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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.

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.

Six-month Follow-up Doctor Visit

14 Mar

March 12, 2012


So, last Thursday I went for my six-month follow-up appointment with my breast surgeon.


The first thing of note happened when I was updating my information with the receptionist.  She asked, “Is Dr. Kracht still your primary care physician?”  “Yes,” I replied.   “And _____________, _______________, and _____________?”  I stared at her blankly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.   She said, “That’s odd.  They’re right here on your chart.”  I was puzzled also. Then she must have said something about oncologists and the light bulb went off.  I said, “Oh!  I chose not to go to them.”


When my doctor arrived to the examining room she was very warm and friendly but also surprised and a little disappointed that I didn’t at least go and talk to the oncologists.  (One was a radiation oncologist and one a hematology oncologist.)  I replied that I hadn’t been interested in either the radiation therapy or the anti-estrogenic drug and I knew it would be hard to stand my ground if I had been face to face with them.   I knew they’d be pushing for me to go the direction they thought was best.


(All things considered, I still agree with my decision FOR ME!  I needed to do my own research and come to my own conclusions and decisions before allowing “experts” to exercise their sway.  However, I do, OF COURSE, honor all those who choose differently from me.  We are each individuals and we have to make our own choices.)


Okay, back to the doctor visit.  As I suspected, she wants me to get a biopsy.  A stereotactic biopsy.   For those who have been following my blog, my experience with a stereotactic biopsy last August was NOT pleasant.  In fact, that was the most unpleasant of all my breast-related experiences to date.  However it’s not the fear of discomfort which makes me hesitate.  It is the following two factors:


  1. I worry about my body having to process additional radiation.  If I were to get this biopsy done in the next month or two, that would mean that during the course of one ten-month period, my body would have been subjected to about 15 x-rays (about  7 or 8 “shots” per set of mammograms) plus two stereotactic biopsies – which would entail at least two more x-ray views each time.  That’s a LOT of radiation.  And radiation, as you know, is a great risk factor for getting cancer!  (“According to Dr. Gofman, MD, PhD, in Radiation and Human Health: A Comprehensive Investigation of the Evidence Relating Low Level Radiation to Cancer and Other Diseases, ionizing radiation is a known carcinogen, there is no safe exposure level to ionizing radiation, and the effects of radiation exposure are cumulative throughout one’s life.”
  2. There are a few articles which express concern about the wisdom of “poking around” surgically or otherwise in an area that already exhibits the presence of cancer cells or cancer growth. The very act of having more surgery at that site could potentially spread that cancer farther.


I expressed my concerns and she heard them.  Her concern is that the one calcification showing on my January films could mean something.  If I had had radiation therapy, that one calcification could be (likely would be) a by-product of the RT.  But I didn’t, so to be safe she feels I should check it out.


Of course, doctors have to anticipate worst-case scenarios, while I as the patient, want to be aware of them but NOT focus on them!


She did say she would like me to have another set of mammograms done before the next six-month follow-up appointment.  I asked her if there were ANY alternatives.   I again expressed my concern about the radiation involved with mammograms. She reiterated that thermographs aren’t able to find anything at this earlier stage of the game.  They are not an adequate early diagnostic tool.  She said they’re working on diagnostic ultrasound technology, but it’s not ready yet.


So, in a nutshell, it seems I have three choices:


  1. Do neither of these clinical/diagnostic options (neither biopsy nor mammogram) and trust that my natural course of treatment is sufficient.
  2. Skip the biopsy and get another set of mammograms in six months’ time.
  3. Get the biopsy and then go from there.


When I left the office yesterday, I was leaning toward Option #2.  However last evening and this morning, I’m leaning toward the last option.  Because if this calcification represents a benign condition, then I feel I can safely wait at least a year for another set of mammograms.  If it proves to be a spot of cancer, then it would be good for me to know this now, rather than later.  However I am choosing not to worry about those decisions until I know what I’m working with!


Okay, it sounds like I’ve just talked myself into the stereotactic biopsy.   I guess I’d rather know for sure what is going on in my body.  Or perhaps, if I’m very lucky, I’ll be able to have the opportunity to say, “See! I’m doing just fine!”   And that would feel very good indeed.


Thanks for listening.


PS  When I woke in the middle of the night the day of my doctor appointment, I found myself thinking about my right breast and what to do about it.  I must have dozed off because I suddenly realized I’d seen an image of my breast with a vertical knife next to it.  I think that perhaps that was a sign that some surgery (a biopsy) is a good idea.

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.


The Breast Blog – Feeling Anxious

14 Jul

The Breast Blog #3

Feeling Anxious

July 12, 2011

Okay, I confess.  In this moment I am a bit anxious.  It is getting close to 2 months now, and I still don’t have a diagnosis.

I can go for a week at a time and be as calm as can be.  And then I’ll have an appointment, or a call to make to one of the doctors, and I’ll be nervous all over again.

I am well aware that there are a number of benign conditions that could explain my three or four symptoms (abnormalities).  I am aware that there is about an 80% chance that nothing serious is wrong.  Of course, stating the obvious, that means there’s a 20% chance that I do have cancer.

To get you up to date, here are my symptoms:

  • A dark discharge was discovered coming from my left nipple.
  • An ultrasound of my left breast showed a small nodule beneath my areola.
  • A mammogram showed a “cluster of micro-calcifications” in my right breast.
  • I feel discomfort in my left breast. (Sometimes this discomfort seems to be directly proportional to how much recent abuse my breast has gone through – ie, palpation, squeezing, etc.  But other times my left breast feels warm to the touch and my bra feels uncomfortable and it just plain “doesn’t feel right.”)

During my second-to-last doctor visit, I was informed that the nodule could be any of the following:

  • A papilloma (generally benign)
  • A fibroadenoma  (benign)
  • Cancerous (gulp)

I personally have ruled out fibroadenoma as they generally occur with younger women who eat lots of fruits and veggies, get moderate exercise, and have had several births.  If they’ve been on the pill, there is a lower incidence of fibroadenoma.  I am 53 years old, eat a fair number of veggies and fruits, don’t exercise nearly enough, have born no children, and was on the pill for quite a few years. Therefore, I seem an unlikely candidate.

A papilloma is most likely.  Apparently 40-70% of pathological nipple discharge (PND) is due to a papilloma.[1]  This is a growth which appears in a breast duct and is generally benign – unless there are “certain cellular changes”[2] – ie, atypical hyperplasia, which is doctor-speak for “an accumulation of abnormal cells.”[3]   Almost every site I researched called a papilloma benign.  I had to read carefully to get to the disclaimer “certain cellular changes” part.

Once again, for most women, the chances are good that their atypical mammograms reflect a “false positive” – ie, no cancer.  “80% of all breast lumps are not cancer.”[4]  And the Mayo Clinic states:  “Generally single papillomas are thought to be an aberration and not a disease.”[5]

I am torn here.  On the one hand, I want to document how I’m feeling.  On the other hand I want to be reassuring to women who may be reading this blog.  Please know, dear women, the odds are very, very good that you have nothing to worry about.

What concerns me specifically about my situation is that in addition to the nodule in the left breast, I have these micro-calcifications in the right breast.   “Microcalcifications are quite tiny bits of calcium, and may show up in clusters, or in patterns (like circles or lines) and are associated with extra cell activity in breast tissue. Usually the extra cell growth is not cancerous, but sometimes tight clusters of microcalcifications can indicate early breast cancer.”[6]

I was told that these are benign 80% of the time.  But again, there’s that pesky 20%.

So, I have different things going on in each breast.  Each condition has about an 80% chance of being benign.  Math is not my strong suit, but I’m guessing two 20% chances of cancer is more worrisome than one 20% chance.

To tell the truth, initially I was not overly alarmed.  There seemed to be a good chance everything was benign and I hadn’t had any premonitions or anything.  However the thing that started to worry me was when I took a solitary retreat to get clear on my next course of action.  I had taken a book with me:  She Who Dreams, by Wanda Easter Burch.  In this book she documents the pain she’d been having in her breasts and the dreams which finally took her to the doctor’s and the dreams which ultimately helped guide her in her healing.  I had been reading snippets of the book when I had a sudden memory of a few dreams in recent months  in which the word “cancer” was mentioned.

The next day I spent the whole day poring over journals from the last year.  I found many marvelous dreams, several scary dreams, and thus far, two cancer dreams.  One was especially  to the point.  A woman ally turned to me and said, “How’s your cancer, Cindy?”

Uh oh.