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  • Mer Monson

Chemo for Christmas

Annie, my acupuncturist at Hunstman, had to hand me three kleenexes when she asked how my Christmas was.  I told her about the unexpected storm of endless tears, self loathing, internal pity parties, and restless anger.  "Ahhhh," she smiled, "welcome to cancer PTSD."  "Embrace it," she offered, "the more you dive in, the sooner you'll check each stage off your list and move on."  She thought Steve's offer to get me a junk car to beat up on was a fabulous idea.  So do I. Despite the dark night that descended afterwards, chemo day was actually a lot more peaceful than the last one.  After a small teary side road through "What in the world am I doing here three days before Christmas?", I settled in thanks to a beautiful meditation my integrative oncologist recorded with me. I've listened to its beautiful themes of welcoming, blessing and gratitude over and over and over again. I see clearly I'm not all the way there yet, I'm still not saying a full YES to chemo, but it gets me a little more familiar with the space I want to be in and gently nudges me, each time, into a little larger pool of peace. It seems insane to even consider the thought of welcoming, blessing and being grateful for something that brings with it nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, neuropathy, sore throats, insomnia, baldness, mouth sores and fatigue.  But then I think of kids. And life. And the power of seeing something as a blessing and a gift even when it comes with endless varieties of discomfort. The hypnotist she set me up with also offered a few paradigm-shifting thoughts. I spent a fascinating hour with him exploring insights from a bunch of different worlds I've fallen in love with (meditation, energy medicine, Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness, etc), and experiencing self-hypnosis to bring more ease into my experience of cancer. He pointed out that the intense reaction from my body to chemo CAN be viewed as simply an indication that it's working, that it's doing something, just like an intense tennis match creates sweat and a pounding heart. His answer to my frustration that I can't stay "centered" when I'm in the thick of the nausea - "So what if you lose your center for a while? If you can't lose it in the chaos of cancer, when can you?" These invitations out of my black-and-white thinking have helped me a hundred times. Yet another layer of support and help I'm grateful for. It was tough facing another treatment yesterday when my tummy hadn't fully recovered from the last one, but I found myself in a remarkable place of inner stillness and felt better and stronger than I had in several days. I am learning to be fully present in these moments and feel the joy of them. It's hard to imagine ever again taking "feeling good" for granted.  As a woman half my age, with my exact same diagnosis, wrote on the "Wall of Hope" at Hunstman, "I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know that TODAY I can choose to be happy and full of life." Rather than beat myself up for not being in full acceptance of my experience or chosen treatment yet, I've decided to give myself a break. Each time I listen to my meditation, I allow all the resistance to bubble right up and just be there, trusting it'll eventually dissolve and land me a little closer to the "tremendous calm" she suggests is possible. Though I cannot force the peace to come, I can ask for it, find ways to feed it to myself and remind myself it's there, and be grateful when I'm able to wake up to its presence.  No, it wasn't my favorite Christmas, but I'm still grateful to be alive, a little farther into the wisdom and gifts of this journey, and a little closer to the end of it :).

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