second stereotactic biopsy.

I realize a few things:

  1. I have been underplaying the significance to everyone who asks, saying, “I’m sure I’m fine.  I just want to make sure and then I can celebrate and be about my life.”
  2. I’m incredulous that I had called my doctor/surgeon to ask her some questions about the procedure a few weeks ago and somehow I missed her call when she called back and then I never called her back again! What the hell is up with that???  I just “forgot.”
  3. It was strongly suggested to me that because my last experience with this procedure was a bit traumatic (ie, very painful), that I should get Reiki beforehand  (and after) to help ease my body into a relaxed and healing state.  I didn’t do this.

I am really distressed with myself that I’m not following through on these important things.  It’s like I’m either sabotaging myself or that I’m  telling myself I’m not worthy –  of people’s concern, of having my questions answered, of having my body be at peace.

And because I’ve been underplaying this to everyone – including myself, I’ve been postponing the small anxiety that I feel this morn.  I haven’t let myself feel it.  I’ve been “being macho” and stoic about it. Darn it. I am nervous.  I am.

I probably did all the above because I’ve convinced myself I’m okay.  But the body feels what the body feels.  And mine feels a bit anxious.

Hmmm.  Maybe I need to do some visualizations of happy memories before they start sending that awful drilling needle into my poor breast.  (It’s not a simple needle biopsy.   It’s this scary kind of electrical drill kind of thing.  I can’t read about it again.  It’s pretty scary to read about what they actually do during this procedure.)

I’m thinking that maybe I can still ask my girlfriend if she’ll do some Reiki this morn.  I bet she would.  But there’s one more thing I have to do.  Or should do.  Whatever.

Yesterday I took the time to get some new sports bras.  You are absolutely advised to wear a sports bra after this procedure because 1) the breast needs extra support in order to heal properly, and 2) I imagine the compression helps manage the swelling.

The problem is they didn’t have my size.  There were racks and racks of sports bras there and they didn’t go up to my size.  (I’m not really that huge, am I?  I don’t feel like I’m that out of the ordinary.  Surely there are many other women my size!)  So I went one size under figuring it’s better in this case to be a bit more smushed than unsmushed (unsupported.)

I wore the bra to bed.   (If I go more than two nights without a sports bra on in bed, my breasts feel sore the next day.  Especially my right one.)  It barely contains me.  If I’m the slightest bit swollen, it is not only not going to contain me, it is clearly not going to adequately support me.

That means I should make that stop on the way, too.  (Fortunately there apparently is a Walmart right on the way to the doctor’s office/women’s health center.)

Clearly I should be doing some meditating this morning, but my anxiety is a bit high.  Perhaps I should have taken my friend’s advice and gotten some anti-anxiety medication just this one, since my body is, at some level, aware of its previous trauma.

Sigh….

Perhaps I should just go for a walk and see if I can get more clear-headed and calm. Maybe then the next steps will be clearer.

If you’re reading this, thank you.  You’re very kind to care about me in this way.  I find myself wanting to apologize, but I am conscious enough to realize that that’s inappropriate.

I find it interesting that I shield everyone about my concerns in person, but for some reason I am able to let it all out when I’m writing.

Anyway, thank you for being my allies and my friends.  Thank you for caring about me.

The Positivity of Gwyn

6 Apr

April 5, 2012

This blog post is dedicated to my friend, Gwyn.

While I complained today about not getting as much done as I should have, Gwyn was in too much pain to do much of anything.  She’s in pain because just four months ago she found out that the excruciating pain in her back was not from a slipped disc or a pulled muscle, but cancer that had, completely unbeknownst to her, traveled from a breast to her spine – and actually caused it to fracture.

For those who don’t know, cancer that spreads from one part of the body to another part is considered Stage IV cancer.  Can you imagine blithely walking through your days, then going to the doctor to inquire about back pain, and then discovering you have Stage IV cancer?

But the amazing thing is, in spite of the pain, the zillions of doctor appointments, the side effects of the treatments, the drain of all these visits and treatments on their finances, Gwyn is remarkably positive most of the time.  Or perhaps she would rather I say:  in addition to the days where she’s in pain and emotional distress, she has many days where she is extremely positive.

Some days, Gwyn has energy.   Some days, Gwyn is creative.  Some days, Gwyn writes in her blog for us, inspiring us to learn the lessons from the situations we’re given.  Many days, Gwyn has a positive attitude.

As you all know from reading this blog in the past, I waded through a huge amount of fear for a diagnosis of very early stage cancer.  Gwyn is wading through a much scarier diagnosis.  I don’t know what Gwyn’s “official” prognosis is (and I don’t like prognoses anyway,) but like her, I am holding out hope that with a good combination of allopathic and natural treatments, plus a much fine-tuned kick-ass diet and a hugely positive attitude, Gwyn is going to come through this and she is going to wow the pants off us with the things she will do with her life – now and in the next post-cancer phase. .

I’m dedicating this post to Gwyn for two reasons.

  1. She humbles me and inspires me and helps me keep my situation in perspective.
  2. She and her husband have been through not just a physical and emotional ringer, but also have a fair amount of stress triggered by their financial situation.  They are insured, and yet each and every single doctor visit, consultation, x-ray, MRI, prescription, radiation treatment, etc. comes with a co-pay.   The co-pays are taking their toll.  There is no money left for the “good stuff.”  This includes, among other things, herbs and supplements and alternative/adjunct methods of healing, not to mention ordinary living expenses and even some “fun money.” Because Lord knows if ever there were a time it would be helpful to have some discretionary funds for fun, this would certainly be it!  Therefore, a few of us are throwing Gwyn a fundraiser – a gala concert/art show/feast/fundraiser.

5/9/12  Folks, we had to postpone this fundraiser because Gwyn has been facing such severe pain in the last couple of weeks that it was decided she should get spinal fusion surgery.  Originally scheduled for 5/16, Gwyn had to call last week and plead for mercy.  Pain due to her deteriorated spine had become unbearable.  As a result, she had surgery THIS MORNING, May 9th.  

We are sending Gwyn lots of love and healing energy.  May this surgery go beautifully well.  May she be relieved of her pain and may her cancer disappear.

If she recuperates as well as we all hope and pray she will, we hope to have the fundraiser in September.  Meanwhile, I hope you will consider this Non-Event Fundraiser.  Feel free to send Gwyn money anyway! She still needs it even though she is unable to be present physically for a concert.

Please see more details below.  Thank you!


Gwyn has been a fine artist for many years.  (This artistic gene was also evident in her mother, Lillian Michael.)  In recent years Gwyn has married two loves – art and photography – to create some beautiful work, often inspired by nature.  And now, Gwyn is creating fascinating and potent work utilizing the scans, MRI’s, x-rays, and other images obtained during the course of her treatment.  I have never seen work like this.  I truly can see some of these images in a huge gallery in New York, but you will see them first, at Pebble Hill Church, during the merry month of May.

If you don’t live in the Bucks County area of Pennsylvania, or even if you do, there are other ways to see Gwyn’s art.  (And don’t forget to buy some!  Even without a scary cancer diagnosis, artists need our support to continue to offer their gifts to the world!)

  1. Check out her blog:  http://www.arthopetruth.com
  2. Check out her website:   http://gwynmichael.com

As Gwyn’s friend, and as a human being who cares about this particular human being and her struggles and joys, I am asking you to please support her.  Buy some art.  Send a donation.   Share her blog and website and this post with your friends.  Send good positive healing energy and prayers.  Friend her on Facebook.

We all need friends.  And there are times in our lives when we need them more than others.  This is a time when Gwyn needs us.

PS   If you can send Gwyn even a small amount, her address is Gwyn Michael, 2233 Bethel Rd., Lansdale, PA 19446.  Bless you!!!

Moving through Fear into a Greater Connection with the Divine

3 Mar

March 2, 2012

So I am continuing to process my last two blog entries regarding food and fear and I am realizing they are related.  This is where I am today:

  1. I think the scary dreams are warning dreams, as opposed to prophetic dreams. I think they are messages sent to me which say: If you don’t get on the right course, this is what is likely to happen.
  2. I’m feeling a little bit less anxious because three or four times now this week, I have had pH readings in the optimal alkaline zone.  (Yay me!!!)   This is extremely encouraging.  If I can stay in this zone 5-6 days out of the week, I will feel like I’m on the right track.
  3. This morning’s card was labeled “Fear.” The message was to look at my fears to see if they are valid or if perhaps my imagination is running away with me.  In my case, I think they are reasonable concerns, but I also think I have allowed them to become too consuming.   This card confirms that “fear is a crippling companion.”  It indicates “a loss of faith and connection with the Divine.”

I really need to look at this.   I think of myself as a spiritual being, but have I been walking the walk?  Have I been immersing myself in the presence of the Divine?  Have I been having conversations with God/Goddess/Great Spirit on a regular enough basis?  Have I allowed the healing energy of Divine Presence to flow through me?

This takes commitment on my part.  I need to carve out time in which I can really sink into Sacred Space. One cannot do deep healing or spiritual work in a fast-food, drive-through kind of way.  Although one can certainly offer small prayers all day long, true connection with Source probably requires a slightly larger allocation of time.

I ask myself, What are ways I can sink into a deeper Sacred Space?

Here are my answers.  Yours may very well be different.

  • Spend time in Nature.  This can mean a walk through the woods, it can mean sitting on a chair under the trees, it can mean lying on the sand at the beach.  The most important thing is being present to the Beauty that is all around.  Let the Beauty feed your soul.
  • Prayer/chanting/singing/meditation.  I’m putting them altogether because chanting and singing are forms of prayer and meditation for me.  Whenever I try praying in a more traditional way (with spoken words), it never feels like enough.  It doesn’t feel deep enough, heartfelt enough.  But if I sing or dance my prayers, they take on greater meaning. I can feel my yearning come through more readily.
  • Art/painting/drawing.  This is something I love to do, and for some reason, resist.  But when I feel inspired and allow that creativity to flow through me, I find myself really happy.  And I imagine the Spirit of Divinity is present in me and through me.
  • Massage/healing.  This pertains to both the giving and receiving of it.  Both can be enormous opportunities for grace and healing and peace.  I continue to practice being in sacred space when I give massage.  However, it is clear I need to find a  way to receive more massage, reverent touch, and healing.
  • Find a wonderful dream group.  I continue to be blessed with an abundance of dreams.  (Relatively few are scary, but I seem to share more of those kind with you!)  What I would love to manifest is a dream group which knows how to enter the sacred space in which dreams and insights can be gently shared in a respectful way.  There is so much richness in our dreams!

May you discover the ways in which you can deepen your connection to the Divine.  As for me?  I’m going to go paint.  Right now!!!

Intuition, Intent, and Finding the Proper Path toward Healing

28 Feb

February 28, 2012

So I had started a blog a couple days ago about how I seem to have come to a  turning point.  Before there had always been  an undercurrent of fear about cancer returning and the subsequent loss of a breast.  But, through grace, recently I’ve come to a place of greater peace.

A few things had converged to create this shift.

  1. I’d gone to a healer.  She worked with me to release and clear old energy patterns and ill-advised thoughts that were lodged in my consciousness.  These thoughts were often the result of beliefs held by my parents or ancestors or others whom I’ve encountered in my life.   After this session, I felt considerably lighter, as if the weight of the world (which I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying) had been lifted from me.
  2. I’d gone to a healing sweat lodge – a lodge specifically for women.   During the third round – the round of personal healing, I’d had an insight.  I realized I needed to let go of my attachment to my breasts.  I needed to stop focusing on them as a part of my attractiveness.  I needed to realize that in the overall scheme of things, what is most important is that I LIVE MY LIFE.  I need to focus on my purpose – what is important for me to do – this day, this week, this month, this year.  I need to stop focusing on what I fear and instead focus on my path. This may seem so obvious to you all, but to me, it was a really important shift.
  3. A friend has a daughter who is healing from a more advanced form of breast cancer using many natural treatments, including spiritual ceremony.  This daughter was advised “not to listen to anyone who tells her anything about cancer.”  Everyone has a story to tell about cancer.  And often the story they choose to tell will be about someone dying.  (How does this serve the person who is struggling to get well?  It does not.)  In addition, doctors often focus on worst case scenarios and treat accordingly- ie, if there’s a possibility one could die, then of course the most aggressive form of treatment is essential.  But we always have a choice in our thoughts and our focus.  If we focus on the worst case scenario, we may very well “call it to us.”   (This does not apply to passing thoughts but to obsessive worries.  For instance, the hypochondriac who always focuses on being sick is likely to become sick more often.)

So after this succession of events, I was recently  surprised to realize ‘Oh!  I don’t feel afraid anymore!”  I realized it might not necessarily be a permanent feeling, but for the time being, I was profoundly grateful to have felt the shift.  I realized I didn’t want to be “that woman who has breast cancer” anymore.  I wanted to be me, living boldly and vibrantly and doing wonderful things in the world.

And then this morn I had another dream. Sigh…

In this dream I discover that my right breast (the one in which cancer had been discovered and removed last August) was puckered and misshapen in the upper left quadrant.  (The lumpectomy had been in the upper right quadrant.)  I was able to manually pull out the tissue and reshape my breast again.  But the dream scared me.

Two weeks ago I dreamed that white dots were discovered throughout my right breast. These dots I knew represented cancer.

So, what do I make of these dreams?  On the one hand, they could be indicative of remaining fragments of fear. On the other hand, these dreams could be signs.  And I realized this morn that the latter explanation feels more likely.   I am not necessarily a prophetic dreamer, but in the past I have been blessed with some “big” dreams which have been gifts and/or messages.

I decided to consult an oracle.  The card I pulled was the High Priestess, representing “discernment, prescience, prophecy, vision.”  Hmmm. That seems pretty darn clear, doesn’t it?

The book that accompanied this oracle deck* also said, “Go beyond the ordinary, past the chaos of modern life, and trust your inner vision to guide you on your path.   Pay attention to your dreams, and keep track of your intuitive hunches, for when the High Priestess appears, she asks you to look for the thread of truth in these places.  Be discerning in all that you do at this time, for the High Priestess reminds you that not all is as it seems to be.”

Sigh….   I have an appointment with my doctor next week.  It’s been on the schedule for 2-3 months.  She will be looking at the mammogram from January which showed a calcification and she will compare it to the films from last May.  I wonder what she will say.  More importantly, I wonder what I will choose to do.

I have been so wedded to the intention of fighting this as naturally as possible.  But based on these (and other) dreams, I wonder if I may need to reconsider the medical treatments I have been so wary of.  I think my next course of action may have to include a vision quest.  I truly need more clarity.

Thanks for listening.

* Wisdom of Avalon Oracle Cards, by Colette Baron-Reid, p. 4-5.

The D Word

19 Aug

Navigating the Bumpy Spots – especially the D word

August 15, 17, 19 2011

I have been noticing long blocks of time during which I feel calm, serene, even joyful.  I am grateful for these times.  They are such a gift.  I am aware that sometimes they come unbidden, like a breeze or a ray of sunshine, but other times I have to work a little harder to get there.  Once in a while, anxiety gets the better of me and I have to pull out several spiritual, emotional, and physical tools to shift the energy.  As I remember (or am reminded, as the case may be!) of these tools – ie, walking or other exercise, meditation, lying on the earth or under the trees, talking with friends, a good meal, emotional releasing via sound or sobs, and use one or several of them, the length of time I stew in my worries and fears diminishes.

In the last week I have had two episodes of anxiety.  The first lasted longer and took more effort (grace?) to resolve.  The more recent incidence – yesterday morning, was only indirectly related to the cancer, and shifted after several hours.

I share this simply so that if you ever find yourself in a situation similar to mine – facing an illness that is potentially life-threatening, you will realize you are not alone in feeling fear, worry, anxiety, or a lack of clarity.  Please realize that getting stuck in the morass is optional.  There is hope for climbing out of the stuckness, if we have the will to emerge.

I want to share the root cause of last week’s anxiety.

As I have reviewed my dreams of the past year, I have noticed: 1) several dreams which seemed to indicate multiple sites of cancer, 2) several “attack” dreams – dreams of an animal biting me or someone else, or one animal attacking another animal, and 3) multiple “death dreams” – dreams of my own death, or of people I know, or of people I don’t consciously know in waking life, or the death of animals.

One friend – a spiritual friend with whom I have often shared dreams in the past – upon hearing about all these dreams, encouraged me to “think positive.”  She may not have used those exact words, but that’s the message I got.  That was not helpful.  I truly believe dreams come to us for a reason.  Dream teacher and author Jeremy Taylor teaches that ALL dreams come for the purpose of health and healing.  Furthermore, he teaches that death dreams are ALWAYS about transformation and rebirth.  What concerned me was that I wasn’t just dreaming of my own death (twice) but also the death of several other relatives, friends, and people I didn’t consciously know.  What did it all mean?

Some dreams do not need a lot of deciphering.  They are gifts and their meaning is quite clear.  There is a beautiful book called Healing Dreams, by Mark Barash.  It is filled to the brim with extraordinary dreams of beauty and healing.  (I once checked out the book from the local library and had so many post-its marking the pages that I ended up buying a new copy of the book and donating it to the library so I could keep the one I had already earmarked over and over and over again.)

For other dreams, however, we may need the support of other dreamers or therapists to explore the many layers of meaning.  Robert Moss is someone who does this.  He is a prolific author on the subject of dreams and leads workshops around the world during which dreamers can share their significant dreams and work with them in a sacred context.

We are so afraid of death in this culture.  Even if we are spiritual beings, when death or the possibility of death arrives, the fear in us arises.  It seems to be a rather inescapable phenomenon.  Death is obviously something we all have to face at some point.

Likewise, we are afraid to talk about death.   It is as if we are afraid that if we talk about it, it will stalk us sooner or faster.  I have worked in the hospice field for five years.  I know the reticence people have in talking about death.  Even me!  And I was supposed to be the one initiating the conversation!

I was determined to work through these dreams.  I had eventually realized that keeping these fears to myself was not serving me.  It was only escalating my anxiety.  I needed to share some of these dreams with others.  Since my first friend wasn’t particularly helpful (I think she was afraid for me,) I chose to talk with my friend Betsy.

Betsy and I exchange Unergi body/mind psychotherapy sessions. (Unergi is a powerful form of body/mind therapy beautifully taught by psychotherapist Ute Arnold.)  Betsy and I both find the sessions extraordinarily helpful.  This past Saturday, I came to Betsy with the express purpose of working on these “death dreams.”  I’d like to share with you the essence of that session.  It was a powerful one.

The two dreams that were scariest for me, not surprisingly, were about my own death.  The first happened exactly one month ago today – July 19, 2011.

I am at a workplace of some kind.  There is a message board on the wall.  The first message says “Uptown proposals.”  The second message says “Cindy Greb is…” (I can’t quite see the next part.  I have to move so I can see around some obstacle to read it.) “…deceased.”  I can’t believe it, but that’s what the message says.

That was not a fun message to read.

The other dream was slightly more symbolic, but certainly seemed to be about me.  This one occurred on April 10, 2011 – one and a half months prior to the mammogram and ultrasound that showed “suspicious abnormalities.”

There are two brothers and two sisters and they are waiting for the one sibling to die.  She hears something outside and opens the door to investigate.  She is “immediately attacked by a wolf.  The death is quick and immediate.”

I have two brothers and two sisters.

This is the dream I chose to focus on during the session with Betsy.  It is especially interesting because just a couple weeks later I end up having another dream in which a father introduces his daughter as a “wolf survivor.”

I decide to have a dialogue with the wolf.

Me: Wolf, that was so unfair of you.  You didn’t give me a chance to fight or defend myself.  You just attacked immediately before I even knew what was going on.

Wolf: Well, I was hungry and you were there.  It wasn’t anything personal.  And besides, that’s not exactly true.  You heard a noise and then you just opened the door and walked outside.  You could have looked out the window first.  You could have cracked the door and peeked before stepping out into the open.

Me: (surprised) You’re right, Wolf!  You’re absolutely right.  I wasn’t cautious enough.

There then ensued a period of time during which I sat with my feelings about the word “caution” – which I don’t particularly like because it feels mousy and unadventurous.  But then when I used the word “careful” – ie, “full of care,” the energy was completely different.  I needed to be more “full of care.”  I needed to be more aware.  It didn’t serve me to walk through life glibly with no awareness.

I remembered reading several stories of people being trained by shamans or gurus or elders.  They were taught to be more aware of their surroundings.  In one of these stories, an apprentice was told to sit in a field and look only straight ahead.  He was not to move, he was not to turn his head.  At the end of the day he was to report on what was going on around him.  The exercise taught him to rely on all his senses – his ears, his peripheral vision, his instincts, the sense of smell, that sixth sense that we tend to disregard in our scientific, “prove it to me,” “I-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it”  world.

This kind of awareness about what is going on around me is important.  For instance, it’s important to notice if the fields have been sprayed with Roundup, so I can make choices about my drinking water or do something to help detoxify my body.  Or I can be aware of dreams that seem to caution me about my health (and perhaps choose to schedule a mammogram, for instance!)  Or I need to be aware of what is going on around me as I drive so that I can protect myself or my passengers from possible harm coming  from the sides or from behind.

Eventually, as the therapy session continued, I remembered one significant thing:  Wolf  is one of my allies.  Wolf, sometimes in the form of three black wolves, has appeared to me many times over the years in my dreams.  Several of these dreams were very powerful.  Clearly wolf is one of my animal spirit guides.  So if he attacked me and killed me, perhaps it wasn’t a malicious thing.  Maybe there was a reason.

Then I remembered another thing.  In shamanic traditions, there is a ritual in which a death of the apprentice occurs  in a non-physical realm.  There is also another ritual in which there is a symbolic death/burial (ie, lying for one night in an open grave – that often the initiate himself digs.)  Perhaps this was one of those times.  Perhaps I had been attacked/killed/eaten so that I could be reborn into a new being.  Often indigenous cultures use this ritual death so that the initiate can surrender an old way of being which no longer serves.  Perhaps this symbolic death, this dream death, is the beginning of a transformation for me.

Then I had my “Aha!” moment.  I realized that not only is Wolf my ally, but so is Cancer!  And for that matter, so is Death.  Cancer forces us to WAKE UP!!!   Cancer forces us to look at our life from a larger perspective.  Cancer is our opportunity to ask, “What can I be doing differently?  What changes can I make in my life to be more fully alive?  What can I do, not only to live longer, but to live more happily, more joyfully?  What is left undone that I want to get done?  Am I living my purpose?  Am I being authentic?”  NOW is the time!  NOW is the time!!!!

I realized also that Death is an ally because it limits our time on the planet.  If we lived forever in this human form, we would have no incentive to change or grow because time would be infinite.  Death, when it comes knocking, teaches that time is short and there is no time to waste.  We must love, learn, grow, be kind, and be true to ourselves NOW.

Needless to say, after this session, I felt much more peaceful about my dreams and my situation.  Onward!!!

Thank you for reading these thoughts.

May you be richly blessed.

Cindy