Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cancer Scans, Mystery, Worry, Practice, Love, & Uncertainty

I had my annual PET scan last week, and the good news is that cancer has not taken up any new residences within me. How miraculous to be entering my 8th year of life post-diagnosis!

I had a challenging week after an overly casual radiologist over-interpreted my scan, which gave me the impression that cancer had reared its ugly head again. My wonderful oncologist, Kim went over my films with the radiologist, who admitted that what he sees "lighting up" now is no more intense than it ever has been before (gee thanks for that useless insight). He's not sure why he mentioned it. They looked at all my scans since 2009 and can see how “activity” in my bones frequently goes up and down with each scan, and what I have going on now is nothing new.

No one knows why these spots in my bones intermittently light up on a scan. It could be cancer still simmering, but it also could be arthritis, inflammation, post-exercise repair, or remodeling. As long as it isn't spreading to new areas, there's nothing to do but get on with living and just monitor the situation.

I hope that the findings on the scan might have something to do with the amount of time I spend doing wave motion on my forearms and knees, which puts a lot of pressure on my ribs and sternum. I also spend a fair amount of time in plank position. I can't bear weight on my wrists, so I do any activity (exercise or Continuum) that requires being on hands and knees on my forearms, which always makes my chest throb. Since the 3 places that light up on the scan are all places that hurt when I exercise, breathe deeply, tango, or do Continuum, it's probably some form of irritation or remodeling of the bone/cartilage. I think I'm going to ease up on my upper body activities.

(This paragraph is for you Continuum folks:)
Another thing that might stress the area that's lighting up is this: I've been finding the river whose headwaters originate in my sacrum and allowing it to meander up my spine as I move with the waves up into a bridge-like position. Then I suspend at the top of the bridge and wait for the tide to turn (yum, as only Continuum people can fully appreciate), and on the way downstream, I allow my sternum and heart to sink to the bottom of the riverbed as the river meanders back down. For those of you who know what I'm talking about, I do this with "O's on the way up and "Theta's on the way down. I got tired of always having my attention on my spine rolling down (the roll-down 1 vertebra at a time gets old), so I shifted my attention to sinking down through my anterior midline. Maybe I overdid it and my ribs and sternum are talking to me in some other language I don't understand.

If any of you think this sounds intriguing and interesting, please come to Kripalu in January and spend a week with me!

No change of treatment is in order. No new decisions are called for. Worry is optional, as always. We are just going to check my tumor markers, a simple blood test, every 3-4 months for the next while.

Every time I get a bad cold or flu I feel like it is practice for dying. It's great to get to practice on something that is relatively benign, but makes me feel like I'm going to die. Every time I have a scan, I feel like it's another dress rehearsal for the eventual downturn. I don't think I flailed too much this time.

This is what "practice" is about for me. It's not about quieting the mind, or being in a permanent state of bliss. For me, it's about not being overly identified with my thoughts, opinions, and preferences. There's a little space between my melodrama and what I identify as being, "me" that makes it all a little bit easier to bear. Even when I'm feeling fear of decrepitude acutely, I like to remind myself, "there I go again". My mind is an organ that secretes thoughts like my sweat glands secrete sweat; it’s just what the mind does. (By the way, some of you have heard me say this before, and I just want to let you know that I did not originate this great line, but I cannot remember who said it – most likely Jack Kornfield, Dan Siegel, or Tara Brach. So, thank you to whom ever made this great analogy.) Thinking is just what we all do, and I'm practicing to not be too tortured by my own mind before my body is ready to crap out.

Here is how I sit with uncertainty today:
I am the same person today as I was before last week’s scan. Nothing has changed. There is a lot of mystery about how to track cancer. It’s mostly unknown and unknowable. There are still many possible futures. I won't ruin the present by postulating about having a bad time with cancer in the future. It will be hard enough to cope with it if or when it happens. Why suffer prematurely?

I am loving my life, looking forward to winter, with its soups and sweaters, a few tangos, a good film, drinking hot brown liquids by our beloved fireplace (yes, after 14 months it's working!), becoming an expert on the spas of southern Quebec (here's our favorite, so far -, and sharing love and friendship with all of you... and so much more.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Provocateur Is Undergoing Transformation...& My Next Kripalu Workshop

Once again, I have gone so long between blog entries that people are starting to contact me to see if I'm ok. I am. I'm fine, although I'm still having a great and challenging adventure living in my body. I have been sorting out my priorities, and I'm posting this notice to let those of you who also follow my Tango Provocateur blog that I am shutting it down. I will still write occasionally about tango, but I found that it requires too much time, energy, and expense to maintain a separate blog.

I will be writing more soon, but I wanted to let you all know that registration is open for my next workshop at Kripalu, Jan 29 - Feb 3, 2017.

Transformative Self-Care: Continuum Movement, Mindfulness, and Osteopathy

The winter season allows for time to slow down, turn inward, and cultivate deep listening, guiding you to care for yourself from a place of inner wisdom.

Osteopathic physician Bonnie Gintis has survived and thrived for more than seven years with advanced stage breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis by being curious, listening to her body, and opening to life’s mysteries.  In this program, Bonnie shares:
  • Inner resources for resilience, adaptability, and change
  • Awareness of internal experience through breath, sound, guided and silent meditation, and movement
  • Our interconnectedness with each other and with nature
  • Cultivating curiosity, becoming comfortable with uncertainty, and radically reimagining how you care for yourself.
Discover the radical possibilities for health and well-being available when you combine fluid movement practices and mindfulness meditation with the principles of osteopathy.

Here's a link for more information:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Courageous Hospitality Towards The Difficult, Painful, And Unknown

"May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality towards what is difficult, painful and unknown."  John O'Donohue

I awoke today, as I do many mornings feeling pain and stiffness that makes staying in bed a little longer take priority over the need to get up. I go to bed each night hoping that the next day might be easier, and that easier might become a trend. I stay committed to being informed by the moment, and yet I hold a place in my future for the hope of feeling better. Feeling better may or may not materialize. I don't dwell on wanting things to be other than the way they are, but it's part of a healthy coping mechanism to be open to other possibilities. I can't not want to feel better. 

I'm always looking for ways to reframe this paradox of being in the moment versus hoping for the next moment to feel other than the way it is. The potency behind the desire to feel better fuels my curiosity and my underlying will to live. Learning how to hold that desire while still attending to the state of how things are is a complicated dance. I'm inspired by a story about 5-yr-old Guthrie, the grandson of the poet William Stafford, who presumably said after his favorite caterpillar was squashed, “You get what you don’t want and the spirit of what you want comes and helps you.”

I frequently revisit John O'Donohue's poem, A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness for inspiration. Each day a different line grabs my attention. Today I'm pondering the "courageous hospitality" I have learned to extend towards the cancer and auto-immunity that have taken up residence in my body. If I courageously and graciously open the door to my life, all sorts of things wash in (and out) with the natural ebb and flow of the tide. Perhaps Guthrie's idea that the spirit of something I want (to live!) will help me as I face the reality of what illness has taken away from my life.

Being courageous doesn't mean that I'm never afraid. Sometimes I am, but when that fear taints my ideas about the future, I try to let go of the scenario that hasn't yet happened. Why worry now about some possible future where I'm unable to walk, hold a cup, or dance? Why worry about unimaginable cancer treatments or dying? I channel fear into fuel for the present where I need motivation to care for myself more deeply. This is courage; feeling fear, and still living my life doing the best that I can.

"Hospitality" is the harder part of the task. I think of being generous and welcoming as something that's easy with friends and loved ones. It's challenging to find a way to genuinely extend hospitality towards the way I feel this morning. Perhaps, like in Rumi's poem, The Guest House, an unexpected visitor has cleared me out, hopefully for some new delight. I don't have to stare directly at my diseases and invite them for an open-ended stay in my body. I can however, be hospitable towards "what is difficult, painful and unknown." The future is what is likely to be "difficult, painful and unknown." I know that the future contains the inevitability of death, but until that time comes, I can easily welcome the part of the future in which I'm alive, as the spirit of wanting to live and thrive comes to escort that future into each unfolding moment.

(I also posted an entry on my other blog, today on the topic of Generosity, Kindness, Gratitude, And Compassion In Tango.)