bring on the cupcakes!

Nearing the end of the countdown!!! 2 days until my final chemo infusion, and then most likely a week of physical and emotional detox before I can begin feeling relatively normal. I’m trying to remember what it was like not to question my body and the ever increasing side effects of this routine, and I can only wonder whether I will take my health for granted again. Will this experience make me even more hyper-sensitive or vigilant regarding my health?

Regardless, I plan on going to my last infusion in style- blue wig and tiara, courtesy of the fabulous Reen. We will toast to the staff and celebrate with friends who have been chemo buddies throughout the 5 months of weekly visits to the infusion unit at Swedish. We will eat cupcakes and sip champagne while the last doses of taxotere and carboplatin get absorbed by my body. We will be joyous and wacky in an attempt to mark the occasion as an ending and to put it behind us.

dance

Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Begins.
Maybe you don’t hear the tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
Music. Dance.
A brilliant city inside your soul!

– Rumi

 In the past two weeks, my body has been reawakening and my spirit lifting. I’ve been integrating moments of spontaneously removing my head coverings, which seems like a small thing, I’m sure, but there’s vulnerability in baring a naked head to the world. Especially when that hairlessness isn’t by choice. And so the times when I take off my hat in the park to take advantage of the sun shining down on my crown, I try to quietly acknowledge this temporary place that I currently occupy- that space between treatment and healing, life and death, internal and external. The present moment, where I am able to recognize that vulnerability is a gift of this human experience, and that I am not alone in it.

This past week, I had my fourteenth infusion, and I celebrated the following day by dancing at NIA class with a community of joyful souls. Even though nobody but me and my friends knew about the countdown of infusions, it was a precious gift to feel secure enough to throw my hat and over shirt to the back of the room when I was too hot. Wearing just my camisole and yoga pants, I spun, leapt, and danced with a smile on my face and my bald head shining for the world to see. I couldn’t have felt more beautiful or healthy, and it was clear from the responses of some of my classmates that they appreciated my honest presence- scars and all.

The more I consider what is important in my world, the more it boils down to the people around me and my ability to be authentically me. I love that I’ve been encouraged to be open and honest in my experience and to continue to be my silly self. Cancer doesn’t always make one wise, but it absolutely encourages one to reflect on what really matters. To me, that includes dancing, even when I can’t keep the rhythm, and laughing, even when nobody else gets the joke. Isn’t that where joy begins? And it flows into the world, creating possibility.

finding a path

Rejoice! My counts were decent enough yesterday to send me on my way to my twelfth chemo infusion- which, in my continual count-down, leaves six to go. Six resonates in my body as a good even number, and somehow I’m not daunted by it. I’ve done twice that many so far, which means that I only have one third of my treatment left. Math genius, I am not, but I can certainly appreciate the power of a good old fashioned count down!

My phenomenally beautiful friend Lena attended my full Friday of cancer treatment yesterday to give sweet Reen a much needed respite. It was a treat to have another day with Lena, and also to have the gift of seeing my regimen through her eyes- a perspective filtered out of love and openness. Even in the long periods between having my port accessed, waiting for my dearly adorable yet perpetually late oncologist, and then awaiting a chair in the infusion unit, Lena was radiant, upbeat, and on the task of advocating for anything I may need. After our nearly seven hours at the clinic, Lena zipped me home and we were greeted by a cozy, candlelit home with pizza and salad on the table, Reen and Marcos standing by, and a lemony delicious cake with fruit chaser to complete the meal. Who could complain about that? I went to bed as pleased as a girl could be, and had a night of deep and delightful sleep.

Today, after using moxa and sage on my fingers, hands, toes and feet, I’m trying not to obsess about my darkening nails. The pain of neuropathy hasn’t been as bad after taking the two week break from chemo, but I have one nail on the verge of falling off, and every day brings a new hue to each nail (fingers and toes). My task today is to research cryotherapy- a suggestion from one of the infusion nurses- and to send positive energy to each digit, despite my urge to cringe at the appearance of yellow, brown, green, and red on my nails. There must be something to learn from this…

Living this experience has taught me to be humble, but also that I have a deep potential for anger. I have found my patience in everyday life to be short and temporary, and I am continually having to remind myself that it would not be appropriate to scream, spin around, and fall to the floor in a fit when I feel overwhelmed by the world. And the world is so overwhelming these days. I’m not just talking about the people that drive through crosswalks when there are pedestrians or the folks who avoid looking me in the eyes when talking to me, but also the perpetual violence happening on a personal, community, and world level every day. My little case of breast cancer seems so minor when I consider people living in or near a war zone or the people in my very community who have no access to safe homes, clean clothes, or a daily meal, let alone health care. So what if I’m boobless, bald, and that my nails are falling off? I’m sitting in a lovely little condo with a cup of tea and heat, and, as Lena reminded me yesterday, I am rich beyond words when taken in the context of the world. I am lucky. And the anger and outrage that I hold are awaiting a path of action.

redefining beauty

liquid courage

sassy 'do!

Last night, our friend Jenn visited and she and Irene took turns cutting, shaping, and finally shaving the hair that remained on my head. For all of the anxious anticipation, the actual loss of my hair was relatively easy. It helped having two phenomenal women to down a shot of bourbon and laugh with during the process, but also to find a bit of playful joy in being the model of multiple varying hairdos (to include a mullet and a mohawk). Now I look in the mirror, and despite the wacky shape of my sparce hair and the funny lines of my sideburns, I feel refreshingly beautiful. This is me- stripped down to the bare bones with little to hide behind. This is who I am right now, and it doesn’t actually feel as bad as I thought. It feels real and ripe for potential. I will use scarves and hats to dress up my naked head, but nothing can hide the fact that my world has been ripped to the core, and I am only wiser and more radiant because of it.

This weekend, I walked in the park in the early morning, soaking in the foggy mist that penetrates the trees. I luxuriated in the crunching of the multicolored leaves, and stood beneath a tree occupied by a resident owl. I love these reminders of the cycle of life and the fact that everything is integral and yet at the same time just one part of the whole. This cancer is just one part of my story- it’s the now. It’s my multicolored leaves in the fall, with the promise of rich soil to foster the budding of flowers in the spring.