Pre-surgery rambles and birds

my first flock of Phoebe's prayer birds came home to rest today, in time to assist me on the surgery part of my journey.

my first flock of Phoebe’s prayer birds came home to rest today, in time to assist me on the surgery part of my journey. I created this elemental altar – birds for air, candle for fire, shell for water, and lots of earth – clay, salt rock, rock, for groundedness.

Some of you know I live in a challenging body, and this past week it pulled out all the ‘stops’ – intense aches, pains, sore throat, and nausea, whatever physical symptoms the body/mind could think up and manifest it did.  Enough so I cancelled surgery last Tuesday and was rescheduled for February 12.

A few tough days became an difficult week of more symptoms and I was grateful for the extra time – to breathe, read a good book (written by an oncologist) on the body/mind/ spiritual journey of cancer, take a few walks in the woods.  Today I was starting to feel more grounded, but still achy, queasy, and very fatigued.

Then a phone call saying my surgery was re-scheduled for this Friday. My anxiety barometer went up, I stuttered ‘okay’ (I do have to agree to show up!), and sat there in my achy body thinking how Divine Intervention doesn’t always go along with your own plans! Friday? I had been told the doctor’s only surgery day at the hospital was Tuesdays and she was ‘booked’ until the 12th.

In theory it is good to have surgery sooner than later, I’ve had the conversation with the anesthesia doc, he knows my history and concerns; got my instructions for what not to eat, take, do before; did the blood work, etc. etc.  I am, in theory, good to go.   But I still have this uncooperative body.

Cancer is all about the body being uncooperative, or dysfunctional. Like viruses and bacteria, everyone has cancer cells come and go, the immune system doing its job to annihilate them. Cancer occurs when that process doesn’t work.

‘Annihilate’, there’s a word used in the language of cancer I spoke of in the previous post.  I’m starting to use that language because it’s hard to research and read articles and not see words like “battle”, “annihilate”, ‘war on cancer’, etc.  Researches who have discovered dandelion root kills cancer cells, but not the surrounding healthy cells (unlike chemo and radiation) use the term “cell suicide”. Egads!

Cancer seems to come from our own bodies, cells going haywire in response to an external stimulus (carcinogenic) and/or internal stressor, and I’m not sure I want to ‘battle’ my all ready battle-weary body.  Yes, I want to be rid of these cells-gone-haywire, but part of this process should include supporting, reinforcing, bolstering-up the healthy cells and functions of the body to do it’s job, to find balance and health as it is designed to.

This is where allopathic doctors and I (and many other folks!) see things differently.

our winter hummingbird

our winter hummingbird

So what is a better analogy than all this ‘war’ language?  The little clay birds that arrived at my house today gave me an idea (see previous post to read about the clay birds).  I spend a lot of time looking at birds; we have many in our yard year round so I’ve seen their cycles of behavior, which change with the seasons.  In general birds tend to be rather territorial, some more than others.  Some birds ignore birds of a different species, but chase off or have little spats with birds of their own kind.  Others tend to ‘flock together’, intimating other species at the feeder or in the yard.  Most do a little bit of both.  The constantly vigilant hummingbird, having no other hummers here until spring, wants to make sure those chickadees don’t get too close (of course they have no interest in sugar water), hummers are ‘programmed’ to stake out territory and be watchful of it.  For the most part everyone gets along, just a little jostling now and then to make sure there is balance.

So here’s my view:

There are cells being big-time uncooperative, acting inappropriately and they are no longer welcome at the feeder. They are too aggressive; they are hurting the surrounding cells that have not been able to do their job to chase them off, even the ones programmed to do so.  The healthy cells, the immune system, all need to be supported and the aggressive ones need to be banished.

Surgery is a quick way to banish these uncooperative cells. But there is much to do to bring back the equilibrium that allowed those cells to act out.  Were I braver I would do this work first, perhaps not needing the surgery at all.

That is the journey, the unknown, the challenge…what does my body need, anybody’s body need, to find the balance that was lost long before the cells started misbehaving.

My working theory for today is it has something to do with ‘groundedness’, defined in the dictionary as “well balanced and sensible”.

Cancer is not just a personal journey, it is so pervasive one as to ask – how have we become so unbalanced, lost so much sensibility.  The answer will not be found in a ‘war on cancer’, but in a quest to find our way back to groundedness in all aspects of our lives.  Healthy societies support healthy people whose healthy bodies do not act out by making cancer cells, or creating the imbalances that create MS, Parkinson’s and the myriad of other dis-eases of  disharmony in the body.

Small

IMG_0301

today’s view of the Olympics between clouds and fog

Living in the Northwest, surrounded by Nature’s grandeur…..the mountains, the ocean, the trees, all of which I marvel at every day when I catch a breathtaking peek at the Olympics, or stare up at a giant fir to find the Raven chortling to me.  This is big land.

Yet I am drawn to small, ironic, since the message, directly and indirectly, all my life has been that by American cultural standards I live in a ‘big’ body, ‘for a woman’. By those same standards I live in a small house, which we find plenty big.  In Nature many of my favorites are quite diminutive.  I adore pikas, (Mike shares this attraction, they are our cuteness standard, other animals might be ‘pika cute’, or ‘almost as cute as a pika’).  Also high on the list are tree frogs, chipmunks, chickadees, nuthatches; small beach pebbles and tiny shells catch my attention and find their way into my pocket.  The hummingbird that decided to winter with us fascinates me, a role model for tenacity and bravery, in a tiny package!  (After the sugar water froze the other day, we replaced it,  but didn’t see the hummingbird for several below freezing days.  A sign of hope, in a mind looking for hope, this morning it reappeared.)

Small. I draw small “doodles”, make relatively small cards, grow many tiny-blossomed Primulas, and Violas.  Small feels like a ‘home’ place for me.  It’s comfortable (except small closed spaces!)  A small and cozy moss covered spot at the base of a tree, or a small hollow behind a boulder or beach log, even as a child, felt like a place to settle in and be cozy.  We have a small travel trailer, when in it I feel at home, it is just the right size…..it is enough.

Now I have a small tumor in my breast, I wish it were smaller, better yet not there at all.  For something small (technically it is “intermediate”), it has made a huge impact on my psych and our life.  As I watch fear settle in more than I want it to, and feel anxious about pending surgery, I am grateful for small, knowing many women are not told “their” tumors are small.  I do not consider this mine, though doctors like to say “your tumor”.  It is an anomaly in my body, (my body itself an anomaly, one reason surgery is riskier).  It is my body’s inappropriate response to something, to a physiological stressor or toxin, probably triggered by psychological stress.

I find the language of cancer both interesting and disconcerting.  Never good at learning languages, this is not one I particularly want to learn.  I try to choose my vocabulary to describe this experience carefully.  I don’t care for the word cancer, which means crab apparently in both Greek and Latin, and to me is better used to describe the place on the zodiac where summer begins or the fascinating little crustaceous found on the beaches of inland bays where we walk.  It is used to describe over a hundred diseases, which can be very different from one another in nature and manifestation.  I would rather say “there is a tumor in me, it is small, but growing, and it needs to come out, then I need to find ways to support my body and make sure it doesn’t grow again.”  I am not naive, I know there is more to it, I know all the other words, all the other ‘measures’, pluses and minuses, of this particular tumor, about sentinel lymph nodes. I have had the terminology explained to me.  As the days go by, the appointments add up, I am given litrerature to read, I find it difficult to translate the cancer culture language into something that is simpler, more hopeful….something that makes this small.

Last week many small blessings came into my life after this rather big news of ‘having cancer’.  The wonder of small blessings is that they come from large hearts and contain big doses of love for the receiver.  One such blessing involves small birds made by my friend Phoebe, a sculptor.  Here is Phoebe’s message to me:

“As you know I make a bird daily as a little meditative start to my sculpting day. When I know someone is having a health issue I also have taken time to make a bird or such while they are undergoing surgery or whatever. So yesterday, after making my “daily bird” I made a Penney bird while holding you in my meditative place. I will continue to do that every day, and then you will have a little flock of birds full of healing intentions. Just letting you know how you are being held by me every day.  Love, Phoebe”

IMG_0264

Mom & me having a special moment

IMG_0241_3

Mom’s little ‘prayer’ bird

I bought one of Phoebe’s little birds months ago to give my mom, but she did not take it with her when she moved into the assisted living facility. Yesterday I took it to her.  She is understandably worried about me.  Part of her manifestation of Alzheimer’s is to be obsessive about whatever her mind gets stuck on. In her attempt to help me, she is ‘stuck’ on buying me a recliner chair, understandable, since she lives in hers and it makes her aches and pains feel more comfortable. I told her many times, our house was “too small”!  In a letter for her I included Phoebe’s message.  I suggested when she worries, or has scary thoughts, about me, she hold the bird and pray for me. I wrote suggestions for prayers in the letter.  She told me several times “but I prayed every night you wouldn’t have cancer”, I could tell she was having a crisis of belief.  I said, well, you can also talk to the little bird.

IMG_0282

The first of ‘my’ prayer bird flock, with a protective helmet! (photo by Phoebe)

My mom also likes small. She loves small birds, chickadees being her favorite. She understood. Whether she will remember, or do it, I can’t say. But hopefully Phoebe’s little bird brought some comfort to my mom, something to focus on, a connection to me.

So I will have a “flock” of little clay birds, or, given the little helmet Phoebe also felt I needed, perhaps it is an ‘army’ of birds……not for a ‘battle’ against cancer, but the more insidious struggle with fear, negativity, lack of hope that invades the mind.

This small act is huge, full of love and daily intention to help me heal. There have been many such small acts……a poem, an offer of help, a hug, an angel to wear, a doctor who gives generously of her time, a new acquaintance offering her healing skills, phone calls, emails of support and concerns.

On my dresser is a picture of me when I was small, one I don’t remember seeing before, but found when I started to sort through Mom’s memorabilia.  There is an expression of delight I’ve not seen in other childhood pictures of myself.  It was taken before I was self conscious, before being told I was ‘too tall’, before I learned life can heap on big challenges with such regularity, you barely catch your breath……before there was a tumor in me.  I look at  this little me and want to know: what was I thinking when I was small that created such big joy on my face?

Note: You can purchase Phoebe’s little birds at Daily Bird Pottery in Port Townsend.  The proceeds from sales goes to a different non-profit each month.

baby Penney001If you would like to read the letter I gave my mom: Letter To Mom

*

IMG_0174I am in shock, as anyone would be.  The road looks dark ahead of me. I do not know if there is light at the end, I hope so. This is very difficult for Mike, as you all can imagine, or know from first hand experience.

I have breast cancer, I just had that confirmed. I see an oncologist this afternoon. I do not know what I will do, or how to make those decision. Everyone’s lives are so full right now, I know there will be prayers of support, if anyone can offer more please let us know. I have to manage my mom’s live in Edmonds where she lives in a facility for people with Alzheimer’s. Mike has to keep working when he can to pay our bills. There was no room for cancer in our lives…..there never is in anyone’s lives.

Not wanting to make this blog about cancer, or cancer treatments, etc. I am not sure what I will write about, or if I will keep my blog up.  I hope the joys and comforts of Nature will still be in my life, it has always been my life blood.  Whether I will write much about it I am not sure. Writing is good therapy and sharing can be useful, maybe I will gain some insights to help others, maybe I will just write of a little bird outside my window.  Readers ‘signed’ on for stories and inspiration about Nature.

I will see what I write, if it is worthy of sharing, I can not ‘unsubscribe’ anyone, but you can unsubscribe yourself.

Because I have do have many good friends who read my posts here, I may continue to just share my journey.

Let me know what your thoughts are on this.

Blessings,

Penney

Ringing in the New Year!

IMG_3109Here is something lighter to ‘ring’ in the New Year.

I’ve been aware lately of all the bells that have accumulated in my life.  Let me introduce you to just a few that are around me as I write.  A ‘new’ pottery bell (from Daily Bird Pottery) hangs outside my window in our back yard and is rung each time I walk by, I love the clear sound it makes in the outdoors.

Inside, a bell I gave my mom years ago now hangs on the bookshelf behind me, I ring it occasionally when I come and go in the room, it is a simple bell with a beautiful ring.  Behind it hangs a collection of ‘jingle-bells”, a life collection though I suspect there are more elsewhere.IMG_5353

IMG_5352The holiday season brings out a small ceramic angel bell I’ve had since childhood, and this year I brought home from my mother’s a set of tiny ceramic bells, I can’t remember a Christmas without them hanging in her house, wherever she lived.  These little bells apparently broke at some point and have been lovingly glued back together, not ringing so pretty, but still pretty to look at.  Another childhood favorite is a green painted brass bell, so loved it has hung year round for years in my house, the green paint long faded.

IMG_5346

IMG_5356Also pictured is a brass bell from India my Mom tried to sell at a flea market we both sold at, I snatched it from her, she couldn’t sell this ‘dinner bell’, as we called it, that had hung in our house all my growing up years! A few years ago she passed on to me a set of bells, also from India, also ever-present wherever we lived.

The study of bells is called campanology, from the Latin word campana, meaning bell.  It primarily concerns IMG_5342the large bells and carillons of temples, churches,  and other religious and community installations.  These ‘tower’ bells are musical instruments for which compositions are written. Westminster Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Mission, British Columbia, has a tall bell tower housing 10 bells. Many years ago a few friends and I arrived early to attend a meditation retreat at the abbey and were given a tour of the Abbey, including the bell tower during the time the bells were rung.  It was both deafening and exhilarating!  I think we were invited to ring one of the bells, but I don’t remember who was brave enough to try! These bells  sound out beautiful melodies at certain times each day that reverberate across the Fraser Valley.  When I hear them I think of all the bell towers throughout Europe in abbeys, churches and cathedrals that have been ringing such melodies for centuries.

IMG_5350There is a fascinating history of bells, including a list of well-known bells, on Wikipedia.  From cow bells (I have one of those somewhere too!) to cathedrals, there is not a corner of the earth, nor a culture, that has not used bells for both ceremonial and everyday uses.  Even our modern high tech society has its own high tech bell sounds on cell phones and computer devices.  Most of us grew up with doorbells, electronic renditions of the bell at the garden gate announcing the arrival of a guest.

Last spring we attended a concert of bell ringers while in Leavenworth.  It was the highlight of the trip for me, I love the Carol of the Bells, heard only at Christmas, and to hear bell songs in May was a musical treat!

The history of bells is the history of people, of  a form of music which can be both simple and complex.  Bells were perhaps one of the first music instruments following the discovery of metal, but then, given the loveliness of our pottery bell, bells may have been around, made from clay, even before people learned about making tools and everyday items from metal.

There is something about the clear ringing of a single bell calling Buddhist monks to meditation, and the chimes of churches calling communities to worship, that connect us to the heavens in a way no other instrument can. IMG_5351

It is likely you have a bell, (or several) in your house that you perhaps have not rung for awhile.  Go find it, ring it, and let the clarity of its song welcome you to the New Year!

Would love to ‘hear’ about your bells in the comments below!

Lila

Lila is the Sanskrit word for cosmic play, or creative sport. I use it here to mean a little dance, a little play, a drama between two people – the players are myself and the radiology doctor I met this week. 

This is the story of my breast biopsy.  I’m aware that some readers may not want to read it, and that is understandable.  I  don’t even know why I write it.  Except that it is a story of how people can change, and interactions shift, if we better understand the other person. No matter what our own drama is at the moment, it is beneficial to remember this simple concept, too often forgotten.  On this day it was critical for me to remember.

IMG_0179The Doctor and Me

Early morning drive to biopsy.  White frost everywhere, bright sun low in the January sky.  It is beautiful.  I can think of a million things I’d rather be doing.

I have danced around the roller coaster of fears, anxiety, even moments of calm acceptance, for a week, since the dreaded call telling me my mammogram has something ‘suspicious’ on it, an area of  ‘concern’.  A ‘call back’, what every women with a history of breast cancer dreads.  This was my second in three years.  All these carefully chosen words that beat around the liability bush, as if those vague words will calm the fears and anxieties.

Responding to my asking again (our conversation Monday did not go well), the doctor reaffirms she believes the lesion is cancerous.  She starts the biopsy procedure after telling me I’m likely to bleed and develop a hematoma because of a large blood vessel at the site. The pressure on my already painful breast is excruciating and I flinch.  The doctor tells me I can’t move and says she won’t start something she can’t finish and maybe I need to be anesthetized and have a surgeon do the biopsy (she is a radiology doctor), she knows I have a reaction to anesthesia, have almost died from it.

What the hell am I suppose to do, lying there all prepped for this vacuum assisted needle biopsy?  We have a tense conversation, I’m in tears telling her I can’t help it if I live in a painful body (the breast pain, at the site of the lesion, has been particularly bad lately).  She is being contrary, I am ready to get up and walk out and tell her I will come back when I can have a different doctor.  But I don’t, that inner voice is overridden by something else in me that knows I need to go through this with her and it will be okay.  Since Monday that voice has told me this lila with her simply is, don’t let it get to me.  I convince her to go ahead, I will do the best I can and expect her to do the same.

Something shifts, after a self-disclosing remark that makes me realize this doctor has poor self-esteem, as a woman in a male dominated field (radiology docs) I am not surprised by her defensiveness, and nervousness about doing a procedure on a body that is an anomaly.   After she starts with the local anesthesia needle, she cracks a joke and then says she has a bad sense of humor, and mumbles something about how she isn’t creative, or good at gardening either. This unintentional exposure of her vulnerable, “underbelly” side,  shifts her energy.  She starts asking me what would help with the pain, a warm blanket? (again she is self disclosing, “I’ve had lots of surgeries and I like warm blankets”), something to grasp in my other hand? (Out comes the smiley face squeeze ball).  We are working together now.

The procedure went perfect, the blood vessel “amazingly” contracted and was not in the way.  I joked a bit with her. Afterwards she was surprised at how well I did. I told her I would tell her my ‘secret’ some day, she said, why not now? I told her about taking oral Arnica, did not get around to telling her about Rescue Remedy,  the Ayurvedic herbs for balancing the nervous system, or the homeopathic Calms I took right before she came into the room. (They wanted me to take Valium.)  I also didn’t tell her about focusing on the “third eye”, and using breath.

She left the room with a smile, a softer person than when she walked in.

Overweight, rather pale, a woman in early middle age, she identifies with her work, it is where she feels good about herself, she clearly is experienced and tries to do a good job.  Some of my questions Monday, I believe, she took as challenges – questions like “would another doctor read this the same and recommend a biopsy?” or “Is this a gray area?”, none of which were meant to challenge, only to inform me, the ambivalent patient who had just been told she needs a breast biopsy due to a ‘suspicious lesion’.

Now, with ice packs on my poor poked boob, I recover…….and I wait.

The doctor, by now, is on to another biopsy.  What is a routine day for her is a life-changing day for me.

IMG_0186

View of Olympics from the parking lot.