Breast cancer, Cancer, Health

Cancer, 10 Years Later

kick forward

 

Yesterday, was Cancer Survivor’s Day. The day reminded me of my own experience with cancer.

The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a survivor as “anyone living with a history of cancer–from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.”

June 8, 2005 is one of two dates I remember from my experience. The other is the date of my last chemotherapy, November 28, 2005. That is the date I considered myself cancer free.

The day I returned from my honeymoon, I had a message on the message machine. Two days later, on June 8th, I (and the now former husband) sat in my doctor’s office. She squirmed in her chair. After a slight sigh, her eyes traveled to my own. “I’m so sorry to tell you this, but you have breast cancer.”

After that her lips moved but I heard no sound. I became temporarily deaf. My brain tripped on the word cancer and didn’t get up for minutes.

A chair squeaked, my arm nudged, her voice again. I felt myself enveloped in a teary hug. Her tears, not mine.

There are few things like that word cancer to flip your world upside down. Initially, I thought the worse outcome; especially since all of my mother’s siblings died of cancer.

Suffering, death, fear of leaving my three young teenaged kids filled my mind. I know these feelings filled the minds of my children and loved one’s too.

Gradually, I found my life turned right side up, clicking up from the bottom, like I was in a giant Ferris wheel basket, swaying, until I reached the top, able to see the view again.

I didn’t fully enjoy the feeling though as fear of dropping down again, into an abyss, clouded the view. And drop I have, a few times, in the past 10 years.

I seemed to slide in and out of the stages of grief for two to three years. There were no timelines or completion dates, just anxiety and no anxiety; fear and no fear.

These feelings are reproduced, to a much lesser extent, whenever I go for a mammogram, MRI, or PET Scan.

Days turned into months which inched towards years until I felt my momentum again. I’m aware I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m blessed to have had family and some very good friends help me through my time with cancer.

Now, I’m looking forward to one of the commitments I made to myself. (This is one of my ‘to-do’s’ on my bucket list). On my 10th year of cancer free life, I’d get another tattoo to symbolize the anniversary.

A year after treatment finished, I went down to a tattoo professional who my daughter knew and had a tattoo inked over the porta-cath scars above my breast. The butterfly symbolizes transformation and rebirth, the dogwood blossoms endurance and mortality.

1 yr. anniversary tattoo www.alvaradofrazier.com
1 yr. anniversary tattoo http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

I don’t know what my 10 year anniversary symbol will be or where. What I do know is I will celebrate again and continue to hope for a cure.

 

 

 

 

 

Breast cancer, Cancer, Empowerment, Faith, Fear, Healing, Hope, poetry, Stories, Writing

Empowerment through Poetry

 

And-in-the-end-its-not

Lately thoughts of cancer have floated through my mind. The word is still with a lowercase ‘c’, but it’s there, in my daily life.

I’ve learned to not stuff disturbing thoughts down into my body or heart. They always pop up somewhere, like an evil jack in the box.

When I try to stuff the thoughts, the feelings associated with the word ‘cancer,’ morph into capital letters until the word is entirely in CAPS like it’s screaming out.

I remember a phrase I read from a book whose author I can’t remember:

Feelings are energies that can be moved and transformed.

When I first read that sentence I thought “Wow, that’s empowering.” I get to direct my feelings, move them around, and create something else.

I can stop the stories in my head and create a new story.

So I grab a piece of paper and write out my thoughts, examine them, and try to figure out if I’m feeling anger, grief, fear, or all three.

Many times it’s not necessary to find ‘the answer,’ only to feel the feelings and examine the threads that make the word stand up in my mind.

Sometimes I thread those words together until they become something else, something not scary or ominous.

 

Lowercase cancer

I remember when

cancer had me by the breast

the slash, poison, burn

 a bald toxic dump.

Nurtured by family

powered by faith

seeds of hope planted

until a garden grew

a wasteland no more.

Dare you to try again

been there and back

you will meet defeat

little c

because now I’m not afraid

to die, after I’ve lived

If poetry isn’t your thing, you can also examine or deal with negative feelings by practicing meditation, deep breathing, journaling, listening to your favorite music, drawing, or reading something inspirational.

The point is you can stop the negative feelings in your head and create a new story in your heart.

Make new stories this weekend.

Cancer, Faith, Family, Healing, Health, Inspiration, Juicing, Latino culture

Six Surprising Ways to Heal Illness

Japanese word for healing-gettyimages.com
Japanese word for healing-gettyimages.com

Yesterday, I visited with a young couple. The young man has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy and will soon start on another round of six ‘treatments.’ I single quote that word because chemotherapy drugs are so harsh it’s hard to think of them as treatments.

First, a disclaimer: These ways of healing are what worked for me during and after my cancer treatments eight years ago. Two methods are what works for another cancer patient. Discuss your use of any pain relief methods with your doctor.

The young man looked so much better than I expected, he still had some hair, his eyebrows and mustache, his face wasn’t gaunt. I expected him to look like I did after chemo–bald, pale, tired. Different types of cancer, different chemo treatments.

We talked about how he felt, both physically and emotionally. I think it was hard for his fiancé to hear us talk,  but she knew he needed to talk.

He asked me how I dealt with the physical pain, especially the tenderness of the scalp, fingers, palms, the joint pain that doesn’t let you sleep, the stomach distress. The pain meds the doctor prescribed did very little to ease pain.

We shared our stories.

These are some ways that helped me heal and cope with the pain of cancer and healing from cancer.

  1. Meditation music  temporarily helped, especially with stress, but also with pain . I slapped on earbuds, played pleasurable music (I seemed to prefer water sounds) and zoned out for a couple of hours. Many hospitals, community centers teach meditation and mindfulness. Dr. Lisa Rankin talks about this and more in her book, Mind Over Medicine.
  2. Reiki (Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy”). This was offered at the cancer center I attended. I was a skeptic, but now I’m a believer. You can find more about reiki here
  3. Marijuana:

“Whatever you do, don’t take Marinol (concentrated THC in pill form). It didn’t help at all with my nausea, just gave me the munchies,” I said.

 

You should have seen the expression on his face, hearing that I ingested Marinol (under doctor directions) and wished California had medical Marijuana back then. He smiled and said he tried an “Edible,” which is marijuana baked into a food like a brownie or cake pop. It dulled his pain for a couple of hours and didn’t hurt his stomach like the pain pills. 

Edible Cake Pops-Huffington Post, photo by weedmaps.com
Edible Cake Pops-Huffington Post, photo by weedmaps.com

This is legal in California if you have a medical marijuana card. In Colorado you don’t need a card (other than proof of age, 21) and they have strains of marijuana that are lower in THC and higher in CBD (Cannabidiol)a major, non-psychoactive component of cannabis that helps shrink inflammation and reduce pain without inducing the euphoria effects of THC. Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about this in his CNN program about medical marijuana. Several studies are researching placing marijuana into a pill for pain relief. 

There is an old remedy used in Mexico, and here, where a liniment is made from soaking marijuana in alcohol for a couple of weeks and applying it on painful joints. (I know of a couple of elderly people who use this for their rheumatoid arthritis and they say it works.)

4.  Juicing vegetable and fruits. I wanted to heal myself from the inside out. The dietician at the cancer center emphasized 6-8 servings of    vegetables/fruit daily. It was so much easier to drink the juice of carrots, apples, celery, spinach than to eat them, especially when you’re nauseous or don’t feel like eating. I still juice a few times a month or buy a vegetable and fruit combo at Trader Joe’s or a health food store.

I Dwell on Positive Thoughts-Louise Hay card
I Dwell on Positive Thoughts-Louise Hay card

5. Positive affirmations and prayer, every day. During my cancer recuperation I bought a deck of 64 Wisdom Cards by Louise Hay. The card above and quote below resonated with me.

“The moment I say positive affirmations, I step out of the victim role. I am no longer helpless…I’m taking the next step for my healing.”

Healing really comes from a mind, body, and soul connection. I’m not saying it will cure your illness. For me, I became more holistic in my ideas about healing. Dr. Deepak Chopra has a wealth of  information about holistic healing.

Bucket List
Bucket List

6. Hope: This couple made a bucket list of places and experiences they want to enjoy when chemo is completed or on the young man’s ‘good days.’ They look to the future, believing the cancer will be healed. They have hope. Together they tackle the pain of the present and look to the future.
I left our visit hopeful for this young man’s full recovery. I look forward to his marriage, the creation of a family, and the end of cancer appearing in his life ever again, or mine, or your own.