30 April 2010

YAY again!

My hero and friend Ms. B just came back from her oncology appointment. She's graduated from CT scans every six months to yearly scans. YAY!!!

29 April 2010

Zen and The Art of Visualization

Visualization. It was strongly recommended to me by most everyone as a tool I could use to fight cancer. "If you can visualize it, you can manifest it." Of course! It made sense. There was no better time to practice mind over matter. I believed it. This was a good opportunity to flex my mental muscles. And, from all that I had been told and I had read, it became obvious that visualization not only an enhancement, but rather, a necessity to get me through the hurdle of chemotherapy and overcome cancer.

For my first visualization, I went for the aggressive and violent. Usually, I was restless on the eve of chemo. And as I lay awake during that long night ahead I would visualize the following scenario to to prepare myself my first few chemo sessions. It's like a a football team does before a championship game -- lots yelling and noise (in my head of course).

The Soprano's on Spring Break at The Jersey Shore - The scene was a loud, out-of-control spring break party, consisting of rowdiest, rudest, and most destructive juvenile versions Tony Soprano and his cronies, along with with the cast of the Jersey Shore and their friends, dialed up to level 11! They're all blind drunk, cavorting, carousing, and causing all kinds of havoc and damage everywhere. They're out of control, disrespectful and inconsiderate. But mostly, they're aggressive and destructive, paying no mind to their surroundings and breaking everything in sight. Fights amongst each other would break out and they would pick fights with anyone that got in their way. All of this was their idea of fun. Meantime, things are breaking and others are getting hurt. This place where they're partying and destroying is my body and the obnoxious revellers are the cancer cells wreaking havoc in my body! They're destroying my body with wanton abandon! My body's a wreck of a place --broken, ugly, dirty. But the revellers keep going...louder and more destructive. My body's deteriorating and they keep destroying.
UNTIL . . . (to the tune of Wagner's Ride of theValkyries)

Over the horizon, helicopters and fighter planes fly into sight. Tanks shake the ground beneath as they approach the party. Legions of armed men on foot march synchronously toward the revellers. At the forefront, riding in a top down army jeep is General Dr. T - commander of the anti-cancer armed forces! With an unyielding look of determination as he gazes at the destructive revellers, he raises his hand and signals "FIRE!" Bombs drop at the rowdy destroyers. Canons fire from behind Dr. T! A rain of bullets from the army's AK 47's blanket the party. The revellers are surrounded. Trapped. Firepower (Carboplatin and Taxol) destroys them. Dr. T's anti-cancer armed forces dominate and the cancer (partiers) are destroyed!

(End Visualization )

Pretty violent, eh? This took me by surprise. I abhor violence. I do anything to avoid conflict. I hate war. Then why this scenario to visualize? Perhaps it's the cancer to go away as quickly as possible. Or maybe it was even because I was really deeply angry at the whole situation and wanted to do some serious damage on that culprit cancer! Most definitely, it was a reflection of the rage and anger that was brewing within me.

As I settled into my chemo routine later on, my visualization changed from the aggressive and violent to the silent but lethal. Rather than visualizing rowdy revellers being destroyed by firepower during war, I turned to an imagery that had terrified me as a child:

The Green Fog of Death Creeping Through Egypt - Yes. It's the scene of the First Passover from Cecile de Mille's "The Ten Commandments." Moses had relayed God's final demand to the Pharaoh to "Let my people go!" The Pharaoh was unmoved. So, God sent the final plague. The Angel of Death (in the form of a dark green fog creeping throughout Egypt) was sent to kill all the first-borns in Egypt. The Jews were spared because they had the blood of the lamb on their doors. But, no other first born was spared. The green fog of death represented chemotherapy coursing through my veins (which would be represented by the streets of Egypt) and all the first borns killed in the land were the cancer cells. Inasmuch as ovarian cancer was the silent killer, Carbo-taxol was even quieter, but more lethal, thank goodness!

(End Second Visualization)

It was at once a provocative and terrifying scene, when I saw it as a child on TV. Being the first born in my family, I'd always feared the green fog of death would come for me one day. It's really ironic that such childhood terror would be of such service to me as an adult. This visualization suited me better. There were no explosions or gunfire; and definitely no blood spilled. There was just the quiet, seemingly cold and deadly creep of the green fog of death killing with no violence. This suited my nature more -- quiet but lethal.


In the final analysis, I found myself using neither visualizations at all. Somehow, instead of visualizing, things evolved into awareness and presence -- being in the moment during chemo infusion. I started to think of myself as an active and vital part of Dr. T's cancer team. Each person in the team had a role to play, Dr. T being the captain. But everyone needed to do their bit order for the team to beat my cancer. Dr. T provided the analysis and treatment plan, his nurses at the chemo lab executed the plan, and I had to be there READY AND PRESENT for this treatment. This way, I was participating in my treatment. I was there. I showed up, READY for my role in "the fight." This was better than any visualization I could muster. Being aware and in the moment (eyes open and all, even though I have rolling veins and I hate needles) when I was infused me Carbo-Taxol gave me a huge feeling of control. Both my visualizations portrayed me as sort of just a place where things happened or to whom things happened. But when I showed up, alert and present, I participated by being ready emotionally, mentally and physically. I made sure that I concentrated on what was going on, as if to "cheer on" Carbo-Taxol. I wanted to feel the chemotherapy coursing through my veins because I knew that it was on its way to destroy the cancer cells that were destroying me. It sounds new-agey, but it's true. I was zen about it -- zen in the sense of being hyper-aware of what was happening in my body at the moment. It was a meditation of sorts. Granted the Benadryl would lull me to sleep in the 4.5 hours that I sat for my Carboplatin therapy. But I would awaken again, once they changed bags and gave me the Taxol for the last hour of treatment, again meditating on the chemo coursing through my veins, being aware and present, knowing that the chemo was doing its bit to get rid of the cancer in my body. And I focused on that.

(And this was one of the reasons why I chose to go to my chemo sessions unaccompanied. I wanted to be alone with my treatment.)

Now, this post is certainly not meant to diss visualization. I merely wanted to point out the power of mind over matter. I absolutely respect and appreciate its value. It works! The mind is a powerful thing! And you can you use it to your advantage however you can -- whether through visualization or meditation, or another method. You just have to find what fits you. There is no one way because there is no limit to the power of your mind.

21 April 2010


Today was my three month check-in with my oncologist. My CA-125 level is at 7!

Happy dance!

14 April 2010

Fuel Up!

The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started. - Norman Cousins


Hope comes in many forms and is found in many places. To some, hope can be found in churches; amongst encouraging loved ones; in seeing the sun rise after a long hard night; in hearing the laughter of children at play; seeing a marathon runner cross the finish line; in a song; or in hearing the testimony of a survivor. Hope can be found most anywhere at any given time -- there for the taking. It is an optimist's bright guide and a pragmatist's best companiion.

I am more pragmatic than optimistic. And while it's true that one needs to be at least a little optimistic when fighting something like cancer, I think that, in my case, it's more important to be pragmatic. See, I'm not wired to be optimistic even though faith and hope are the foundation of my existence. Even though I don't look at the world through rose-colored glasses or sing "the sun will come out tomorrow," I do believe that everything happens for a reason -- good or bad. Nothing is in vain. It all goes towards the "big pot of purpose" Although many times, I don't know what the reason is, I have absolute faith that there is always a reason. This keeps me sane and grounded. Life moves, albeit sometimes in mysterious ways. If you don't move with it, you'll get left behind, perhaps stagnate and eventually atrophy. Hope is the the fuel that enables movement, especially when moving is the hardest. And when you're saddled with a heavy load like having to fight cancer, you need to get to your nearest hope fueling station and fill up!

My hope fueling station is nestled in the second floor of a mid-sized office building in the middle of the city. Hope was dispensed from a large room at the end of a long and cold hallway, flanked on either side by offices. The door opened to a rather gray and sterile reception area, always full of people either waiting for their turn to go beyond the reception area for their turn or waiting for someone else who is inside. Once seen, one of the two receptionists quickly greeted me cordially and bade me sit until my name was called. I always sat in the the chair right nearest to the large bowl of hard candy that seemed always to be full -- lots of peppermint and fruit variety, a very cheery addition to the room. This was the waiting room at my oncologist's chemotherapy clinic, where I went for treatment once every three weeks. Yes. This was where I fueled up on hope!

Different people have differing opinions about chemotherapy. In reality, it is poison that kills fast growing cells in your body. So, yes. It does harm to your body. And a lot of cancer patients and survivors resent that -- as well they should. The immediate side effects alone are enough to banish this treatment to hell and back. BUT, it IS a necessary evil, isn't it?

Perhaps I'm crazy to say this, but I deemed Carbolplatin and Taxol as healing infusions. I absolutely looked forward to chemo every three weeks because I believed that with every IV infusion, more cancer cells were being killed by the chemotherapy. So, what if my liver suffered, or my hair fell out, or I was fatigued, or I was bleeding incessantly after treatment? I sat in those chemo chairs always with anticipation and with a smile. "Give me chemo, please!" was the look on my face. I never thought those IV's were poison at all. I thought of them as medicine that will make me better. Chemotherapy gave me hope -- enough hope to weather the nausea, fevers, headaches and everything else in between. And no matter if it was poison for other cells in my body, I didn't dwell on that. I was just always glad to have the infusion. It's the pragmatist in me.

Whatever I needed to get rid of those cancer cells was all well and GOOD -- not poison! "Dwell on the good it is doing, rather than the damage it is wreaking," I told myself. Because the little energy I had was better spent on "accentuating the positive" as the old song said. And because of that, chemo served as hope rather than poison. I believe that attitude helped immensely in my bout with cancer. Hope comes in all shapes and sizes. Mine just happened to be in the form of Carbo-Taxol chemotherapy.

So, here's to hope, where ever and however you may find it! Hang on to it and reach for the sky!


We'd never know how high we are till we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to plan, our statures touch the sky. ~ Emily Dickinson

07 April 2010

An Armor of Scarves and Pencils

I've always admired women who have the courage to "rock the bald" (as my boyfriend put it). Persis Khambatta took my breath away in Star Trek. Melissa Etheridge's brave appearance at the Grammy's drove me to tears. I can't count the hours I'd been mesmerized by Sinead O' Connor, whom I can't think of as other than bald. And I sat in admiration as I talked to a young breast cancer patient at my oncologist's waiting room, resolved to "not care" that she was walking around bald, because she had worse things to worry about. Right on, sister!

That's all well and good for others. Brave women with hairless pates are so powerfully beautiful. Here's to breaking conventions of beauty! (You go, girls!) But not for me, thanks. All it took for me was my first gaze at my bald self. If I weren't in such shock, I would have probably been horrified. I felt so, so.... naked! There's something about being stripped (pardon the pun) of one's mane that leaves a certain feeling of being exposed and vulnerable. Gone was that hair behind which to hide or to frame oneself. And, if my reaction to my reflection in the mirror was of such potential horror, what more for others? I had cancer to deal with. Don't make me garner up more strength to endure unwanted gazes (whether imagined or real). . .please. . .

Thank goodness for the good folks at Look Good Feel Better! They anticipated that there would be a need to reinforce female cancer patients' self-image issues through make-up tips, hair/wig tips, and head wrapping tips. They have classes around the country. Or, if you can't make it out, they have tutorials on their website. Not only was there a make-up artist during the classes, there was also a wig/hair expert. It's an invaluable service! It also felt good to sit with about a dozen other women in various stages of chemo treatment. I wasn't alone. Plus, they sent you away with a "gift bag" chock-full of new make-up and skin care from the best brands in the country! Thank you, Look Good Feel Better!

After my class with Look Better folks, I played around with a wig and concluded that I wasn't a wig person after all, much as I'd have liked to have been. It just wasn't me and I would have felt more self-conscious about the baldness. So it was on to scarves. And with those, I wanted a form that most resembled hair (a hair bun?) and not just something tied around my head. I found this very helpful video on the basics of how to wrap a scarf on my head. She provided the basic mechanics and I came up with my own "formula." I started with these turbans as the base (so that the scarves had something to grip on to and also to serve as "cushion" for my head) and then wrapped two layers of scarves (one layer with one of these jersey (t-shirt) scarves and then another with these lovely scarves. The materials I chose with which to wrap my head were all of soft cotton -- very important for one's bald sensitive pate. Also, my wonderful daughter, who is a MAC make-up artist extra-ordinaire, taught me first-hand how to draw my eyebrows in and do my eye make up so that it's not the focal point of my face. All this comprised my armor of scarves and pencils that enabled me to navigate the outside world without exposing my head.

I've never been one to spend much time in primping. Fifteen minutes and I'm ready to go. But with all this wrapping and drawing, I had to add 30 to 45 minutes to my "primping" time. Not only was the wrapping and drawing taking time, I also had to allot time to figuring out what scarves to combine with the turban so that I'd know what to wear with them. Man, I needed a whole styling team, didn't I? It was quite the involved process, all to be done first thing in the morning. Not a good thing for someone who dreads mornings. Good times! But, I guess it was a price I had to pay for choosing to wear this armor of scarves.

Like to real armors, mine proved to be an inconvenience over time. The scarves gave me a gargantuan headache during the day. I guess I always wrapped my scarves extra-tightly around my head for fear of them coming undone. The headaches became so painful that I actually considered going without the scarves (just for a minuscule of a second though). Man! What a great feeling it was when I unwrapped my head at the end of the day at home! It was like a release. All the pressure on my head would be gone all at once and the headache disappeared in an instant. But the welts of my head from the scarves stayed through the entirety of the evening. Looking back, I don't know how I endured that every single day. I can only attribute to my attachment to hiding behind my armor or scarves and pencils. No one, but three people: my boyfriend, my daughter, and my brother, R-- had seen me bald during. These were the ones who loved me the most and therefore I trusted not to run in horror upon seeing me "naked" like that. Otherwise, I endured the armor headache or no.

What was the point of all of this? Well, first I hope that the information above about help regarding "beautifying" whilst ill with cancer can help someone else; and second, if you are reading this and are having self-image issues because of hair loss, it's okay. If you don't feel like being brave and want to hide behind an armor of your choice, please do so. See, when you're up against something as insidious and big as cancer, you need to be pragmatic. If what you need is to don a wig or wrap your head in scarves OR walk about bald, then that's what you should do. This is your battle. So, you should arm yourself they you deem fit. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Be gracious to yourself. Give yourself whatever works. There is no one one way of contending with this. You don't have to wrestle with self-image issues whilst wrestling with cancer. Do what feels right to you.

I'm glad to have found my armor of scarves and pencils. Who knew that the scarves of cotton and wax pencils would fortify me during my cancer bout? Strength comes in so many forms, even in the softest.