Unravel Cancer: Experiences with family battling cancer: September 2009
30 September 2009
00:27   Rollercoaster: Sponsor

Two weekends ago, I went on a really great date with someone. We both had so much fun, that we wanted to see each other again.

Although my sponsor recommended that I don't date til I've completed my 9th step, I wasn't sure I could put this fledgling romance on ice that long, or even if the dude would understand. I left a message telling her about it.

In addition to this, my sponsor and I had planned to meet for the 5th step on Saturday. But, I realized that I had a massage appointment scheduled for the evening before. I asked if we could pick a different venue, or if her schedule was flexible enough to change the day. But, I knew she was busy, and so I told her it's ok if it didn't work out, just to let me know what she could do either way.

Each day, as instructed, I called my sponsor and left a daily check-in message, and at the end, asked her about the Saturday slot and what the options might be.

A few days later, I received a scathing message from my sponsor: she didn't want to work with me anymore. She said I should have changed the massage appointment, and that I wasn't respecting her time, because she's got 10 sponsees, blah de blah. And Another Thing: she already talked to me about the 9th step "no dating" rule, and since I seem to continue to ignore it, she can't work with me.

Hearing this was a blow to the gut. All the air in my lungs left, and I gasped with the receiver to my ear. It was so disheartening. All this, only days after I had finished the 4th step. No congratulations on the 4th step at all. The only acknowledgement of my hard work was very perfunctory. I couldn't believe she would quit on me now, after the huge hurdle I had just overcome.

All afternoon, and most of the evening & next morning were spent stewing on the tragedy, wheels spinning in my head on what a victim I was. Then came the self-flagellation on how selfish and self-absorbed I was. Until finally, the next morning after my morning yoga practice, I got down on my knees and prayed to my Higher Power to help me let go of this sponsor. I accepted that maybe she was not the right sponsor for me, and that my HP would put the right person in my life.

I left a message for her that morning saying I was willing to talk, since she offered to. When she called back, it was late in the workday. But truly, I was too scared to pick up! I didn't feel ready to talk with her face-to-face.

After leaving work, I checked the message on the way to the Boi's office, as he was going to give me a ride home, and we'd maybe go to dinner from there. Much to my complete astonishment, her message was an apology! She apologized for dumping her overwhelm on me, and told me I had done nothing wrong!

In fact her heartfelt sorrow at her actions and her desire to still be my sponsor were so sincere I nearly cried! That motivated me to talk to this Boi at dinner, and get his take on the situation. I didn't think I could post-pone all contact with him, but I did think we could manage to not have a roll in the hay until my 9th step was complete. As to the rest, what my sponsor doesn't know, won't hurt her... ;-)

Sure enough, he agreed. In fact, he was quite sweet and encouraging about it. Even though he doesn't understand the 12 steps, and kind of thinks it's a cult, he could see how important it was to me, and wanted to honor my process.

I couldn't believe it! All these amazing things fell into place within 24 hours. Because I stepped back, prayed, and let HP take care of the results, things that were beyond my wildest dreams occurred.

Now, my sponsor and I have another Sat. date planned with no potential disruptions. I'm still spending lots of time chatting & hugging & smooching the boi, but we keep it light. We're having tons of fun, and are enjoying getting to know one another.

Another rollercoaster happened a few days later about my mom, and the same ideas applied. More on that next time.

Love & gratitude from the Happy Factory!

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26 September 2009
12:33   4th Step Done!

It's been done for a week, actually. Almost 1500 entries of my resentments were listed. It was quite a relief to be completed.

I learned so much about myself by doing this exercise. Splayed out on the page, with nowhere for me to hide, was my continuous pattern of taking things personally. In circumstance after circumstance, if the situation didn't go my way, I'd either point the finger & blame others (especially in the "their out to get me" victim-mode), or I'd blame myself, and tell myself I suck because I'm not perfect.

Wow, what a load off. These patterns are so insidious, that truly at this point, only a power greater than myself can remove them.

Additionally, thinking like this has lead to a type of selfishness. My sponsor says over & over again that our society, even the whole world, perpetuates the idea that what we "feel" is "real". Therapists ask "how did that make you feel?", little kids are taught the feeling chart "happy", "Angry", "Sad" with smiley faces. So I feel something - so what?

I have no idea if I'll ever change as a result of these steps, but countless others have tried them and experienced a spiritual awakening. I'm hoping that continuing on with the steps will bring me to a place where I can be of service & useful to others, just like my sponsor suggested. In seeing my own self-absorption, it doesn't feel that great. I'd like to think of others. In fact, the last 2 dudes I dated complained I wasn't giving them enough time. But really, I can see now, I wasn't thinking about anyone but myself.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to dis myself here. But just take an objective view of how I've been living my life. There's no shame, or right/wrong here. I developed the way I did, and there's no changing the past. But, taking a thorough look at myself gives me the hope to change for the future...

On the advice of my sponsor, I'm continuing on with a daily inventory. This is a helpful relief, as it continues to remind me of my selfish reactions every day, especially at work.

And, although I haven't gone through all the steps yet, just bringing my attention to these patterns has helped to reduce them. I'm really excited for the next steps to come.

Yay!

Next post will be about the roller-coaster relationship with my sponsor, and seeing her program in action - a humbling & beautiful experience. Stay tuned!

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16 September 2009
13:12   Not So Good Update

Unfortunately, my mom is in the hospital once again. Fortunately, not for the cancer.

She has had tremors in her right arm, and a gimpy right leg for about 2.5 years now. Many doctors early on thought both of her brain tumors would help alleviate the shaking. But, the symptoms persisted.

Personally, I feel it is related to stress & anxiety, heavily. I noticed many times when caring for her that the tremors were worse when she was scared or nervous about something. But, whether stress & anxiety contributed or not, how does a person get treated for this sort of thing when the symptoms are at such an advanced stage?

At any rate, although initially taking a dip into gloom, with thoughts of what it might be like to attend her funeral some day swirling in my head, this is probably a good thing. It seems like her hew doc in Chicago is not taking any chances, and wants to ferret out the cause of these symptoms once and for all.

Knowledge is power. Although I'm worried for her holding up in the face of a battery of tests, it'll be really good to get down to the bottom of her tremors and create a treatment plan. Without knowing what's going on, there's no recourse for healing, and thus, no hope.

So, I'm deciding to be hopeful today. My brother said this is not an emergency, so there's no need to ride the toboggan of misery on the slippery slope of despair. It always ends up crashing into a pile of unhappy s&*t anyway...

Instead, this is a good opportunity to further advance her healing. She has been in such a strong mood anyway, that probably she's glad to have someone finally pay attention to her other ailments. Last week she seemed pretty feisty in her desire to lay the tremor issue to rest. In a way, her wish was fulfilled.

Even so, for those of you who know my mom, and me, please send your prayers and positive energy her way in the next coming days.

Love & gratitude.

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13 September 2009
23:39   Update

A few people have asked how my mom & brother are doing. So here's the latest:

My mom began her 2nd round of chemo, Temodar, on Monday. The dosage is almost double what she was on while doing radiation. She took it for 5 days, Monday to Friday.

He symptoms were the same as when she was on the drugs before, so that's a relief. She's been pretty sleepy, had some digestive issues, and had a loss of appetite. This is all typical stuff, and nothing to be worried about.

More importantly, her attitude is very strong! I was so surprised to hear of her fierce opposition to the cancer. She's been reading inspirational books, and really focusing a lot of positive energy to her body. It's so cool that she's doing this, and truly focusing on herself. One aspect to co-dependency is lack of self-care. After having to deal with an alcoholic spouse, and raise 3 kids, she hasn't had much sense of self in recent years. So, in a way, the cancer has been a gift to her - teaching her how to focus on herself.

She was even able to give me some advice on some tough feelings I've been having recently. We had a lovely conversation.

She's also glad to be doing _something_, anything to fight the tumor. It was excruciating for her to have to sit & wait for all the paperwork and doctor's visits to materialize in a prescription. She figured, the longer she waited to be on the next round, the more likely the tumor could grow again. But all the MRIs showed no change. *whew*

My brother is doing ok. Recently his white blood cells dropped low enough, that he had to stop the Temodar. Not sure if he's back on it yet. Apparently, this is pretty common for cancer patients.

His spirits seem pretty zen. He's been really thrilled with the response his friends have given him, and the recent fundraiser they threw for him. Although a man of few words sometimes, I could tell he was really touched by the outpouring of support from all those that he knows.

Sometimes the frustration of his physical limitations gets the better of him, though, and he expresses a lot of anger. There have been some reports of that, too. Not a wonder! I'd be pretty pissed off I were in his shoes.

All in all, they are both hanging in there, and taking this about as well as they can.

That's the news from Lake Woebegone...

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11 September 2009
21:37   iPhone: Angel vs. Devil

After my pack got "beared" in Yosemite back in May, where the bear thought my brick-style Nokia was a chocolate bar, it was time to buy a new phone.

It took me 3.5 months to decide what I wanted. If I had to get a new phone, I might as well GO BIG, right? Many comparisons between Internet & email based phones ensued.

The Crackberry was out for sure. My work gives me one, and it stinks. The interface is clunky, the trackball is lame, and the websites are slow as molasses and poorly designed for reading on the phone. All in all, a fail.

The T-Mobile G1 or G3 was the next possibility. After much investigation, and taking straw polls from my friends, I decided on the iPhone. BUT! I did _not_ want to use it with AFee&Fee. I don't want one more penny of my hard-earned dollars going to that company after the royal shafting I received when I moved.

So, I bought a "jailbroken" iPhone on the black market. It wasn't cheap. The kid probably used the money to by hookers & blow for all I know... As soon as I spent 5 minutes with the thing, I didn't care about morality or corruption, I was addicted. It was like an electronic crack rock placed into my pipe night after night, without having to turn tricks to get the goods. Yes, it was _that_ awesome.

After a few weeks of Internet-based fun, I went on my first climbing trip with the thing over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Like a proud momma, I was showing it off to my climbing brethren in the car on the drive up. We watched videos on Oakland, and the many deep cultural phenomena here. Little did I know that doom lurked over the horizon.

Later that night, when I discovered I forgot my super hella-fragilistic seal-tight Starbuck's coffee mug for my tea, I bought a cheapo one at a gas station. The next morning, heavenly PG-Tips was brewing in my cup when we hit the road from the hot springs to our camp.

When we got to the campsite, the back of the Suburu popped open like a Jack-in-the-Box, and we scrambled to mushroom-ize our tents. It wasn't til we began gathering our gear to climb that I looked for my tea... When I saw that the canvas bag my tea was in was brown & soggy on the bottom, I didn't think it was a big deal. Til I saw the phone in the bottom of the bag.

Pulling it out was like reaching into a mucky creekbed - it was covered in gummy, slimy tea. Oh, man...

Mistake #1 was trying to turn it on. This likely shorted it out.

Mistake #2 was setting it on the dashboard of my buddy's car for the rest of the 4 days we climbed. Direct heat like sunlight tends to fry the circuitry as well.

Course, I didn't learn all this til I came home & researched it on the web. What I also found out was you can try to open up the phone & scrub out the corroded bits with a toothbrush and some mild propyl alcohol. Seeing the guts splayed out on my desk was like a modern-day-mosaic. I now know that there is such a thing as a #00 Phillips screwdriver. And, suction cups are my friend.

But actually, the recommended method, after NOT turning it on, is to place the gadget into a bag of rice for several days, to absorb any moisture that's leftover inside. This probably works really well for water, but gummy, sticky tea is a whole other matter.

Desperate and crazed from 4 days of heat in the Owen's River Gorge climbing like a mad fool, I tried the teardown alcohol rub method. The night before, when I plugged in the iPhone to my computer, the computer recognized it, tried to clean & wipe it, to reinstall the software. But, the iPhone was too sick to accept the medicine.

AFTER the alcohol bath, and a 15min blowout with the neighbor's hairdryer, iTunes didn't recognize the device _at all_. It really was like a bad haircut.

If I had $5 for every person who asked, "Did you get the insurance? Can you turn it into the Apple Store for repair?", I'd have enough cash to buy another one!

Instead, I had to buy another one out of my own meager pocket, which I did on Wednesday. Once an addict, it's hard to kick. This time I spent less money on a non-jailbroken version. Did I mention I had to learn how to hack the iPhone after owning it for only 4 days? Ai, yi, yi - that was another fun day. I installed the 3.0.1 software hoping it would fix a sync issue, and the patch re-locked the phone. It took me 3.5 hours to hack it the first time. The second time: 20 min. Saved me $50! Which promptly went to the bulkiest, hardiest, rugged-est, and ugliest iPhone case I could find. Black, thank you. The bubblegum pink nearly made me barf.

Fed some kids' mary jane habit. They rolled up in mommy & daddy's new Mercedes SUV , one with a busted knee from basketball. Not even sure if they graduated high school. The gimpy one was selling his sister's iPhone 3G, as she got the 3GS, no doubt from Daddy Warbuck's, VP of Shmooze at HoseMe Semiconductors, or something.

If my shabby motorcycle leathers, beaten up shoulderbag, and dusty Honda said, "I'm not a filthy rich bastard.", they forgot to read the memo. Managed to talk them down on price anyway. But, luck would have it that the kid screwed up on the software reset, and we had to drive closer to his house so he could run home & do the final thing. This time, when I hopped into the back of their luxury vehicle, it reeked of pot. Guess where my 3 bones & change were going? Oh, well. This iPhone was in much better shape than the first one, and runs a lot better/faster.

In the meantime, I'm keeping the money in the box they gave me. While it rattles around a little bit, it's way safer and won't get scratched while I'm waiting for the bullet-proof vest to arrive in the mail. It's kinda hard to hear it ring, though. So, if you call me, please make sure to leave your number again!

What does this have to do with cancer? Not much. But, the cool thing is I kept expecting myself to freak out or get really upset & mopey. But, I didn't! It hit me pretty quickly I had nobody to blame but myself, although the idea of finger-pointing was tempting. I just didn't go down that path. In fact, I was able to let go of the whole mess and climb with impunity, my thoughts laser focussed on the routes.

Living with cancer in my family has offered up yet another gift - recognizing what's truly important in this life. Is a super cool-ass internet/email/hella fun gadget more important than my health? My family? My friends? Nature? Nah - it's just a toy. A hella cool, convenient & life-changing toy, but a toy nonetheless.

hella hella hella hella

Just thought I'd throw that last bit in there so everyone knows _for sure_ I live in Oakland now. :)

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20:58   Kiwi

Although a long time in posting, I want to be sure to send a big shout out to my Kiwi pal, MY, web designer & computer graphic artiste extraordinaire, who took time away from his busy schedule to help me fix my blog.

Thank you! New Zealanders rock!

You and your countrymen are awesome way beyond the "Lord of the Rings" movies, truly. Peace to you, brother.

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01 September 2009
21:16   Work/Life

Talked to my brother this afternoon, for the first time since I returned from Denver. His fundraiser went really well, apparently. It was really good to hear that.

We caught up on some pleasantries. When he asked me about work, verbal vomit about the difficulties in recent weeks ensued. But, even in talking it out, I can see that there are positive sides to the situation.

My brother has a more "they're out to get me" attitude. He said that there are mean people in the world who sometimes kick you when you're down. That may be true. But, often I've found I attract mean people when I'm down on myself.

This was a major contributing factor to getting mugged a block from my house, 1 month after I moved. Not only had I just moved, which was extremely stressful, but 1 week later my mom had a seizure, and a week after that my brother's MRI revealed his tumor, after he began experiencing tingling in his arms.

Carrying 4 heavy bags full of Trader Joe's goodies, while talking on my cell phone, because my tenants were acting up & I called my dad for support, really made me a target. Fortunately, I did not let go of my bag, so the girl didn't get it. (Yes, it was a teenage girl.)

It took me quite a while to recover from all this. But, deep down, I knew I had attracted this into my life. My vibration was quite vulnerable and low, and people who are out to take advantage of someone seek that kind of vibration.

Since returning from Denver, having had a spiritual breakthrough, I haven't had any negative experiences here. In fact, I've met more amazing people since returning from Denver than I had thought possible. Truly nice folks! One night, the sidewalk was closed near to the Trader Joe's. I was walking back home with only one bag, thank you, and a lady with a beautiful German Shepherd told me the sidewalk was closed. We proceeded to cross the other direction, and began chatting about her dog. She was really nice! We had a great chat, and then parted ways. Her dog Triton, was sweet, and enjoyed the ear scratches I gave him.

Like attracts like, and the more I stay positive and peaceful, the more nice experiences I have like this. Not every person I meet is this lovely, but on the whole, there are more lovely folks than there are cranky ones.

Meanwhile, my work has been super "balls to the wall". As I was telling my brother this, he commented that that's just life. We've all been there, and we all want to escape these situations some time. Although it was really sweet that he was supportive, he also seemed kinda bitter & jaded. He chalked things up to "that's life". But, does it have to be?

Hearing my sponsor talk on Sunday, was a breathe of fresh air & hope. She explained her path, and how she was going with the flow of how her Higher Power was leading her. It lead her to quit her job, start a company, and now do relief work in Kenya. It was incredibly inspirational! She told me that one person can make a difference. Just like one person writing a blog can inspire others to keep going.

(A quick aside: thanks to all my pals for commenting & cheering me on in the background. You continually rock my gratitude wheel!)

This is what I want. I want to find my calling. I want to have so much trust in the Universe that I go with the flow of what I'm meant to do. Somehow working a 9-5 job in a big tech company does not seem to be it. Today, I was daydreaming about performing again.

I can't wait to get through this 4th step, so that I can move forward into all these new and wonderful directions that I want to explore. Who knows what kind of new career is waiting for me out there?

Prayer for us all:
May we overcome our fears, so that our souls accomplish their destined path in this lifetime.

"Love and Gratitude"

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08:22   Cleaning

It's been a long time since I posted. The primary reason is I've been focusing on the "fearless and moral inventory" that is the 4th Step in 12-step groups. I've been writing down all the resentments I've ever known, over my entire life. So far, there are over 800 entries. I'm only just mid-way through my 20's...

Anyway, since it's taking a while, my sponsor decided to begin the 5th step with me, which is to "admit to God and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs". There I was, a few days ago, sitting in her beautiful back yard adjacent to the East Bay hills. From over the roof of her house you could see brown grass, green trees, and blue sky, with hawks circling above. The classic California vista.

Fittingly, she was pulling weeds in they yard, as I methodically went through, line by line, each resentment, and each list of character defects. The breeze was blowing, and her black kitty cat was purring and mewing. Some of the entries were funny, some were poignant. Some she could relate to, others she acknowledged with a nod.

The process was exhausting, but also a relief. We didn't get through all the entries that day, but something was transformed. Shame about my inner world, about the things my crazy brain tells me were revealed to someone else. There was no place to hide. Yet, I wasn't required to "let it go". That's not what the 4th step is about. My sponsor acknowledged that help comes later, from my Higher Power, in the form of surrender and asking for removal of the defects of character. That was such a relief, because there were some challenging resentments that I still felt in my gut as I was speaking them out loud to her.

Afterwards, exhausted, empty, yet peaceful, I went to Ikea. The perfect American consumer response to a spiritual awakening. However! This is significant, because it was the first time almost since I moved, that I felt comfortable buying something for my house. Upon returning home, motivation actually surfaced enough to get me cleaning my house, and putting together the lamp and picture frame I had bought. It sounds disgusting, but it was the first time I dusted my room since I moved. Between not being here, and rushing to get back into a work routine, there's been no motivation.

With the cleansing of my deepest darkest fears, resentments, hatreds, and ill will, I was finally willing to clean my house. Buddhists often say "an ordered space lends itself to an ordered mind." Moving through the 4th and 5th step work finally opened up space to tidy up. It sounds silly, but when dealing with heavy emotions or stress from work (which I've had a lot of lately), it's easy to get lazy. The time I spend caring for my space is a reflection on my level of internal peace.

Anyway, call me a nut, but the parallel seemed obvious and kinda cool.

The other big gift of the 4th & 5th step have been the realization that all this pain & grief really was a gift. The tough experiences I've had this year opened me up to examine the patterns of my mind, my self-centeredness, my self-absorption. As a society we are often very "feeling" focused. The traditional therapeutic model supports this. ("And how does that make you feel?") For folks who are shut down, and don't know their feelings, that's great. Even in my early 12-step years, I needed to learn how to accurately identify my feelings. Growing up with alcoholism and abuse created a lot of confusion about what feelings were, which ones were "ok" to have and not, etc.

But now that feelings are clearer and more comprehensible to me, it's time to move on. Certainly I'll still have feelings, but they won't control my whole day, or rule my decisions. The step process outlined in 4 & 5 gives me an opportunity to step back from my feelings, become more of an observer, and not be so married to them. Frankly, it feels great. Many times I've shared in meetings and with my sponsor that, "I'm sick of my own self". If I let myself go to DramaVille, it'll be a whirlpool of madness I spin in every single day. Finally, I'm getting relief from the drama my own mind concocts.

Why am I like this? How did I get this way? These are questions I often ask myself. While there is no one answer, a lot of it has to do with being raised in chaos. When home life is unstable, children learn to adjust to it to cope. Later in life, once that child becomes an adult, that coping can sometimes translate into a thrive on drama. The person creates drama for themselves to replicate what they had as a child. In a twisted way, it's comfortable. It's what they are used to. Finally! A process that's teaching me how to cut through that drama, and through the negative thinking that was developed in childhood. Finally, I can come back to my true nature.

There's a lot more exciting stuff as a result of this process, but meanwhile, I must return to work. Stay tuned...

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about this blog

I'm a 30-something professional woman who's mother & brother were both diagnosed with Grade 3 Astrocytoma tumors within about a week of each other. My mother's tumor is in her brain, and my brother's tumor is in his spinal cord, causing him to lose feeling in his arms & legs. These writings are about my experiences dealing with them, coping, loving them, loving myself, and living my life knowing that they are both dying. I hope you find inspiration and courage from my writings to help you get through whatever is going on in your life.


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