Saturday, August 14, 2010

One Year of Feeling It In My Bones

It’s a year today of feeling it in my bones. On the eve of August 14, 2009 we sat watching the film Julie and Julia and I wondered what I had done on my giant gym ball that afternoon that made my ribs throb.

In my reverie concerning the experience of “feeling it in my bones” I have encountered many interesting questions. Many have asked me if I think it is ironic that as an Osteopath I developed cancer in my “osteons.” Have I taken Osteopathy too literally?

Osteopathy is not about bone disease. It’s not in question that “osteo” is the root of the word “bone”, but the origin and meaning of the root of “-pathy” is open to some interpretation. Pathos or the Greek root, patheia is usually defined as “suffering” or “feeling” and therefore is at the root of many words that describe diseases. However, there is another implication of its root meaning. Pathos involves the expression of a feeling, and implies the communication of a felt sense that overrides thinking. Pathos is the commitment to a heartfelt, fully-lived life. I find this interesting to ponder as I search for a meaningful story to deepen my exploration of having bone tumors.

My Osteopathic teacher Jim Jealous used to say, “Healing is not about self-improvement; it is about self-expression.” This is not a new-agey proclamation about emoting or spewing feelings in a self-absorbed way. Self-expression is something an organism (this includes people) does all the way down to the cellular level and beyond to the sub-atomic realm. In our cells, in our fluids, and in the spaces between things there is a constant rhythmic fluctuation and change of shape that requires the stuff that makes up our bodies to be in constant motion. There is the constant motion of inhalation and exhalation, as well as a plethora of other primary motions that are inherent to all life functions. If our nature as living beings is to manifest movement as the reflection of metabolic life process, then this is the self-expression that is crucial to health and well-being. This moment-to-moment activity of life is what needs expression for there to be health, healing, adaptation, and resilience.

It is curious that I wrote about this process from the viewpoint of bones many years before I had pathology in my bones. The following is an excerpt from my book, pages 175 – 179.

There is a general assumption in physiology and chemistry that open systems with higher water content are in greater flux. The presence of water that is free to move creates rapid and constant interchange. This is a fundamental principle in mutability. Since bones have relatively low water content (about 20%), they take longer to heal or change as compared to the so-called “soft tissues” like muscle and fascia, which can be up to 85 – 90% water.

The relatively fast response of muscle, fascia, and other soft tissues makes them sensitive to the physiologic changes that accompany emotional reactions. Most people would agree that their myofascial structures are more emotionally responsive than their bones. What you find when you direct your senses into your muscles is less predictable than what you sense in your bones. The feel of a muscle can change from one instant to the next. Bones do not tend to noticeably change from moment to moment, or even from day to day, as muscle and fascia do, endowing bones with a sense of slowness. People who tend to feel their emotional reactions as tightness or soreness of their muscles don’t usually sense this same emotional response in their bones. The tempo and density of bone are so different from that of muscle and fascia that the style of sensing has to be altered to gain access to a bony impression. If we adjust the density of our attention to match the density of what we want to sense, then bone could be experienced as grounding, reliable, or predictable. Language reflects this deep sense of knowing, as when someone says they can “feel it in their bones,” as I did after my momentous Osteopathic treatment in that summer of 1974.

Is the Name “Osteopathy” a Misnomer?

When I first heard of the Osteopathic profession I didn’t understand the meaning of its name. It’s a mystery to most people how Osteopathy got its name, when the profession doesn’t necessarily have a primary focus on treating the bones. “Osteon” is Latin for bone, and “pathos” means “to suffer.” One might assume that we are “bone doctors,” but the origin of the name runs deeper. Andrew Taylor Still had a deep connection to the study of all anatomy. He asked us to begin with the bones, but he never expected us to end there. His request was meant to create a structure to approach the study of the living human body, like a scaffold or a skeleton. He never meant to imply that we should exclusively treat the bones of our patients. He described the purpose of adjusting bones as a means to give freedom to the movement of fluids and open the space for the body to function better and heal itself. Still began his study of anatomy with the bones, and he found that it led him to the rest of the organism by what he called “connected oneness.” He was driven to learn every detail of every attachment, and then to follow all the structures that ran through and crossed those bones and attachments, until he had explored every inch of all the anatomy of the body and pondered its function. He waxed poetic, acknowledging the connection of the study of anatomy to the deep esoteric mysteries of the universe as he proclaimed, “To know all of a bone in its entirety would close both ends of an eternity.”

In my early studies of Osteopathy, I found myself struggling with the feeling that the name was a misnomer. It felt as if there was a bone inappropriately stuck in the name of my chosen profession. I hadn’t yet read Still and learned to appreciate his exploration and use of the term. I was a student who immediately found resonance with sensing membrane and fluid more easily than bone. Now I appreciate the subtle variations in the texture of attention necessary to cultivate awareness of all aspects of embodiment. It is ridiculous to proclaim the importance or sacredness of any one type of tissue, body segment, or system that is part of a unified whole.

In the experiences I had treating my patients Osteopathically and attending to myself through Continuum, I discovered that the bones are quite interesting, offering vast opportunities for exploration. Each bone I observed had a unique shape and texture. There are movement patterns within individual bones, in addition to the movement that occurs in the relationship of one bone to another. I began to differentiate between what is “normal” and what anatomic variations develop to accommodate the way the body is used. Some of what I noticed was the remnant of trauma. An old fracture will alter the anatomy of the area involved. There is often a swath of the bony equivalent of a scar that results in an altered density within the bone itself, as well as scar tissue in the periosteum surrounding the bone and neighboring soft tissues. This creates a dissonance in the relationship of a bone with the other bones and tissues around it. A bone cannot have a balanced relationship with the bone next to it until it has a balanced relationship within itself. This is a basic tenet of Osteopathy that has been expanded by the teachings of Sutherland, Becker, and Jealous. There are many approaches to treating the body based on various interpretations of this law of nature.

Not only do I have a commitment to a heartfelt, fully-lived life, but I have a tumor in my sternum that literally presses inward on my heart, constantly reminding me. With every breath I can literally feel the imperative of my life to yield and adapt to living with cancer. I am certainly open to the miracle of having this reminder recede and disappear, but in the meantime, I am learning to co-exist and not allow fear of the unknown to dominate my life and squelch the self-expression of my life’s breath.

As I enter a new year, which may or may not be consumed with “feeling it in my bones” I wonder what lesson comes next. Can I stop wishing I could return the “gift of cancer” to Macy’s for something like a nice blouse instead? Must I continue to explore knowing my bones in their entirety to understand what it might mean to close both ends of an eternity? Is there some aspect of self-expression that has yet to surface in my healing process? Can I learn to rest in just “being” without needing to understand or imbue meaning? Can I let go of needing a plan for my future, as if having a plan assures a particular future?

As I approach my 54th birthday in 5 weeks, I enter the uncharted territory of a life that is longer than my mother’s was, in peace and equanimity. It will be a blessing and a gift if I can answer any of these questions, as it will be if I can let go of them and just encounter each breath and appreciate life however it may unfold.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Some Good News While You're Waiting For My Next Entry

I have been unable to focus my energies on public writing. Hence, the lack of an entry for a while.  But I do have good news that I want to share; My bone scan on August 3rd showed no new cancer. The tumor markers that are measured by blood test are also way down to normal again. The old tumors will continue to light up for a long time, even if they are shrinking. I know they are still there. I can see and feel them, but they aren't growing or spreading. They shrank quickly in the beginning and I assume they are continuing to do so. The bone scan really only tells us about spread, not about the state of what's already there. 

Can you believe it has already been a year since this ordeal began? This is particularly good news as I approach my 1 year anniversary and as I approach my 54th birthday on September 26th, when I will have lived longer than my mother. It will surely be a Happy Birthday!