Archive for category: Cancer

Silent Spring

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Biking, Buddhist Practice, Cancer, Conscious Living, Family, France, Health and Fitness, Horses, Psychology, Relationships, Travel

My life has been so blessed overall–but I/we surely got dealt our lifetime ration of yuck over the past six months!!

In January, my beautiful young Rocky Mountain Horse, Shambhala Sunrise, died ;  our local property “caretakers” did the opposite of taking care of us and our property, instead figuring out how to destroy our yurt, and bilk us and the state of California, no more said about them, but we don’t miss them; the son of a (unbeknownst to us uninsured) roofer fell off the roof of our ranch in the Sierras; my truck was vandalized and my wallet and ID was stolen by a ring of sophisticated identity thieves; we had to cancel our long awaited trip to visit our godson in South America when my beloved husband, Jim, was diagnosed (mis, fortunately) with colon cancer; my new horse bucked me off twice and fractured my collar bone.  I didn’t feel like talking much about it all!  IT seemed like a good time to observe “SILENT SPRING” and wait until the dark clouds passed over.

Today, in celebration of the end of that Silent Spring, we are back on track-marking the end of the winter of our discontent and celebrating our 30th Anniversary with a tandem bicycle trip following the Rhine and Moselle Rivers,  More to follow!

Mindfulness Practice

Categories: Buddhist Practice, Cancer, Conscious Living, Meditation, Mindfulness, Personal Growth - Tags: ,

Yesterday, I took a nap in the late afternoon sunshine up on the upper deck of the Amadeus Symphony. Falling asleep listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s recordings on my iPod, I hear the one that nearly always stops me in my tracks, bringing me back to reverence and the present moment.  It is a seven minute recording of Thay chanting with a full orchestral background, his gatha or poem about the power of listening to the bell.   Since I first heard it, whenever I have been on some kind of edge, I make sure I have my iPod to play it.  So, for example, I listened to it while being wheeled into the OR on a gurney for my first and subsequent breast cancer surgeries, then during chemotherapy, then, when Jim had his most recent near death bike accident when he was hit by a car and thrown fifty feet down the road.  During the hour drive to the emergency hospital where the ambulance took him, I played Thay’s gatha over and over.  Most recently I played it, on the gurney en route to my emergency hysterectomy a year ago.  It always calms my mind and brings the deepest comfort and connection to my Buddhist practice.

This is the gatha he wrote and sings on that beautiful recording:

 

May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the cosmos.

Even in the darkest places, living beings are able to hear it clearly

So that all suffering in them ceases and they transcend the path of sorrow and death.

The universal dharma door is already open.

The miracle happens: A beautiful child appears in the heart of a lotus flower.

Just one drop of this precious water is able to bring

The refreshing spring to our rivers and mountains.

Listening to the sound of the bell, my body relaxes, my mind eases,

And my breath brings me back to the island of mindfulness that is my true home.

Following the sound of the bell, in the garden of my heart the flowers of peace

bloom peacefully.

When I awaken, refreshed from my nap, I suddenly realize that today is actually the tenth anniversary of taking my first vows at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Han’s Monastery in Bordeaux.  What an auspicious anniversary, to celebrate ten years of life-changing Buddhist practice and to be here in the South of France again to silently renew my vows.

 

 

Rapids II: Follow the Letters

Categories: Cancer, Family, Parenting, Spiritual

Follow the Letters

Friday:

Dear Ones—

We are heading up tonight to check into a hotel near the hospital in Redwood City as I have the fun big pre-op bowel purge to do and don’t think driving in the Friday traffic with legs crossed in knots is the best plan.  I talked to my surgeon and am REALLY impressed with her—she does not think it is cancer but she also recommends a total hysterectomy and appendectomy “while I’m in there”.

I’ll be in hospital till Monday some time. We are growing but I don’t think we asked to be dealt an AFGO!  XX H

Saturday:

Dear Ones—

Whoo-ee, are we’re gonna ride!  All’s well.  Everything’s gone. Benign.  What a joyous end to this roller coaster week.  Amazing Doc—She clearly saw my pain level and came in on the weekend ~ am I ever grateful.  Of course the morphine could be entering into this glee but I’ll take that.

I’m quite a bit loopy but deeply grateful for all your loving support and concern and wanted to let you know the good news.  When I said ‘everything’ that means ovaries, tubes, uterus and cervix and an appendectomy, too, while we’re at it.  So there should be no more worries at all.  I’ll probably be here in Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City through Sunday, then home to Aptos to reunite with the doggies, horses, llamas, redwoods and meadows for two weeks recovery where lots of walking and activity is part of the recovery routine.

Ariel and Jim are here joining me in sending love and gratitude for this and to you for being such beautiful presences in our lives.   XX H

Sunday:

‘Where is the end of them, the fishermen sailing

Into the wind’s tail, where the fog cowers?

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless

Or of an ocean not littered with wastage

Or of a future that is not liable

Like the past, to have no destination’

T.S.Eliot    “Four Quartets”  ‘The Dry Salvages’

Dear Christine—

Blessings to you, dear Taos friend! It appears we abide in the miracle of cyberspace clouds.  Medicine is amazing grace, as you among us all surely know.  And I am sending my deeply grounded prayers for all that I have seen, felt and learned to bring back from this brief journey to abide with us all. Patience for going with the river, trust, hope, and gratitude for what is, has been and will be.

My crisis appeared dramatically with the bleakest outlook and then suddenly began shifting and every day got better. I think I landed in the hands of the best possible ob-gyn oncology surgeon. Katie O’Hanlan is a marvel—fun, brilliant, expert—researcher, clinician, teacher, et al. Though we’d never laid eyes on each other before, she had us laughing on the way into the OR.  By 7:30 AM, while they rolled me toward the operating room on the gurney, Jim and Ariel walked alongside, holding my hands.  Ariel had my iPhone in her pocket and it beeped to announce a text from Gabriel.  It said “Can you ask if you get to keep your uterus after they take it out?  I have fond memories of my first apartment.”

Ariel read this aloud.  Katie guffawed aloud and snorted, “No way, kid.  You can’t have it because every cell I remove is going to the pathology lab.  But I will take a photograph for you!”  With that, Jim and Ariel released my hands, patted my legs good luck.  We rolled through the double doors, laughing and soon I was under.

Later that afternoon afternoon Katie stopped by with the photograph and to reconfirm that everything was benign.  The photo showed a rosy pink healthy uterus in the ominous shadow of a Darth Vadar-looking purplish blue black swollen mass.  I felt like Dorothy looking at the body of the wicked witch of the North. Now that witchy serous adenoma is shrunken, scraped off the walls of the nearby tissues it had been draining blood from, and has been sent unceremoniously to the path lab with the other six no longer needed body parts (tubes, uterus, ovaries, cervix and, for good measure, the appendix) she’d removed.

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!  Katie said I was doing so well and since the procedure had been at 7:30 AM I had had the full day to recover and if I could “walk and pee” I would be much happier to be at home—so with that encouragement, I managed both and by 8:30PM I was home in Aptos!  My regimen now is pretty much do everything normally.  Walk, walk, walk through the pain.  Exercise, etc.  Because it was all done by laparoscopy the recovery is a miracle and there are no stitches.

When I called my wonderful doctor here in Santa Cruz after the surgery yesterday to thank her for her Herculean efforts all last week, she closed by saying she’s on her way to Spain for a week.  She reminded me that I would have been hiking and river rafting in the Grand Canyon as of now as well. Can we only imagine the scenarios if this had presented tomorrow instead of last Monday! And this afternoon, though it wasn’t the Grand Canyon hiking we’d planned or the rapids we’d expected to run on the Colorado River, we hiked this canyon at home, a mile and a half loop with the dogs leaping and playing, glad to have me home and the familiar returned, up through the redwood meditation grove, pausing for gratitude at the altar of Avalokiteshvara, the boddhisatva of compassion and deep listening.

We will miss you so much in person at Twin Brooks next month, but I feel your love, our deep connection and the soft flutter of angel wings that pass between us.  Honor your art and be well, my dear friend.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the sweet poignant farewell Ariel offered to her “nest” and Gabriel’s “first apartment.”  Before they came to collect me for the surgery, she climbed upon my hospital bed and cuddled in.  I put on my iPod and we each took one earbud and listened together to the monastics at Deer Park Monastery chanting “Namo Avalokiteshvara Ya” It was so soothing and centering.  Then we listened as Sister Jewel sang the beautiful “Don’t ask the way to peace, peace is the way” and finally, Ariel, stroking our “nest” sang me the words to the round “Standing like a tree with my roots down deep, my branches wide and open, Come, come the rain, Come come the sun, Return to the earth, Return to the one who is standing like a tree with my roots down deep, my branches wide and open…”

With abiding love,

Breathing and smiling,

Harriet

PS Dr. O’Hanlan released me from the hospital that same night  with the injunction to “Walk, Walk,Walk!” and do every athletic thing I felt I could manage, so Sunday we hiked a mile and a half, Monday, two days post op, back to Pilates, Wednesday, back riding Shambhala!! Yee Haw!  XXX H

Roller Coaster Ride on the Rapids

Categories: Cancer, Conscious Living, Health and Fitness, Personal Growth, Relationships - Tags: , ,

FOLLOW THE LETTERS:

Wednesday

Dear Ones—

Take a deep, sweet breath and do sit down.  Monday morning after a beautiful  weekend, we suddenly found ourselves on a roller coaster—

Out of the blue on my way home from my Pilates class, I felt acute abdominal pain, like very powerful menstrual cramps.  Within an hour I couldn’t even walk and before long began vomiting, heaving in pain though my stomach was empty. What could it be?  Appendicitis?  Kidney stones? What?   Jim rushed me to our doctor, Grace, who did a pelvic exam and felt a mass around my right ovary.  She sent us to Dominican Hospital for ultra sound where they found a grapefruit sized mass apparently around or in the ovary.  Grace called Dominican radiology to tell us to come back to her office.  Normally a delicious chocolate black woman with very spirited dreadlocks, Grace entered the examination room looking grey, and as if the very curl would let go in her hair.  She sat down heavily, took a huge deep breath and said, “Guys, it doesn’t look good.”

Having spent six years as the staff psychologist in the Oncology Unit at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, I knew exactly what she feared. Not only have I lost two dear friends to ovarian cancer, but I knew that by the time the mass was palpable, it was probably too late.

Jim and I looked at each other in abject shock.  How could this be?  In four days we’re supposed to be launching the many month celebration of my upcoming 70th birthday with a river rafting and hiking trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon!  My god, will I even make it to 70?  My beloved mother, who died in a car crash at 73, seemed to have been snatched from life way too early.

As we looked at each other in disbelief, the tears welling up in both of our eyes, I took a breath and said, “Damn.  This is the last thing I expected.  But if it is to be, I’m not afraid.  It’s just what is.  I don’t think either of us have any regrets.  We have truly sculpted our lives over the past decade and a half exactly as we have wanted.  We have traveled far and wide in the world, we have loved and raised our children, we have cherished each other and we have found the perfect valley for our golden years.  I feel solid in my Buddhist practice, and know no death, no fear of death.  Just major disappointment that my ride has been cut short so abruptly.

What I do know is that this is different from breast cancer.  Then, diagnosed with stage one cancer, even presenting bilaterally and with sentinel node involvement, there was no question but aggressive treatment.  Surgeries, chemo, radiation.  This time, I don’t think so.  I don’t want to spend my last chapter chasing chemo rainbows and vomiting.  As staff psychologist for six years on the oncology ward at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, I have seen it all.  I just know if in fact this is late stage ovarian cancer, I want to know I have a way out when the time is right.”

Grace looked at me evenly and said, “Don’t worry about a thing.”  I felt a huge sigh of relief as one of my biggest worries has not been about death and dying, but about getting stuck in a hospital as I saw so many oncology patients caught, hoping, trying for miracles, desperately chasing one more month.  I don’t need that.  I am fully alive in the present moment.  Grace’s assurance offered a huge relief.

By midnight I was admitted to Dominican hospital to manage the pain with morphine while we waited for a CT scan on Tuesday—I had begun vomiting some blood.  Jim and I held steady on our course. We called the children, my sister and my cousin.  We held hands and he tearfully stroked my belly.  Tuesday afternoon, the CT scan showed an encapsulated mass (whew) and the CA125 (marker for ovarian cancer) came back at 19 not indicating cancer—whew—now the odds dropped from 80% probability to 25% of cancer—we’ll take that!  They then did an endoscopy to see where the blood was coming from, and found two small new ulcers, in the esophagus and in the stomach.  Likely caused by uber-stress-caused acid vomiting on an empty stomach.  So I am scheduled with Katie O’Hanlan, MD for emergency ovarian surgery this Saturday at Stanford. They’ll have a preliminary pathology report at the time and the definitive path report should be back within a week of that.  Oh, impermanence!  Oh, opportunities to practice mindful breathing!  So now it’s just pain management until then.

Unfortunately, of course, we had to bail on our Grand Canyon rafting and hiking trip.  We were due to leave on Thursday to make our descent.  This has come totally out of left field as I have been feeling top of the world, physically, emotionally and spiritually!  This weekend Jim took me (yes, HE took me) on a horseback adventure—a trail in Big Basin State Park north of Ano Nuevo that he had found with his hiking group—a fabulous steep switchback trail through the redwoods up to the ridgeline of the mountains and thence to the top of Chalk Mountain overlooking the whole Monterey Bay.  It was thrilling.  And Mother’s Day Sunday was wonderful—who would have ever thought there could be such a cosmic turnaround?  Looks like another “AFGO”—Remember that irreverent one from when I shattered my hip mountain biking?  (“Another Fucking Growth Opportunity”).  But it is true; my mindfulness practice is solid and sustaining.  Ariel flew up immediately and has been a wonderful mommy.  Gabriel may come in on the weekend.  Jim has totally been a rock to lean on, but with no camouflage for his tender feelings. Very present.

I saw my oncologist yesterday at Stanford for my five-year follow-up from the breast cancer—She says there is nothing at all to worry about re breast cancer—all is perfectly clear and whatever this is, it is unrelated to that.  She also agrees it is very probably (75/25) a non-malignant cystic neoplasm in the ovary.  The procedure can be done by laparoscopy, but it must be done by an expert (Ob-Gyn Oncologist, Surgeon). Finding that doc was what’s slowed us down on the timing. She’ll decide during surgery whether it is just ovarectomy of hysterectomy.

So, with love and gratitude for you in my life and your prayers and healing energy, I’m calm and very optimistic about celebrating my upcoming 70th birthday with flying colors, it does deeply bring me into the present moment.  Please don’t worry.  We’ll keep you in the loop unless you prefer not to receive these emails.

Harriet

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