Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Everything has been so dire the past month, constant worries about my health, emotional state, doctors, emails, was I doing all I could do? If I didn't do something right at this very minute would there be consequences down the road? And suddenly this week, all is quiet, I feel like I'm on vacation. So this is my life? I forgot how easy and calm my world is and I like it. As dramatic as I can be, I like my daily life to be simple and sweet, filled with loved ones and peace. I smile as I clean the bathroom, make soup, ride my exercise bike, practice yoga, wander around my home. I savor fresh fruit, enjoy friends, curl up on the bed with my pets, and laugh. So rarely in life do we find contentment, and here it is handed to me quietly on a plate.

Most people aren't aware that yoga isn't only a physical workout or asana, but only a part of 8 steps towards self-realization called the 8 limbs of yoga. These were written by Patanjali who lived somewhere between 500 and 200 BC. He was a great sage and compiled an amazing amount of information, creating an instruction guide to the art and science of living and evolving. He wrote in a clear and concise way, his writings are known as the sutras. There are many, many translations and interpretations, I own several. Sanskrit is a language filled with immense levels and meanings, our language cannot even begin to translate the depth of it, often English translations seem brusque and somewhat pedantic because our language is not built on the power of sound. In Sanskrit, they are beautiful, both to read and to hear.

The 8 limbs of yoga are:
1. Yama - the practice of universal moral principles
2. Niyama - the practice of personal disciplines
3. Asana - the practice of physical postures
4. Pranayama - the practice of breath control
5. Pratyahara - the practice of withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana - the practice of focused attention
7. Dhyana - the practice of meditation
8. Samadhi - self-realization. Enlightenment.

One of the Niyamas is Santosha - contentment. What is contentment? We all seem to want for things, people, situations, our society is not content at all. In fact, it is ruled by discontent. We are surrounded by metro riders, by people driving their cars on the beltway, by people in line in the grocery store, even members of our own families - no one is content, people venting their exasperation and annoyance, and that is an accepted way of communicating. I used to watch this all the time when I managed the front desk of the Embassy Suites Hotel in DC, many customers were never satisfied with anything and I heard about it - whether their laundry hadn't been delivered, they had to have another towel, they didn't like their room rate, they didn't like their room, the elevator wasn't fast enough, they didn't like the bellman, they didn't like the parking garage, I could go on and on here - I was innundated with it every night I worked. I realized that people like to complain, it validates who they believe they are, their desperate need to be right and for others to be wrong. What is at play here? Why are people so discontent? Why did people have a need to make me feel badly? I became a master of resolving these issues quickly and kindly, and the complainers didn't like that, they didn't want resolution, they wanted to keep complaining. That fascinated me. They'd actually made a choice to be unhappy. They didn't know how or want to change. Whoa. I made a vow to myself right there and then: I didn't want to live my life like that. I didn't want to be living the same broken record in my 70s, stuck in an unhappy personal place.

Life is always changing and we have to change with it. It isn't easy - certainly the last month has been one of the most difficult times in my life - but you ride the ride with all the grace you can muster and pass along some kinds words to those who are nearby.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Some good news and the Gayatri Mantra

First off, let me come right out and say thank you to all my friends who've called and emailed me with support and love. I can't tell you how discombobulated I have been feeling over these few weeks, hearing your kind words really helped center me a lot. I needed you at that moment, and there you were. It touches my heart to know that you care and want to share in the journey.

The roller coaster ride has calmed down a bit - I got the results of the PET CTscan I had on Monday and bloodwork - all normal. Phew. The intensity and "need to know NOW!!!!" is subsiding. I am cancer-free. Now, back to our regularly scheduled progamming - helloooooooo summer!

So now what? I had this extremely rare PEComa tumor removed. Where did it come from? How did it form? How does it work? Will it come back in another place? The unknowns go on and on here. Certainly my GYN, my physician, my new GYN oncologist, and the GYN oncologist expert at Johns Hopkins had no idea and had never encountered one before. My files have been sent on to a specialist at Sloan Kettering, he deals with wacky female tumors, and this week they are having a tumor panel about my case. How will they decide to treat me? Do I need to be treated? I'm hoping they decide to monitor me and no chemotherapy is involved, so there is still some angst for me. I'm all about what my husband calls "closure," so the "wait and see" factor is hard for me. I'm not sure when I'll hear the findings and recommendations.

Have you ever had a PET CTscan? I never had. It is more powerful than a CTscan. Before I went through the actual scanner at 11:20, I drank barium at 10:00, and then I was taken to small room with a chair similar to a Lazyboy but with more movement. There I was injected with saline and something radioactive. The lights were lowered, the technician was quick to get out of there and I was told I couldn't read or listen to music, I had to sit in there for an hour, quietly. Dear God. Leaving me alone with my thoughts as I was radioactive, I really couldn't handle that. If I had known ahead of time, I would have been emotionally prepared, but I wasn't. I wept and wept. It was awful. It didn't help that the lowered lights were right in my eyes and didn't encourage rest or peace. I don't know how long I quietly sobbed, it must have been 15 minutes. Then I told myself to buck up and calm down. How to do that? I started thinking about all the medical doings I'd had in my past that were worse, I remembered of all things the time I was being fitted for my Wilmington back brace when I was 15. The brace was a hard plastic shell that went around my entire torso, I used to call it my exo-skeleton, and I had two of them made over three years as I grew 2 inches each year. To get the correct measurement, I lay on a table and had a plastercast made of my torso. As it dried and got hard, I felt the chemical heat being trapped between my body and the cast, an odd feeling. When it was completely dried, a high-speed saw was used to cut me out of it. Believe it or not, the drill was attached to the ceiling above me (like a James Bond movie!), I just didn't look down while it was drilling, but I heard and felt it. Can you believe that the drill broke the first time? All the attendants left the room and I was lying alone on the table, in a full body cast, 15 years old. Eventually it was fixed and I was freed. I wasn't scared, though, I just accepted it. What choice did I have? Maybe Dad was right, I am stoic after all.

As I sat in the darkened room thinking about all the surreal medical experiences I've had, knowing I was currently having another one, I tried to pray. It didn't work at all, I hate praying for myself. Then I remembered that chanting always calms me, so I started chanting the Gayatri Mantra in my head. Immediately, it gave me something to focus on, something profound way beyond me. I covered my eyes with my hand to blot out the light and just chanted over and over. Here is the translation from Sanskrit: Om, I meditate on the radiant and most venerable light of the Divine from which issues forth the triple world - earth, ether, and Cosmos (Heaven). May the Divine light illuminate and guide my intelligence.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's going on?

So where have I been? Obviously, not blogging. A year has flipped by, projects and doings, but I've also had health issues which continue to weigh on my life. I don't want to be someone who is defined by their issues with doctors and tests, so I haven't told many people. I had health concerns in my youth with a heart murmur and then scoliosis as a teen, so I can say whole-heartedly that I've been in a lot of doctor offices and looked at a lot of drop-ceiling tiles as I lay on the table in a paper-towel material robe. And here I am again, looking at ceiling tiles, and listening to scarier terminology from a doctor's mouth. This is not who I am, but this is obviously part of my life's journey.

In a nutshell, I had a routine laporoscopic hysterectomy this past March, all went well, I healed from the surgery. The pathology report came back with an unexpected shocker - cancer was found and my samples were sent to three labs. The cancer was extremely rare, called PEComa, no one had ever encountered it or heard of it, but at this point, don't be too concerned. So I went on with my life. Two weeks ago, I went to see my GYN. A GYN oncologist at Johns Hopkins had announced my cancer as malignant. What do we do now? No one seems to know and this is where the fact of uncertainty takes over. It is fascinating and scary to see how uncertainty affects each of my doctors as they impart their information. Yesterday I saw a new GYN oncologist locally, he called the cancer aggressive and said, "with your history, you need to have everything checked." Your history. Suddenly, I'm in a cancer category. I had bloodwork today, I have a PET CTscan on Monday. While I'm not thrilled with this idea, it will give everyone a baseline and solve the question of whether there is any cancer left in my body. I don't think there is. I did, it was taken out, and now it is gone.

Language is so important here. I speak of the cancer in past tense on purpose. The power of positive thinking.

The hardest part was telling my parents because I kept thinking if I were a parent, this would be one of the worst things you could hear coming from your child. My parents are retired dentists, they go into medical mode, and they were good about it. My father said I've always been very stoic. Really? My husband told me yesterday that I'm one of the strongest people he knows. Huh.

I'm riding a roller coaster of emotions these past weeks, some days I'm centered and fine, other days I'm in tears and frozen. Practicing yoga really helps me feel strong. It sounds so cliche to say I'm taking one day at a time, but I am, sometimes even a minute at a time, one breath at a time.