The Vocabulary of Joy: Celebrating The Blessings Of Life With Cancer
By Julie Savage Parker
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet
The month of October was a busy one: finding out I have ovarian cancer, having major surgery, spending a week in the hospital. Because my experience was probably not a typical one, I decided to blog about all the blessings I was experiencing as a result of the cancer—what I see as love letters from the Universe. For example, the software I am using to write this piece has auto-complete, and as I was typing “cancer” in the first sentence, it filled in “cancer-free”. I tried it again and again, and each time it came back “cancer-free”! A lovely message from the Universe, eh?
I think the condition labeled ‘cancer’ is giving me a serious goose towards the healthiest living possible. I intend to jolly up my immune system so much that it dances and sings a song. Nutrition, exercise, meditation, herbs, supplements, essential oils, visualization, prayer—all tools I will use to heal. I have labeled my plan for healing naturally from cancer ‘The Asheville Protocol’. What follows are bits and pieces of my blog. You can find the whole thing at julieparker.me.
♥ YESTERDAY: October 10 – Yesterday my friend JN picked me up at Mission Hospital after a week-long stay following surgery to remove all my “lady bits”: abdominal hysterectomy, oophorectomy (isn’t that a delightful word?), and a third label I can’t remember at the moment. On the way home, I was about a minus 17 on the life force index… totally worn out. Most of JN’s questions I could not answer: “I don’t know.” and “I don’t know.” and “I don’t know.” and eventually “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
But this is not really a blog about cancer. It is instead a story of the wonders that have started unfolding in the last weeks of dancing with cancer. Synchronicities, blessings, and magic. Yesterday was the only low day, really. I feel terrific today. But I am getting ahead of myself – I will go back to September 24th, the day this all started.
♥ TUESDAY the 24th: October 10 – I have not really eaten a meal for a couple of months – maybe 1/2 sandwich a day, or a single cup of ginger tea. That Tuesday (the 24th) I called my doctor’s office and said that I still had no appetite and my stomach was quite bloated. I was told to get in immediately, and while my own doctor (BL) was completely booked, they set me up with his partner, (CK). They drew blood, Dr. CK poked me in the stomach, my own doctor stuck his head in to poke a few extra times, then they decided to send me for a CT scan lickety split. The very next day I was full of ‘contrast’ (a concoction I learned is actually based on Country Time Lemonade) sliding through the CT scan, and the results followed the next day, Wednesday.
Wednesday afternoon: I found a phone message from Dr. BL that said GET TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM NOW—three times in one message. So my friend DD and her honey drove me to the emergency room. We arrived at 9 p.m., they drew blood, and then wanted to do a urinalysis. I couldn’t pee. 10 p.m., still no pee. 11 p.m., still no pee. They gave me three LARGE cups of water, and at 1:30 a.m., I still couldn’t pee. They started talking catheter, as they were beginning to be concerned I might pop. The idea of a catheter terrified me. But at 2:30 a.m. I was so concerned about DD and her honey, still stuck in the ER waiting for me, I finally gave in to the catheter. That was the first in a series of things I had feared that turned out to be no biggie. This is the first MAIN POINT of the whole blog—that fears so often are groundless—that we create our own panic and our own reality.
The following Thursday: As I was lying by myself for hours on a gurney in pre-op, naked under my pitiful hospital gown, waiting to have about everything but my tonsils removed, I felt a wave of self-pity being alone at such a time. Then I decided to paint my own canvas regarding this whole experience. ‘What can I do to make this fun?’ I asked myself. All the folks in surrounding cubicles seemed to have someone with them, so there were lots of tender conversations going on all around me. I loved that gentle murmur, and I loved listening to other languages (I picked out Spanish and something unidentifiable) and that was fun. The journey had begun, and I was steering the ship.
My days in the hospital were full of blessings large and small, each one a little explosion of joy. As I started noticing and appreciating more and more of them, more and more lined up at the door waiting to come into my experience.
One thing that I have loved LOVED is so much touch—from doctors, from nurses, from CNAs. The pain of living without human touch has worked up to a fever pitch in the last few months. Odd that I chose to address it by manifesting cancer and a week in the hospital. I am probably one of very few people who actually loved being in the hospital—all of that human contact! I even loved when they came into my room in the middle of the night. I’d stare at the clock, telling myself it would only be another 45 minutes until someone was due in, then only another 20 minutes, then 10.
♥ DEATH, DYING, AND THE MIDNIGHT WILLIES: OCTOBER 12 I have never been afraid of death, but that dying stuff is another story. One night in the wee hours, I got to contemplating my actual death, the actual moment of death. One of the wonderful CNAs was in my room checking my vitals and I asked her to be straight with me about dying and what actually happens for women with cancer. She very kindly sat with me for over an hour while we talked turkey. I am not at death’s door—not even at death’s driveway, but I have never before even been on the same block, and have I questions. I am not afraid of the answers.
♥ OXYTOCIN vs OXYCODONE: OCTOBER 14 Oxycodone is the pain-numbing narcotic that folks get into trouble with. Oxytocin is the stuff of bliss that comes from human touch. I can envision a whole new area of medicine that is just about smiling and touch. My gynecological oncologist surgeon (that is a mouthful, eh?) is a warm woman with a team of folks working with her who are all so very dear – and they seem to know about the value of touch. I have had almost no human touch for decades and I am convinced of the healing power of touch. One night in the hospital when I was dancing with the midnight willies, one of my favorite nurses came in and I asked her to hold my hand. I turned down the oxycodone they offered, but I am willing to beg for the oxytocin.
♥ BRAGGING RIGHTS: OCTOBER 15 I forgot to say – my main tumor was the proverbial football size… one of my poor ovaries was carrying that around for some time. AND they removed three and a half LITERS of fluid (called ascites) from my belly. Can you imagine?! What a way to lose weight, huh? They said they took out eight pounds of stuff, not counting the fluid. Yech…
♥ DRUM ROLL: OCTOBER 15 I have my first post surgery visit with my oncologist Friday morning. Maybe my only visit, I don’t know, since I am not going to go the chemo/radiation route. I know they will take all the staples (used to close the incision) out of my belly.
♥ PROGNOSIS: OCTOBER 15 ‘Prognosis’ – a glass half full, glass half empty sort of a word. When teetering on the edge of fear, it can be chilling. When filled with a mix of optimism and joy, it can be a springboard to a glowing future. They want me to do another CT scan on Friday… to check out the pancreas and surrounding neighborhood. Right now I am dancing with one toe in optimism and one in fear.
♥ TO LIVE OR NOT TO LIVE – THAT IS THE QUESTION: OCTOBER 21 I have procrastinated writing about my Friday appointment. After applying plenty of pressure to my oncologist, she said I have “months to years” to live. I am rolling the “months” part around in my mouth a bit before I spit it out.
♥ OH LORDY – THE DANG MIRROR!: OCTOBER 29 I just looked in the mirror – and was horrified! I look absolutely awful. Small children will shriek and cling to their mamas. The extreme (and sudden) weight loss + leftover effects of anesthesia and other medicine + stress + exhaustion +, +, +. I had been excited about being seen (for the weight loss) but now I prefer to be a hermit.
♥ HOLDING ON, LETTING GO: OCTOBER 31 [For those of you who do not know me or have not seen me recently, know that I have been using a walker for the last couple of years – a balance issue caused by my brain bleeding. A bit of knowledge you need for this next paragraph.]
When I got home on Tuesday and got out of the car (without my walker) to open the gate, I stepped forward where I could no longer hold onto the car but not near enough to the gate to grab it. I just stood and teetered there for maybe five minutes – afraid to go forward and afraid to walk backwards. Metaphor galore. I finally got the nerve to walk forward, teetering and crouching, and finally reached the gate and opened it… But in my life, I am still nearer the car than the gate.
♥ CONVERSATION WITH MY BODY: DECEMBER 12 Hi there, Body! I have been meaning to thank you for serving me so well for 64 years now. (Who, me? 64??) Anyway, I have been meaning also to apologize to you for not treating you with sufficient respect. Sodas, fast foods, sugar—even though I knew better. But that is behind me now. At least I never smoked, and I only drink coffee and alcohol maybe a couple of times a year.
But it seems you and I have manifested something they call cancer. I think we can do better than that, don’t you? The cancer has served its purpose and brought our attention front and center to taking care of ourselves in mind, body, and spirit. So many things have opened up for us as a result of this dance with cancer, it is really wonderful!! Every aspect of our lives has changed for the better. So let’s agree that we can thank the cancer and send it on its way as it is no longer needed. Let’s not fight it, or hate it, or fear it. Let’s give it a great big hug and say sayonara, auf wiedersehen, adios, and toodle-oo. Deal?
♥ Blown Back: JANUARY 1 “Drugs never cure disease. They merely hush the voice of nature’s protest, and pull down the danger signals she erects along the pathway of transgression. Any poison taken into the system has to be reckoned with later on even though it palliates present symptoms. Pain may disappear, but the patient is left in a worse condition, though unconscious of it at the time.” Daniel. H. Kress, M.D.
I allowed myself to be blown away yesterday when my primary care doc (who I am pretty sure walks on water) suggested I at least consider ‘poisoning’ myself with chemotherapy. When I saw this quotation this morning on Facebook, I was blown back.
Julie Parker finds herself reflected in the headlines – having very little money and no health insurance. Oh and did we mention humongous medical bills? The bill from her surgeon alone was about a year’s salary. If you are so moved, there is a link on her blog (julieparker.me) to her page on gofundme.com where you can make a donation to help out… even a tiny amount would be a blessing. Or even better, a few dollars to help her buy organic veggies, a coffee grinder for flaxseeds, a massage, or a bit of acupuncture.