Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Under My Spiritual Umbrella

As a body suffers from illness, as illness wreaks havoc on emotions, what happens to the spirit? And what happened to it in the first place such that disease became a physical reality?

A spirit cannot take care of itself. It needs to be nurtured, gentled, uplifted, strengthened. It is interconnected with all spirit, which pervades all matter, and so it cannot exist in the illusion of separateness. I could not and cannot continue to manage during these months without the spiritual sustenance of family, friends and colleagues, whether here or across the veil.

It comes at any time. Several weeks ago as I began to slip into bed, I “saw” a white cloud about two inches thick spread out on top of the sheet for me. 

I feel it in my husband’s steady breathing and peaceful quietude as he sleeps, and as he holds me when I just can’t take any more. 

I have awoken with a smile and the distinct sense of a hand on my upper arm near my shoulder and know it is my mother. My daughter sacrifices her energy for me when mine is spent. My son-in-law checks several times a day to see if I need anything.

Spiritual sustenance is being "surrounded by dozens of thoughts each day” from my beloved college friend in Baltimore, the various prayer groups who regularly petition for me, the three women who periodically send me cards of encouragement, those who pray daily for me, the aunt who has taken me under her loving wing.

Support came in the healing circle which my friend and former colleague from Marquette’s nursing faculty created for me in her home so that I could receive affirmation and wisdom as I slog through the low, muddy ground. This circle was joined by friends of my husband’s family in North Carolina who together prayed aloud for me during that same time.

Every word of encouragement given directly, through John, through cyberspace or the mail helps to keep me afloat and the water warm. And I need every ounce, every gram, of this thoughtfulness because it is a long and bumpy journey, not least negotiating the health care system itself.

Now the second question: What happened to my spirit such that cancer became a physical reality in me?

My spiritual umbrella is large with a variety of transcendent beliefs existing harmoniously under its protective halo. One belief is that illness is not solely physical but also a spiritual manifestation. Another is that trauma suffered by an ancestor can pass down the generations until healed.

I can describe a peach as juicy. I can describe it as fuzzy (at least the ones I ate in my youth). I can describe it as sweet.  Each is accurate. 

I can describe my cancer physically as limited disease small cell cancer arising in my bladder. But how do I describe my cancer spiritually? I have not been able to identify this in contemplation. I needed someone who could describe my illness to me in spiritual terms so I could heal at that level as well. I chose a shamanic healer, Myron Eshowsky of Madison, Wisconsin, an internationally renowned trauma healer and author of Peace with Cancer (2009).

Both physically and spiritually cancer is an unhealed wound. With his spirit guides, Myron described my cancer as generational, related to the unhealed trauma of an ancestor who was raped and subsequently banished. (Who can argue but that this is the ultimate injustice – being banished because you were the victim of a brutal criminal act?) Have I suffered banishment in my own life, he asked. Yes, I suddenly realized. Four banishments immediately leapt to mind. 

Myron removed the spirit of my cancer, sang its song, then sang a healing song to it and took it into peace. I have work to do to provide a spiritual safe place for my ancestors now, which I gladly undertake.

But this did not completely obviate my suffering around banishment. I wept for myself that I suffered banishments through no fault of my own. I wept the pain of banishment for all my ancestors who were affected by it. 

Then I wept in a self pity that I was the one who was asked to suffer it for my ancestors. In the midst of such human tears I remembered the garden in Gethsemane and allowed a greater Will to guide my own. I became grateful that I could be the one to heal those who have come before me and those who will come after me. A Thanksgiving attitude of gratitude.

© Jean DiMotto, 2011    Website: www.jeandimotto.com 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Surgeons

I finished my chemotherapy (YES!!!) last Thursday and am bearing with the unpleasant sequelae for one more week. 
But no time to waste. It is time to get my bladder, the source organ of my cancer, removed. The exact extent of the operation is unknown because there are three options for replacing the bladder from which to choose. 

I followed my urologist’s advice about feeling free to seek a second opinion.  After research, it appeared that my two most reasonable options are Aurora Medical System (because my urologist and all my other doctors are there) or Medical College of Wisconsin. 

The first appointment my husband and I had was with one of the two reconstruction urologists at the Medical College. He has been there for ten years.

He began by naming the first option. The name went in one ear and out the other because he immediately followed with, “This option means you will have to catheterize your vagina.” “My vagina?!” I exclaimed. “Well, down there,” he said, opening his legs and pointing at his groin area. “There are actually two openings there but one is just a little (showing about one and one half inches with his thumb and finger) further up. It’s actually called the urethra.”

I am a woman. Did he really think I don’t know my own anatomy? Even if he had such a ridiculous thought, why would he explicitly mislead and so profoundly patronize a patient? In all events, and for reasons I don't recall him articulating, he decided this option wasn’t the one for me.

He asked about my prior surgeries. I of course had detailed these in the multi-paged forms I was required to complete before coming to this appointment. But I reiterated the salient ones: two abdominal surgeries, the second to place a mesh because the original incision herniated. He said that made my case complicated and put me at higher risk.

The second bladder option is the urinary equivalent of a colostomy. A short conduit is created from the ureters (which carry urine down from the kidneys) out onto the skin where the urine would dribble through an “appliance” attached to the skin and into an external pouch. 

He decided this probably was not an option for me either because he believed it would be hard to find a flat place on my abdomen for the appliance. He said this while looking disdainfully at my abdomen, swollen with chemo-related, steroid-induced weight gain.  But, he added, “I’ve operated on people bigger than you.” (Thanks, pal.) Would it help to delay the surgery so I can lose some of this weight now that my chemo is ending?  Ask the cancer guys, he responded.

He believed the best option would be the most complicated: the creation of an “Indiana pouch.” Although this was the option I was most interested in hearing about, our attention spans were waning at this point. The surgeon had his crib sheet of information displayed on the computer screen so he was constantly cued to convey all of it to us.  But it made it challenging to interject our questions and absorb all that was being conveyed.
 
The moment we left I turned to my husband and said, “I will not let that man touch me.” He agreed wholeheartedly.

Two days later we met with my Aurora urologist. She said she wants my bladder out as soon as possible. That way, if any of those cancerous small cells actually managed to hide out during chemotherapy, they don’t have a chance to escape!

She has been carefully planning for this surgery. She pulled out a large, blank sheet of white paper and began drawing and explaining.

As to the second option (the short conduit from the ureters out to my skin and into a bag) she saw no impediment to finding a place for the appliance on my abdomen. This is also the medically healthiest option (low risk of infection and other complications).  Nonetheless, my family and I don't cotton to it based on the “ick factor.”

As to the Indiana pouch option, my urologist already had arranged to bring in a superb general surgeon highly reputed for operating safely and skillfully on patients with potential bowel issues. I have this potential because of my two prior abdominal surgeries. 

Suffice to say that after an operation, things inside can adhere together forming scar tissue which, in a subsequent surgery, can then tear away from unscarred tissue it had attached to - like bowels - which injures the bowels. During the bladder surgery, my bowels need to be moved out of the way after the mesh is dealt with. So this surgeon will begin the surgery, prepare the way for the other two surgeons including moving the bowels aside safely, stay on-site throughout the entire surgery so he can be called back in immediately if needed, and be the one who “closes” me up. My urologist and her partner will create the Indiana pouch.

She further has planned for an approximately five-day recovery in ICU before moving me to a general post-op unit. She listened intently when I told her how quickly I metabolize pain medicine during surgery as well as which pain medicines work and which don’t work for me postoperatively. She made notes of this as well as her ideas for dealing with this important issue. (The other surgeon told me to tell that to the anesthesiologist.)

Easy choice: My urologist and her team.

Then the hard news: She and her partner do not do the first option, called a neo-bladder, the one that may require catheterizing through my urethra. This option may turn out to be best if there is a chance a surgeon may not need to go into my abdomen where all those adhesions and bowels are, but instead confine the surgery to the pelvic area below the abdomen. That would reduce the risk of the surgery for me.

Next step, consult with a different Medical College physician who can do a neo-bladder.  Since my urologist wants my bladder out sooner rather than later, she offered that if a surgeon at the Medical College can schedule either surgery (neo-bladder or the Indiana pouch) sooner than she can get surgery scheduled, then I should have the surgery with the Medical College surgeon. (You can understand why I have such faith in her.) Then we will meet again with her as well.

To be continued….

© Jean DiMotto, 2011    Website: www.jeandimotto.com

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream -





















Shakespeare's Hamlet anguished about sleeping and dreaming. Obviously he had devils to deal with but chemotherapy could not have been one of them.

Fatigue and exhaustion are well recognized side effects of chemotherapy. The easiest way to describe my chemo-induced exhaustion is to note that after a three-day round of chemotherapy, I sleep 15-18 hours a day for the next seven days. Yesterday, after having gone to bed at 10 PM, I awoke at 10 AM and went downstairs to make myself a strong mug of coffee. I took it into the living room to enjoy and woke up three hours later in the same chair, the mug half full. An hour later I took a two-hour nap.

It's no use fighting it; a body needs what a body needs. Perhaps more importantly, a soul needs what a soul needs.

Dreams are a currency of the soul. I facilitate dream groups, where those interested in their dreams come together weekly during fall or late winter (on hold, of course, until fall 2012) to share dreams in order to find the soul-directed meaning for their waking lives. Thus, for someone like me who so deeply values dreams, these lengthy, luxurious periods in which to dream are gifts indeed.

In some long dream sequences I am working things out. I no longer regard what are still daily episodes of weeping as pity parties but rather as times of grief about something I am letting go of. I have found that if I don’t shed the tears, the grief remains. If I let my tears fall, then I move through whatever it is, and rather quickly at that. I have stopped trying to figure out what it is I am leaving behind. Working alone in this level of the unconscious is a journey of trust in my guardians and spirit guides.

In other dreams, those internal spaces I have wept clean are filled with something new. Again, I keep my mind out of it and just receive. Sometimes, I am graced with the presence of white-lighted beings. How can I keep from singing (as the hymn inquires)?

End note: My ayurvedic friend and gardener is a vivid dreamer and avid participant in my dream groups. She dreamt a dream for me early on after my diagnosis: She and a number of women were in her van and I was to drive behind them in my white car. But my car wouldn’t work. So the women got out of the van and raised the hood and tinkered under it to fix things and then my car worked. How can I keep from getting well?

© Jean DiMotto, 2011   Website: www.jeandimotto.com