Surviving

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

Survival. We all have our own ways of making it through each day. I looked over my balcony and watched an elderly woman walking on the sidewalk below, laboriously pushing her walker. Her gait faltered in a pre-meditated sort of way. Her left hip rose up awkwardly wrenching a painful stilted thrust to each step forward. But there was a determination and commitment to this evening ritual. Make it around the block. That was her survival mechanism for seeing it through another day. We each have our own way.

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The day my radiation finished it was overcast – I think the first overcast day in six weeks of radiation. It actually rained in the afternoon. It was the first day throughout my entire treatment protocol I didn’t go for a walk. The ending of radiation was somewhat anti-climatic. It’s not like they leave you feeling great. In fact, it was the beginning of what was to be many more very painful uncomfortable days.

It was the next day that it hit – I have my whole life ahead of me! As long as I was in the cycle of treatment, I felt prognoses and diagnoses and stats weighing on me. My oncologist basically told me to throw it all out the window. I will be checked on rigorously for the next four years and everyone will have eyes on me. Other than that – go live. Then the post-radiation side effects really hit.

As I proceeded through two weeks post-radiation, the side effects became worse. I really didn’t believe the technicians when they told me that would happen. I was sure they were mistaken and because I’m just so darn healthy (funny, coming from someone diagnosed with cancer 6 months ago) that I would breeze through the next two weeks. Think again. Luckily I had a champion on my side – a former wheatgrass client who was diagnosed with throat cancer, possibly seven years ago. He knew what I was up against and he commiserated with me regularly and cheered me on.

“There is nothing like this, but it changes you, and lets you know where the filament of the light bulb that is you, is.”

Then there was my cousin, who every week, made sure to message me and let me know how much I was loved.

“You amaze me and inspire me always! – Much Love!”

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Fellow cancer crusaders and survivors shared stories and tips and support (Aloe Vera was one of the more useful tips). They are a sorority of sisters, primarily, who have been vigilant survival stewards, rallying around my scars, and treatment options, and side effects, and offering testimonials from the ‘other side’ of recovery. Faith became my mantra.

My dear, dear life partner was there through it all. The other evening during dinner, he noticed not sensing any pain emanating from me, for the first time in weeks. When he awoke the next day, he announced he was taking it easy – the first time in six months he was giving himself permission to focus on himself. My heart broke, to think it has all been about me. It is time, dear heart, for you alone.

And family. They were by my side when they were able. My birthday seemed to bring out the hankies. I made it through to see another year but at what cost? How can something so joyful be clouded with such heartbreak and sorrow? I sensed a release of sorts. Perhaps now we can get on with what this new life shall be.

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I have had a core of angels throughout this journey who always took the time to message me, email me, phone me, visit me, respond to my Facebook and blog posts, and let me know I was doing great. On the hardest days post-radiation (and they were the worst days of this entire process, worse than the surgery and six weeks of radiation) I looked to those comments for encouragement. It is very easy to lose sight of why you decided to do this, what you had hoped to gain from this, and what the long-term outcomes may be.

And then, while swamped in my radiation brain fog, I started to look up stats on the Internet:

It is estimated that in 2015:

  • 4,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer.
  • 1,200 Canadians will die from oral cavity cancer.
  • 2,900 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 810 will die from it.
  • 1,450 women will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 390 will die from it.

Quick Facts:

  • In Canada, oral cancer is the 13th most common cancer (of the 23 reported cancers).
  • In 2009, the number of new cases and death due to oral cancer is predicted to be almost three times higher than that of cervical cancer and almost double the rates of liver cancer. Oral cancers are also predicted to have higher numbers of new cases and deaths in 2009 than stomach, brain and ovary cancers.
  • And then, while swamped in my radiation brain fog, I started to look up stats on the Internet:

    It is estimated that in 2015:

    • 4,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer.
    • 1,200 Canadians will die from oral cavity cancer.
    • 2,900 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 810 will die from it.
    • 1,450 women will be diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and 390 will die from it.

    Quick Facts:

    • In Canada, oral cancer is the 13th most common cancer (of the 23 reported cancers).

    The five-year survival rate for oral cancer is 63 percent compared to the survival rates of cervical cancer (75 percent), melanoma cancers (89 percent), and prostate cancer (95 percent).

  • In 2009, it is estimated that there will be 3,400 new cases of oral cancer and that 1,150 people will die from oral cancer. Men will account for over half of these new cases.
  • The incidence of oral cancer is much lower than other cancers.
    It is true that oral cancer new cases and deaths are relatively low in number compared to prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer, but are almost three times higher than for cervical cancer and almost double than liver cancer.
  • People over the age of 40 have a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Oral cancer can occur at any age, but the incidence increases sharply over 40. Individuals that are over the age of 60 have the highest incidence of oral cancer.

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Okay. So that is why I did what I did. Now, how does one move forward from a life-altering treatment plan? How does one survive?

Katya Mycyk, breast cancer alternative treatment pioneer, recently posted a survivor’s guide to spontaneous remission.

I was most interested in some of the characteristics associated with remission and survival that cancer survivors are reporting.

  1. A change from dependency to autonomy combined with activities, attitudes, and behaviors that promote increased autonomy, awareness of themselves, others, and their environment, love, joy, playfulness, satisfaction, laughter, and humor.
  2. Facing the crisis, the despair, the sadness, and the pain and discovering they have the power to find a new way of life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
  3. Taking control of their lives, (personal, professional, emotional, spiritual, and medical) and living each day fully combined with a willingness to evaluate their beliefs and attitudes and change old beliefs and attitudes that are no longer appropriate or adequate.
  4. Becoming comfortable with and expressing and accepting both their positive and negative emotions/feelings, their needs, wants, and desires (physical, emotional, spiritual); the ability to say “No” when it is necessary for their well being.
  5. Having at least one strong loving relationship—a strong connection to another person, an activity, an organization(s), changing the quality of their interpersonal relationships with spouses, friends, family, neighbors, doctors, nurses, etc. in a positive way, and motivation to help others.
  6. Working in partnership with their physicians and participating in decisions related to their health and wellbeing.
  7. Finding meaning in the experience of cancer, finding reasons to live, accepting the diagnosis but not the prognosis, seeing the disease as a challenge, belief in a positive outcome, and having a renewed desire, will and commitment to life.
  8. Choosing activities and practices that promote increased awareness and reduce stress (imagery, stress reduction, yoga, etc.); showing renewed spiritual awareness (Soul) that often results in a spiritual practice (prayer, meditation, religious affiliation, connection to nature, etc.).

The list sounds like a formula for life, regardless if you are a survivor of a life altering dis-ease or not.

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The summer lazily summons me to sit out on the balcony, watch the cruise ships, bask in the stunning vistas and ocean breezes, marvel and fret over no rain on Canada’s traditionally ‘wet coast’, and slowly and methodically let go of my patient mentality. This week I will finally leave my Victoria cocoon and venture back onto Salt Spring Island for our youngest grandson’s 6th birthday. It’s time. All sorts of ‘what if’ scripts keep playing in my head, but as I embrace the remission list of affirmations, I know that before I can truly establish myself as a survivor, I need to tackle my stumbling block – #1. The other seven I have a sense of and I’m exploring, but I have protected myself from others during radiation. Time to break away from my daily rituals and live on ‘Salt Spring time’ for a few hours. Okay – baby steps.

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When you strive to live in the moment, the moment sometimes becomes one moment too many. I’m realizing that I’m becoming acquainted with a whole new me. I’m dressing slightly differently – I really have a 1950s aging movie star thing going on, and young people who are into vintage clothes seem to appreciate my style. I speak differently yet again (with the swelling and inflammation caused by radiation) and my swollen neck and scars will always be there to some degree. Who am I without all the treatments and appointments and drama and trauma? That’s what I’m about to discover.

I’m a survivor. And I’m a new version of my former self. They often speak of people with brain injuries never quite being who they were before. When I look in the mirror, I’m not quite who I was before. Perhaps what’s most elemental in surviving such a radical transformation is realizing, in each moment, we are merely who we are and that is the discovery most precious in our ability to survive.

Thank you everyone for holding my hand, guiding my illusory walker around the metaphorical block, and helping me make it through each and every day. This has been a road trip to remember. And as survival tip #5 suggests, we survive best when we have a strong connection to others. There are so many of you that have been here for me in ways I would never have been able to predict. The abundance in my life overwhelms me with joy and appreciation and love. To all of you who have hitched a ride with me during this adventure, I am deeply moved, appreciative, and forever grateful for your support and love.

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I’m not sure where Rawsome on the Road will take us next. That’s part of what I’m here to discover. And as in all things that we have posted on this blog, you will be the first to read all about it. Until, forever filled with gratitude, Chris and Jim.

Saying good-bye to fear

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim 

I don’t think I’m consumed with death as a concept at the moment, but it definitely sits in my frontal lobe more than it use to. You can’t avoid death. It’s going to happen one day. I would love to think I would live until 92 years of age. My mother actually turns 93 in September. She is the longest living person on her side of the family tree. Quite an accomplishment for a woman who lived through the depression, had her share of operations and diagnoses, who has lived longer as a single woman than a married woman, manages her finances and her health impeccably, and continues to live independently and drive her own car!

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I can’t boast any of those stats but I do feel I can accept whatever each day brings me. Have I assumed the mindset of one who is nearing her life’s end? Or am I finally settling with what is? All we have is each moment. If you live moment by moment, I’m learning there is nothing to fear.

“The one who fears something the most is the one who has it most activated in their vibration. And so, it is logical that they would experience It.” – Abraham

Fear is an ever-present dilemma in our daily lives. If I miss the bus will I be late for work? If I have another donut will I gain weight? Does anyone really like me? What if I can’t pay the rent for this month? Are our oceans radioactive on the West Coast? What happens if California no longer produces organic produce due to the drought? I’m not sure I can feed my family for the rest of the week, what am I going to do? My mother has breast cancer, does that mean I will? Who’s going to take care of my family if I pass?

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Fear goes from what may be seemingly innocuous to serious life altering outcomes. And then there is just the plain old fear of what happens when we die. And that is where I went to in my memory bank.

As a fourth-year student in Early Childhood Education, I had my final practicum at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto as a recreational therapist on the dialysis ward. I don’t believe they are called that anymore. In fact, at one point they were called child life specialists and who knows if they still exist as a line item in hospital programming budgets any longer. However, when I was in the throes of my practicum, I was there to spend time with children, to bring in activities for them to do, to create a fun, stimulating environment, and to just be with them. A child life practitioner would also bring in activities that may assist the child to deal with some of the emotional aspects of their illness or diagnosis and possibly prepare them through play for upcoming surgery and treatments. I didn’t have a particularly skilled supervisor role model to follow and was completely unprepared for the emotions that confronted me on my last visit to this young boy’s bedside.

I’ll call him Tim, though I really don’t recall his name. It was what he said, how he looked at me, and his abject fear that will stick with me forever. Tim didn’t want me to leave his room. He kept holding my hand with such trepidation in his eyes I felt like he was seeing through me to another dimension I couldn’t grasp. He was sure he was going to die. And he openly admitted to being afraid. As a completely unprepared frightened 20-something, I assured him that wasn’t going to happen. He was all right. That was not what he needed to hear. He needed to hear that he could let go of his fear; that I would stay with him until I could get one of his family members in the room with him. I needed to remain close and let him share what he was feeling and more importantly, seeing. I felt he was seeing something that was reaching out for him, but as a small child he wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do – to go without the consent of his family.

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Tim was seeking permission to go, as well as asking to be reassured it was going to be okay once he left. All I could manage was to try and hide my fear from him, my fear of death, and my complete lack of skills to handle such loss and sadness from someone so young experiencing something this monumental on his own. I perceived it as tragic at that time in my life, when in fact it should have been viewed as an opportunity and a peaceful moment of moving on.

What I believe the ‘Tims’ of the world do for us is to open up our hearts and give us a glimpse into the evolution of life. Sometimes it goes on for decades, as in my mother’s case. For others, it may be a brief decade or less. But the process is the same. We come into this world in some way – some briefly for only a breath and some don’t even manage that first breath of oxygen. For them there is too much plenty and purpose to what they have experienced in utero. Their time is done. For those who choose to creep and crawl and walk and run and crawl and creep through life, we all take similar steps. What Tim reminded me of, is that there is a way to let go that can be gentler and kinder and softer.

Victoria Karuna Scott creator of Infinitely Possible Human Beings writes about her experience with death and her work at hospice:

“It’s so often an unconscious thing that we do, trying to help & make better & somehow free others from not having to feel any pain. But that’s not what life is about. It’s not that we have to experience pain to feel peace but we do have to allow others to feel what it is they need to feel. “– Victoria Karuna Scott

Fear was definitely what Tim needed to feel and work through and be guided to a quieter gentler place within his soul. I was not his angel that day. I failed him miserably. I’m hoping an angel did wrap his/her wings around him. I hope his family clustered near and cried and hugged and breathed his last breath along side him as they held his hands. The next morning I went to Tim’s room, he was not there. He had passed in the night. I had no closure and I definitely continued to carry fear with me for many, many long years, especially around death.

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After my operation, fear left me. I was so occupied with fear prior to my operation; it consumed me and left me with residual doubts. And then I woke up and felt and counted the scars and stitches and staples and the stiffness and numbness in my neck and tongue and ears and shoulders, and the tubes in my throat and mouth and arm and realized I was alive. I had a beautiful loving man holding my hand through all of this with tears in his eyes and so much adoration, my heart glowed and light projected around Jim and me. And it was then I knew I had nothing to fear. Whatever will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera – thank you Doris Day.

So why is fear so darn important to me of late and why do I feel we live best without it? Because I’ve seen Both Sides Now. (Thanks Judy Collins).

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There definitely is a musical theme to this post.

There are benefits to fear as outlined in the article The Benefits of Fear.

We need to know when fear is alerting us to something we should be cautious or careful around. But to let it consume us allows fear to get the better of us, thus clouding our perceptions of reality.

And then I found this article from Huffington Post – Why Should Anyone Be Afraid Of Dying?

Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. wrote about the aging boomers and all the ‘death is okay’ books that are out there. So he decided to interview elders/seniors and noticed a substantial relaxing with the notion of death and the alleviation of fear. One of the seniors he interviewed, said the following:

“But about dying, I’m not one bit afraid. Well, if you stop to think about it, it’s a natural thing. Everything dies. Whether we come back or not or what happens there, I don’t know. But it’s like my husband used to say whenever we did discuss it: “If you go to heaven, how wonderful. But if you go to sleep, what’s wrong with that?”

I really try to get eight hours of sleep a night since having radiation. Sleep feels so good. It is a time my mouth doesn’t hurt and my neck can move and I speak so clearly in my dreams and give speeches and laugh out loud without any modesty around my scars and deformities.

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On my first day home from hospital, as I stepped into our new apartment, Jim led me to our bedroom and how he had set up the Buddha on the dresser next to our loving Buddha painting (We are forever grateful for you Carole Leslie) and I fell in love with the sanctuary he had created for us. And then I saw the brand new (thoughtful) foam wedge he had bought me so I could sleep upright. Something I did for at least the first month. I choked my breath down with painless tears as I realized, my life would never be the same. We all have something we have to repair, heal, deal with, live with, be consumed with, and just wish we didn’t have to be with. But that’s life.

“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” -Robert Fulghum

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Jim and I went climbing/crawling along the rugged, uneven, bumpy, rocky, jagged, craggy Dallas Road beachfront. I was sure I must have some muscle memory left from when we use to climb there on Sundays with our young children. But the bent, stooped, cautious senior I was did not match my upright sure-footed and confident younger self. Jim’s hand was always there to guide me as he carefully marked areas where the best foot placement was. We were a fine pair, out there in the sunlight with my Greta Garbo look in a large sunhat and sunglasses and scarf to protect my radiated body from the gorgeous sunlit blue sky.

We remarked later how fortunate it was we could be doing this on a Monday afternoon. How blessed to have the agility and wherewithal to get out there and move and soak in the ocean breezes and aromas. How extravagant to gently and selectively pick wild roses to sniff along our walks. How generous our earth is that we can be offered such stunning vistas and solitude and peace.

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Yes, there is a lot to fear but that’s not my game plan anymore. I will accept visitations from time to time but it is no longer a permanent houseguest. I value happiness and joy and love and forgiveness and acceptance and trust and faith over fear. And with all of that backing me, I know there is nothing to fear, ever again.

Life is a holiday

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim and Others

When January 2015 emerged out from under the promise of New Year’s Eve resolutions, I knew I would be travelling a good part of the year and possibly into 2016. What I didn’t know was that the trip I was about to take would see me travelling along a circuitous highway of appointments, diagnoses, specialists, opinions, treatment options, definitive prognoses and life expectancy and reoccurrence percentages, and finally stages of recovery traversing over eighteen months or more.

People plan trips of a lifetime with detailed itineraries and romantic getaways stretching their budget, their commitment, and their stamina. Our adventure morphed into a trip for life with no map, no guide book, and luxurious lingerie of mouth guards, silicon scar repair bandages, and compression headgear to woo the romance out of any partnership. And yes it has stretched our budget, commitment, and stamina. 2015 has been a year to remember and we’re only halfway out of the gate.

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I’ve experienced every emotion possible and just when I think I’ve disembarked from the roller coaster, I find out I bought another ticket and the ride starts all over again. I’ve lost weight and then put on some pounds but just when I’m starting to eat somewhat like the rest of the population of lovers of plant-based cuisine, my second round of treatment burns the inside of my mouth, numbs my taste buds, relegates me to bland pureed mush, and off comes the weight once again. This is one diet plan for which I’m not recommending nor providing recipes. All the while I wonder why do people insist on posting pictures of what they are eating on Facebook?

I’ve seen sights I never imagined I’d see in my lifetime. I also never expected the tourist attraction to be me. I do get that it is curious to see what a reconstructed tongue fabricated from the skin of one’s arm looks like. The miraculous ability of surgeons to manufacture a tongue from the skin of an appendage and then patch the graph from the skin of a thigh is wondrous and very futuristic. And to literally cut a person open from one ear to the other carving along the crease lines in order to remove 86 lymph nodes looks murderously bizarre. And yet I have lived to tell about it, though I now have souvenirs that I get to carry around with me, forever. I’ll always be reminded of this trip for life.

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My constant companion and tour guide has been my devoted loving partner of 37 years. He keeps looking for a copy of The Lonely Planet on Cancer hoping there will be tips on maneuvering one’s emotions, self care side trip suggestions, and learning a new language of doctor/nurse jargon-speak. I wonder if my absolute reliance on this one individual is crippling his retirement goals. I also question if perhaps I’ve lost my independence and subjugated him to a role of lifetime caregiver, far ahead of what we thought were our advancing years. Let’s face it; neither of us pictured this to be the road to retirement bliss.

In all of this, I’ve had to look upon this next year and a half of travel as merely that. I am on a trip. I would have preferred some exotic locales, but the sterility and predictability of doctors’ offices, hospital surgical wards, and BC Cancer Agency radiation treatment rooms have their own variety of exoticism. While receiving radiation, I’m encased in a prefabricated cage of my likeness, fastened to the table that holds me taut while cosmic rays of love bombard my cells – both cancerous and healthy. In theory, there are no cancerous cells, seeing I already had the tumours removed. Precautionary approaches supersede logic at times when the high reoccurrence rates of this kind of cancer are recited.

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Sometimes when people are on extended vacations they consider changing their whole lives so that they meld more with their holiday lifestyle. Some completely uproot and decide to live in a new country, give up their possessions, and adopt a more spiritual approach to life. Our trip has altered our lifestyle considerably. We are now back in a city we spent 30 years in previously. We rent a one-bedroom apartment. We have very few possessions from our former life. And I have viewed this health opportunity as a way to explore my spiritual side. There is something about being faced with a life threatening illness that causes one to contemplate, what it’s all about, what has it been about, and what is it about from this point moving forward. As with all trips, you don’t know the final destination until you get there.

My ticket to ride is a daily meditation practice. I know this is not revolutionary and something that many of you who are reading this blog have been doing for years. But as a novice I am exploring a whole new subdivision of thinking, or non-thinking. For years I would attempt to meditate. There was nothing that could still me long enough to make silence a daily habit, let alone an infrequent visitor. But when fear was overtaking me, I knew I needed to call upon some thing greater than myself to bring me a sense of calm and empowerment.

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My biggest mistake in seeking mediation as a healing practice was to believe I could shrink my tumour simply by willing it away, along with four ounces of wheatgrass a day. Don’t we all want to be the ‘miracle’ – that one person who was able to reverse his or her disease? I’ve since realized it takes much more than visualization. There is a whole host of approaches and mindsets and emotions and beliefs and sense of being that govern our life. And even when we think we have figured it all out, there is still more to learn and sometimes not enough time, in this realm, in which to do it.

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The harsh reality is that some people pass, despite all their healthy eating and living and realizations and understandings. None of us wants to believe it will be us, but the nearer one comes to the inevitable, the clearer the rules of engagement become. Live as you’ve been living and the end of the line will be your next stop. Wake up to some realities and your passport will be stamped and your visa extended for a while longer. Not to say I’m living on borrowed time, but I now know I have an opportunity to take the slow boat and cruise through some canals, sit more on the deck and watch the sun set, be governed by the clock less and listen to those around me more.

So how am I doing on this trip for life? Learning. I’ve been told I’m a ‘quick study’ – some days not so much when it comes to confronting my lifelong demons. Part of my writing is a way to declare I am intending to change/I am changing/I am holding myself accountable to my declarations. So in a word – evolving. And that’s what trips for a life are all about. When we returned from three weeks in France 10 years ago, we cancelled our cable, walked everywhere, and shopped at the local outdoor markets. When we returned from two months in Bali we had a richer and more profound appreciation for a simpler/slower/more spiritual relationship with our surroundings. After a two-week stint in hospital I was overwhelmingly appreciative of life, in fact happier than I’ve ever been.

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So what are my takeaways? In no particular order:

  1. Appreciate more/complain less.
  2. Laugh longer and louder and more often.
  3. Take yourself less seriously.
  4. Shed a few pounds – body weight, emotional weight, destructive relationships, and superfluous possessions – anything that weighs you down.
  5. Walk/swim/practice yoga/run/cycle/hike/dance – in a word MOVE.
  6. Be mindful of what you consume – does it maintain and enrich your health and wellbeing or just sustain dis-ease?
  7. Reach out to others – people truly do want to be of service and to receive your love and kindness.
  8. Find a creative outlet – some thing that enriches your soul and gives your heart flight.
  9. Give yourself moments of silence everyday – unplugged, disconnected, wholly devoted to YOU.
  10. Have no regrets.
  11. Be amazed. There is so much wonder to behold in this life.
  12. Live. Anew. Everyday.

Making a difference one sphere of influence at a time

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim and Others

We all have our own sphere of influence. For some it resides in our own apartment block; at a workplace setting; within a small island community; cross borders and towns and cities; but ultimately within our individual hearts.

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There is a tendency to believe in our own self-importance. Social media has the ability to make each one of us feel overly connected, overly viewed and responded to, and overly crucial to each cyclical revolution of each post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. And then the magical happens. Seemingly out of nowhere a connection is made, an event attended, a gift received, a vision manifested, and we truly feel heard and empowered and connected.

I’m learning more and more that if I step out of the way, if I stop planning and allow the moments to flow, opportunity knocks and the door to my heart opens with abundance. The more open I am, the more protected I am. If I remain open to possibilities then anything is possible. Healing thrives in an alkaline environment – one that is unfettered and balanced along a continuum of faith, trust, joy, patience, acceptance, and love.

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Sharing my vulnerability during my time of treatment and recovery has bestowed so many gifts upon me. To bring it back to a sphere of influence, you never know who is touched by your story. Having been a resident of Salt Spring Island for eight years definitely had an impact on a small community of residents who lived in the same townhouse complex we did for the last two years of our time on this island of 10,000. They requested an ‘Island Comfort Quilt’ for me while undergoing treatment for my cancer. This is something that can be requested for residents of the island, and is produced by a group of devoted passionate and compassionate volunteers. Since we no longer live there, they obviously made an earnest request on my behalf. I received the most beautifully handcrafted quilt that blankets me during my morning mediation time. I always shed a silent tear as I read the following, inscribed on the quilt:

“We believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us up when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly. We hope this quilt brings you warmth and comfort while your wings remember.”

 

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Our daughter, Kate Nash, has a sphere of influence mentoring young high school women who in turn mentor grade 8 middle school females. The title Pass It On, aptly describes the intent of the program. Kate passes on her intuitively respectful perspectives about being a woman in society while the young women share their angsts and joys about being a female teenager. Their mode of informational exchange takes place in a circle of safety and trust and honesty and respect. Women from the community visit from time to time to make connections with the younger females, to share their stories and to broaden the circle of support within the community of Salt Spring Island. All this is a backdrop to the essential component of the program – young high school women mentoring grade 8 females from the middle school creating bonds and friendships to last a lifetime, or at least until they transition into the high school the following year. And so the sphere of influence continues.

 

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Each year, Kate and the Pass It On mentors produce an evening of entertainment which includes young females from the high school, women performers from the island community, and the occasional headliner performer from Vancouver. Sparkfest does exactly that. It sparks broader connections within the community. It celebrates the beauty and bounty of courageous, strong, articulate, creative women who live in this island community. And it strengthens the on going bonds of collaboration among all within the community of Salt Spring Island.

This year during Sparkfest Kate asked all mentors to stand up, all mentees to stand up, and any woman who has been connected to the program in some large or small way to stand up. The room of over 130 attendees was overwhelmingly on its feet. To look around and know that if you were to see one of these people in the local café or library or farmer’s market you could walk up to them and already have a connection with them – a circle of safety and respect and understanding – is reassuring and affirming. Salt Spring Women Opposed to Violence and Abuse (SWOVA) find funding for this program every year. Their sphere of influence reaches beyond the confines of the island, having been recognized by the United Nations and endorsed by UNICEF. For Kate this little program that could has turned into a viable established program that is. In large part it is because of Kate’s passion and belief in intergenerational connectedness and community.

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Our son, JP Maurice, is a musician, songwriter, and producer. It is his passion that fuels a seemingly wider sphere of influence beyond the confines of just an island or a city or a province or even a country. His sphere of influence is international. And yet for all his travels and connections abroad he barely makes enough money to support himself. Such is the music industry today – access to music is simply a free download away.

Music sets the tone for visual stories such as the mockumentary – Breaking Up Broken Down of which JP was a creative contributor along with Benjamin Caldwell and Eric Larocque – filmed in Europe by Green Couch Productions in the fall of 2013. Musicians are seeking new and clever ways to tell their stories, draw in a wider audience of listeners and viewers through social media, and hopefully influence a wider circle of potential patrons. Not that playing and producing music is all about making it big, but it is about making a living doing what you love and for which you have some skill and talent.

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Jean-Paul has been living this gig for 20 years and at the age of 30 has become a veteran of near big-time record deals, a winner of modest monetary contests, and broadband publicity and promises. He’s the musician everyone loves to listen to, be produced by, to play with, and to sing his songs, but rarely does anyone want to pay the price. How do you put a price on what you love without alienating your sphere of influence? There is something deeper and richer that keeps our passionately musical son alive, thriving within his own personal depths of knowing and believing.

“A strange metaphysical truth: Prosperity is never conditional upon the state of your bank account, but upon your state of mind. Without a feeling of expansion and contentment, even the blessings from the best of planetary transits won’t matter, since abundance is something to be, not seek or await.” Tosha Silver

Abundance is definitely what I witnessed during a brief conversation with Tim Van Horn of the Canadian Mosaic Project.

“Tim’s vision has always been to create innovative visual documents that educate, enlighten, and pay homage to the beauty and wonderment of life itself. The fact that Canada is such a culturally diverse country inspires Tim.”

Tim’s aim by 2017, when Canada is 150 years old, is to have a visual montage of Canada that is interactive and enlivening. He will visit as many communities within all the provinces and territories as possible, meeting people, photographing people, interviewing people, videoing people all while traveling in his decorated motorhome. It is festooned with photos of people from coast to coast to coast emblazoned in red and white to capture our Canadian flag. And Tim does all this through the goodwill of Canadians. He has no government or corporate sponsorship. As Tim clearly states he couldn’t be taking all these photos and then suddenly smack a corporate logo underneath the photo. People have trusted that their image is purely a representation of a moment in time and their place within Canada’s vision.

Tim has been living the Canadian Mosaic Project for six years and he has another two to go. He envisions touch screens on the outside of his motorhome so people can play videos, scroll through photos, and have a conversation with other Canadians. He is redefining all that we are simply by illuminating our hearts through pictures. I scrolled through the Salt Spring Island and Victoria photos on his website hoping to see the ones he took of my friend and me, on Victoria Day weekend. They aren’t posted yet, but I did recognize faces and felt the blush of familiarity – interconnected. We are all one thriving mass of humanity, making a go of it on this planet, and within Tim’s vision, within Canada. We are a fine looking group of people, of which I am proud to say I am but one.

I’m nearing the half way mark later this week of my radiation treatments. In truth, it has become all about me. I struggle to eat and drink as the side effects are now encroaching upon the sensitive tissues within my mouth. Everything I do takes a little bit longer to accomplish. Just managing to make it through each day keeping up with my daily routines with my usual fervour is taxing at the best of times. I’m learning to be gentler and to celebrate the moment. My sphere of influence is retreating of late and while I have huge expectations for myself, maintaining my life within a circle of two is bounty enough. I’m slowly learning to hold on less while welcoming the opening up of space to explore the person I am now.

 

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Ultimately, when you have an impact that positively influences others, that allows you to live with integrity, and that focuses on vision, you make life a little richer for all; all the while remembering to start first with you.

“Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Top Four ‘Ahas’ On The Road To Waking Up

Musings by Chris and Photos from Here and There

Much of what I ruminate about has to do with my healing journey. I’ve been reading many consciously enlightened books that were gifted to me as I grapple with my newly awakened spirit. I had no idea how un-attuned I was until I dipped into the reservoir of spiritually inclined literature. Some days I can barely contain my vibrational core. Other days I weep with relief that I don’t have to have all the answers – yet.

I’ve decided to share:

My Top Four ‘Ahas’ On The Road To Waking Up – Or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Recovery

Touch your body – frequently

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If you have had your body adapted or altered or transformed, due to an injury or because of surgery or simply through aging, there will be scars and constant reminders of the time of impact. Those ‘in-your-face’ visuals have a life below the surface of the skin. They grace your psyche with unwanted memories of what was, what could have been, and what is yet to come. Not until you truly look in the mirror, shake hands with the stranger before you, caress the past away, and bless the rebirth before you, will you fully let go of ego and embrace the ‘present’. I could suggest a play-on-words here, as each stage in our evolution comes gift wrapped with promises of more to come. The degree to which we are grateful will determine our level of acceptance.

It is very much akin to making love to a new lover for the very first time, especially if you have come from a tried and true, exceedingly comfortable long-term partnership. You are awakened to new curves and straightaways, hills and valleys all requiring a roadmap in Braille, guiding you past detours and directing you to the nearest shortcut to pleasure. As you feel your way over scars and possible appendages that are no longer or unalterably changed forever, you cautiously pause over new found bumps and crevices, as if stroking a newborn baby. That’s what you are – infantile and newly emerged requiring the most tender and loving touches possible as you come to terms with the new form that is you. Touch is the gateway to your soul.

Good grief!

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Jim suggests I’ve been grieving for some months now. I’m caught up in semantics suggesting the tears of pre-surgery were shed out of fear. The tears that recently laid waste on my therapeutic yoga mat were sorrow-full. I’ll readily admit to walking in the opposite direction, far from where I was intending to go, if it means I can avoid someone from my past who has yet to see and hear the ‘new’ me. I still can’t get past feeling ‘lesser than’ what I believed I was. Jim is a great champion and pushes me forward towards handshakes and embraces with unsuspecting past acquaintances who all seem to have ‘heard’. And when they see me, they appear genuinely surprised I look as well as I do. Some even remark, ‘Well your speech seems fine.” I wonder what I use to sound and look like and have come to accept, no one is as critical or as observant as I.

Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening writes:

“Somehow we have been fooled into thinking that song is entertainment, something we can do without, like dessert. I remember my first day alone at home after my rib surgery. For the first time in months, everything was still, the morning light now filling the space where my rib used to be. Suddenly, finally, I began to weep, loudly, as pockets of fear and pain and exhaustion escaped. This release was a song, and what I hadn’t realized was that, once released, once the buildup of my journey was given a way out, life with its thousand energies and softnesses could come in. Such a simple secret: by letting things out, we also let things in.”

Charlie Brown often exclaims, “Good grief!” in the eponymous comic strip. Nothing is as it seems, as the metaphorical rug is continually being pulled out from under him on the baseball field, during punting practice, or while choosing a tree for the annual Christmas pageant. I now am recognizing that grief is good and until you have that big cry, there is no room for a new perspective to make its way into your heart. There’s no point in buying more clothes if you haven’t thrown out those items you never wear. Grief is the queen of de-cluttering. It is a way of life, not a one-time thing.

Never say never or don’t judge yourself by the cover of your book

FEAR

I have been living a life that one would consider healthy for many years. I was a vegetarian for 30 years who morphed into veganism then stumbled headstrong into the live plant-based world. I truly believed in the power of food and if there were some level of dis-ease in the body, food would be my medicine. I exercised most days of my life either during fitness classes, in a gym, or out on the open roadways running 10 km during the dawning hours of each new day.

I was convinced that if I were to be diagnosed with cancer I would undertake every alternative form of intervention rather than a traditional medical approach. However, I would never be diagnosed with cancer because of my lifestyle. How could I?

In her book Dying To Be Me, Anita Moorjani shares her near death experience while her body was consumed with cancer. Rather than passing, she chose to come back to her form and overcome her cancer. She undertook traditional medical interventions (things she resisted prior to her near death experience) of which she no longer had any fear. I’ll let Anita explain her before and after perspectives.

“Before, without even realizing it, everything I did was to avoid pain or to please other people. I was caught up in doing, pursuing, searching, and achieving; and I was the last person I ever took into consideration. My life was driven by fear – of displeasing others, of failing, of being selfish, and of not being good enough. In my own head, I always fell short.

“Since my near death experience, I don’t feel that I came back to accomplish anything. I only came back to be. Because of this everything I do comes from love. I just follow my heart and know that I can’t go wrong when I do so . . . I’m so much happier and more liberated. This has had a big impact on my health as well.”

No, I didn’t have a near death experience, but I did feel an awakening within, a lifting of fear, a humbling sense of gratitude for life, and a refreshed love of self and others. I have forgiven myself for the judgments I’ve made and the beliefs I held that limited my acceptance of possibilities – both naturopathic and allopathic. I’ve made a choice and within that choice I am viewing the next six weeks of radiation as golden beams of healing light. A choice made selfishly. There is still more I want to do and still more time I want to spend with family and friends. There’s nothing like the threat of death to tighten the tightrope around your heart. Pay attention – the next step may be a doozy. Acceptance is the gateway to trust.

Live Lightly

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A friend came to visit and we were discussing life, what makes one happy, and how simple is best. Then she shared with me that her grandfather always said the key is to “Live lightly”. That has resonated with me ever since. When I’m becoming overwhelmed with making a decision, or emotions are flooding over me in waves, or my version of the future is less than a perfect fit, I say those two words. Suddenly I’m feeling more present and life isn’t so bad after all. My massage therapist puts life’s challenges into perspective for me when she says, “It’s not ok but I’m ok.”

My daily ‘go-to’ reading of the day is The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. He postulates,

“We all stray from the moment in particular ways. In diagnosis, I feared surgery. In surgery, I feared treatment. In treatment, I feared stronger treatment. In recovery, I feared recurrence.

“No one can avoid this straying, but our health depends on the breath that stops us from straying further. No matter how far we’ve gone, it is the practice of returning to whatever moment we are living now that restores us, because only when fully in each moment can we draw strength from the Oneness of things.”

Everyday is lighter if we just stay in the moment.

And now a word from our sponsors

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Of course there are so many people, family members, my loving partner, and friends who have been by my side during my recovery. They have promised to hold my hand as I embark on the next six weeks of radiation. I value their steadfast support, their bountiful wisdom, and their commitment to accept, not judge, and just be there for me. It means so much to me. As well I have been gifted many books that have bolstered me along this journey and practitioners who have guided me towards recovery. I present a partial list below.

Books
Learning to Fall – Philip Simmons
Dying To Be Me – Anita Moorjani
In Love With The Mystery – Ann Mortifee
The Book of Awakening – Mark Nepo
The Seekers Guide – Elizabeth Lesser
Outrageous Openness – Tosha Silver

Practitioners
Dancing Lotus Yoga – Tracy Chetna Boyd
Reiki Light Victoria – Gabriele Matheson
Alpine Massage Therapy – Carly J. Grigg

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May you find the support you need through love and light and may all moments be merry and bright.

“Unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” – Kurt Vonnegut

What grows from the mud . . .

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

I hadn’t really thought about it much until a friend mentioned that after the initial burst of attention and concern, there comes a lull – all goes quiet. I’m five weeks post surgery, so I would say I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my diagnosis and recovery. I have 18 to 24 months to go before I know to what degree I will recover aspects of my former self. And then it hit me. I’ve made a long-term commitment to my diagnosis. I’ve always been a monogamous kind of person. There’s no fooling around on the side. We’re together, for better or worse. And that’s when my heart went silent and all went quiet for me.

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I can be as spiritual as I want. I can wax positive affirmations and lofty intents regarding my soul, and life thereafter, and the wholeness and greatness of my love for humankind. What remains is me and my diagnosis and how I choose to live each day knowing that rogue cells can scare me from the dark corners of the amusement park spook house of my mind and body.

You can’t just do one thing. Not with cancer. There is always some kind of follow up. In my case there is surgery, that is brutal, and destructive, and life altering. And then there is radiation. Just in case. And because the radioactive beams would be targeting a very sensitive part of the body – my mouth and neck and throat – the impact would be great. It is not an easy ride.

Even my naturopath oncologist stated quite clearly, “You have to do something. This type of cancer when it re-emerges somewhere else in your body is very nasty. You need to be proactive so it doesn’t have a chance to take hold anywhere else.” So I’m back on a new cocktail of natural remedies and also he is recommending radiation over an intensive natural IV treatment. Seems my course is pre-destined.

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My mind went back to a pre-surgery appointment when the surgeon pointed out that in less than two months I had gone from Stage 1 to Stage 3 cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival. I’m now realizing I was living in shock and disregarding the full impact of his statements. I somehow had myself convinced that this was an exaggeration and that yes the tumour had grown at a ridiculously fast pace but it would be cut out and all would be well with the world.

Post-surgery appointments have focused on my recovery and a surgeon proudly stating all my margins are clear and he did in fact get the cancer. But there are three lymph nodes that were extracted (among a total of 86) that indicate further intervention – and for me a lifetime of niggling doubts and a reminder that this wasn’t a one night stand.

When I was six years old I fractured my left cheekbone. Yes, I do believe there is a link between that event, 56 years ago and my recent encounter with tongue cancer on the left side of my tongue. It is one of the connections I contemplate as I shed years of emotional baggage.

It left me with a scar as a young child. I remember my mother being more upset about it than me. I was told by a progressive doctor to rub cacao butter on it every night at bedtime and that the scar would disappear. It pretty much did. What I learned from that nightly ritual is that if you stay committed to a proactive approach to your health, you can overcome the odds.

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I was reacquainted with a book during my recovery, sent to me by a friend currently undergoing chemotherapy for her breast cancer. Learning to Fall by Philip Simmons was published in 2000. He was a young man in his 30s diagnosed with ALS. He wrote for a year about his life, his family, his personal journey; all matters of heart and head and healing while on this planet and in preparation for passing. He died in 2002 but the world was left with his gift of a book that has provided me with much consolation and compassion for an imperfect life.

In one chapter Phillip considers mud – a euphemism for the muck and mire we make of living imperfectly.

“I’ve learned, though, that our need for mud goes much deeper than our need to pity ourselves. We need the mud for what grows from it.” – Phillip Simmons

I’ve had days post surgery when I look in the mirror and I only see scars and a bloated neck, I only hear muddled pronunciations stumbling cross my tongue, when the vice around my neck renders me immobile. Those are the worst moments. The mud puddle moments that ooze and slosh up and over my gumboots, soaking my socks and leaving stains on my heart.

But life is relative. As my six year old self learned, diligence and determination will triumph. So I stretch and practice and move and massage. And when I stop dwelling on myself – the less tied I am to me – the more I can be released. Released from this form and in touch more with my essence and all that truly matters to me, I can rise above the obvious.

Residual effects of dis-ease and discomfort aren’t in a race to see who has sustained the most damages. What may be catastrophic for one may be a walk in the park for another. There is no comparison for what each one of us finds challenging and debilitating. We just are and how we cope is unique.

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I’ve made a choice, in that I want to do more than cope. I want to live. I want to live at my highest vibration possible. So it seemed a suitable time to bring out our tried and true A, B, C, D, E. Jim and I shared this extensively while traveling in Japan. I’m not sure our alphabet translates well in Japanese, but the intent behind each letter is transferable cross cultures.

We stress that in order to make a change we need to practice consistently, diligently, and joyfully for a minimum of 21 days, before our new habits will become ritualized. I have chosen those descriptors with care.

  • First and foremost, if you do not enjoy what you are attempting to enact, you just won’t continue to do it. So you better find a way to bring some joy into the process – listen to music, include a friend, build in a reward system (25 cents in a jar at the end of every completed activity) – you choose what will keep you on task.
  • There must be some diligence/commitment/effort to what you are incorporating. If it is too easy, then there is no motivation, no edge, and no gain.
  • Finally, consistency in terms of what, how, when, where, and why will ensure repetition. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about eating differently, exercising, or mentally preparing yourself to face each day – it has to be practiced over and over and over.

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A life worth living is easily within reach. May this week’s recipe keep the sharks in deep water and the sun above the treetops. You have a choice – let it include levity, lightness, and love.

Recipe of the Week

A = Appreciation

When we begin each day with a sense of gratitude – making it through another night, noticing the songbirds awakening you in the dawning light, thankful for the clerk stocking the produce shelves with nutritious choices – life becomes a little easier to bear. It doesn’t come naturally. As a species we are inclined towards annoyance, judgment, and frustration. Switching our thinking to the positive takes a conscientious effort. Consider creating a gratitude jar to sit on your counter. Every day, on a slip of paper, write one thing you are grateful for and place in the jar. By the end of one month your gratitude quotient will be overflowing.

B = Breathe

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Dis-ease is said to breed in an oxygen depleted environment. Yes we all breathe but rarely do we consciously take deep breaths to cleanse our bodies. As you find your shoulders and neck tightening while driving the car, sitting at the computer, standing in a line up at the checkout counter – shut your eyes, breathe in deeply through your nose expanding your abdomen as you breathe in, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale through your mouth, while collapsing your abdomen inwards. Allow yourself three deep breaths. Repeat as often as you wish throughout the day. Not only will it open your lungs and still your mind, it will work your abdominal muscles as well.

C = Compassion and Community

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We all live in a community. Even if you live alone, you have neighbours within your apartment block or next door across the fence, or down the winding country road at your local recycling depot. We are all part of something more than just ourselves. And to live with others, whether intimately within a nuclear bond or remotely through geographic proximity, it requires compassion. It calls upon us to reach deep within the fabric of our being with patience and love as we regard others, as we would like to be considered. We hold no judgment. We truly listen to others. We place ourselves in the other person’s feelings. We metaphorically hold hands in stillness. We are aware. This requires daily contemplation and consideration.

D = Diet

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What we choose to eat should be as local as possible, preferably organic – or at the very least, know the source – that is, how it was produced, by whom, and in what kind of medium. The majority of the food we consume should consist of dark leafy greens, other vegetables, and fruits. The fats we incorporate should be the minimal part of our diet and they should be natural comprised of nuts, seeds, and oils through foods like avocadoes, with no processed trans-fat fast foods and packaged treats like chips and crackers and cookies. We should make our food because we can control the amount of sugars, salts, and fats that we put into the food thus eliminating additives and other uncontrolled substances. We should eat with joy and pleasure and in moderation, balanced with rigorous amounts of fresh clean water, at least 30 minutes prior to every meal.

E = Exercise

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Exercise equates with movement and movement equates with health. The more we move, the more we are moving toxins through our body, increasing blood flow and oxygen, and stimulating not only our muscles but our mind. Movement stimulates our emotions towards the positive as we propel forward towards end goals we set for ourselves. How vigorously we move, how far, and how often will have increased positive effects on our cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, skeletal, and mental health. Movement may include stretching, walking, running, cycling, swimming, climbing – the list is endless as our own individual preferences and abilities. What is important is to incorporate some range of movement every day for at least 30 minutes a day. As time goes along, increase the distance, the length of time, and the speed with which you engage in the activity.

As in all these areas, you can choose to do them alone or with a friend. The choice is yours. What is important is that you choose action over inaction, health over ill-health, and wellness over illness. Remember, dis-ease is no excuse of inactivity. You can go through life coping or you can choose to live life in all its fullness. May you choose in favour of what gives you vitality.

Community

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

The word ‘community’ has been ricocheting around my brain of late. I’ve recently been paying more attention to words that randomly appear and then stay for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch and before you know it, a month passes by and that word is still there waving a reminder. So I decided to see what ‘community’ was trying to tell me. What I should be noticing? How does it apply to other facets of my life?

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Community:

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

The 1970s were a time of co-ops. I lived in large communal houses in downtown Toronto while going to university. It was a way to afford to live in rundown historic homes, on prime real estate, close to the universities, nightlife, and other alternative minded students. There was always a cause to be had, a food group to boycott (because of disenfranchised farm workers), and preferred places to buy our cheeses and other produce. I don’t remember us all being vegetarian, but there definitely was a tendency to make your own food, to ensure it was whole grain, and to explore ethnic traditions – anything to escape the vanilla suburbs of our childhoods.

As I moved from being a student to exploring my chosen professions of early childhood education, early intervention, and employee learning and development, there were professional designations, organizations, and collaborative networks to align oneself with and lead. The causes of my youth morphed into larger more intricate webs of ethics, unions, marches, rallies, public awareness, and professional development. As much as I firmly believe that the development of young children and support to their families is foundational for a healthy society, this has merely garnered lip service from politicians and established diametrically opposed public opinions. While those working with young children now must have more education and experience, their credibility is eroded by a nominal subsistence living wage and their programming considered ‘babysitting’. In fact, young teen babysitters often make more money per hour now than a licensed early learning and care practitioner.

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And yet we are a community. We are a community of humans, making our way in the world, striving to provide families and children with a society that is supportive, respectful, and communal in our care and attention to a healthy lifestyle. Well we say we are but when it comes down to raising a child within the village, we still believe in the nuclear family of the early 1950s. Anyone who made it out of World War II intact gathered together in fabricated enclaves of identical houses on the outskirts of larger metropolises, eating up farmlands to sprawl into shopping malls and manufactured foods, while consuming TV dinners in front of black and white television screens. The McCarthy era cast doubt upon our neighbours and built fences around our hopes. Those of us born at that time, sought ways to give peace a chance, go back to the land, drop-out and sit-in, while loving the ones we were with.

Community has taken on a much more nebulous form for me these days. Perhaps it is why social media outlets like Facebook are so popular with my age group. We can hang out with others by sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals all from the comfort of our postur-pedic office chairs and flat screen computers. We can rant and rave and revolt with the mere click of a mouse and feel connected to a larger network of spiritual awareness. It fills the void and we don’t have to sit on the grass, march on the legislature, or risk viral contamination through group hugs. We just have to count the ‘likes’ and feel all is right with the world, or at least our opinion of it.

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What struck me while I was in hospital was that I was now part of a community of ‘sick people’. I had never before considered myself part of that fraternity. In fact, I smugly perceived myself above such insult by claiming my diet and lifestyle would not only prevent my membership, but if I happened to slip through the cracks, my diet would cure me in record time, so I wouldn’t have to even grace the halls. I’ve learned there is no immunity. There is no vaccine. I haven’t vacated my community of live plant-based proselytizers, but I am much more forgiving and generous in my understanding about dis-ease and one’s ability to heal. It is not relegated to diet alone. That being said, I do believe my lifestyle has supported my recovery in ways that are stronger and more vital than others. For that I am convinced diet and lifestyle does play a role.

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I now find I reside within a new community – one of cancer buddies (so aptly named by a young ‘friend’ on Facebook). When one becomes public about his or her diagnosis, our radar goes on high alert and we flock to intercept, share stories, and hold hands. Not everyone has cancer, but we all know someone who does or did or who is waiting to be diagnosed. The baby boomers are skewing the percentages, becoming more vocal, and surviving longer. I’m learning no one has a better story. We just have stories and communities like to sit around the campfire, tell stories of daring and bravery, and look for morals or lessons learned. What one is left with when diagnosed with cancer is a margin of time. We all are, but when you have a diagnosis, there is a compression to time that enables you to question, contemplate, and sermonize about the unknown. So much is out of our control, all we really can control is how we perceive the time we have available to us, right now in this moment.

Which brings me to the last concept of community that rose brilliantly to the occasion when I put a call out for silence and thought on the day of my surgery. I was overwhelmed by the desire of so many to be of service. I believe everyone is looking for more on Facebook than cute kitten pictures, environmental blunders, and political idiocy. To be asked to think a positive thought for just one second allowed so many to shift their focus in an altruistic vein, believe for just a moment that collective thought could have a positive outcome, and that in a world where we feel powerless we truly have power. It was magical and formidable.

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That is where community sits with me today – in my heart. It expanded on March 11th and continues to grow. Which is now bringing me to another word. But that is a story for another day, another campfire, and another opportunity with which to consider time in all its elemental brilliance.

Holding hands with my new reality

Musing by Chris 

The food dreams stopped as soon as I was off the feeding tube and Jim was bringing me in fresh green juices and thicker smoothies. Once I was able to taste flavours again and they no longer were burning the tumor on the side of my tongue, my food fantasies were quelled.

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Food has always been an important part of our life together. All our travels have been focused on eating local cuisine, experimenting with live plant-based versions, and sampling local organic produce. Once the tumor began to grow, I could no longer handle spices, acidic food, salt, sugar, and even textures. My diet was relegated to a bland mush of high protein legumes, non-acidic green drinks, and my one indulgence of cold filtered coffee and Jim’s homemade almond milk. Prior to surgery we were given worse case scenarios, one of which included living on a feeding tube for the rest of my life. I was pretty determined that wouldn’t be happening on my watch as I sat in bed for hours observing my yellow vegan slop – i.e. Golden nectar – drip into the tube in my nose.

Each day I practice consuming foods that are slightly thicker, making my tongue work overtime moving the food around my mouth and to the back of my throat. It’s hard work and when I’m really hungry I resort to pureed soups. I’m ravenous. Each mouthful tastes like ambrosia. I just can’t seem to get enough food into me while increasing my weight and maintaining a steady weight is the goal at the moment. And there’s no longer a nagging tumor burning a reminder into my brain that life has taken an unexpected turn down nightmare alley.

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I have a different variety of reminders these days.

  • A newly constructed tongue that is thick as a brick,
  • A site where the transplanted skin and vein were taken from my arm,
  • A donor site on my leg,
  • Speech sounds reminiscent of someone who has a hearing impairment while spilling out saliva like someone with cerebral palsy,
  • And a neck that is tight and scarred from ear to ear relearning how to turn from left to right and up and down.

My son flew back to the coast while I was in hospital and saw first hand the scars I am now left with. Upon returning home after two weeks in hospital I shared with him that I crumpled in the car on the way home overcome with fear and anxiety, desperately trying to find my breath and the positive outlook the incubator of hospital life cloistered me within. My loving son shared,

“I’m sure this is all so tough for you, but you have been so brave and positive. You must know that any physical symptoms of trauma you show are just badges of your courage and reminders of the love and support you have.”

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Opening my heart has been important for my recovery. Courage can only come when your heart beats in unison with the foundational elements of love, faith, trust, and patience. It’s not easy. It takes every fiber of my being.

The day before I left hospital I stood at my window looking out at my view of pristine mountains and ocean and sunshine. Waves of realization and droplets of fear teared down my cheeks. I knew I could no longer hide behind the familiar and understanding nods and smiles of staff and patients and friends and family. I would no longer be just one of the medical casualties of this particular brand of post-operative care. I would stand out in all my scarred and swollen and slurred imperfections hiding behind scarves, avoiding eye contact and potential conversations. There is so much to explain when you don’t quite fit in.

My life as an early interventionist and working with children with disabilities and their families and caregivers has been ever present on my mind. Advocating for their rights, seeing only the abilities rather than the disabilities, and adapting their world for inclusion became my raisin d’être. I never thought it would become my reality. And yet it is.

I wrote, upon my initial diagnosis, that with cancer each one of us loses something. Depending upon the degree of intervention that takes place, for some it is more radical and blatantly obvious. For some they can silently camouflage underneath clothing. For others they suddenly acquire a new fashion statement. And there are still others who never quite recover and instead lose the opportunity to grace this planet. Their ultimate sacrifice and our loss becomes a constant reminder of the temporary nature of life as we know it in this form.

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Our form takes on physical attributes that we use to define who we are, to create recognizable characteristics that we can relate to, and to physically house our energy and provide us with a foundation from which we thrive, or not. It is our energetic form that gives us juice and becomes the essence we all grow to love. When we think of newborns, whether typically or alternatively able, they come with an energy that we tend to apply characteristics to from day one. “She looks like your mother’s side of the family.” “He has his father’s temperament.” And this simply arrives through our preconceived ideas of potentialities and familial observations. We don’t see these uniquely new and diverse physical forms as bundles of energy and light – and yet, they are the purest form of energy any one of us will ever hold. They are vibrating at a frequency we all strive to attain throughout our lifetimes and rarely reach until we are ready to pass.

This journey is one I have not been able to rush. From receiving the diagnosis to weighing preferred interventions to having surgery to receiving in-hospital post-operative care to being discharged and living at home within community, the stages are methodical and linear. First you have a trachea and then a capped trachea and then a bandage over the hole. First you have a feeding tube and then you move to thin liquids and then you try thicker substances and then you learn to chew again. First you lose half your tongue and then you have a transplanted donor from another part of your body and then you learn to move your tongue and open your mouth and then you learn to talk again. First you are in pain and whole and then you wake up segmented and pieced together still in pain and then you accept and adapt and heal.

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Yes the rush of anxiety is real and the ego is vulnerable. You are given a second chance at life in your newly reconstructed form. How one moves forward is dependent on the lessons learned, the light we allow in, and the self-love we have within to hold our hand and provide the necessary confidence to greet ourselves as whole, worthy, and capable. I will make it to tomorrow and the next day and the next day. And so it goes.

There was a blank whiteboard in the hall on my ward I walked past forty times a day during my self-imposed walking exercise regime. It was crying out for a quote. I wrote what was in my heart.

“In our vulnerability, each one of us has a choice. I choose joy. How are you choosing to show up today?”

On the day I left it still remained. So does the joy – as does my vulnerability.

What hasn’t been said?

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

When it became apparent that my cancer was spreading very rapidly and that it was on my tongue, impacting speech and eating, the obvious question was “What have I not been saying?” Where have I been holding back in my life?

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That churned up a whole lot of emotional baggage, but there is an element of clearing, not just physically but also emotionally, that is essential for healing. Having always been one who needs to feel in control, who wants to be viewed as competent and capable, and who doesn’t easily ask for nor accept help, that resonated with me. I would love to say that I have tackled this emotional block, that I have been consuming all the right plant-based foods, and coupled with my naturopathic regime I am healed. What I do know, is that this cancer may be visible to me now and highly pervasive, but in truth, it took root a long while ago. It chose now to manifest and speak to me, rendering me speechless and buckled at the knees.

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This is how my dis-ease showed up for me. What I would suggest is that all dis-ease sits in a vault under lock and seal waiting for the inopportune moment to announce its presence. More often than not, it is going to target areas of vulnerability – those areas of the body that in fact get the most use and quite frequently we value over all else. Those areas that have defined who we are in this life, for it is those areas that we often have plowed through while ignoring calls for attention and perhaps alternative ways to be with oneself.

I have always been very verbal. My professional life was founded on my ability to articulate verbally what others often could not do for themselves. I will now be highly dependent on others to meet my needs. I’ve already downloaded an App for my iPad that will allow me to type and voice activate my words. It’s a start. I feel blessed that I live in an age of technology to augment my communication needs.

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For the first time, I am reaching out to others asking for help – not just for me but for Jim as well. I am asking for family and close friends to be with me as much as possible in the hospital and to split time with Jim and me. Amidst all of this, we are moving into Victoria. Jim will have lots to do while I’m in recovery for 10 days. Recovery will continue post-hospital stay for at least another 2-3 months. Asking this of close friends and family actually feels liberating. Interesting to notice what I failed to ask for in the past.

What am I not saying? I’m frightened. I fear the pain and the long recovery. I fear losing a significant amount of my tongue and possibly never to be able to speak or swallow again. Definitely I will never speak clearly – that is a given. Considering I worked in the area of disabilities for much of my career, I’m already focusing on adaptations. I know I can adapt and I will. Laughingly I suggested to my daughter all her children now will need to know how to read, because I will be writing to them extensively. She said she would buy me a whistle so I can get their attention. My mother upon ending a recent phone conversation said it was good to hear my voice. We then both cracked up at the irony of the statement. Laughter is important in the face of what currently seems like insurmountable odds.

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What I keep reminding family and friends, is that this may be our last intelligible conversation. I tell everyone how much I love and appreciate him or her. I’m hugging more. I hold Jim tightly, while anxiety attacks tip me over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I’m watching lots of mindless television – looking for pure escapism. We walk as much as possible. Meditation is a reprieve from the pain and my mind.

I acknowledge how amazing my life has been. I am struck by how many rich and varied experiences I have had personally and professionally. We have traveled extensively. We made friends in other countries. We have embarked on innovative and creative life style changes and transformations. I have had a number of professional careers. I have been successful in my areas of expertise. I have found ways to give voice to a number of causes and beliefs. I have lived fully with no regrets. I’ve been asked, if any of that will change with the alteration of my tongue. In truth, no. I will still be me and life’s experiences will still rise above the fray and light a path to love and joy.

Maybe I haven’t always been forthcoming. Perhaps I tried to hold life too closely to my chest. I trust that there is more for me to learn on this journey and my next phase of life. I view my next journey ensconced in silence, offering me the needed time for reflection and alternative forms of expression I never gave myself permission to experience. There is something gained when one is a listener.

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I want to share with all of you, I deeply appreciate ALL the love and positive affirmations you have been sending my way. Everyday, someone sends me a note wishing me well and hoping I’m having a good day. I am so touched and honoured to be in your thoughts. On March 11, I will be in surgery from 9 am to 3 pm. All I ask is if you are so inclined, to send light and love to me. Hold me for a moment in your thoughts. For now, that is all I have to say. For now, I am complete. With gratitude, Chris.

Healing one cell at a time

Musings by Chris and Photos by Jim

When you receive a diagnosis, everything else fades to black. A white light vibrates around the words just spoken and your nervous system shifts into overdrive. You become a liquidated mess of emotions and any rational thought has been ‘garburatored’ into oblivion. You sit in stunned silence, blankly looking out the passenger seat window, hearing only the drone of traffic reports on the car radio. Did I really manifest this because I didn’t want to travel?

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There is a politeness that surrounds the language – ‘receive’ a diagnosis – as if I asked for it. There is a proclivity towards blame and guilt:

  • “I must have been asking for this.”
  • “I haven’t been vigilant enough in my vegan raw lifestyle.”
  • “I’ve been in denial and not honest with myself.”

Three weeks into the diagnosis, I no longer care about the ‘why’. It really doesn’t matter. It just is. One individual suggests it has absolutely nothing to do with my current life. Perhaps I’m living through an unresolved past-life issue. If we think of all of us as vibrations within a larger holistic broadband of vibrations, which make up this physical life as we know it, a random vibration may have decided to hitch a ride on my soul – sensing a good environment within which to resolve this particular vibrational pattern. I have to admit a huge sense of comfort with that knowledge; a relinquishing of guilt and a growing belief I can manage whatever is required of me.

Our year of living out of a suitcase has taken a 360-degree turn and we’re sitting with a compressed timeline of appointments, opinions, and therapeutic approaches. When I was a working professional, teams were very important to implementing projects to completion. Privately, I was a lone wolf or only relied on my ever-faithful partner and mate. Suddenly, I find myself amassing a support network of practitioners, doctors, friends, and family. When I swallow my alternative regime of supplements, I think of them as my ‘healing cheerleaders’ coursing through my body assisting all my cells to work together to revive health and wellness within. I know that a team approach is beneficial in helping maintain one’s sanity. It’s also important to know what each member can contribute because ultimately, I’m taking on the lion’s share of the workload.

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There is a tendency to compare cancers. Which one is popular – i.e. gets the most publicity and funding? Which one grows faster? Which one responds best to which kind of treatment? Which one has more funding resulting in more innovative and modern treatments? Which one has the most debilitating outcomes? This too I have realized is immaterial. I’m not about to sit around desiring one kind of cancer over another. This one chose me. We’re becoming acquainted and learning what we both need in order to live together. What I do know, is that with each cancer, something is lost, but I’m also realizing, so much is unearthed one never imagined existed.

I firmly believe each one of us has cancer cells within our bodies. For many different reasons, they sometimes mutate and become the kids in the sandbox kicking dirt in all the other cell’s eyes. As a past-life early childhood educator, I would become annoyed with those pesky kids who couldn’t use their inside voices, keep their hands to themselves, nor their toys on the ground. The more I rebelled against their humanness the more inhumane I became. When I embraced their message and way of being, I could begin to see their place in the larger system and what I was there to learn, live, and love about all matter of life. Their presence suddenly became less intrusive, more instructive, and joyously precious. Cancer is a similar presence in our lives. I’m suddenly inviting those cells to a sleepover and we’re learning to share space, confide in our deepest darkest secrets, and forming a sisterhood of love.

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My cancer has decided to take up residence on my tongue. I find this particularly interesting considering using my tongue, speaking my mind, and being articulate has been integral for much of my professional life. I won’t go into possible treatment options. Many are far too depressing and will potentially result in an altered ability to express myself. For now, I have taken action while I wait for all test results to be reviewed. I am on a mission to visualize a successful outcome through the contributions of a naturopathic oncologist, years of research, and proven formulas at reducing tumors. Determining which allopathic approaches may be appropriate, remains on the sidelines for future consideration, until we know more.

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For any of you who have regularly read my blog posts, you know I strive to speak my truth. That is why I have chosen to share my current journey. It is exhausting meeting/speaking with everyone one on one and taking the time and intimacy required to not only relive the story, but to also absorb each individual’s reactions. There is some currency to sharing en masse this way, though I do acknowledge for some, this may be shocking and emotional for you to hear. Please know I am aware what triggers abound when the ‘c’ word is uttered. It is important to allow what feelings may be surfacing to percolate, steep, and diffuse.

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What I am realizing is that one more layer is removed when I reveal my current reality. There is less weight pressing on my heart and I feel freer to focus on more positive energetic vibrations. And that is where I need all people in my life to focus their attention – on love, joy, abundant healing energy, and wholeness. During this morning’s meditation the words faith and belief echoed within my soul and resonated throughout each cell in my body along with forgiveness and acceptance. It is the simple messages, the transient thoughts and considerations, the touch of a hand, and laughter that brighten each moment into a new awareness and appreciation.

I’ve never done so little each day and yet, I’ve never felt that what I am doing has ever been this important. For now we are blessed to be living in a cabin on the ocean in Sooke, BC. I am easily distracted by the vista out my window and the magnificence surrounding me. I am truly blessed.

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I am grateful for this moment and my ability to express myself through written words. I am grateful for those of you who have taken the time to read and I look forward to continuing to reveal more as time and my personal energy allows. This is not quite the ‘Rawsome on the Road’, we envisioned for this year, but we do know it is a road we will be traveling. We are grateful for your presence in our life.