Monday, March 22, 2010

Fun Day on Psyche’s Playground

It’s not that I don’t have more than enough artsy hobbies to keep my house in a constant state of disarray, but they are all so isolating. For the past 2 weeks, I’ve taken the time to join a couple of small groups on a Saturday to do SoulCollage. One of my previous students-turned-facilitator led the one on 3/13, and I led the one last Saturday. It always amazes me to see how random images can reach the deepest levels of our Psyche and initiate healing.

I encourage you to read more about it on the SoulCollage site, but the basic process is to create a collage on a 5x8 card, and identify it as part of your life in a phrase that begins with “I am the One who…” and give then give it a name. I have more cards displayed in previous posts, and I wanted to share these recent ones:

5th Chakra

I am the one who knows
that although my voice is small,
I can trust that Spirit will reflect its strength
to be carried by something larger than myself.

Self Esteem

I am the One who knows
that even when I have a bad hair day,
my higher consciousness
will always exude my inner glamour.

And what about you? Have you worked with collage and/or art therapy? What refreshes YOUR spirit?
Love, Laurie

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Turbans?

When I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in June, 2008, I focused on the high chances of recovery. I imagined myself a warrior in a dark adventure, full of unknown challenges that would force me to find solutions to help all of us that face this journey. As both a patient and a doctor, maybe I would even discover a natural cure.

As the days of chemotherapy and radiation closed in, I didn't feel so adventurous. Above all, I became obsessed with how to deal with losing my hair. The doctors encouraged me to maintain my lifestyle as much as possible during treatment, which meant being in public almost every day. I wanted to be a positive role model to my own patients, no matter what my condition.

At least initially, a cancer diagnosis rips away our sense of control over anything. Unlike gradual appearance changes, like weight or normal aging, chemo hair loss can happen over just a few days, and we can't do anything to stop it. Living in a body that has turned against you, chemo leaves you tired, cranky and hairless, and you don't even recognize the person in the mirror.

Some days it's difficult to just get up, yet there are daily tasks, medical appointments, a job and a family. With barely has the energy to put on lipstick, you would think appearance is not important, but the comfort of the familiar, and that need to look good and be accepted, never goes away. Besides feeling awkward, I didn't want how my head looked to scream "I have cancer." I admit, I'm a teeny bit of a control freak, but I wanted to inspire hope, not pity.

Going through treatment in the cooler months, few women I met went bare-headed. Other than wigs, most wore skimpy kerchiefs and caps that were more of an emergency measure than a conscious style decision. As we chatted in the waiting room, many complained that they were self-conscious about their hair loss and dorky hat, often looking worse than they felt, and frustrated by this constant reminder of their illness.

Once I lost my hair, my scalp was so sensitive from other chemo side effects that wigs were unbearable. I experimented with wrapping scarves of all sizes until I came up with a turban effect that was actually more flattering than my hair had been. And I could wear colors to match an outfit, I ­ couldn't do that with my hair! Every time I went to the treatment centers, the nurses ran over to see what new wrap I was wearing. Best of all, the patients would always brighten up and ask me where they could find one already wrapped.

Seeing the turbans made everyone well, titillated. And the idea of Titillating Turbans was born.

Because wraps can be challenging, I wanted to create something that would be easy for anyone to just plop on their head, and style according to their own personality. There were no patterns similar to my turban, so I started snipping and stitching until I developed a workable pattern and found the most comfortable fabrics. I made a prototype and by June, 2009, a year after my initial diagnosis, I had all the business aspects complete, and a new line of head wear that makes women perk up and smile from the moment they see the variety of gorgeous colors and soft fabrics.

Throughout my life, my mantra has been, "Everything happens for a reason." Then I got cancer, and entered a family of thousands of cancer patients of all ages. And I can find no reason for all this suffering.

Now I believe stuff happens for no reason. But what we do with that "stuff" defines who we are. What I do see is that we are incredibly loving beings, with instincts not only to preserve our own survival, but to ease the suffering of others. Whether you knit a cap, send a card, call, tweet or discover a cure, the roles are equally important. Our strengths arise from our ability to sense the needs of others and our resiliency in the face of adversity to find solutions that will ease their pain.

I hope Titillating Turbans is an encouraging link in the chain of recovery. They were created to help women remember they are so much more than their hair; each person has a unique style and beauty that comes from within. No matter what happens to our bodies, we are creative creatures and will find a way to decorate and celebrate who we are, connect with others and share the healing wisdom that awakens as we embrace each moment of this precious life.

This article originally posted on Join Our Loop. Please visit and support this inspirational gathering place for collaborative insights and information on breast cancer - before, during and after diagnosis and treatment.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Graduation Day & Flash-Free Nights

Yesterday was my 2nd 3-month follow up with the oncologist since I completed the herceptin in September. We were holding our breath on this one, since the cancer markers had risen as of my last visit. Good oncology news with the lab tests: all the blood tests are great, the numbers for the cancer markers dropped back to normal levels, and despite the chemo, radiation and bout with Arimidex, the dexascan shows my bone density has decreased only slightly from pre-treatment levels. I’m nowhere near osteoporosis. If I can get up off my Twitter-butt long enough to exercise on a regular basis, these old bones will be fine. I’ve graduated to the six-month follow up plan!

The best news is that she agreed the Arimidex was not for me, and maybe none of those meds will be. I’ve been off it a month, and although several symptoms are gone, and the joint pain is significantly reduced, it is still there. Now I have this weird stabbing pain in my left hand that only happens after 9 p.m. and lingers until morning.

I had been trying to get through a 15 minute routine on the rebounder, and halfway through it was all I could do to follow with small movements. The pain in my right hand and elbow was severe enough to preclude my lifting a 5 pound weight. By the second week off that wretched drug, I not only got through the full routine without even getting winded, but I did it in conjunction with arm exercises using both weights. I’ve directed my excitement about the increase in my energy and stamina to override how pissed off I am about the insidious side effects. I was down so long with that stuff that I didn’t know what “normal” was supposed to be.

Monday I’ll see the radiologist for that 6-month follow up, a week before my 1 year rad-iversary on St. Patty’s Day. Even though the process was much easier on me than it has been on so many women, cancer treatment is a brutal insult that is imbedded in the memory of my body and soul. Time seems to have passed so quickly, but it feels like I’m still climbing out of an altered state, surprised every time I reach another step towards health that I didn’t anticipate.

There are yet more special events left in the wake of Arimidex: hot flashes and the dreaded night sweats, which had been long gone and didn’t even arise during chemo. During a relentless attack the other night, I remembered someone telling me of a remedy of apple cider vinegar and honey (or maple syrup). I thought the recipe was for 2 tablespoons of each in water, so that’s what I did. Not only did the hot flashes stop within moments, but I conked out for the rest of the night.

I looked up the recipe the next day in a little booklet my mom had sent me about 20 years ago (and I filed away thinking it was crazy). It actually suggested 2 TEASPOONS of vinegar. No wonder I felt slightly queasy. But it worked – really, really fast.

Usually I have several flashes throughout the day, so I dress in layers, starting with sleeveless. By 3 pm the following day I realized I had been working all day in a sweater AND jacket, and had never felt uncomfortable. I’ve continued the remedy several times a day for the past 3 days; I still have them, but they are significantly less frequent and less intense. I passed the info to a friend who is in a constant state of spontaneous combustion, and it’s working for her, too. Bear in mind that both my friend & I are following a pretty clean diet – little, if any, processed foods, lots of fruit & veggies, etc.

The purist recipe is here:
This is an excerpt:
When you wake up in the morning just make a delicious cocktail using 2 teaspoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar, and if you need a sweetener, use organic honey, 100% maple syrup, or molasses to taste. If you are diabetic, use the sweet substitute stevia. I recommend you use only distilled water. This "Bragg Healthy Cocktail" is designed to flush out wastes that are clogging the organs of elimination, the bowels, lungs, skin, and the kidneys. Take it at least twice a day, and you will start to see changes like increased energy, soft skin, and decreased muscle and joint aches from exercise. Make sure you use raw, organic vinegar, never dead, distilled vinegar because the natural enzymes, minerals, and nutrients are destroyed in the distilling process. Any vinegar that is clear and has no "mother" (the strand-like substance in the bottom of the bottle) has no nutritional value. Natural raw vinegar should be pungent, with a rich, brownish color and a visible "mother." Drinking apple cider vinegar daily, and eating a largely fresh, organic, vegetarian diet, along with following a simple fitness program, will change your life so dramatically you will never go back to your old ways!

Mr. Bragg is a character, and claims it will cure everything, and the book made lots of unsubstantiated claims. It does not mention hot flashes, so I don’t know where I heard that tidbit, but I will say it helped lower the heat!

I do like their products, which you can get at most health food stores. I have been using the Bragg’s Aminos for years and it is delicious; I use it just like any other soy sauce as a seasoning, and always spray it on my salads.

If you have hot flashes and try this remedy, please let me know – did it work for you?
In the meantime: What do YOU do for hot flashes?