“Don’t be a role be a soul”Ram Dass
What you fear as you go through your personal cancer experience becomes realized for others perhaps in a similar or very different emotional expression. The experiences as our time here in these diseased bodies unfolds and mine surprises me so much. My emotional state plays out so differently than what I’d ever expected.
Do you feel surprised too? As each day passes do you sense wonderment as each blessing of a day passes? Do you fear today may be the last? Do you worry that if yesterday was your last day alive you’d regret every second of it wishing for a chance to do it all over agin? Or the last year? Or six, or 12?
Fear and uncertainty became a mainstay, at least in the first six moths after my initial diagnosis – the slow moving medical system telling me not to worry and kicking me to the curb with a prescription of tamoxifen in hand held my feet to the fire as to not to worry. When someone tells me not to worry it pervades in my emotional state.
It then pervades my physical state, as a result. Our emotions are very much proven to affect what we may feel like. Take those who are prone to rumination over what might be. I’ve seen the physical toll anxiety can have on a person who sleeps all day to avoid these stressful thoughts. I’ve often wondered why the people who are most stressed are the luckiest, too. But let’s reserve that for another discussion or feel free to comment below on your take on this Pandora’s box I don’t want to open in the midst of an important or what I believe to be an important post for this blog.
What fresh fear is this?
Who was I to believe I’d know what the hell would become like an emotional darkroom? I bathed the photo paper in aluminum pans of chemicals in a dark room. I didn’t know much about the way around but there’s others who want the spotlight too and are willing to give me tutelage. I stand moving quickly so as not to lose the exposure I am attempting to grab in the light of that evening so long ago when I saw a face emerge; it was my own looking pale, exhausted and blank.
I stood longer underneath the red light of the small closet in which images of myself, of my cancer, of the people who came in and out of my life, of what I’d look like today versus last year. The photographs coming to light, dripping wet with the chemical perspiration of the baths that would allow the images to come to my mind were so completely different than what I expected.
I can fear death, I can fear upcoming events, but all that creates in me is more fear. Fear of what I saw in the film sitting in my camera: flower buds waiting to blossom or skies waiting to turn from heavy clouds to rain. And I sat thinking, hmmm it was a nice sunny day yesterday when I meditated on what was truly on my heart I realized that the good I saw in certain events wasn’t good at all.
I’m trying to live more peacefully in knowing we all have a fear of what might become of us in death – and let’s all face it with as much veracity as possible, “I fear death. I fear not leaving a legacy behind. I fear leaving my loved ones behind.”
“You do not understand even life, how can you understand death” –Confucius
This to some degree I think maybe true for all of us. I am in the midst of listening to the audio version of Frank Ostaseski’s book The Five Invitations. He invites us to examine our lives with the following (and note the meaningful word choice invitations – not the five step plan or the five cures.) Ostaseski demands nothing of us.
He invites us to hear his message and he gives examples – some difficult I’m sure for him to face and pour out publicly. I think of getting a call as he did, from parents who’d just lost a seven year old son to cancer. He’d assumed they were calling on him for his hospice services and he told the father when the time was right to let him know and he’d help him through their suffering. I paraphrase a lengthy chapter.
As there now was uncomfortable silence he realized he had not understood why this parent had rang him late that evening. The seven year old boy was already gone. He’d been called from parents who needed help now in their grief process. He recalled his teacher, one of many you’d know, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. He recalled many of his teachers wordsmith but late that night he went to their home, in which he found a mother and father and their seven year old newly dead from the ravages of childhood cancer. This section caught me off guard.
He did not know exactly what he should do; but what instinctively came to him after spending 40 years with the dying seemed appropriate and with the wisdom that only comes with experience, he recalled a bathing ritual used for millennia across religions and cultures of bathing the dead. The intimacy between the boy’s mother and her son was intense as he describes the process. She paused to look back at Frank every so often to see if she was doing it right or wrong was met with a simple nod. What got to me most was the last thing she did: count all ten of his little toes and kiss them.
Exactly as she had done when he was born. Then the father brought in his favorite Micky Mouse pajamas. After he was dressed the boy’s siblings were invited in to say goodbye. It was already light outside morning had come and it was time to say goodbye.
To be invited into such an intimate experience must have become a part of his very own soul.
He allows us invitation to bear witness to his own painful experiences- the death of one of his best friends from AIDS, which I could all too well relate to.
And extreme his own Acute Childhood Experiences such as sexual, emotional and physical abuses as a young child by a trusted church leader. He grew up in a home that worshiped at the altar’s of God with a capital “G” in which he partook with trust. His parents were both alcoholics as well. They told him essentially he was not old enough to judge what had happened and put their son back into the lions mouth week, in week out.
When we trust the adults around us to keep us safe and secure and unharmed without the ability to speak about such abuses of the physical and spiritual self, it can lead to bodily manifestations like cancer. How much does childhood trauma impact our life’s expectancy of cancer? Abuse or neglect or growing up with things like alcoholism in the household? Quite a bit it turns out.
The Adverse Clinical Childhood Trauma Study
This unprecedented study revealed that “adverse experiences in childhood were very common, even in the white middle-class, and that these experiences are linked to every major chronic illness and social problem that the United States grapples with – and spends billions of dollars on.”
The second study, this time taking the findings from the first, called the ACE study was a multinational, multicultural ongoing study. It reports according to biomedcentral.com that:
There is a “40% increase in the odds of reporting cancer, and those with two or more ACEs had a 2.5 increase in the odds of reporting a cancer versus women with no ACEs. When information on adult behaviours, social characteristics and psychological malaise was added to the model this association weakened, so that women with two or more ACEs had a 2.1 increase in the odds of reporting a cancer versus those with no ACEs.” https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-767
The ACEs measured are self reported and include the following:
1. Child in care: child has ever been in public/ voluntary care services or foster care at age 7, 11 or 16.
2. Physical neglect: child appears undernourished/ dirty aged 7 or 11, information collected from the response from child’s teacher to the Bristol Social Adjustment Guide.
3. Offenders: The child lived in a household where a family member was in prison or on probation (age 11 y) or is in contact with probation service at 7 or 11 y; the child has ever been to prison or been on probation at 16 y.
4. Parental separation: The child has been separated from their father or mother due to death, divorce, or separation at 7, 11 or 16 y.
5. Mental illness: Household has contact with mental health services at 7 or 11 y; Family member has mental illness at 7 & 11 or 16 y.
6. Alcohol abuse: Family member has alcohol abuse problem at 7 y.
Household dysfunction, is a dimension of adversity consisting of four categories each contributing to the score. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-767
So, I think about Ostaseski as he reads in his own voice his book as I prepare to enter an intravenous chemotherapy I’ve successfully pulled through prior to this, the second time in five years, of Taxol. His soothing voice is his own expressions of working with the dying in every socioeconomic group giving me a sense of fearlessness as I know there are others out there who I may not even personally know “walking [me] home,” as Ram Dass one of his long time teachers has stated multiple times across hundreds of lectures and on his web site ramdass.org.
What is Taxol? Taxol is an anti-cancer (“antineoplastic” or “cytotoxic”) chemotherapy drug. Taxol is classified as a “plant alkaloid,” a “taxane” and an “antimicrotubule agent.” https://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/drug-info/taxol.aspx I highly recommend chemocare.com as a great reference with science backed data to help you understand what you might be coming upon in your cancer care post diagnosis or to understand the effects of chemotherapy on your friends, relatives, and others whom you love. I even recommend it to caregivers and other professional service people who will engage in the health and well-being of those diagnosed.
So why did I begin with Ram Dass?
“So, in a way, understanding that all practices are traps of the mind, and you use a trap to get rid of another trap, but the way in which you take on the second trap is with intentionality and consciousness. And you see it as a trap I am using, while the first one you had learned so deeply it seemed almost real.” – Ram Dass
Face the Ace.
How do we feel when trapped in a mind state that’s surrounded by Adverse Childhood events? Face the Ace. Look down the barrel of the gun pointing directly at the middle of our third eye. The space right between the eyes that face outwards. Not the eye we cannot see, not the one that gives us presence of mind. The outward events that we fixate on and take away our access to health.
In the ego which holds us captive unable to let go of what could kill us, is the “trap.”