the layers

I recently revisited a favorite poem of mine, “The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz. It made me reflect on the past few months — the layers of the breast cancer experience. As readers we are urged to “live in the layers not on the litter.” I suppose it takes a bit of courage to open oneself to delve into our own personal layers or into the layers of life experiences and come away as a changed individual. What does this poem mean to you? Are you someone who lives in the layers or on the litter? Do you resist or welcome change?

The Layers

by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered! How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

rainforest healing

Early morning fog over the Belize rainforest (photographed at Chaa Creek – February 2012)

Tropical rainforests have been called “The lungs of the world.” They also provide the last remnants of habitat for some of our rarest and most unusual animals. Thousands of plants in the rain forest yield pharmaceuticals and cures. Seventy percent of the plants are known to be useful in the treatment of cancer.

When I was in Belize in February 2012, I stayed at Chaa Creek, an eco-lodge located in the Maya Forest along the Macal River. The Lodge at Chaa Creek has won many international awards for sustainable tourism. While there, I walked the Rainforest Medicine Trail and was witness to the work done by Don Elijio Panti, a traditional healer who was regarded as the last Maya master healer of Belize.  His ancient herbal remedies attracted the attention of modern medical scientists around the world. He contributed over 500 plants to the National Cancer Institute for anti-cancer and AIDS testing.  He died at the age of 103 after passing along his knowledge to his apprentice Dr. Rosita Arvigo who painstakingly documented every plant remedy he discovered. The Rainforest Medicine Trail was established by Dr. Arvigo, and she dedicated it to the honor of Don Elijio. Chaa Creek now manages the trail which showcases the wealth of the rainforest and serves as an educational tool featuring the edible and medicinal plants of Belize.

When I returned to the states I purchased Dr. Arvigo’s book titled SASTUN. I was enthralled with the narrative which chronicles her apprenticeship under Don Elijio and the desire that drove her to document his knowledge for posterity. All I could think about when reading it was the lack of attention that Western Medicine pays to traditional healing methods which have survived hundreds and thousands of years and the stupidity of our supposedly advanced civilization which unabashedly destroys the earth’s gifts of healing.

Please join the fight to save the earth’s rainforests.  Donations can be made to any of these organizations. Consider making a donation in honor of a friend or loved one during the upcoming holiday season.

Arbor Day Foundation:   http://www.arborday.org/takeaction/index.cfm

Rainforest Rescue:   https://shop.rainforestrescue.org.au/donations.html

Rainforest Rescue Coalition:   http://rainforestrescuecoalition.org/?page_id=277

. . . and so it is

plaid friday

Have you heard of PLAID FRIDAY? It is the local, independent business alternative to Black Friday, spearheaded by the Local First and 10% Shift movements, grassroots organizations that encourage Americans to turn the economy back around for good by shifting 10% of their total monthly spending from large retail chains to locally owned and operated stores. I hope those of you who shop on Black Friday will consider going PLAID for some of your purchases.

I’ve been spending the last few week replenishing my frameable note cards supply. I’ve had many requests to expand my inventory and include more animal cards. Along with selecting appropriate animal photos, I also included many new photographs. It’s been about two years since I’ve made a concerted effort to work on my cards, and I was inspired by a woman who purchased some at our Nor’wester Readers booth at the Tyler Park Crafts in the Meadow event in October.  She specifically returned to our booth to purchase my cards after buying some last year.

Card making is a process which I love. It allows me to really get in touch with myself. From selecting photos for prints to matching complementary card stock to affixing the photo to the card stock to inserting the finished card into a plastic sleeve — for me, it’s a zen thing, and a time to heal.

. . . and so it is

healing consciousness foundation

I received five vouchers from Dr. Dupree’s office to be redeemed for healing modalities offered by The Healing Consciousness Foundation, which was founded in 2006 by Dr. Beth Dupree. The mission is to improve the quality of life for those at high risk for or diagnosed with breast cancer through holistic healing modalities, education, and life style changes. It provides the funding for services to empower these individuals and their families, to reduce their risk factors, and to realize their full healing potential.

Oddly enough, when I first received the coupons, I did not feel I deserved them.  I tucked them away, but more recently I have reconsidered using this gift. It may open new doorways for me in my life after cancer diagnosis.

Some of the therapies offered by the practitioners include Reiki, massage therapy, cranio-sacral work, nutritional counseling, pilates, acupuncture, integrated therapy, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, and yoga. I am leaning towards bodywork, nutritional counseling, and exercise counseling. After I experience the modalities I choose, I will share with you.

Again, I want to thank all who have stayed in touch, sent cards, and offered prayers and healing energy for my recovery. I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful support community and good friends.

. . .and so it is

 

where’s the bling?

Back in the mid 1980’s Wendy’s fast-food restaurant ran a very popular ad featuring an elderly lady named Clara Peller who loudly asked, “Where’s the beef?” When I decided I wanted to write a post about bling, the phrase “where’s the bling” came to mind and instantly reminded me of this ad.

Those of you who know me well know how much I love glitter, sparkles, and bling.  When I was working as a librarian I always found a way to incorporate glitter on my bulletin boards and displays.  It was not uncommon to see a thousand points of sparkly glitter lights in the library rug, or on my desk, and occasionally in my hair!

My mom always bought me cards with glitter, and last week Nan gave me a sparkly silver band-aid to wear to celebrate my last day of radiation.

How many of you like bling? To me, bling is a metaphor for the joy in life.  When navigating one’s way through the trials of aging or illness, it’s easy to lose the bling.  When I experienced my emotional lows throughout my breast cancer experience, I sometimes struggled to see the bling — I forced myself to look for it. While it is important to be in touch with one’s honest feelings, I feel it is detrimental to succumb to negativity and self-pity. When I looked and opened myself to see the glitter and sparkle, I realized that the bling had not disappeared. I just needed to open myself to receiving the positive energy and light of joy.

. . . and so it is

 

the last orchid

The day after I got my breast cancer diagnosis, I was given a beautiful orchid plant by the Brandley family. It was loaded with blooms, and a breast cancer necklace was hanging from the stem. I set the plant on my kitchen counter so I could enjoy it multiple times a day.  The orchids thrived for a month and a half, and then one by one the flowers began to fade and wither.  I suddenly became aware of the timing, and I hoped that the last orchid would grace me with its presence until I completed my radiation treatments.  It did, and dropped off the stem the next day.

. . . and so it is

forward

Yesterday I finished my 10 radiation treatments.

The doctors, nurses, and technicians all celebrated with me. I suggested that they set off fireworks, remarking that it would be easy to do digitally for all patients undergoing their final treatment. When you have constant contact with the medical team responsible for your therapy, it is hard to just walk away with a thank you and hand-shake. I took some of my photography notecards and told each person with whom I’d had contact to select one they liked. It was received enthusiastically, even with the male doctors! Hugs, smiles, and good wishes were shared in parting.

Then came the tough part — the catheter removal. Dr. Patel, the nurse Eileen, and the representative from the company which provides the catheter were present.  The company rep had also come to Dr. Dupree’s office when she put the catheter in.  Nan had accompanied me, and she was permitted to be present during the procedure; she drove because I was told to take pain meds to help me tolerate the catheter removal . . . little did I know! When Dr. Patel began the procedure, it quickly became obvious that this was not going to be an easy removal. The reason was because the catheter had been in for TWO weeks instead of the normal one week. Both internal and external healing had occurred around the catheter, and it just did not want to budge. Needless to say, the pain was excruciating. The nurse and Nan were both holding me tightly in support, and Dr. Patel was trying his best to remove it without causing me additional pain.  Ultimately he had to numb me with lidocaine — frankly, it didn’t seem to make any difference (although I’m sure it did). Eventually, with more manipulation, Dr. Patel was finally able to pop it out.  The company rep said that it was the most difficult extraction he had ever observed.

Butterfly sutures were put into place, and the site was bandaged (very well, I might add!). I cannot express the tremendous feeling of relief I had as we walked out of the hospital.

Technically my treatments are completed.  I think it is a bit ironic and perhaps a little symbolic that I learned of my breast cancer diagnosis on September 11th and ended the process of surgeries and treatments on Election Day, November 6th. I have follow-up appointments with Dr. DuPree on Nov. 27th and with Dr. Patel on January 28th. I know that I will continue to process this experience, and I promise to continue to share. I have been told by friends and readers of this blog that they are recommending it to friends and acquaintances who are grappling with their own cancer diagnoses.  If anything I’ve written, felt, or shared helps someone else as he/she navigates their own way through cancer, I am grateful.

Now it is time to move forward, albeit as a different person.

. . . and so it is

 

bandaging

I am good at bandaging or dressing wounds. From all my years with horses, I know how to wield the gauze, cotton, bandages, and tape — polo wraps, standing wraps, exercise wraps, poultices . . . you name it! I have it down to a science.  So when I found out that my catheter site would need to be dressed twice daily, I thought, “Piece of cake!” Alas, I couldn’t reach the site! So I had to turn the bandaging over to the hospital nurses and my friend, Fran, who is also an RN, a home-infusion nurse for Jefferson Hospital.  Fran was the best — she knew exactly how to clean and dress the site, and her bandages were comfortable to wear. However, the rest of the gang was a comedy of errors from my point of view as a patient.

There was the nurse who used half the hospital supply — she padded and padded and left the catheter wires unwrapped.  There were dressings sticking every which way out of my bra, and I felt like a stuffed scarecrow wearing a pillow under my arm.

Then there was the nurse who padded and padded directly under the catheter which lifted it upward which put pressure on the wound opening. I got home and started pulling out padding until I alleviated the pressure. Fortunately I figured out I wasn’t having wound pain; I was just having bandaging distress!

Then there was the nurse who spent more time washing the catheter tubes/wires than she did bandaging.

Then there was the nurse who did the best job of the whole hospital crew. I always hoped that she would do my bandaging.

Bandaging is an art, believe me! Every nurse should be required to master the art of equine “wraps” before being permitted to bandage humans!

. . . and so it is . . . right from the horse’s mouth!

freedom

A friend forwarded this story to me, and I thought it was too powerful NOT to share. It’s just a testament to the marvelous healing energy our animals offer.

Freedom and Jeff

Freedom and I have been together 11 years this summer. She came in as a baby in 1998 with two broken wings. Her left wing doesn’t open all the way even after surgery, it was broken in 4 places. She’s my baby.

When Freedom came in she could not stand, and both wings were broken. She was emaciated and covered in lice. We made the decision to give her a chance at life, so I took
her to the vet’s office. From then on, I was always around her. We had her in a huge dog carrier with the top off, and it was loaded up with shredded newspaper for her to lay in. I used to sit and talk to her, urging her to live, to fight; she would lie there looking at me with those big brown eyes. We also had to tube feed her for weeks.

This went on for 4-6 weeks, and by then she still couldn’t stand. It got to the point where the decision was made to euthanize her if she couldn’t stand in a week. You know you don’t want to cross that line between torture and rehab, and it looked like death was winning. She was going to be put down that Friday, and I was supposed to come in on that Thursday afternoon. I didn’t want to go to the center that Thursday, because I couldn’t bear the thought of her being euthanized; but I went anyway, and when I walked in everyone was grinning from ear to ear. I went immediately back to her cage; and there she was, standing on her own, a big beautiful eagle. She was ready to live. I was just about in tears by then. That was a very good day.

We knew she could never fly, so the director asked me to glove train her. I got her used to the glove, and then to jesses, and we started doing education programs for schools in western Washington .
We wound up in the newspapers, radio (believe it or not) and some TV. Miracle Pets even did a show about us.

In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had stage 3, which is not good (one major organ plus everywhere), so I wound up doing 8 months of chemo. Lost the hair – the whole bit. I missed a lot of work. When I felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would also come to me in my dreams and help me fight the cancer. This happened time and time again.

Fast forward to November 2000 the day after Thanksgiving, I went in for my last checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not all gone after 8 rounds of chemo, then my last option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for the results. I went in Monday, and I was told that all the cancer was gone.

So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her up, and we went out front to the top of the hill. I hadn’t said a word to Freedom, but somehow she knew. She looked at me and wrapped both her wings around me to where I could feel them pressing in on my back (I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she touched my nose with her beak and stared into my eyes, and we just stood there like that for I don’t know how long . That was a magic moment. We have been soul mates ever since she came in. This is a very special bird.

On a side note: I have had people who were sick come up to us when we are out, and Freedom has some kind of hold on them. I once had a guy who was terminal come up to us and I let him hold her. His knees just about buckled and he swore he could feel her power course through his body. I have so many stories like that..

I never forget the honor I have of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Freedom.

. . . and so it is

 

 

countdown

Not long after I published the last entry titled “delay,” the hurricane Sandy hit our area, and we lost power.  The winds were very high, but we did not get as much rain as expected.  In the midst of the storm, shingles started to fly off my roof into both the back and front yards.  I texted my next door neighbor, and Ron and his son Dallas came over to try to help. Water was seeping into the attic, and Ron decided to climb up in the midst of the storm and nail down the shingles that had come loose.  I was frightened for him, but grateful for the help.  But Sandy was too wicked, and the shingles went sailing again. At that point I had to resign myself . . . it is what it is . . . and just hope that there wouldn’t be too much interior damage from water. Ultimately water did seep through to the living room ceiling, but I think once it dries I will be able to paint over the stain.

We remained without power and heat from Monday evening about 6PM through Thursday morning at 1AM. I started sleeping on the sofa in my family room on Monday night, thinking I would be wise to stay on the lower level during the storm. The family room was also the warmest room, and I actually was cozy and comfortable sleeping .  Being without power and sustaining some damage to the house were much more stressful to me than starting radiation treatments on Wednesday. Again, that feeling of vulnerability crept over me.

Debris covers my yard, and I want in the worst way to be able to rake and clean up, but I am under strict orders not to do excessive movement with my right arm which could unseat the catheter.

Nan accompanied me to Abington Hospital yesterday morning and this morning. I first go into the room where I had my “sim” last Thursday, and a CAT scan is done to be certain the catheter has remained in place.  Then I am taken to the radiation room where either Dr. Herbert or Dr. Patel and Dr. Sullivan hook up my catheter to the radiation machine.  It was explained to me that during the 7 minute treatment, radio-active beads (like a grains of rice) are delivered into the balloon catheter and then withdrawn after the therapy. A sensor is passed over me both prior to and afterwards to be sure that I am not radio-active.  I do not feel anything during the treatment, and actually have a tendency to doze off.  Each time I go for a treatment (twice daily), this process is repeated.

Afterwards I then go to an RN to have the catheter site disinfected and re-dressed.

As of today I have had four radiation treatments. To me, they are uneventful.

. . .and so it is