Shifting Gears

Rams Head on UrnIt’s a New Moon in Aries today.  A Super New Moon at that.  The Elephant Journal has a great article out today on this new moon, “Trust in the Magic of New Beginnings.” 

In it, the author says, “Sometimes the best thing we can do is close our eyes, hope for the best and jump.

What a statement!

My natal moon is in Aries, as well as 4 other planets.  So I tend to take anything in Aries pretty seriously, especially when it seems that my life is reflecting something – mirroring – the archetypal energies in the sky. And I always take the moon seriously.  Which is why, for the last few days, I’ve been working on my Vision Board.  It’s been about 4 years since I made the last one, and it was time.

The inspiration was carried to me on some new energy flowing through my home over the last few days. It’s got a clean, life affirming vibe. Putting my Vision Board together just sort of ‘happened’, and it was fun and relaxing – not a task on my To Do list.  And even though there are some challenges going on, I find myself walking around with a huge grin my face at the oddest moments, like while vacuuming, or cooking.

I experienced huge shift earlier this week while out for a walk,  Feeling kind of heavy-hearted,  I asked Whoever Was Listening, “How to I shift out of this?” The answer came fast and super simple:  Gratitude.  Ah, of course!  I know all about the Magic of Gratitude so I started expressing thanks for the good things I could see – the beautiful day, the ability to walk, the Turkey Vultures.

And – just like that – SHIFT.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?  Back in August, after my 2nd or 3rd round of chemo, I began sewing again.  It was something enjoyable I could do throughout the day as my energy allowed.  And since I tend to pick simple things to work on (I sew a mean straight line), I decided to work on some market bags

My intention was to “try one” to see if I liked making it.   Before I knew it, I had made, sold and given away a bunch, and My Hope Totes was born.  If you’d like to see a portfolio (all the bags shown are sold), you can find them HERE.

I thought the name was catchy…a play on one of my favorite movies.  And HOPE, well, it’s been my Anchor Word for the past year –  right up there with TRUST.

When I am feeling HOPE and TRUST, my heart opens, like a lotus towards the sun.  I can feel when it’s happening, that unfurling.  It’s such a beautiful sensation, I’ve taken to cultivating it with much more intention these days.

Whether it’s the Spring, or my recent birthday, or the way Moon is aligned, my Heart Lotus is opening.  I sense it in odd moments while I’m putzing around my house.  My smile usually gives it away.  Embodying the message of HOPE is really what I feel I’m here for.  Like, HOPE is my purpose.  I know what it’s like to feel hopeless, and I know what it is like to have someone there – be it human, animal or event – at just the right time with just the right word to lift your spirits.

I experience that daily, and I want to be that for others.  I’m surrendered into the Service of Hope.  And, the more I give away, the more I feel it myself. Like Magic.

Chemo Hacks – My Top 7 Helps For Managing Side Effects

GoddessHeartThe need to undergo chemotherapy is a harsh reality for many breast cancer patients, and every woman’s chemo “cocktail” will vary depending on what she’s been diagnosed with.  My doctor prescribed TCH – Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin. (Herceptin is not a chemo drug itself, but a targeted therapy that produces antibodies for those who are HER2+).  Each of these medications comes with their own list of potential side effects – some of which a doctor will prescribe medication to help combat.

When you think of what is being put into the body with chemotherapy, it’s no surprise that  it basically becomes a toxic waste site.  I am doing my best to eliminate those toxins as quickly as possible to try to maintain some semblance of “health” during and after my treatment plan.  While I’ve avoided any vomiting, there are other side effects I experience with every cycle – typically starting on Day 3 (of a 21 day cycle) after a round and continuing through the first 10-14  days.

I’ve come up this Chemo Hack List of the Top 7 things I’m doing to help eliminate or minimize these uncomfortable side effects. Since I still have 2 rounds to go at the time of this posting, I’ll update this as I find more things that are helpful and well as address whether or not I escaped the more common long-term effects (like neuropathy, etc.) all together with some of the things that I’m doing.

HACK #1 – DRINK WATER: It is recommended that we drink at least 3 quarts of water a day, every day.  That is a chemo hack waterLOT of water but it is vital to help flush the toxins and medication through our systems.  When you’re not feeling great, or when water tastes like metal, it can be hard to remember to drink as much as we need to.  To help with that, I use this 4 cup measuring cup and three stretchy hair bands.  Each band represents a quart, and how many times that cup needs to be filled in order for me to have my daily requirement (4 Cups = 1 quart).  Every time I fill it, I remove one of the bands.  This way I always know how much more I have yet to drink that day.  That being said, on those days when I just can’t force down enough water without gagging, I also include other fluids I drink – hot tea, etc.

HACK #2 – TURKEY BASTER BIDET:  I know, it sure ain’t Thanksgiving! But the body chemo hack turkey basterhas to eliminate all that water and more.  What isn’t spoken much about in the way of side effects is that what comes out can burn!  So I keep a turkey baster next to the toilet in the bathroom (which, fortunately, sits right next to the sink).  Every time I eliminate, I gave myself a little Turkey Baster Bidet to rinse myself.  This helps tremendously, and I never skip this step after experiencing a very uncomfortable raw episode after my first round (which I treated with Desitin).  After each rinse and a dry, I apply Vaseline around the  general area so as to protect the sensitive skin.  With everything else going on, having burning Girly Bits isn’t going to help.  Lube and rinse.  That’s all I’m saying.  (This typically isn’t needed after Day 10-14)

HACK #3 – BAKING SODA:  It’s not just the Down Low that gets a toxic washing.  Our Rob's Red Mill Baking Sodamouths are equally as sensitive and a prime area for chemo effects because the cells there produce rapidity (the type of cells the chemo is targeting).  I haven’t gotten mouth sores, but I do have to deal with this weird all over burning sensation, a tongue that feels like I downed a scorching cup of coffee in one gulp, and burning, chapped lips.  The ACS recommends avoiding certain foods to help combat this….foods which, ironically, are the only ones I really feel like eating because I can actually taste them.  (I definitely pay for this later.)  This includes acidic, salty and spicy foods.  If you can avoid those, more power to you – you’ll be ahead of the game!  And there are prescription medications to help with sores if you get them (The OTC mouthwash Biotene is also helpful).  My chemo hack for this is to rinse my mouth several times a day with baking soda and water.  I use about 1/2 teaspoon to a cup water.  The baking soda helps alkalize the mouth and brings some fast, albeit temporary relief.  I like to use an organic  aluminum free product like Bob’s Red Mill.

HACK #4 – FRANKINCENSE:  I am a big believer in the healing qualities of good, therapeutic chemo hack frankincensegrade Essential Oils. While it was my personal choice not to ingest any EOs during treatment, you can bet I will be during the “Reconstruction” phase when I am done.  I do, however, use EO topically for different things.  One thing I do is apply Frankincense to the soles of my feet and my ankles starting on the day before a round.  I then apply it the morning of treatment, and then every day for a week following.  I’ll apply it once in the morning and once later in the day, and then wear socks.  If you decide to do this, make sure to get a good therapeutic grade oil.  I started with Young Living (being as I’m a YL distributor myself), however, theirs is VERY expensive and a bottle only lasts about 1.5 – 2 treatment cycles.  My Go-To place now is Eden’s Garden for quality, price, and speed of shipping.  I purchased it here.

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HACK #5 – CHEMO FASTING:  The history and health benefits of fasting is long and impressive.  When I heard that some people were implementing fasting around their treatments, I was immediately interested because I know that with less food in the system, everything will pass through much quicker.  It is a personal preference for how long to fast, but based on what I’ve read, I decided to fast the day of my treatment, plus or minus.  I have my rounds on Fridays, so starting that week, I try to keep from eating a lot of food that takes longer to digest, like red meat.  On Thursday, I like to go meatless all together.  On treatment day, I stick to water only, and then go back to regular eating on Saturday.  Another thing I do is take a stool softener with each round as the steroids I am required to take on Thursday and Saturday cause major constipation.  So I start taking them on Wednesday, then daily through the following Sunday or Monday.  This has proven an effective way to keep everything moving through my body as quickly as possible, with no long term back up.

HACK #6 – GINGER ALE AND PRETZELS:  A classic “Old Wives” remedy for nausea related Ginger Ale Chemo Hackto pregnancy, ginger ale works well for chemo related nausea, too, I have found.  Trying to minimize the number of drugs I’m putting into my body, I haven’t wanted to use either of the two prescription medications given to me by my oncologist.  By drinking ginger ale and eating pretzels, I have managed to move past any nausea I experience on-and-off during the week after my treatment (typically starting Day 3).  The fizzy, gingery, salty combination is a classic hack used among a lot of breast cancer patients, and one that I am happy to add to this list because it really worked for me.

HACK #7 – Chemotherapy Meditation CD I wish I had known about this CD before I started chemo, because I would have started using it right away.  The whole freak out factor I dealt with going into this thing was off the Chemo Meditation Hackcharts.  It was actually the thought of undergoing chemo – more than the cancer itself – that scared me the most.  Be that as it may, I pulled up my Big Girl Pants and did what I had to do.  But THIS is making things notably different, I can tell you for a fact, since I have the “Before” and “After” to compare.  Spoken in a very soothing voice by Belleruth Naparstek, “A Meditation To Help You With Chemotherapy” is an amazing resource to help put chemo in a positive light, reduce adverse side effects, help the body’s immune system, and encourage hope, safety and calm.  There is 20 minutes of a guided meditation and another 20 minutes of affirmations.  I use this primarily at night before I go to bed, and it helps me sleep.  (Fortunately, because it works on the subconscious level, one does not have to be awake to reap the benefits.  Win/Win!!)  I highly recommend this hack for anyone who holds a lot of stress around the subject of getting chemotherapy.  I hope it brings you as much peace as it has me.

*This post will be made a permanent page for future reference and additions*

AlienNation

wigIt’s 1 a.m. and I can’t sleep.

It’s the steroids.  Tomorrow is Round 2  (I always think of boxing every time I use that phrase.  It’s SO apropos, I should get a pair of boxing gloves to wear when I go in!).  I have to take steroids the day before, during and after the treatment.  They are actually one of my least favorite of the non-favorite parts of of this but they somehow prime the cells to take the chemo better.

Whatever….

So here I am, in  front of my keyboard, looking for some more release.  This has been another week of highs and lows.  The last couple of days I’ve been feeling pretty good physically – almost back to “normal”.  which has been awesome.  Especially since I shaved my head yesterday.   Not sure what I would see with the Big Reveal, I ended up quite relieved and barely shed a tear.  For months I’ve been worried I’d have some weird flat spot or lumps, or would look like a giant embryo.

Praise the BBC Gods (that’s Bald By Chemo, btw…),  it’s actually quite shapely! Yay! My husband even called me beautiful (OK, he’s just a good guy anyway, but still…).  Note to anyone out there facing this: being shaved is FAR less traumatic than running your fingers through your hair and pulling back something that looks like a Tribble. tribbles

When I was finished, off to the wig shop I went and ended up finding a super cute one.  It’s actually in the same style that I’ve been wanting, in a color I’ve worn before.  And thanks to a fabulous tip from one of my favorite Drag Queens, Pandora Boxx, I knew exactly what to do with it to help it look even more natural.  That’s right, Pandora messaged me on her InstaGram account.  We’re BFFs like that. Pandora Boxx

One of the challenges of the week was the letter that came from my employer telling me they were terminating my health insurance at the end of the month.  Sure, I’d be offer the same plan via COBRA, but if you’ve had to deal with COBRA, you know how expensive it can be.  Fortunately, I can get onto my husbands plan.  It’s not too much extra a month in premiums, but I suddenly have an annual deductible to meet.  Like I needed another Change to navigate….Oh, well.  It will get done and from what I hear, with the meds they’re pumping into me, it shouldn’t take too long to meet that deductible.  One drug alone is $10,000 a pop.  Thankfully, for now, we have the money to pay.

What a world we live in, where, right in the middle of a health crises, your employer can legally term your benefits and tell you they are going to have to fill your position.  Sure, when/if I go back, they will put me at the top of the list for any “future vacancies” (uh, I was the only one who did what I did),  but I’m not holding my breath.  That’s just so much legal speak which really means, Girl, you is OUT and when you come back, there won’t be anything for you.  Maybe they’ll hoping I will quit so they don’t have to lay me off.

The irony is, I don’t ever want to work for this company again.  Seriously.  I just want to stay employed so that I can continue to collect State Disability until done with my treatments.  And then?

THEN I want to do what I talked about, and written about here, for ages.  I want a whole new career path.  Something where I can spend my time, talents and energy making a positive impact on the world – and not just on some cold, morally challenged corporate bottom line.  I want to be of SERVICE.   To bring a little light into someone’s darkness, or provide a product or service that helps someone in their every day lives.

I want to do what I love, with people I love doing it with, for the highest good of all of us.

And, most importantly, I want to have FUN and experience JOY while I’m doing it!!

So, this letter is actually a push in the right direction.  Sure, it would have been nice to have the company I’ve worked for for nearly a decade put a little more value on my life, my livelihood, and my contribution to the company.  But I’m not surprised in the least.   We don’t vibrate the same, if you know what I mean.  I’m truly alien there, just trying to keep my space – and my spirit – clear of all the toxicity and drama.  Being an honest and upright person in the midst of ass kissers, double talkers and promise breakers is stressful.

Breast cancer has not only been a wake up call, but a call to action.

Now, all I have to do is figure out what that new life might look like.  Since I still have several months of treatments to go through, and a bunch more healing to accomplish, I’m not ready to start putting out applications.  But I can live my life and see what happens.

And I can DREAM.

Speaking of dreaming, my husband told me that while I was napping the other evening, something quite extraordinary happened outside my bedroom window.  He said that at least a hundred dragonflies swooped in out of nowhere and were swarming around and around.  This is NOT something that happens here, although I did find a dragonfly vortex on my driveway many weeks back.  Oh, how I wish I had been awake to see this!!

The DRAGONFLY has shown up in my life during some other very transformational periods in my life.  I wrote about my conversation with one here in fact.  Reading her words again brings such comfort and assurance.  They ring as true tonight as they did over a decade ago when this happened.  Knowing that a 100 dragonflies were involved this time, well…that only makes me feel even better.

Yes, it’s time to dream.

Release

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I’m so incredibly sad.

It’s not just losing my hair.  I cut it short a couple of days ago, but it’s coming out by the handfuls every time I comb it or even touch it.  The clippers are out and ready to go along with a cute colorful scarf I bought last year, long before I knew I was about to embark on this journey.  So a buzz is in my immediate future, and not the good kind. (The photo above is what I just pulled out from the back of my head in a minute or two while contemplating this post….there would be more if I kept at it….but I’m making a mess here….)

It’s not the sores on my chest or on the roof of my mouth.  It’s not the three days I spent in the hospital earlier this week, or the antibiotics that give me headaches.  I know dodged a bullet by getting help before catching something while all my counts were extremely low, and my time in reverse isolation wasn’t really “difficult”as much as surreal.  Haven’t spent time in a hospital since my youngest was born 28 years ago.

I’m definitely NOT looking forward to it, but it’s not the idea of Round 2 coming up this Friday, or that I haven’t had the “upswing” of a bunch of really good days between rounds that I had hoped to experience.  With 5 rounds to go, maybe I’ll experience that next time.

No, this sadness is all of the above and none of the above….something inclusive and yet nameless that leaves me wanting to just lay down and not move for hours at a time.  For someone like me, someone used to being busy and active and engaged, who went into this deal feeling healthy and vibrant, that’s a little scary.  It’s not like me.  None of this is “like me”.

I haven’t even felt like writing….and I’m barely praying.  “Please, God” happens a lot.

Its almost as if I’m disintegrating right before my very eyes…dissolving….and, I suppose, in a way I am.  I am no longer the woman I was and I’m not yet the woman I will be.  When I look in the mirror, I never know who I’m going to see because I don’t look like “ME”.  Having experienced a Dark Night of the Soul before, my hunch is that I am now entering into a Dark Night of the Body.  Which effects the Soul, wouldn’t it?  The spirit?

I’m doing my best to remain grateful in the midst of a physical shit storm the likes of which I’ve never experienced.  For example, I’m grateful I didn’t puke my guts up after Round 1.  I’m grateful for family and friends that are so very supportive, kind and loving.  And patient!  Especially my husband, who is staying steady even when I swing from snappy to weepy to sleeping and back again.

I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have to work through this ordeal.  Financially we’re okay with my disability checks.

And right now – at this very moment – I am ecstatic for the torrential downpour happening right outside my window.  We’ve had a storm front move into SoCal these last couple of days, and the much needed rain is a BLESSING to my home state.  And for me personally, the dark clouds and the blustering winds and the sheets of water match the firestorm raging on inside of me….cooling me.  Bringing relief and calm and release.

Release.  How many times a day to I pray for release?  Release from the pain.  Release from the funky shit going on with my body.  Release from all the months of treatment still in front of me.  Release from the lethargy.

My friends keep telling me how strong and brave I am…how much courage I’m displaying, and what great attitude I’ve held.  Today, I don’t feel any of those things.  Perhaps it’s just been a really long week filled with some really stressful and traumatic experiences.  Maybe after I shave my head later tonight I will feel some of the “empowerment” I keep hearing about.  Maybe I will have a few better days until Friday.

Maybe.