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When Your Inner Voice Says “Time Out”

28 Aug

Recently I stumbled upon and reread one of my journals from two years ago.  Two years ago was half a year after my breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent lumpectomy.  It was a time during which I had removed myself from much of “regular life.”  I was not working a “regular job,” I was not socializing, I was definitely being a bit of a hermit.  Cancer had thrown me for a loop and I was struggling to find my footing.  Withdrawing from life seemed necessary at the time, although that doesn’t mean I didn’t sometimes judge myself for it.

When I first discovered the symptoms that took me to my primary doctor and then very quickly to a breast specialist, I was busy working on a big project and trying to start a new business.  In the midst of all this busyness, I had a second appointment with the specialist.  As I was getting ready to go to the appointment, I was finding myself stumbling on things, I was so stressed.  When I took a moment to check in, I realized I was extremely anxious.  I was scarcely breathing and I felt like I was ready to scream.  Then it finally dawned on me that I’d become so busy worrying about making money that I hadn’t taken the time to even figure out what this momentous “breast thing” might mean for me and what I might want to do or not do as a result.  I was about to show up at this appointment completely unprepared.

I stopped for a moment and sat down to breathe.  And then – no surprise – I started to cry.  I gave myself permission to feel all my anxiety and fear.  And from that moment on, my attitude changed.  NOTHING became as important as what was going on with my body and the decisions I had to make about my care.

As soon as I returned from that appointment I did a heck of a lot of research.  I also decided to go to the beach to have a small retreat and try to get clarity about my next course of action.  After a couple hours there with the sun and the ocean, I suddenly remembered a dream I had once had but then “forgotten.”  In the dream I was asked, “How’s your cancer?”  I was stunned that I’d had that dream and then tucked it back into my subconscious.   I suddenly realized I didn’t need to stay at the shore anymore; I’d gotten what I came for.  I realized I needed to go home and look at my dream journals.  I also realized I wanted a different doctor.  I wanted someone who would listen to my concerns and include me in decisions about my treatment as opposed to simply telling me what “we” were going to do.

During the course of the next several days, weeks and months, I spent a great deal of time in the process of introspection and reflection.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t bringing in any money.  Needless to say, that was a bit stressful, but I couldn’t seem to focus on anything as mundane as a job.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but nothing in me wanted to work at a regular job.  I was seriously burned out from several years of hospice work and intensive caregiving (of others, not me!)  And I was actually feeling strongly guided to not begin another job at that point.  And then the Universe conspired to support me in that decision by causing my car to break down.  I had no money to fix my car and so I stayed home.  And continued with my introspection, reflection, and research.

I also took a lot of walks.  And  I wrote.  A lot.  I called a few friends.  I also did something I hadn’t done in many, many years.  I vegged.  In extreme.  I watched loads of Netflix.  I did the Facebook thing.  I sat in front of the screen of my laptop more hours than I care to admit.  But this was where I was at at the time – in a place of non-doing.  I didn’t feel like being a contributing member of society.  I just needed to be by myself.  A lot.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t judge myself.  I did that a lot, too.  This society doesn’t look kindly upon idleness.  I confess I got a bit depressed.  I was poor, I had no car, I had no job except for the occasional odd job, and I was worried about whether I’d “done enough” to fight the cancer I’d been diagnosed with.  But now, two years later, I realize this fallow time was absolutely necessary from a spiritual perspective.

Cancer is such a wake-up call.  It is seldom simply a physical disease.  It is always, if we let it be, an impetus for change and growth.  Healthy growth.

My guess is that a lot of women who get breast cancer have been neglecting themselves.  Most women are oh so very good at taking care of others.  Here is what the four years prior to my diagnosis looked like:

  • For a couple years I was a hospice chaplain in New Mexico.  At one point I was serving two offices and commuting upwards of four hours a day – not counting all the driving between clients scattered throughout the central part of the state.
  • My workload increased as the job of bereavement counselor was added to my duties.
  • Then I left the hospice job and started doing private caregiving.
  • Then I moved back home to help care for my parents.  My mother had had a heart attack and a small stroke, and Dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
  • While caring for my parents, I got some more caregiving jobs.
  • The opportunity arose to become a hospice chaplain yet again, this time in New Jersey.  And once again, I had almost an hour’s commute each way.

So for four years I was caring for other people.  Relentlessly.  That was my job.  I cared for clients, staff, parents.  But not so much myself.  I was pretty much in survival mode for much of that time.  My energy reserves were very low.  I did my work as well as I possibly could, and then when I got home, I kind of crashed.  It was hard to summon up the energy to prepare myself a good meal.  And on weekends, I was happy to just stay home.  I didn’t feel like driving anywhere.

In retrospect, it is so obvious  why I got cancer.  I needed something drastic to happen before I would have the courage and wisdom to say no to obsessively caring for others and yes to caring for me.  Not that I wouldn’t care for others on an emotional level (although my energy for that was more limited), but that I wouldn’t subsume myself in the needs of others at the expense of my own.

After a month or so I decided to stop fighting this desire to not work.  I realized that if my intuition was guiding me to not work a “regular job,” then I would simply need to find a way to reduce my expenses.  They were already fairly low, but I did have rent.  That was my biggest expense.  Then my intuition kicked in again. It said  to ask a friend if I could live with them for a while and barter my rent.  They said yes!

During that next year I wrote,  I walked their dog (and myself), I slept, I dreamed, I prepared healthy food, I drew, I painted, I gave a few massages, did a few odd jobs.  But mostly, I simply cocooned.  I badly needed to hibernate and stop focusing so much on others.

Here is what I now realize.  That downtime, that retreat time, that withdrawal from the world, enabled my energy to rise again.  I had to give myself that time to determine what my spirit needed and what I needed my life to look like.  I had to ask myself “What did I want to do less of?” and “What did I want to do more of?”  And very gradually, as I sank into and allowed this delicious downtime, the sap began to flow again.  My energy began to return.  I knew what my spirit wanted to do.  I began to pursue my dreams.  I allowed myself to make plans to move.  I began focusing on my passions and my purpose.  And I finally realized that focusing on my own deepest dreams and desires was what most greatly contributed to my highest health and well-being.

Too often we wait for something rather catastrophic to happen before making big changes.  Don’t wait.  If you’re feeling depressed, stressed, anxious, unsettled, there’s a reason for this.  Be kind to yourself and figure out what you’ve always wanted to do.  Then give yourself permission to do it.  You will find yourself with more vitality than you’ve felt in a long time.

May you be happy!  May you be healthy.

Abundant blessings to you.

Cindy

Another Lesson to Learn

30 Jun

Hi everyone.

Okay, so I have had two “cancer dreams” this week.  In the first one, there were several of us looking at a whole array of things designed to fight cancer.  After looking at everything, I came to a place of surrender.  I decided I didn’t want to do all this stuff.  I was either going to be well or I was not.

In the second dream, I had had a mammogram and there were two places of concern I was supposed to talk to the radiologist about.

I imagine these are warning dreams.  They are saying, “Please, go get a mammogram now!”  On the other hand, they could be fear dreams.  They could be saying, “You are afraid of a cancer recurrence and we will reflect your fears to you.”

The primary reason I have not had a mammo in the past six to eight months is: I don’t have insurance.  I made several calls and appointments to try to get a reduced-price mammogram and I didn’t get anywhere.  And I’m sad to say, I gave up.  Or rather, I put it aside for a while.  Now these dreams and my intuition are saying, “Get it done.  Find a way and get it done.”

I had an insight today while listening to Christi Calvano Maybo at Circle of Miracles (a place to go on a Sunday morning to be inspired by spiritually enlightened people.)  She was speaking about how if we are in service to others but not to ourselves, we will get ourselves in trouble.  We will find our joy rapidly disappearing. She spoke about how essential it is to be kind to ourselves.  She spoke about the need to receive as well as give.  She spoke about how we need to stop listening to the “supposed to’s” and listen instead to our heart.  Our heart will steer us rightly.  Our heart will tell us what is right for us.

This is a lesson I thought I had learned.  I know I had “lost myself” when caring for my parents.  But eventually I made changes and started listening to my heart’s desires.  This was good.  However I realized this morning that there might be an additional lesson.  And I think it is this:  I need to learn to take care of myself even when I think I can’t afford it.

Those of you who know me well know that I have long had struggles over money issues.  This continues to be an area in need of healing and major shift.  I am quite aware that if I were more financially abundant, I would be getting mammograms, going to doctor appointments, eating much healthier on a much more consistent basis, going to various healers, and taking various supplements.  All of this is difficult with no “extra” money and no insurance. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taking care of myself!  I can’t use this as an excuse.

If I had a friend who wasn’t getting medical care because of a lack of money, I would rapidly suggest many options to her (i.e., make this phone call, go to that clinic, etc.)  I would nudge and nag and encourage her to follow whatever avenues were available.  I would pray for her and support her in whatever way I could.  Should I not then do the same for myself???

This is a big, big lesson for me.  Don’t stop taking care of yourself just because it’s hard, Cindy.  Find a way.  Find a way.

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.

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!!!