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.

1 comment:

WhiteStone said...

I never go into a chemo session with the dread that some seem to experience. Perhaps it is because I see it as a positive move against the enemy. I know the drugs are hard on my body but I also have the hope/knowledge that the drugs are hitting the cancer cells with power and effectiveness.

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