Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stage 4 ½ - A Portal To Another Dimension Of Life

A young friend (by young, I mean 30) recently asked me what comes after the Stage 4 cancer with which I'm diagnosed. I didn’t want to tell him that mainstream medicine considers Stage 4 a terminal diagnosis and that death is considered the inevitable next stage. There is no Stage 5. I paused, grasping for words, and an image from the ridiculously wacky film, Being John Malkovich came to mind—the “7½th” floor. In this floor-between-floors in an office building there is a portal into John Malkovich’s consciousness. In a similar spirit, in an attempt to digress from the linear progression of the 7th floor to the 8th, or Stage 4 to death, I’ve decided to rename my present stage of cancer “Stage 4 ½".

I believe I've found a portal to a new stage of consciousness that lies between Stage 4 and oblivion. Naming my chosen alternative to the next stage of this disease seems like a perfectly empowering use of terminology. I love being a pioneer, an outlier, an explorer, so off I go into the unknown, forging my own word for the state or stage I'm in.

Compensation and adaptation is a full-time endeavor for me these days. The nuts-and-bolts of self-care, eating and sleeping well, breathing, moving, meditating, laughing, crying, etc. take up a good part of my day. I like to think that I'm not just coping, but transcending my affliction and transforming my life. I am making up for lost time, lost abilities, lost possibilities, and creating something new from the uninvited imposition of cancer.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I think back to a year ago and know how much I have for which to feel gratitude. Last year at this time, I wasn't sure I'd live to write another Thanksgiving blog entry. 

Those of you who know me and my family are probably wondering what exotic non-turkey item we had this year. (For the rest of that story scroll back down to my Nov 24, 2009 entry and read about our history with alternative Thanksgiving meals.) Since I'm not eating any animal products that ruled out our previous choices of duck, quail, goose, guinea hen, pheasant, emu, ostrich, squab, partridge, ostrich, kangaroo ribs, alligator, crocodile, turtle, frog, llama, elk, venison, antelope, rabbit, rattlesnake, yak, and wild boar.

Since metastatic breast cancer has caused me to have an aversion to animal fat, I started with a vegan version of my stuffing. I replaced butter with olive oil and chicken broth with veggie and mushroom broth. My husband Steve made the bread for it. He just came home from a week at the San Francisco Baking Institute – and he is so inspired to bake. Wow, am I grateful I am not wheat intolerant! I made fresh mushroom broth to use in the stuffing and in the shitake gravy. Most of our ingredients came from our local Farmers’ Market. I mounded the stuffing on a giant upside-down portobello mushroom, stuffed some delicata squash, and then topped it with shitake mushroom gravy. My 18 yr-old step-son Ben made 2 kinds of cranberry sauce. My 16-yr-old step-son Luke made (seriously non-vegan) pumpkin pie, including the crust, which I had to have a tiny bite of, then pass on the rest of it. I made a salad with greens, roasted asparagus, artichoke hearts (I made them fresh, not from a jar), toasted almonds, and a ruby red grapefruit juice reduction salad dressing. Wow! Any carnivore would have agreed this was a fabulous feast. My guys actually made a plain, old-fashioned turkey (with my stuffing) for themselves. Ben can actually claim that he made it through his entire childhood without having turkey for Thanksgiving with us. For some odd reason, this fact amuses me.

Now I need to spend a few days laying low and recovering from all the food prep before my week of CAT scans, bone scans, and other medical poking around, in honor of my 1 year diagnosis anniversary. I expect it all to look good and hope that I don’t glow in the dark after all the radiation. Miso and seaweed are on the menu for my post-radiation ordeal. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki they have found that the people who ate miso and seaweed after we dropped the bomb on them lived longer and avoided radiation sickness. I try to find a food-related answer to many of the challenges in my life. It seems like a helpful and wholesome coping mechanism.

In the meantime, I am curious about my how my life in the realm of Stage 4½ will unfold, not necessarily in a linear progression. I hear the jumble of messages arising from deep in my bones - cancer and life intertwined in my dark marrow. A light cannot shine in such an enclosed space, but a river can flow in the darkness. A message can emerge from this darkness and I can listen and feel for the ripple in the stream of my consciousness. This distant Voice has tendrils that reach out across time and space touching many possible futures. The Voice whispers an as yet unimagined message assuring me that a tendril of my future can find its way to move into the present.