Honestly. Will I never learn? What comes before running? Walking. What comes before curries and chillies? Nice bland food. Whoops, I did it again. You may remember that I recently had a bad few days after our first night out in many months, to a curry restaurant. I recovered from that, and following my very successful visit to my newly found cranial osteopath, by last Tuesday I was feeling on top of the world and almost like my old self. Then the stupidest suggestion in the whole world came out – I fancied a homemade Mexican beef chilli. Not very spicy, just a nice, beefy change from the endless round of vegetables, fish and chicken. And a glass of wine. Yep – that’s how nearly back to normal I was feeling, and I must confess, desperately fed up of being a convalescent. It didn’t take many hours for my poor system to start objecting, and now, a week later, I am still repairing the damage and I must confess I haven’t got very far. It feels just like when you get a really bad stomach bug – like you’ve been kicked in the stomach – which isn’t the slightest bit conducive to eating, so my weight is dropping again, and I am back to eating teeny portions every hour or so.
The obvious answer to all of this is that my patience is being tested, and because I don’t appear to have learnt the lesson yet it is being repeated until I do so. As someone who was at the back of the queue when patience was handed out it is unbelievably difficult for me to rein in my enthusiasm once I start to feel better. Isn’t everyone like that? Surely it isn’t just me. I start to feel better = I do more = I feel even better = I do more… In my mind that is how it is supposed to go, and being constantly forced to focus on the present and having even very small goals that are still unreachable is driving me crazy. Making arrangements to see friends always has to be tempered with the proviso that we have to see how I am on the day. I can’t be doing with this. But the only way through it is to be good and give my insides a chance to heal. As someone at the hospital put it, “If you wouldn’t feed it to a baby you were weaning, don’t eat it.” Fabulous.
I had my second appointment with the cranial osteopath on Monday, during which we got talking about the practice of Mindfulness. I am finding Mindfulness very helpful in coping with the future, as in when you are trying not to worry about it in advance. It is easy then to take each moment for what it is, one moment at a time. Somehow the discipline of not worrying is very comforting. But what about when you do want to think about the future? To dream, to plot and scheme, to plan? I obviously haven’t come to the right bit in the teachings yet which shows you how to do this. Any guidance from Buddhist readers would be most helpful here, as I suspect I am getting into deep water. At the first diagnosis, cancer robs you of the future you had assumed was yours. You are forced to think in terms of one day at a time, one treatment at time, because it is too painful to think about the future with conviction. At least I found it so. I didn’t have the strength to assume I would be in that future when I was in so much shock, as it meant I had to think about my loved ones and how they would cope if I don’t make it through all this. Now I am finding my old dreams and aspirations coming back, which is lovely, but of course they have a slightly different tag attached. None of us know what the future holds, but a cancer patient knows it even less, if that is possible. How do I dream of the future, and all the things I would love to be in it without also dragging in the consequences of the last eight months and their associated concerns? Can I dream of the future selectively? That would be fun – leave out all the potentially bad bits. I guess that is what day dreaming is. Be aware that I have a lot of time on my hands just now; I can’t really go into work with my innards in this fragile state so my mind is working overtime and galloping way ahead of my body. This is where writing the blog is so useful. Having got to this point it is blazingly obvious to me that what I should be doing is some very gentle yoga and meditation to bring my mind under control and to ease my body. I would never have got there just sitting and thinking about it on my own, so thank you for keeping me company though the rambling.
As I am cautiously starting to feel a tiny bit better I have managed to think about turning the blog into a book, and I am really pleased to say that I have now managed to write the first Chapter. It was an incredibly emotional experience as I trawled through the period from New Orleans up to the diagnosis in December, and it occurred to me how attached we are to finding the cause of our illnesses. Think about the last time you had a cold or tummy bug; I bet the first thing you did was try to remember all the people you had been in contact with who might have been ill. It is no different with cancer, which I know is crazy, but it is true. Given that by 2020 apparently 1 in 2 of us will have succumbed to it in one form or another (it is currently 1 in 3) it is not beyond the realms of reason that we should do all we can to protect ourselves against either getting it, or a relapse if we have already had it. We all have the potential within us to develop cancer, and it takes a specific set of circumstances for a cell to turn cancerous – and apart from obvious disasters like Fukushima, those circumstances will be unique to each individual. If we could know with any certainty what those are it would save an awful lot of lives. In my particular case I am still totally fixated on having become ill in New Orleans, and I only realised how firmly attached I still am to that idea when I was writing Chapter One. There is a part of me that thinks it is something I should really be getting over, but there are some things of note that do relate specifically to that location. I apologise In advance to anyone who loves New Orleans, but it is an incredibly toxic place. Yes, the music, arts and general creativity is fabulous, but for me the French Quarter, which is the only part I have seen, has a horribly murky and troublesome past and I can’t help feeling that the physical upheaval and flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina has brought a lot of that energy to the surface. I was beginning to think that I was alone in feeling like this about a city that most other people seem to love. At least – it didn’t affect them as badly as it did me. Then Stephen brought home a book by Jennie Sherwin called ‘Intentional Healing: One Woman’s Path to Higher Consciousness and Freedom from Environmental and Other Chronic illnesses’. Jennie was a Western educated woman who was becoming sicker and sicker from undiagnosable health issues to the point where she could barely function. It is a complicated (and fascinating) picture which is built up in many layers, but Jennie was able to pinpoint a particular trigger and this is where I really sat up and took notice. Her story begins when her husband’s job took them to New Orleans. Their home was to be given a standard treatment of pesticides, something which is required on a regular basis in all public buildings as well as private dwellings, because of the climate. Already beginning to show signs of several allergies, Jennie was quite rightly concerned about the effect these could have but was reassured that the chemicals are quite safe around humans. How often have we heard that one?
As Jennie’s story progresses we discover that her illness is, in fact, directly related to the type II pyrethroids that were used in her home. Pyrethroids are known to be carcinogenic. Mantle Cell Lymphoma is now known to be caused by exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Where does all this get me? No idea. Clearly – well at least as far as I am aware – nobody else developed cancer after the conference, so presumably my immune system was already debilitated when I got there. Which is highly possible as I wasn’t feeling fantastic when we left home. So maybe New Orleans was my own unique trigger. In the light of Jennie’s book, it is looking very much like it could be, so in some very small way, rightly or wrongly, I feel exonerated for blaming New Orleans as the source of my illness.
So while I need to concentrate on getting my body as strong as possible and building my immune system up, I also need to make sure that I really do detox thoroughly, and I have made an exciting discovery in this area. Literally, actually. I came across some information a while back about infra-red saunas. Anybody out there have any experience of them? Normal saunas and steam rooms obviously help the body to release its toxins through the skin, but it can take a long time to achieve a satisfactory level of detox. Infra-red saunas are now being hailed as a breakthrough because the heat directly warms the tissues and organs so they give up their toxins more easily. You can imagine these machines are not cheap, and it was very hard to find any establishments that have them. I had all but forgotten about them, then yesterday we called in to the local caravan holiday park to pick up a job application for my son. They have quite a nice health suite too, so I picked up a membership form as we live literally five minutes away. And what is on the list of highlights? An infra-red sauna! How amazing is that? My previous reading does seem to indicate that it is recommended for chemo patients and anyone wanting a serious detox, so I have much investigating to do. I did read of an oncologist who was very positive about the effects; I have my regular appointment with my (lovely) consultant tomorrow so I will ask him what he thinks. I will report back!
Wishing you good health