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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.