Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Irony

She was cagey about giving me her phone number.  I never got one.  She said she could call me back if she wanted or needed to.

"Do you have an email address?" I asked instead.

Oh yes, (and she proceeded to provide it).

How do you navigate the process of moving forward after being diagnosed with cancer? (she asked)

I began to illuminate her world, spinning my thoughts around a spindle, trying to create something solid for her to grasp, if only for a moment.

In the midst of this, I asked, "what is it you do for work?"

Do you want to hear the ultimate irony? (she asked.  A beat passed.)

I nervously tittered a bit, "sure."

I'm an oncology chaplain. (She let that hang in the air, along with her brittle, bitter, visceral-yet-thin existential laughter.)

"Wow," I said, "so you know a lot about all of this.... All I can think now is you'll really understand what your patients are going through."  WHY DID I SAY THAT?  "Not to make light of it.  In the least."

I know, (she said).  I know.

Sometimes you learn about things you never thought you'd have to learn about.  And of course, another inappropriate thought entered my head...one in three women will be diagnosed, so surely some oncology healthcare workers will be...we, too, are not immune.

As much as we wish we were.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

I'm a Phone Worker

My "new" (now 9 month old) job is working as an Information Specialist for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I am finally feeling pretty comfortable at the job and just came back from a trip to the national office in Rye Brook, New York, where I really came to appreciate my teammates and the coolness of the organization I work for.  I am lucky.  In honor of that, here is another poem...


In Texas or Ontario, everyone is sweaty.

When they find out they have a blood cancer.

I reassure them it is never easy to learn this, even if you have one of the "curable" or "easy" ones.  Even if your CLL is stage 0 and you're in "watch and wait".

Or, much more often, "watch and worry".

Those CLL patients at stage 0 in watch and wait actually have the biggest hell of a time. Whenwillthiscancerrearupandgetme?  Whenisitgoingtostartaffectingmyqualityoflife? Whycan'twejustgetitOUTOFMENOW? Nooneelsehastostresslikethis.  Idon'twantCANCERinmybodyjusteatingmeup!  GETITOUT!!

The people with acute leukemias or even myeloma get to DO something about their cancer, immediately.  They take medications, they get chemotherapy, they undergo stem cell transplant.  And many are cured or live knowing what they are dealing with.  Or die, but never having had to question whenwherehow on a daily basis.

And then there is the crying need for money.  I almost made an older grown woman cry last week because there is no money to give her husband for help with travel expenses to the hospital he needs to go to several times a month, an hour and a half away.  I heard her voice wobble before she thanked me for the information and hung up the phone.

Who thanks someone for bad news?

I guess that goes back to being a "good girl" and a "lady" above all else.

Sometimes it's easier to deal with the people who curse.  At you.  At the system that made them unable to pay.  At systematic oppression.  Even though I don't, and do, have any/some responsibility for things being that way.

I am largely complicit.

I don't do much political agitating.

I tell myself this is because I don't want to be a target or seen as overly political.

But really I'm just lazy.  And complicit.  Because of my privilege.

I also believe it is because of that privilege that I even have this job in the first place.  So I try to be a helpful person and offer everyone everything I know about.  Except I don't.  There are limited resources in the world and sometimes if I think I know something about someone, I don't or do offer certain gems and nuggets...I know charities can only handle so much and I'm selfish and don't want them to run out too soon.  I want to maintain my toolbox, keep it flush.  It's selfish.  And sometimes I tell myself I am using my professional judgment, but really it's just selfish.

I have also seen how alive racism is in this country.  Early in my training, I learned about a young black man in Louisiana who needed treatment to start NOW for his lymphoma, but he was told he could not have it until he paid his $3,000 deductible up front.  He HAD INSURANCE and they wouldn't bill him later or set up a payment plan.  I don't know of any white people with insurance who have had to pay their deductible up front.  Isn't that even maybe illegal? 

Many people of color are treated as though they are just stupid, which is why they call me when their doctors won't explain things to them.  Their doctors have made the decision that they are unable to be educated and don't even explain what "leukemia" means.  What. The. Fresh. Hell.

And just as often, I am a listening ear, a soft place to land, for someone who just needs someone who understands to cry to.  

Sometimes after those calls, I want to cry, too.

Maybe that would be cathartic.

People in New York and California get state mandated disability benefits, like actual cash, when they get sick.  That was a revelation.  How progressive.  New York is about to get a 12 week PAID family leave starting next year.  

Why can't we all??

Why does getting sick mean life is over unless you are wealthy, in our country?  You lose your health, your job, your income, then your house, your stability, your dignity....and you feel you'd be better off dead in that situation anyway.

It's worse than criminal, the lack of support system our country offers its most vulnerable.  




If you've seen Game of Thrones, you're picturing exactly what I want you to picture.

I really hate it when my own agency runs out of money to help this endless maw of need out there in the world.  So do the rest of my colleagues. 

But money is finite.

The human spirit surely is not, but money is.

So, day after day, I log in, educate, listen, hope, pray with people, and send love.  It's not enough, but it's something.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Turning a New Leaf

For all my interest in end of life, death and dying and educating the world about how these things are an important part of the life cycle, not to be buried, I find myself running from death.  Perhaps in more than one way.

I left my job in outpatient (clinic-based) hematology and bone marrow transplant two months ago to start a new job with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. 

I am thrilled to continue to work in hematology and bone marrow transplant...and equally happy to no longer have to commute (I now work from home), pay for parking, or watch people I have come to know, die.

It was really starting to weigh on me. 

And while I didn't feel ready to be done working with cancer patients, I was ready to not know everything about the tough and heartbreaking parts at the end.  I was also ready to change up the work scene.  I was ready to be busy all day long again, not twiddling my thumbs, waiting for referrals, or begging to see patients...I never really got into a really good groove of consistent referrals for my services, despite having been at my job over five years and having "proven my worth" to my non-social work colleagues.

In my new job, I help staff a call center with brilliantly smart masters-prepared professionals; we take calls, respond to emails and answer online chats for anyone wanting information about blood cancers.  I've already, in two months, learned more about the actual biology and treatment of blood cancers than I did in my last job over the course of more than five years.  

Something funny about working in healthcare or oncology, though...you always wonder if and when it's going to be YOU, the one possibly facing cancer.

A couple weeks after I started this new job, I thought I felt a "pop" in my right side and it started to hurt and ache a little every day.  Nothing terrible, just annoying discomfort.  Sometimes the discomfort spread to my right shoulder.

I mentioned it at my annual physical in March, and my doctor said if it didn't get better in a couple weeks to call her and she'd set up an ultrasound.  She said she suspected it could be gallstones; they can cause the kind of discomfort I described.

On March 28, I had my ultrasound.  I noticed the technician measuring some things.  I never like to see something measured on what is supposed to be a smooth organ.

I finally had to bug the doctor to call me back; she did yesterday, April 5.  She said it appears the hemangiomas, or so-called hemangiomas, anyway, that were identified about three years ago are still there...and one appears a little bit oddly heterogeneous and needs additional scanning by MRI.

She read me the ultrasound report.  Nothing is more than 1.6 cm big, but it appears everything is bigger than it was a few years ago.  And hemangiomas can grow, they think, due to the influence of estrogen.  Many women between ages 30 and 50 have them (men do, too, but women have them more often) and just don't know they have them unless they are having a scan for something else and they are incidentally found.  I had a scan for some lower left abdominal discomfort a few years ago, which basically yielded...constipation.  Nice.

Anyway, they are concerned about one of these so-called hemangiomas.  So of course I instantly research liver cancer.  I don't have any of the symptoms of liver cancer.  But also...liver cancer apparently often doesn't cause symptoms until it is late-stage, and then you have a 3% chance of 5 year survival.  Even if you catch it early, your 5 year survival is expected to be 31% unless you can be cured by surgery only and then it's 50%.  Not good odds!

I am definitely gripping and worried, but on the other hand, I also know that worry will not net me anything.  So I am trying to enjoy every day right now.  I took pictures on my walk this morning, highlighting some of the little things I enjoy; the feel of the sun, the greening of the Spring grass, the interesting shapes of urban-life-meets-nature:

And even this brush with the what-if makes me pay better attention to what my children are saying to me and what they are doing.  I am thankful for the warming weather, the sprouts I see coming up in the garden and good food.  I am ever thankful for a supremely supportive, grounded, responsible, loving spouse.  I always thought I'd have 90+ years and sincerely still hope I do, but ... what if?  How do people who have even better reasons to believe they have cancer or those who actually DO have cancer cope with all of this horrible "what if" stuff?

I have to wait until April 14 for my MRI and probably a week after that to learn the results...just in time for my mom's birthday.  Wish me luck and pray for me if that is something you do.  In the meantime, I will be embroiled in the activities of Spring Break (I'm working, but my son will be home), Holy Week and....drum roll....getting confirmed Catholic.

So maybe I'm turning more than one new leaf.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The End of the Cat as We Knew Her

In August, after already having been wheedling my husband about getting a new cat (his cat...his because he brought her to the relationship and always cleaned her litter box and took her to the vet and fed her...died about four years ago), I took the kids to a local cat rescue.  The kids are big enough to learn how to love, respect, and care for a pet.  We all like cats.  We learned the kids are not allergic to cats (my husband seems to be but said he would put up with the allergies because he likes cats so much)... why not get one?

We went to a rescue called Angel's Wish, which fosters cats of all ages, needs, and types in homes with people rather than in a shelter.  The foster families bring the cats into the adoption center every weekend day until they get adopted.

I'd decided that I wanted kittens, having had a bad experience adopting an adult dog that we never did get one hundred percent house-trained (who also had HORRIBLE anxiety).  I had my eye on a pair of orange kittens, a brother and a sister.

Tayla and Tike.

That's what the foster family named them.

They were about the same size, and when we took them into a visiting room, they were SUPER friendly and playful; the kids were squealing with delight as they leapt at cat toys wiggled in front of them and wrestled with each other.  We checked out a few other kittens, but none were the friendly little Tayla and Tike.

(Not them, but they looked like this!)

By the next week, I had a request in to adopt these kitties.  After promising I would clean their litter boxes for their whole lives.  Yep, I had to make that promise.  I only get a day off if I'm away for work.

September 3, we brought home our little bundles of joy, thought to be five months old.

A few days later, each kid had named one.  My son named the boy Patrick (after Patrick Star of SpongeBob SquarePants fame) and my daughter named the girl Lulu.

They chased each other, wrestled each other, enjoyed playing with cat dancers, and were a joy to behold.

Within a week or two, I noticed a drop of blood on our antique settee in the basement.

"Someone probably clawed the other when they were wrestling," I thought.

We carried on.

Then I saw a drop of blood in the litter box.

"Hm, weird.  Maybe just the same issue as before."

We carried on.

I started to see blood here and there, but kept explaining it away.

I didn't take them to the vet until finally one day in November, I found bloody diarrhea ALL over the three season porch depicted above (hidden behind the couches).  It was super disgusting and very worrisome.

So I made a vet appointment.

I took both kitties in at the same time.

Lulu and Patrick had been about the same size when we got them, but now she was 7 lb 3 oz and he was 11 lb 8 oz.  The vet felt Lulu was an appropriate size for her age and Patrick was very large.  So that wasn't too concerning.  The vet did note that Lulu had blood in her stool (she pooped in her carrier on the way to the vet) and ran a test for worms, as she had been de-wormed twice with the rescue; maybe she had worms that still hadn't resolved.

There were no worms in her stool.

The vet prescribed antibiotics.  I chose to take the pills because they were less expensive than having a compounding pharmacy make up liquid antibiotics.  I also took a sample of sensitive stomach food, because sometimes blood in the stool of a young cat can signal a food allergy/intolerance.

The antibiotics went over like a wet fart with Lulu, though she did eat the new food.  She fought me tooth and nail and would hold them in the back of her throat until she could get away from me and then cough them out.  A week later, I was asking for a prescription through a compounding pharmacy.

Because Lulu was still pooping blood.  In the bathtub.  Up to six or more times per day.  Sometimes also on the carpet in the dining room or living room.  I have since learned that cats do not like to make messes like this; they are meticulous.  The fact that she was doing this was not only distressing to us, but probably even more distressing to her.

The vet agreed to call in the liquid antibiotic and I made a special trip in the dark to pick it up after work and after I'd picked the kids up from school.

She hated that antibiotic, too, even though we'd thoughtfully had it flavored with "fish" flavor.  But she did take it.  The pharmacist said she should not be pooping blood in two to three days on the antibiotic, if it were to help.

Six days later, I was still cleaning up bloody stool three to four times a day, from various parts of my house.

I called the vet again and told her it wasn't working and that the sensitive stomach food seemed to have made no difference, either.

I took Lulu back to the vet, where it appeared she had lost a few ounces of weight over the past two weeks and I was advised of several options to test her blood, her GI tract, or for parasites.  The GI panel might give us information, but we wouldn't do anything other than keep trying to change the food to firm up the stools.  The parasite panel would tell us if she had either a treatable parasite (that cost $5 to treat) or one of two untreatable parasites.  The blood and metabolic panel would tell us her blood counts and organ function, suggesting whether she might have something like leukemia or another illness.

I didn't know what to choose to do, so the vet suggested starting with the blood and metabolic panel, because it might give us information we could use to DO something.  She also prescribed high fiber food, probiotics, and a de-wormer that would kill the one treatable parasite from the parasite panel, feeling it was reasonable to just treat for parasites again in case that was the problem.  She said the antibiotic should have helped by now if it was going to help, so she let me skip the last day of dosing.

We went home and continued to clean up bloody stool and fight about taking medications.

She did like the new food, though I noticed she was eating perhaps half of her 1/3 of a cup of food at a time.  It took her a long time to eat the whole 1/3 of a cup, if she even did at all.  She was drinking.  Patrick was after her probiotics like white on rice; he tore apart the box twice, scattering the packets everywhere, before we finally put them in the refrigerator to keep them away from him.  The vet DID say they were tasty to cats...

The blood was taken for testing on December 7.

December 9, I got a call from the vet.

She told me that all the lab values were normal, except for highly elevated globulins.  These help mediate the immune system, and, when elevated, suggest illness.

Well, duh.

But she thought it was an illness called FIP.  Which is fatal and untreatable.

I found out later there is no test that can definitively confirm FIP, but if beta globulins are high, as evidenced by electropheresis (another test they can do), it's highly likely that is the problem.

Stunned, I thanked the vet for the information and my head started spinning.  It spun all day Friday.  I didn't know what to do with this new information.  I had asked what we would do regardless and the vet felt that really the only thing we could do for Lulu was continue to try to find a food that agreed with her and firmed up her stool.  She didn't think information from the GI panel would change her treatment and didn't think the parasite testing would be that helpful because it could only potentially confirm an incurable parasite.  We could do the electropheresis for another fee, but that would only allow us to feel confident Lulu had FIP.  Not change anything we would or could do for her.

I had my hospice hat on by that time.  You can see that, right?

I called the vet back after talking to several knowledgeable and animal loving friends.

"I want you to be brutally honest with me.  I am an oncology social worker and a former hospice social worker and am not afraid to have a tough discussion," I told the vet.

She said she thought we could get more clarity with additional testing, but confirmed the actual treatment or likely outcomes probably wouldn't change with the information.

On the verge of tears, quietly, I asked, "am I a horrible person if I am considering euthanasia?"

Matching my tone, she quietly answered, "no, I think in this situation, given all she and you are going through, it's a reasonable option."

I asked about the process for euthanasia and she told me how it worked and that regardless of my choice, she would check in with me on Monday.

Over the weekend, it seemed like the stool was more formed.  I kept trying to talk myself into Lulu getting better, somehow.  I felt guilty for having been resentful of having to clean up bloody poop every time I wanted to take a shower or bathe my children.  As my husband put it, I was in denial.

Everyone around me told me it was reasonable to euthanize this cat.

This EIGHT MONTH OLD cat.  So young by any standard (other than that of perhaps an insect, who only lives a day, week, month...).

How can I kill an eight month old cat?

My dear friend from forever told me it was cruel NOT to help her die in a comfortable way.  My husband reassured me it was a viable, even good choice for the cat AND us.

I woke up December 12, Monday morning, to two bloody stools by my bed.  I cleaned them up, but this time with no resentment.  Because I finally decided it must be pretty bad if she can't make it to her litter box when she could until November, and that she didn't want to be doing this.

I went to a therapy appointment I had scheduled but had almost canceled for "nothing to talk about" because now I definitely had something to talk about.

My therapist asked me how much suffering I would need to see before I decided it was enough for both the cat and the family.  She felt I already had an answer about what to do and wished me well with my decision.

I left the therapy appointment, drove home, and called the vet, asking for a euthanasia appointment.  I hung up, and immediately felt sick to my stomach.  I called and left a message for my husband, telling him what I'd done and asking for reassurance that it was the right choice.

I walked into the house and down into the basement room (we have a finished room down there with couches and carpet), where I'd been sequestering both cats together, so Lulu would be able to make it to her litter box.  And she had been making it.

But it's no life to live without natural light just so you can get to a litter box.  Even if you do have your brother with you and an overhead light.

She was lying on the couch, where she had taken up residence over the past week or so.  I realized she had not been playful for quite some time.  At eight months old, you'd expect a cat still to be playful.

Unless they were really super sick.

Lulu was really super sick.

With a lump in my throat, I sat next to her on the couch, petting her, telling her I was sorry.

I got out her cat carrier, put it in the middle of the room, and resumed sitting with her on the couch.

Finally, the time came to make my way to the vet.

As with the last two times to the vet, she cried, pooped blood in her carrier, and vomited on the way.  It was horrible and sad.

I entered the vet's office with a heavy-hearted, dragging-my-feet feeling and announced my presence.

The vet assistant came to me and took us back to a room.  As with the last vet visit, Lulu didn't even try to groom the blood and stool out of her soft, beautiful fur.

"She's really really sick," I had to keep reminding myself.

The vet came in, and "just for curiosity's sake" took her temperature, which was normal.  Her weight was about what it had been four days prior.  The vet reiterated that likely this would not get better and likely it was FIP, which is rare and something she only sees about once or twice a year.  She agreed with my decision and supported it.

She lifted Lulu to the exam table, laden with a brown fuzzy blanket.  She put in a sedative and then left me with Lulu, petting her, whispering I was sorry over and over and over again.

A few minutes after receiving the sedative, Lulu panicked, afraid of what she was feeling, losing control and not knowing why.  She tried to jump off the table, but flopped to the side as she tried to jump; it was so distressing to watch I burst into tears and cried until the vet came back into the room.  I was able to get Lulu into a more comfortable position and keep petting her, but her claws were still dug into the blanket, arms out in front of her, as though she was gripping for life.

Oh God.  Please forgive me for doing this.

Lulu's eyes never closed, but they became distant.

The vet came in and cheerfully noted that Lulu looked "nice and relaxed."  I had to sign paperwork stating she had not recently bitten anyone and that she was mine to euthanize if I wanted to.  I signed.  I sent her off for group cremation.

The vet put the lethal dose of sedative into her and within three breaths, our Lulu was gone.  I remarked on how fast it was and they agreed, the vet and her assistant.  I couldn't make eye contact with them and they told me I could spend some time with her and quietly exited the room.

I pet her for a few minutes, telling her I was so sorry.  I wrapped her in the blanket and silently left the room to pay for this dreaded deed.  It felt crass to pay afterward, like I was buying some ghoulish luxury service.  At that point, I understood why they asked when I arrived if I wanted to pay before the appointment.  I should have.

I got in my car with an empty cat carrier and called my mom.  She already knew I might have to euthanize Lulu.  She said, "hi!  How are you?" and I broke down sobbing, "I just killed my cat!"  She said, "oh no, I'm so sorry.  You didn't kill her.  It was for the best.  I'm sorry you had to do that; I've never had to do that with a pet."  Mom was actually very reassuring and invited me over for lunch (which I declined, because I had the kids to get from their early release day at school).

I went home after hemming and hawing about what to do with myself and showed Patrick the empty carrier, telling him I was sorry.

Patrick spent a good day or two looking for Lulu, calling for her, wondering why I didn't put down two bowls of food anymore (partly because he liked to eat her leftovers).  It was terribly sad.  But he is becoming more interactive with us without her.  In some ways.  And in others, I think he's starting to understand she's not coming back.

The kids were sad, but they don't really understand death.  My nearly five year old daughter was mostly mad I didn't let her watch the euthanization.  My son was mostly quiet.  We all took turns holding and cradling Patrick that night.  My son called it "pass the Patrick".

It's just unbelievably sad, but has been a relief not to clean up blood for a couple days now.  I still feel sick to my stomach about it, but I also think it was the right thing to do.

RIP, Lulu.  Approx April 2 - December 12, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Spiritual Twists and Turns

I've been on a tear to figure out my own spirituality all Summer and now Fall.  I've been learning about the many facets of God, Jesus, the holy spirit, angels, and life before and after death that I never really dreamed were there.  Some people even believe we have dragons, unicorns, fairies, and other mystical creatures guiding and helping us.  At this point, to be honest, I have no reason to say those beings aren't real, at least outside of our physical apparently-concrete world.  And I don't know how much "proof" is really important. 

If you find a system of belief that works for you, that helps explain the whys and wherefores...who cares how exactly it all comes to be?   

The basic message I keep returning to and arriving at is that God is Love.  The purpose of life is to express and experience Love (which can manifest in limitless ways).  We are spiritual beings having a human experience; we are of God and God is of us yet also greater that us.  God is all protecting, knowing and compassionate.  He/She/It is always there for us and will always look out for our highest good. Fear and ego block the messages coming from God; they make it hard to hear what God wants us to know and feel.

Of course, no one lives outside their ego all the time.  No one is perfectly spiritual every moment of the day.  No one acts out of love 100% of the time.  But love can always guide us back to center.  

That's what I've been looking for; a center.  

I started Reiki training in September, partly to connect with my spiritual side more, partly to see if it could be a new career for me, and partly to find center. 

I went through the first class both as a believer and part-skeptic, and still feel that way.  I am not sure I understand or "believe in" the Reiki energy, but one of the points of Reiki is that it doesn't matter if you believe in it; it has the power to heal and do good regardless.  It flows through the practitioner; it is not controlled by the practitioner.  

Besides, even if it "doesn't work," the individualized attention you give to another, as a Reiki practitioner, is almost as valuable as if it truly is powerful energy medicine (which it might be?  Call me the Skeptical Reiki Practitioner).  Many scientific studies show the benefits and power of feeling cared for, the power of the placebo effect, and the benefits of unconditional positive regard...and care and unconditional positive regard are Love, aren't they?  So Reiki is doing God's work, however it is happening.

I have done Reiki on a handful of people other than myself, and those not related to me have expressed appreciation for the work, saying they felt better after the treatment than before, so whatever is going on there, it's good.  (And that's another thing about Reiki, by the way; it only does good. It cannot be used for evil.)

I had my own experience during class; nine other practitioners worked on me from a distance from the standpoint of helping me to heal my anxiety.  I felt heat in my forehead and movement in my lower chakras...they confirmed that those were places they worked on the most.  And that I need to learn to trust myself more.  

I am safe.  

I am supported.  

I belong.  

I trust my intuition.  

"Trust yourself, trust yourself, trust yourself," I heard chanting through my mind as they worked on me.  

And I felt that regular "buzz" of anxiety that I always feel day to day...gone.  It was gone for about three weeks.  It was heavenly not to feel sweaty-anxious all day every day.

Of course, I'm back to feeling adrenaline rushes several times a day, tight shoulders, sweaty concern, looking for center again.  Though it's not as hard to find a center now as it used to be. 

Anyway, after my first Reiki class, I felt like I had too much going on in life.  I kind of figured out this is not likely to be a new career for me and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue to devote three more entire Saturdays to becoming a Reiki Master.  Doing self-treatments felt like another thing to do in the day and I was making myself miserable trying to do that every day as well as my evening meditation every night.  I contacted my teacher, asking for a refund for the classes I hadn't taken yet.

She'd heard this B.S. before.  In a calm, measured voice, she walked me through a very brief meditation on the phone before we even started talking.  She told me her cancellation policy was clear and on her website (it turns out she does not do refunds except in extreme situations), and she told me that we often resist that which can most stand to benefit us.  A guy even wrote a book about it (The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield; looks like you can read the whole thing for free right at that link).  

"It sounds like you want calm, you want centering, you want to feel in control.  That's what this is," she told me.

Argh.  Harumph.  Fine.  I'll go to one more class. 

And it was a pretty great day.  My classmates and I are starting to get to know each other, and while we do work hard, we leave feeling somehow lighter.  

I received my Reiki II practitioner certificate October 8, 2016.

I'm about to return for Advanced Reiki this weekend.  I feel more willing to go than I did a month ago, but also still harbor a bit of resistance (though I am voluntarily doing the self-treatments now!).  I haven't actually read that book about resistance (and now it's due back at the library), but I have read more about self-improvement in that time (a great easy read was Dr. Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection).  There comes a time, though, that you have to stop reading about self-improvement and just do it.  Improve thyself. 

Do what feels right, not what your over-thinking brain tells you is right.  Do what is in alignment with your values and say no to what is not in alignment unless there is a very compelling reason not to say no.  

I also went to hear my son read a Bible verse at his Catholic school's Mass in September.  It was a Mass in celebration of God's angels and focused on the messages from/of the Archangels; that Mass broke my heart open.  It felt like Divine timing.  I have been looking for a spiritual community. I already love my son's school community and am making friends among the parents who volunteer with and serve the school community.  It felt natural to consider joining this church community (despite the fact that I am not 100% on board with the political leanings of the Catholic Church), and I am now in the process of becoming Catholic.  I keep thinking my grandma would be happy.  Is happy.

What interests me most about becoming Catholic is not the Church rules, politics and rhetoric (some of that I just plain disagree with), but the contemplative traditions, rites, and routines.  I personally do not think you need to confess your sins to a priest to have a happy afterlife, but you do have to make an effort to do your best and make right with those you wrong...similar enough.  I love the idea of reciting a rosary as a meditation.  I find the rhythm of the service is very much like those I grew up with in the ELCA Lutheran Church, where I was baptized, had first communion and was confirmed.  I hear new meaning in messages from the Bible and Jesus after all the time I have spent listening to Hay House Radio  and meditations by Sarah Hall.  It feels like a nice fit for this season of life.  

My parents told me I'd return to church. 

Why are parents always so right? :-P

I am still settling into my spiritual beliefs.  But...I feel like I have only just started to truly understand and embrace them.  Like I was sleeping before, but now I am waking up to the true nature and purpose of life.  Lucky for me, my daughter is very interested in learning about spiritual things, so we are learning some new things together, which has been very positive for our relationship (she is still only 4.5 years old and she can present with some very trying behaviors at times).  

I don't know what next month or year will bring, but I feel I have defined a purpose for life right now.  Love.  Service.  Gratitude.  Blooming where you're planted.  Serving those you most care about.  Loving those you care about as much as you can.  Not fretting so much about career or other ego-ic pursuits, though some of those activities are necessary to ensure a comfortable life.  




Blooming where you're planted.

Serving those you most love and those who need love.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Damn. (A poem?)

Today, I had the privilege and sad honor of sitting with another family who is learning, though not really absorbing, that their loved one with acute leukemia is going to die.

Despite a "potentially life-saving" bone marrow transplant.

Despite "the mother of all chemotherapies" trying to kill the leukemia.

The leukemia grew despite the chemotherapy.

This patient continues to hold onto hope, though.

It's still early in recovery; maybe graft versus host disease will kill the leukemia, though it may also wreak havoc on her body.  She's willing to take that risk, she said.

She retired and enjoyed life for about six weeks before leukemia decided to force her hand, force her to call the doctor, force her into the ER on a weekend and then in and out of the hospital for the last eight months.

Clinically, her doctor says, she's in the top 25% of all people recovering from the type of transplant she received.  She looks like she's doing well.  She feels well.  She hasn't needed a blood transfusion or anything so many other patients need.

Technically, though, her leukemia is also in the top 25%.  It won't quit and won't quit and won't quit.

She wouldn't answer my question about her gut feeling about how things are going right now and going to go.  She spoke from her head, not her heart.  It was hard to not want to press reiki right into her heart in that moment.

Her daughters sat wiping silent tears.  She sat agape, not sure what to say or do.  She put her hand on her husband's knee.  How will he function without her?, is all I can wonder.

Her doctor had to ask about how far she wanted to go with medical interventions, should the worst start spiraling out control.

It happens fast when it does.

The spiraling.

Out of control.

Out of


Which is what the leukemia is, but no one will outright say that.  Because there is a tiny sliver of hope.



But it's there and taking up the 98% of space it has mostly no right to.

I don't know how much more of this kind of thing I can witness.  I went to this meeting out of care, concern, compassion and love, but I feel a bit wounded, as I think we all do coming out of the thick tension of such a conversation.

I always say there's not enough literature or intervention to support the grieving professional.

Who has no right to the grief.  Or do we?

What right do we have to feel grief?  To what extent?  How long?  How much?  When?  Where?

I try to get it out while I'm still at work, so as to be the present, loving mother and wife I want to be at home.

My spirituality tells me these people were put in my life for a reason, for me to learn something from them.  They are in their situation to learn something as well.  My lesson is different; we each take away a lesson and if we do it right and well, we do not have to suffer while we learn.

Though I'm not sure how not to suffer when someone is dying what feels an unfair death.

Should I be ashamed at this navel-gazing?  Perhaps.

Perhaps I should learn some grace from that amazing woman.

Amazing grace.

How sweet the sound.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My First Full Moon Circle

Did you know that yesterday, today and tomorrow are days of the full moon this month?  I guess technically if you have to choose one day, it's today.

Though this month, it doesn't seem like things are wacky and "off" like they can be at the full moon.  Health care workers typically kind of dread the full moon because people or things seem to get "loony" (loony deriving from "lunar," which, of course, refers to the moon).  They see more than the usual number of people with terrible mental health or substance abuse problems or equipment won't work or there's just  more than the usual "lunacy" in the work day when there's a full moon.  We love blaming Her, poor Moon.  

Maybe things feel more centered this month becasue I took the time to make a second visit out to Circle Sanctuary for a Full Moon Circle last night.

Because Selena Fox, the usual high priestess and leader of most Circle activities was not available for last night's Full Moon Circle, she left the leadership to one of her right-hand gals, Ashleigh, who offered a wonderful experience.

The theme of the night was the Spiral Labyrinth.  Ashleigh started us off with coloring pages to choose from: Theseus and Ariadne (stars of the Greek myth of the minotaur in the labyrinth), a minotaur labyrinth/maze page, or David Bowie holding Sarah in the movie Labyrinth.

Thus we were introduced to Ashleigh's (fun) sense of humor.  I, of course, had to have the David Bowie coloring page.

(This is the exact image.  Yup.)

We were all sitting around, coloring, mostly quietly, when someone mentioned how meditative coloring can be.  

And that's when our education for the evening began. 

Ashleigh explained that was exactly why she thought we should start by coloring; to get us in the mindset of meditation.  We were to be doing a spiral labyrinth meditation together later; here was where we were to start. 

She told us the ancient Greek myth of the minotaur in the labyrinth, putting some emphasis on the fact that Ariadne gave Theseus a clew (a long string to help him find his way out of the labyrinth after he had killed the minotaur).  After we'd learned what seemed relevant and were prepared for the labyrinth walking activity, we headed outside. 

It was still fairly bright out as we walked solemnly to the spiral labyrinth Circle maintains (it looks like this, but currently MUCH more lush with wildflowers and tall unruly late-summer growth; it's at its peak of gorgeousness right now): 

At the entrance to the labyrinth, we were each smudged with incense and we entered, singing, "we are the flow, we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we make the web."  We continuously sang this as we each grabbed a piece of the "clew" (a ball of very thick yarn), and held on to it, all of us connected yet walking separately. 

I remember closing my eyes periodically, breathing deeply, trying to feel my feet ground to the Earth, like roots.  Each step, the roots grew a bit longer.  I was slowly walking, holding onto the yarn that held us all together, singing, sometimes humming, sometimes not singing at all to take deep, cleansing breaths.  

The light was fading into twilight, ever so slightly. 

At the center of the labyrinth, a fire was lit and a "minotaur" (one of the participants with some toy horns on) stood symbolically, waiting for us. 

Before we had left the temple room (inside the big barn prominent on the property), we had each written at least one fear and how life could be if we were to let that fear go. 

As we all reached the center circle of the labyrinth, Ashleigh kept the group walking around the edge of that circle until everyone was inside the circle.  She gathered the ends of the yarn we were holding, set them down and proclaimed, "the circle is cast." 

Ah, brilliant! 

I smiled. 

We were invited to take in the sounds of the coming night, breathe the air and get grounded. Finally, we were invited to decide whether we really wanted to release our fears written on our papers.  We held the papers over our hearts, contemplatively, and, one by one, as we felt called, stepped up to the fire, announced aloud our fears, and cast the papers into the fire.  

"I renounce my fear of leadership." 

"I release my fear of not finding my way."

"I let go of the fear of the anger inside me."

"I release the fear of setting to rights some very big wrongs." 


" -----" (silence, while throwing paper in the fire)

So personal and brave.  And I truly, truly felt that none of the fears people were expressing were impossible to heal. None of them.  

Isn't that the way?  Our fears CAN be healed.  We simply have to want to heal them and take the necessary steps.  It doesn't always feel simple and may NOT always be simple, but it's possible.

We hummed a tone, while sending our wishes/prayers for healing to people, nations, or groups.  Words tumbled out of mouths, landing in the circle, flying into the night, wishing wellness to all.

After we'd all submitted our fears to the fire and wished the world wellness, Ashleigh offered a bit of a talk about letting go and our power, saying, "there's a song for that, you know." 

We are an old people, 
We a new people, 
We are the same people,
Stronger than before

We chanted.  It felt RIGHT.

We were invited to each take a cutting of the clew home with us, as a reminder of the experience of the night.  Mine is hanging on my van's rear view mirror.

We were invited to leave the labyrinth, each in our own time, in the manner we wished to leave it. 

I surveyed the landscape, now nearly dark.  Fireflies lit here and there.  The humidity was heavy in the dewy air.  The plants offered that delicious sharp and heady odor they do at this time of year.  Heaven on Earth, for me.  

(I was super surprised at how few insects, particularly mosquitoes there were out there...)

I took my time circling my way out of the labyrinth.  Again, my feet formed a connection with the Earth.  My eyes intermittently closed as I breathed deeply and enjoyed the silence and solitary, yet never-alone feeling of that part of the evening.  

I always walk too fast in my regular life, so I walked slowly back to the fire near the temple-barn.  

Everyone decided to sit and enjoy some snacks near the fire instead of going back inside; we could finally see the beautiful full Sturgeon Moon of last night and we marveled in Her.  The cool of the night was so welcome after a day of heat and humidity.  The company was friendly, the fire just right, and though the chairs were a bit dewy-wet, I am so grateful for the experience of my first Full Moon Circle. 

Thanks again, Ashleigh, and I hope to see you soon.