Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Decade Of Unexpected Life

I have a visceral memory of my 53rd birthday. It was 2009 and I was at an Osteopathic continuing education course on “The Anterior Midline” taught by Elliot Blackman, DO in San Mateo, California. Ironically, my anterior midline, my sternum, to be exact, was red hot and bulging. I could barely move my arms. I couldn’t carry my treatment table or my suitcase. I ached all over. I was severely fatigued. I knew something was gravely wrong, I just didn’t know what it was yet. I suspected something like multiple myeloma or some other blood disease that was causing my bone marrow to expand. 

Little did I know that breast cancer had spread through my bones. How could I have known? I had a normal mammogram. My nine breast tumors were not palpable. Nothing else that medicine knows how to measure was abnormal. 

My mother died when she was 53 from ovarian cancer and I had walked around for a few years prior to my 53rd birthday feeling like something might happen to me soon. I thought and felt that, “something was terribly wrong”. Was I caught in my mother's history, or was that a sensation or a premonition? After years of medical screening, therapy, and deep soul-searching, I could only conclude that I was working too much. I was happy, and I loved the work I overdid. This pain was out of proportion to what seemed like the mundane stressors in my life. It was out of proportion, because it wasn’t just about stress, my work, or my mother, I was feeling the fast progression of Stage 4 breast cancer.

I am on the verge of my 63rd birthday, a day I did not think I would live to see. Some say it’s a miracle, but ten years have passed, one day at a time, and from my perspective nothing miraculous happened. There wasn’t a moment with a fanfare of trumpets or mystical voices. No prophetic dreams. I just wake up each day devoted to staying present as best I can, so that I can sense the necessity of the moment. I have had to cultivate curiosity and not panic or dwell on the terror and fear of suffering and dying. My day-to-day survival depends on my ability to be present, tolerate uncertainty, and make good choices. I have been blessed and privileged to have great mainstream, alternative, complementary, and Osteopathic care, wonderful friends, and the resources to care for myself as a full-time job. I couldn't have lived this well, for this long alone. My life is filled with love, the love from friends, colleague, students, patients, family, and especially my beloved husband Steve, my step-sons Luke and Ben, and Ben's wife Jenny. All of this adds up to look like the miracle of living 10 years with cancer and continuing to thrive in the midst of it.

Up until now, this blog has been a way for me to let you all know how I’m doing. This was especially helpful during the first year or two after my diagnosis, when it was impossible for me to respond to the hundreds of people who wanted to know how I was doing. I couldn’t bear to keep repeating my status and report my test results. That necessity has passed and it’s time to re-purpose my blog. I have always written philosophically and poetically about a wide variety of issues, but each time I try to post something, I struggle with the “Health Update” aspect of the blog. It’s time to make a change.

I opened my book, Engaging The Movement Of Life this morning, looking for an inspiring quote as a warm-up for this blog and a workshop I'll be leading soon. I randomly flipped through the pages and my eyes landed on this paragraph,

“Reverence for the relationship between the known and the unknown continues to expand and contract, like my breath. Moving from part to whole, from detail to big picture, from movement to stillness, the territory of exploration is endless. Living life in a spirit of inquiry is far more fascinating, fruitful, and satisfying than any of the specific answers to questions. The known world expands exponentially as I become willing to enter this inquiry, informed by my silent, felt experience.”
I accept the uncertainty of my life, and of life in general. Life is fragile, temporary, not subject to any of the rules of fairness, and naturally filled with surprising twists and turns. I don’t have to like what's happening to accept the harsh realities of what I face. This acceptance allows me to feel it in my bones and be deeply informed by the state of my body. There is part of life that I can explore and potentially understand. If it’s knowable, I want to try to know it. If it’s not knowable I want to bow to the mystery and move on. In embracing the known and unknown realms, I keep diving more deeply into an ongoing inquiry. In the midst of uncertainty I anchor my acceptance with inquiry. I am curious about my precarious existence and as I ask each question, another interesting thread of inquiry leads me towards the horizon.

(For more of my writing on living with uncertainty, go to:

The spirit of inquiry has inspired me to search for a “Unified Theory of Everything.” The Unified Theory or The Theory of Everything in the study of physics refers to models that describe two or more of the four fundamental forces of nature previously described by separate theories (these forces are electromagnetic, gravitational, weak, and strong.) I am always looking for the biological equivalent of this sort of theory for human life.

Many years ago I began to weave a philosophy and a set of principles to guide me that applied to every aspect of my life. It seemed to me that there was common ground shared by aspects of my life that had become compartmentalized.
  • I had a philosophy that influenced my sense of my body, but it shifted in different contexts. 
  • I had one set of principles that guided how I cared for myself, but a slightly different set that informed how I exercised. 
  • I had yet another set of principles that guided my internal life – my thoughts, my beliefs, my emotions. 
  • And another that applied to matters of the natural world. 
As I move through life, I have found the common threads of connection in the story I weave in order to make meaning, and provide guidance about how to live my life.

No one way has ever satisfied me. I have explored many philosophies and approaches in an attempt to unify my worldview into one cohesive guide, but I see contradictions and inconsistencies in most philosophies, spiritual practices, exercise techniques, meditation practices, approaches to healthcare, and other attempts to prescribe a way of living.
  • When I was meditating, I felt like my body was left out and not valued.
  • When I was exercising, I felt like my desire to tune in to my silent-felt experience and deeply sense the unfolding effects of my efforts were not valued as much as my heart rate or my form.
  • When I was cooking, I did not fully understand the relationship between my food, my community, the environment, and my health.
  • When I was choosing healthcare options, I did not feel like my body was treated as a valuable part of the natural world.
  • When I was out in nature, hiking in the woods, I felt like my activity was separate from the rest of my day.
  • When I was in relationship with another person, I did not appreciate that being relatable is the same whether the relationship is between people, food, places, animals, or things.
  • When I gazed up at the night sky, I did not know that I was a living part of the cosmos.
This new incarnation of my blog explores my creative life path to a unified theory of everything, uniting health, exercise, meditation, the natural world, nourishment, relationships, and moving through the world in all the many and varied ways that I do. What unites all these aspects of living is what I call Radical Embodiment

Radical Embodiment is the topic of my next blog entry.  Enter your email address in the Subscribe box, up above on the right, to be notified when I post each new entry.

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