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.