Cancer: It’s all in your head

This third week of January 2021 brought about change. The one we’ve sat in our homes waiting with a national- dare I say global – collective held breath for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to take the reigns out of the hands of a thief. After four ugly years of a petty loose cannon, from whom I hope never to see on the public’s big screen again. But hope is a fickle funny emotion. Still…

My small world, too, experienced a very strange week full of let downs and lift ups, full of mourning, and as a victim of public gaslighting in which the context did not distinguish itself until it took on a life of its own as the person exhibited classic narcissistic behaviors.I must have repressed response triggers dating from my childhood via my mother who herself had low level narcissistic personality disorder, mostly jealousy and selfishness mixed in with a sprinkle of well-hidden immaturity. We’d have celebrated her 80th birthday on the 31st had she not succumbed to Alzheimer’s.

Thick as a fog the sabotage took over the sunny afternoons in a healing circle I belonged to for the last four months. And healing happened in a very loving and kind, warm and receptive environment using Zoom. Zoom, the latest video group call application works fairly well as you can be a part of the Brady Bunch, yet with the ability to speak and with far better clothing choices. There’s no maid named Alice in a healing circle, but there’s the parallel of a kinder and gentler less misogynistic mom and dad roles in the Host and Guardian. All of this in the name of full transparency of course is available publicly through commonweal.org or Healing Circles Global. Nothing should have alerted us either since confidentiality outside of the circle is tantamount to its ability to achieve what it sets out to do.

A deluge of emails alerted me and all involved to the escalating circumstance that grew in dramatic undercurrents until I drowned in a tidal wave of someone’s need for recognition and to become the host. I was asked my preferred role – my email cc’ing everyone as requested of us basically said – either is fine, let’s see if it can keep its momentum and if not we can revisit in a few weeks. In a healing circle, each person enters a circle to be held in the loving arms of all participants. The roles of host and guardian no more and no less than having decent intuition, sharing of themselves as they choose as they’re there first and foremost for the same reason we’re all there. They also are adept in using prompts and asking questions, the guardian keeps time, and both insure there’s no cross talking or interrupting. It’s an intuitive role in that we use silence as a healing tool and to know when to call for a short one is up to everyone and anyone but that’s it. You really need to be sensitive and have a good gut for these things, I don’t purport to have either but I enjoy it and have had the fortune of some very wise women to bring out the emotional stuff that our strange days created a big bullhorn for all of our souls with Covid and being in lockdown, we need one another more than ever.

What really shook me and finally got a rise out of my emotional equanimity: she used my metastatic breast cancer against me. And of course this weighs heavy on my heart and of course comes up in my sharing. But I shall never speak for anyone’s decision to talk about what they will or whether it has a place in a healing circle or not. If I understand them correctly wherever there is healing there is a healing circle. It can be between one person and another it can be between 234 or 12. Certainly there’s a limit because time is short usually they run about 90 minutes. There’s no power plays. Everyone leads everyone helps themselves but does not try to help anybody else. We come to circle to fix only ourselves. Sadly our circle couldn’t hold as a result, and I won’t forget any of the lessons of the circle or the collapse.

It is in our heads, afterall

As the subject of this post indicates I believe cancer of all kinds – brain, breast, metastatic, inoperable, terminal – has roots in our heads. The psychosocial influences of stress on our bodies. Childhood traumas that cause fight or flight responses. The feelings of insecurity and basic need inadequacies that lead to less than fairy tale adulthood’s.

The fact is, reality of course is all in our heads. In many ways cancer is our personal reality. Cancer we know from long term studies, can be agitated from our cells into real tumors by psychological pain and suffering inflicted in childhood. In fact, listening to Breast Cancer Action’s most recent podcast, there are some incredible statistics on adverse childhood events, or ACEs and the incidence in fact is very much connected, enough to become concerned with my own health and its roots in my childhood abandonment by my father and later my mother.

In this recent January ‘21 episode, the guest, Dr. Barbara Cohn, found in her research some very compelling and statistically significant connections between emotional and environmental stressors during formative years on a woman’s propensity for breast cancer. Maybe it’s not as much in our genes but in our minds we should do a deeper analysis to find the root causes for what she found by way of looking at, for instance, women who lost both parents before the age of 21. I pulled my car over to take notes I was so dumbstruck by the evidence. Evidence that at a gut level I knew from the day of my diagnosis that my past had come full circle to try to take me down with it. Wherever my parents are now, I was surely headed too soon, but based in my reality I also felt it has as much to do with the other autoimmune physical problems that beleaguered my health from my first ulcer at 12.

In fact during my respites at the Cancer Help Program through Commonweal, through which I came to find out about Healing Circles (talk about circling the square this week!), healing our childhood psychological wounds to get to the bottom of not just the potential root causes of cancers but healing our souls to heal our bodies. This very concept is a focus of the week long cancer help program. It’s central to our life extensions as I find peace with and forgive both my parents and myself. The women who lost their parents to death I think likely mirror my own abandonment by both my parents before I turned 14. And here’s what the study found:

  • A 4 1/2 fold increase in breast density
  • A 24.5 fold increase in HER2 positive types
  • An 8.5 fold increase in de novo metastatic breast cancer

I encourage you to listen to the episode which you can find on their web site Breast Cancer Action .

My Father’s Daughter

There’s also the kind of cancer that starts in your head and will eventually kill you. The inoperable kind. The kind that my father died from 13 years ago. He would’ve been 80 today January 23, 2021. But he’s no longer here it was all in his head.

The surgeon couldn’t remove the entire tumor without encroaching on his ability to care for himself. Only able to remove half of his mitochondrial tumor my dad knew that I understood what he meant by being “unable to wipe his own ass.” I did. Yet he came out of anesthesia not in his own head. He became the antithesis of himself – mean, nasty, yelling. Everything I knew about him became moot for about two years. That was all in his head, too. My brother and father never got along well. That is before 18 hours with his skull opened up and brain exposed to the air, the penultimate in compromising the blood brain barrier.

I have a friend who taught me the differences between metastatic cancer and in operable terminal cancer. Both still can be in your head. Then there’s the kinds of things that are in your head that really bother you about having cancer. Knowing it’s in your body. Knowing in the case of MBC it can reach your brain. And Brian metastasis is one of the things that scares metsers most.Then there are the strange things about having metastatic breast cancer. It’s not wanting to tell people about your cancer or to talk too much about cancer. It’s deciding whether you want to use Twitter, or Facebook, or blog post, or Instagram, or Vlog, or any kind of social media to tell your story. Or perhaps you don’t ever publicly tell your story. That’s in your head as well for you have to determine how much you want to talk about how personally want to go and certainly how much you want other people to know.

That’s what my week was about. How much do I want other people to know?

In a support group you only hope that the environment will be, well, supportive. That the people in your group will hold your innermost hopes, fears, and dreams confidential. My confidence was broken this week. But as it turns out it was also repaired by people who truly care about my well-being. The person who broke my confidence was not a friend of mine. She was merely someone I knew that was in the support group that was called a healing circle. Healing circles are meant to be just that: when you are “in circle” you are there to see and speak what’s on your heart. What’s going on. It’s not just for cancer patients it’s for people with a beating heart -for everyone. This particular group focused on uncertainty during COVID-19. And that’s doubly difficult for people with metastatic cancer because in many of us are immune systems are in the trash. We can’t go anywhere, we can’t really see anyoneAnd it’s even difficult for us to get the treatments that we need, the life-saving treatment, the clinical trials have been canceled. But we have to stay positive don’t we?

And that’s all in our heads.

I attended a new circle today thats on writing through COVID19. We were given a list of word prompts and I chose “sanctuary” for my prompt. It  led to this raw, unedited poem. I am sharing this with you, dear readers, because at times we all must show the real self as what’s in our head and our hearts, just as it spills out onto the page. Unburdened by the need for perfection we find ourselves in the sense of what’s true and real and thus sacred. Allow no one, especially not for the sake of ego, rob you of your truth. This, as the Victor Frankl quote that touched me so deeply today and sits at the head of this blog post, is where the imperative to find deeper meaning commences. Sometimes sharing of ourselves in finding our own meaning we can join one another in finding common ground. Right now it’s as important if not more than ever to find common ground to heal our divides - between one another and within our own heads. Yes, it’s been quite a week, for me, for us, for our community. 

In each of us lives a kingdom of hope. But may no single individual or ideology become so self important as to rise to the level of a self proclaimed monarch again.


Sanctuary

My sanctuary
Our house holds all I love
Yet The door is open
For there’s always room
For more -one more, many more
Love knows no bounds
Love is my sanctuary.
My door is open
Although the world’s
Closed for now, anyway.

Every night
The owls ask who
Who are you
Who is home
Who is gone?
Every morning
The doves cry
Cooing in mourning
For those who have gone

The afternoons bring
Light casting long shadows
Through the crystals
In the heart of the home
The kitchen fills with
Tiny rainbows
Red, orange yellow, green, blue indigo, ultraviolet
Repeated and repeated
In attempts to draw for me
A time long ago
Or so it seems
That I could see the rain
Refracting the light
In the aftermath of
Storms. We’ve weathered
So many storms
Do you want to be
A new color?
Does the owl know
It’s brown and white?
Did the dove have any
Rejection of the black woodpecker
Making his way up the
Ponderosa pine
And wearing a headdress
Of a hunter?
Did she know he made her bed
Inside that tree?
If the mountain lion
Or the white tailed deer
Or my skunk, fat as he is wide
Only knew we were all so very afraid
Would they want to create
A sacred space
Or a sanctuary
Would the owl ask again
Who is it?
My doors remain wide open
Yet no one comes in
No one leaves
The spring led to fall
And we all missed the
Summer trips
We skipped the routine
And we all call in well
To work not sick for once
We are celebrating
Being well
Not a return from illness
Isn’t this the way life should be?
Cant I say it’s a beautiful day today
I’m calling in for my sanity
I’m not waiting until I lose it anymore
Can I fall on the ground
Out of breath
From dancing. My lab is
My living room my tools
The colors of the crystal
Refractions of the long
Fat rays of sun

Or so I could stand here and ask why? Why me? Why us? Why?

I prefer my owls quest to find out who I am.
I prefer the smells of the skunk
Who came to the open door
And waddles away with a bright red tomato.

Losing My Words

Renting this space, a greedy silence hangs a picture’s worth of words

Everyone could see that

Thousands thousands

swallowed whole by memory’s avarice.

Wishing wells charge a nickel for spitting change at our feet.

Copper coins disguising restless dreams for your thoughtlessness.

Ascending into the ravenous night

It’s darker still craving the whispering of sleep

Chattering then erased by the hands of desert heat

and devouring each frame by the sun’s first light.

Expensive gifts in extending hands

the size of a Harem’s ego. I can hear someone in the receiver

who’s listening in and plagiarizing quotes.

Hiding far away in a bustling bazaar

Where running and tripping into stalls and onto vendors

indicate a thief tried and given a sentence.

Reading between the lines

I only want what’s mine.

Leaping over puddles of words, dreaming I’m

a pink dancer whirling above

A hundred piece band playing

paragraphs behind that bow tied man, accenting notes and striking up chords.

In a pit they pluck, strike, beat, bow, blow, then

Towards the audience men stand and bend like commas

At the waist, ladies genuflect.

Holding onto their middle class accents audience exclaiming brilliance – encore.

Long and short vowels cover their heads like hats.

Musical words left behind all the birds

As they fly over a zoo of prepositions.

Phrases dangled from around the neck

Of a depressed lexicographer.

His tears streaking down his white powdered

Face. Why so sad wordsmith? He looked up

And sighed. Oh my dear what’s happened to my canon?

To our language? It’s all but died – tears streaming into a run-on life’s sentence.

Sitting atop the bridge of his nose helping him ny gathering any

Remaining portmanteaus.

Trying to rescue each noun and verb from

The grated gateway to the sewers below, too late to save them

From washing away- forgetting all the prepositions.

I haven’t a clue which path to take, from where, in or on whom, towards what end?

Explaining forever – masked, patiently you listened

superiorly, knowingly. Yet if I knew the definitions of ”milk”

And ”salt” is that all I’d add to the conversation?

Then three letters, frozen into a word, not steaming out of the kettle nor washing me clean of any guilt.

Still and quietly hanging inside the blackest cave I can recall stalagmites and stalactites and which hang and which protrude.

If I misunderstood you correctly, earthly teeth can be very dangerous,

Yet losing my directives for heavens sake, my pronouns – I got it all wrong.

For she, he, them

Or we and us, yet neither him nor her,

Could spend days waiting for anyone

not to remember.

Image from cafe press – please support the artist here https://www.cafepress.com/+funny_cancer_chemo_brain_blue_mini_button,1603297489

Writing Prompts: Some great tools for those not so fresh days

Help me.

Writer’s block sets in slowly and as unpredictably as does productive bursts of semi-genius. Rare is the latter, the former happens at least once a month. Blame the cancer writer’s block occurs far more often than it used to back in my “normal life.” But cancer became my go to writing prompt for the simple fact that it became my life. It’s neither fortunate nor ever what I’d choose to write about but it’s clearly important. Still, I run out of ideas or my chemo brain or brain fog if you prefer robs me of ideas. I am compelled to jot everything down now. My running list of writing prompts helps me get out of the wet cement and so I can run with my output.

While writing typically comes quite naturally, poems can take years to get right and essays can become stale before I’m finishing the final paragraph. I always go back to my old expired or uninspired writing to take another whack at it or to just not begin with a blank stare at a blank page. I keep it in my journals scattered all over the house, and car, and in purses, in between books I’m reading. You get the point…but I don’t toss away or delete anything unless it’s pure drivel. The white page glaring at me keeps my mind dormant at times.

So if you take a single piece of my advice, for what it’s worth, it’s don’t start with a blank page. And reused writing is only one way to get the job done.

Using writing prompts does as well. Keeping up a self created running list isn’t necessary. You can feel free to use some of mine listed below or check out the web by searching up “writing prompts.” Specific or general you’ll find something to write about or to get the old noggin in gear. So dig deep or tread in the shallow end of the pool, but write. Your blog needn’t be the final goal, nor your work on some overdue white paper for work. Using prompts might just surprise you, though.

My prompts ran away with my homework

In the mirror this morning…

If I had wings…

The universe…

The concept of time…

Kindness…

Laughing…

My expectations of…

When I think about (place) I think about…

If tomorrow…

Changing my mind about…

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day…

I want to grab a flight tonight to …

If I could predict the outcome of…

When it rains…

At night I love to…

The first thing I do every day…

I want to change my…

I woke up…

Sunshine…

Full moons…

Mythology character…

Music gives me…

A letter to…

If I knew at 20 what I know now…

Death…

Birth…

If tomorrow never came…

I am so afraid of…

Spiders…

The last thing I ever expected was…

My skin feels…

I wish ____was here because…

Suddenly…

My patience…

The best possible way to…

Under a microscope…

In a telescope…

I grew up…

I feel like a little kid when…

The best age to be is…

If I were born in the year (past)…

If I were born in the future…

When I cannot fall asleep…

I think about____all the time…

Ice cream…

I want to live to see…

It’s no use, I…

Finally…

Walking along the ocean…

Driving in the mountains…

Rollercoasters…

Beginning…

Endings…

Nighttime…

Mornings…

Secretly I love…

I’ve always loved…

I never did like…

Flowers…

Technology…

My favorite musical genre is…

The best day looks like…

My best day to date…

My partner…

Being (religion)…

Museums…

This song brings me back to…

The scent of/ odor of reminds me of…

I finally learned how to…

Cats are better than dogs…

A group of ravens is called a murder…

My top 3 online prompt resources

In my experience, these websites provide fertilizer for sprouting ideas of your own, with straightforward, self explanatory, yet engaging writing prompts. Although these sites focus on poetry, you could eagerly apply most of them to prose, non-fiction, even science or psychology.

I love these lists I reckon for several reasons. First, they get straight to the prompting. No book selling after a tease of a dozen prompts, no sign up forms for more spam email. Just the content without shameful self promotion. Next, no one site takes the same approach to growing your ideas. Furthermore, the sites are professionally written and edited. They’re not cutesy or too self reflective, such as say a goth self published novel writer and their five best steampunk writing prompts. Finally, and my all time biggest web click regret: as the frustration of writer’s block bubbles to the surface while you browse your search engine’s top results, some sites muddy the content with perpetual advertisements bombarding your overloaded or underused senses.

My short list of the three best sites ALL alleviate frustration and grant you FREE access to the articles. Novel idea! Also the links below open up directly at the best articles with writing prompts but do check out each site.

Writer’s Relief

Think Written

Think Written