Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wow, Girl—It’s Been, Like, a Really Long Time

And measured in spiritual growth, in soul growth, in the growth of my gratitude for life, and my love for others and myself and this amazing, complex world we live in, it’s been much longer than that.

You last heard from me when I was in Idaho, enjoying yet another interlude of peace and quiet in one of my favorite places in the world. This particular visit the peace and quiet were much more critical than other visits, because one week prior to going, the day before the wedding of two of my dearest friends, I was diagnosed with a second recurrence of breast cancer. Or, yes, a third overall occurrence of breast cancer. It started in my right breast, again, same place it had started the previous two times. This particular time I seemed to have caught it early—a huge battery of tests (mammograms, ultrasounds, CTs, MRIs, PETs, biopsies, X-Rays, etc) confirmed that there were two tumors, but they were both contained tidily in my right breast.

You may remember from reading this entry that I was not going to truck with cancer anymore. And I meant it . . . but I meant it from a position of hopeful yearning, of bravado, but of no confidence. But how could I have had any confidence? I’d entirely given over responsibility for my health to my oncologist and Western medicine, and they , the authorities, don’t believe cancer can be cured, at least not with the tools they currently have. Certainly not with the chemical ones they used on me. So, within that framework, how could I possibly believe it?

Sure, I appeared to have a modicum of control over my health. I ate healthy foods, and exercised regularly, and lived, overall, a pretty clean life. And I’ve also always been strong—of body and of mind and of will—and I used my strong will to convince myself that my health, to a great extent, to the ultimate extent really, was out of my hands. I had convinced myself that, when I got cancer, it was a sign to give myself over to the care of others, and let them choose my path for me.


It doesn’t work that way.

Sometime last October, I started having anxiety attacks. Without knowing anything (in the must-be-measured-by-scientific-equipment-to-be-true way), I suddenly knew, on a cellular level, that something was wrong. My intuition, which had given me subtle signs over the years, stopped being subtle. “Listen to me!” it screamed, as I sobbed hysterically on the couch at my grandmother’s house, gasping for breath, my arms tingling and black spots swimming before my eyes. “Something is wrong, and you need to figure it out now!”

I began feverish self-examinations of my breast, and noticed changes. Is this particular lumpiness related to the return of my hormones? I asked my nurse. Because if not, than something is wrong. Can I get my mammogram next week instead of waiting two more weeks? Maybe, she said, maybe the changes are normal. You could try to talk to other survivors at Gilda’s Club. But no, we’re not going to change your mammogram appointment; we don’t want to enable hysterical behavior. You can talk to a clinic psychologist, though; he’s very nice.

He was very nice, and briefly helped. At my first appointment he seemed to listen. But at my next appointment, he didn’t. He spent the whole hour teaching me how to control my breathing to keep from falling into another anxiety attack, a technique that I demonstrated back to him in the first 5 minutes. Invisibility doesn’t solve problems, so I went to my third appointment only long enough to tell him that what I needed was something else.

When I finally had my mammogram, I immediately stopped being invisible to my Western medical doctors. Because, of course, what I had felt wasn’t normal, and there was now scientific evidence to prove it. I had ultrasounds as well, right after the mammograms, and the following week a biopsy that clinched the evidence. The cancer was back.

Somehow, even while railing at the Universe for making me go through this again, and feeling—despairing, even—that my life was coming to an end, a tiny, fierce part of me refused to believe that I couldn't be cured. And so I started to take back my life, my will, my spirit—or embrace those things fully for the first time ever—and I started to make decisions based on my intuition and not my desire to have someone else solve my problems.

I began to understand that we are each, individually, responsible for our own health and well-being . . . but that doesn’t mean we can’t seek assistance. In fact, we should seek assistance. We humans are community-oriented beings, and our communities are richly populated by people with myriad strengths, strengths we could not possibly embody all at once, all in one person. So I began to seek out assistance from all the richness around me. Here is the thing, though—intuition cannot be subsumed in a desire for someone to take care of you, no matter who you’re asking for assistance. A naturopath isn’t the answer any more than an oncologist is the answer. An energetic healer isn’t the answer any more than a Neurolink practitioner is the answer. All are the answer, and none are.

You, and what you know to be true about you, and what you believe to be right for you about the teachers you draw into your life, are the only answer for you.
What has been working for me is the following:
A naturopath who specializes in small doses of things and gentle physiological support (i.e. a liver detox that is so gentle you don't know it's happening; you just notice one day that you feel better)
A body worker who also does energy work
My friend the Witch Doctor (a Neurolink practitioner)
An energetic healer
Meditation, and gratitude for this brilliant, amazing life I've been blessed to lead, and learning to live without judging (others or myself)
And a breast surgeon.
(not to mention impressively open-minded friends and relatives, who have stood by my decisions faithfully from the beginning)

I had a total mastectomy on January 10th. It removed my right breast completely, including the nipple and areola (my cancer was intraductal, and all the ducts come out the nipple), the scar from my original lumpectomies, and the skin over the site of the current tumor. My remaining underarm lymph nodes were left intact, as was my left breast, which had never had cancer, even last time when it had spread all over my chest lymph nodes. I have opted not to do reconstruction. The thought of implanting silicone into myself makes me queasy, and one of the side-effects of being in excellent physical condition is that I don't have enough belly fat to transplant that (and inner thigh fat is, evidently, not used). Besides that, reconstruction involves several more surgeries.

And besides that, Amazons all cut off their right breasts.

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