GangsterLog.Stardate.10.30.2012 – If you lose fat at fat camp, maybe you lose cancer at cancer camp? Ok, so I’m not really that naïve, but I arrived at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program last week after having been on the waitlist for two years. So much life had happened since, that I carried only a vague memory of why I signed up in the first place. It’s a nationally recognized integrative medicine retreat for cancer led by Dr. Michael Lerner, with a reputation for being innovative and hard sought – offered only six times a year for eight people at each occurrence. Commonweal is nestled above a jagged scoop of rocky coastline in the bucolic Northern California town of Bolinas. Here, the sun rises each day through pulled-cotton fog, and waits in opposing radiance for the moon to light up before disappearing into the glistening ocean’s horizon to mark nightfall. What better place for poof-there-goes-your-cancer magic?
Wake, breathe, walk, meditate, stretch, yoga, massage, eat, listen, talk, laugh, cry, nap, learn, create, eat again, talk again, laugh again, sleep. This schedule was put on repeat for seven days, setting our self-proclaimed Breathing and Laughing Tribe of eight (a.k.a. BLT), on a steady course for deep healing.
Our tribe was outnumbered by a staff of accomplished healers, allowing me to rest my worries of managing pain, fatigue, dizzy spells and restricted diet; infusing me with enough well-balanced energy to be present with all my senses. I got help for a broad range of everyday assaults in my cancer recovery, including the relatively small indignities that I’ve been too embarrassed to keep raising. After the trauma of almost dying a couple of times, most everything else can be talked down to being minor in comparison. What I learned, however, is that each of these seemingly small issues actually has huge impact on my quality of life and potential for healing.
We shared some of our deepest wounds, sprinkling in humor to cope with some tough spots, while sitting with the discomfort that our current existence might be only a temporary stay from a harsher reality. Not wanting to hang onto false hope, nor wallow in false hopelessness. With our hearts in our hands, we found mutual compassion for living in this conundrum.
“I can’t stand it when people sing at me … ‘How are you?? You look great!’”
“I expect a new tumor every six years.”
“I have an 80 percent chance of having 2-3 years left to live.”
“My kids have runaway from me.”
“I’m not afraid to die.”
“I am afraid to die.”
We told half-broken stories about life and cancer, seeking to find light in the cracks or at least spackle them over until the edges were as good as fused.
During one of our less-serious chats, I half-jokingly said that I was tired of the nonstop anti-cancer advice from ‘well-meaning’ people. Being posed unsolicited suggestions like, “Have you tried goji berries?” I explained that I’ve always wanted to spit back, “No?!! … Thank god I met you.”
Well, this time, I want to say with zero sarcasm and the greatest sincerity possible to each member of our BLT tribe and the phenomenal team of healers at cancer camp … THANK GOD I MET EACH OF YOU!!!
Even though there was ultimately no cancer disappearing act, and I still don’t know whether I’ll be pushing daisies in two years, ten years or 50 years from now, there has been a huge shift in me. I know for sure that my body has the capacity to heal itself.
Actually, I’m already beginning to heal.
P.S. Find out more at http://www.commonweal.org/programs/cancer-help.html
P.P.S. Coming soon! My new blog site will be at www.jadegangster.com
GangsterLog.StarDate.09.22.2012 – Why do you need an addiction problem to steal away to paradise for healing? I really do want to do better health-wise, but since better health isn’t trying to do me, I settled for a retreat – Kalani Oceanside Retreat in Hawaii. I basically just wanted to attune myself to nature and be left the F alone.
But of course, the universe ironically surfaced awesome people at Kalani that I was compelled to get to know. We had so much in common and so much not … organically finding ourselves in meaningful conversations about life’s highs, lows and in-betweens, against a backdrop of nocturnal jungle symphonies and the low whooshing of ocean waves in the close distance – as if to awaken compassion and inspiration. I’m grateful for these new friends and humbled that our paths crossed.
GangsterDog.StarDate.06.06.2012 — Years ago, her shapes began to get smaller, softer and more bendy. It didn’t spook me, but it did get harder to know her from a distance at the park. I got used to it though. She was now the slow-moving, hunched-over, puffy jacket with the round fuzzy top.
She started sitting on the hardwood floor more often, and along every wall or open corner of the apartment. I much prefer the couch, but always joined her anyway.
GangsterLog.StarDate.05.31.2012 — When I was first told that I was in remission following a six-month long course of chemotherapy, I held up a glass of wine and raised a toast to my cure – bursting with excitement that my nightmare was over! And even though it literally physically hurt to drink that celebratory glass of cabernet, I put it away like a champ … eager to get back to good health. Afterall, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma boasts a near 93% cure rate with first line treatment. Why would I be in the 7% that fail?
One month later, my PET/CT scans revealed something. “It’s probably nothing,” is what I was told. Then, for 19 months, I was haunted by “probably nothing.” I told myself, “I’m in remission,” over and over again as I moved through a series of failed biopsy procedures and surgeries – chanting those words as though they were a mantra I could will into being. And at the end of those 19 months, I was told that they had been wrong all along. No remission for me. I had primary refractory Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
GangsterLog.Stardate.06.21.2011 — This past Monday was my last radiation treatment. And you’ll see in the attached photo that I was awarded with a certificate of completion. I’m also pictured here with Pat and John, the two technicians who worked with me most days. John is holding the dreaded mask and I’ve also got the sleigh bells in hand, which I ring in case of emergency. They alternated between giving me a clown horn or sleigh bells, but despite their efforts, the experience was neither fun nor festive.
Interesting what a big deal they made of completing radiation when it has been relatively the easiest course of treatment so far. Not to say that it hasn’t been it’s own brand of torture, but much less painful and anguishing than the rounds of chemo and surgeries that I’ve already endured. I kinda felt like a toddler being given candy for making a poop in the potty.
GangsterLog.Stardate.06.01.2011 — I’ve now had two radiation treatments and it hasn’t been too bad so far. Not fun, but not humiliating like the ‘anyone-else-want-to-see-me-naked?’ mask-making session earlier last week, and as it turns out, pretty quick-and-easy, and not quite worthy of a panic attack. The only side effect so far is that I’m fatigued. Today, I came home and crashed out for a couple hours. I’m told it may take a couple weeks for me to begin to feel other side effects – burning, blistering, difficulty swallowing, nausea, more severe fatigue etc.
The pictured radiation treatment room is staged like a state-of-the-art planetarium set up for a VIP, one-person-only, showing, with classical music piped in. The technicians exuberantly shared that the lights on the ceiling were designed in the formation of the Bay Area summertime night sky. But who would really know what that looks like given city glow and fog? I sure don’t ever recall looking up at any of what’s on that ceiling. Maybe the artist designed it after a constellation of zits and we’re all suckers. Well, best to just say “Wow!” and keep smart-ass commentary to yourself when the very same folks are about to strap you down and cook you.
GangsterLog.StarDate.05.24.2011 — Yesterday’s radiation planning visit resulted in the production of this pictured face mask for the purpose of immobilizing my head and shoulders during treatment. It was pretty traumatic, so I warn that this isn’t going to be a happy story.
The radiation treatment room was full of rotating tables, cameras and machinery suspended above and below, and what my friend and I decided looked like an electric chair. Every piece of equipment had an associated giant graph or egg-timer dial – a geometry textbook come to life.