Friday, June 7, 2013

Goodbye Western Treatment... Hello Miracles!

Time for an update? Absolutely.

First off, I didn’t report real-time on how radiation therapy went, but I’ve gotten some questions about it, so I wanted to share a little bit about my experience. 

Let me say flat out: I don’t want to minimize radiation therapy. It’s not easy. It has serious side effects, some of them immediate, and unfortunately, some of them can emerge way down the road, just like with chemo. And also like chemo, the treatment varies by the person. How one person will tolerate and experience the therapy is extremely individualized. I encountered many folks who were really having a hard go of it. They were going through a much more intense protocol than I, and were suffering from serious burns and blisters, fatigue and nausea. Some of them were even doing chemo at the same time they were getting radiation. All of them were amazing can’t-sir gladiators, and made me remember why I am in awe -- just in total awe -- of the human spirit.

For me, I had the measuring stick of 4 months of heavy duty chemo to weigh my experience against, plus a relatively light and quick radiation protocol. 34 sessions of radiation, with the last 6 being electron boost therapy. It was not terrible for me. Yep, they tatooed me with some dopey looking dots, not the requested dragons. Yep, they zapped me daily in a rather uncomfortable machine and exposed me to a ton of crazy x-rays and EMF that made me feel like my brain was being turned inside out and upside down. Yep, at the end I got a pretty gnarly and ridiculous-looking sunburn that hurt like a son-of-a-gun. Final yep, I had some mild fatigue and some days where food just wasn’t super appealing to me. But, it was a walk in the park compared to my chemo days.

The thing that I find super-awesome at seven plus months into this journey, though, is that it isn’t just chemo that gave me a new yardstick. It’s everything. I sometimes feel like I got gifted with the most amazing pair of rose-colored glasses. I always thought I had a pretty great life, and felt grateful for everything and everyone in it. But, my life now? It’s all that, and with extra Magic Shell. 

Five little examples of what the miraculous looks like to me these days:

My hair’s coming back. When people say stuff like, “I love it, but how do you feel about it? Does it bother you that it’s so short? What if it’s not as red as it once was?” I get the biggest grin on my face. How does it feel? It feels frickin’ awesome. It’s not that being bald was terrible. I got used to it and I honored my Patrick Stewart-ness, because everyone knows Patrick is The Man, so why not seize the moment? But, it’s incredibly empowering to know my body has recovered enough from Toxic Avenger status to grow some hair! I still can’t grow a proper fingernail, and at least half the other bits and pieces in my body that treatment affected will never be the same again, but at last strangers have started to look at me like I’ve just made some really unfortunate decisions around my hairstyle instead of like I’m a carrier monkey. That’s some transformational mojo right there!

I can think. Ok, right now, I can’t think as fast as I once could. I make a lot more mistakes than I remember making B.C. and I absolutely cannot multi-task. I have a terrible time processing complex information, and simple stuff isn’t much better. I need to write everything down, and I mean everything, if I want to understand and remember any of it. Like, I need to write down verbatim, “Hello, how are you? I wanted to talk to you about going to the zoo.” Because if I don’t, I forget they said, “zoo” and will literally respond two seconds later all about the solar flares above Iceland and the average arm length of an orangoutang. Both of which are topics I will be making up, because I don’t actually know anything about them, but another fun thing about chemo-brain is that I will literally get ten minutes into my story about icelandic orangoutangs before I even realize that I have been making shit up for ten minutes and then I’ll suddenly forget what I was just saying and that’s just... awkward. Anyhow, the cool thing is, my brain is still functioning, and I expect it to keep healing and getting sharper. To have the gift of rational thought, even at a lower-functioning level than I once did, is beyond amazing.

Stuff’s not such a big deal. I’m not trying to pull some weird card here. I know this sense of laissez-faire is at least partly due to a combination of deadened neural networks, sense memory loss, and a whole mess of other physiological stuff that happens when you dump gallons of poison and radioactive material into your body. Even if some of it’s temporary, it’s also true that I just don’t sweat stuff the way I once did. Better yet, stuff that is really important is also remarkably clear: the people and critters I love and am inspired by; the way I want to be known in this world today and after I’ve left it; the contributions I’m here to make and the ones I’m not; the mental-emotional goldmine that’s mine to work and the one that belongs entirely to somebody else. Significant improvement on everyone’s part.

I'm working again. I feel incredibly grateful and fortunate to work for a company that allowed me to take seven months off to focus on my healing. Honestly, it made such a difference to not have to try to figure out how to balance wanting to be an amazing innovative creative philanthropist rockstar business chick with needing to be an amazing innovative creative philanthropist rockstar healing chick.    Being able to return to work, being recovered enough to be able to create space both physically and mentally to think about stuff besides blood draws and pills and getting enough protein, is so powerful. It's symbolic for me of achieving a level of healing that was at my lowest points aspirational at best. Yes, there are a ton of changes to process through, and I'm keenly aware that my brain and body need a new level of love and attention if I want to achieve any of the goals that matter to me in my corporate career, or in my private coaching and healing practice. But when I look at the difference I can make, working alongside the most incredible people alive on the planet today, it fills my heart with such joy. Go, go Gadget heart chakra!

And finally:

I’m alive. If you haven’t yet been forced to come face to face with your own mortal coil, that might sound either flippant or resigned. It’s neither. For me, it’s simply a fact. A powerful fact, and a transient one, just like all of the above mini-miracles. When people ask me how I’m doing, they often follow up with some words about how everything’s going to be okay now, modern treatment is so good, they caught it so early, I have such a strong spirit or a good attitude. What’s different for me is that I understand something now I couldn’t really grasp before: that everything, really, truly, no matter what, is okay, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether there's can't-sir in this body or not. Whether we understand our reality as a process of living or dying, all is truly well. Today, I’m above ground. I’ve been gifted one more moment, and I intend to live it, and every one that follows, to the max -- with joy, integrity and authenticity. Someday, I won’t be around to publish my own status updates. That’s a fact as well, but also, in my beliefs at least, a transient one. But I've got miles to go before I sleep. And they're promising to be some pretty amazing miles. So, let's do this thing, amigos!

Love and light to you all. I sure do appreciate you sticking around with me for this round of dance dance revolution!