Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cancer reflections

Cancer is a word that brings lot of emotions with it .... it has been called the "silent killer" and touches the lives of millions of people in one way or another. The origin of the word cancer is credited to the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), considered the "Father of Medicine." Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to describe non-ulcer forming and ulcer-forming tumors. He noticed that blood vessels around a malignant tumor looked like the claws of crab. The Roman physician, Celsus (28-50 B.C.), later translated the Greek term into cancer, the Latin word for crab. When I think of crabs, I think of crabs being able move and flow with the natural cadence of the moon, water, and land. A crab is protected by a rigid carapace, but to grow she must risk molting her armor, becoming soft and vulnerable. In so many levels, the crab is speaking to me.

[Photo of crab from Flickr]

In May of this year I had surgery to remove a lump in my breast. About a year ago, out of nowhere, I had a dream that I had cancer in my left breast. I woke up the next morning wondering why I had that dream. I was feeling healthy and strong. In many ways, my dreams are my guides..... not one to do self-exams, my dream prompted me to begin. I noticed a small bead-like lump which led me to my primary doctor and eventually to my surgeon (the same surgeon who removed half my thyroid many years ago). Both doctors did not have any concerns about the bead-like lump -- "fatty tissue." My surgeon, however, discovered another area that was of concern to her, an "area of asymmetric thickening." One, to be honest, I would never have even noticed. It still amazes me how she was able to notice it, but i guess that's why she's the M.D. and the surgeon! She said to monitor it closely and to check back with her in 6 weeks. I got busy and it was six months later and the passing of my dear friend Elaine to breast cancer (Elaine, i still miss you dearly), that prompted me to check ... by then the lump was very noticeable. I returned to my surgeon who immediately scheduled me for surgery. A 3.5 x 2.9 x 1.2 cm lump was removed. Upon returning to see my surgeon to discuss the results of the pathology report I learn that I officially have "atypical ductal hyperplasia" -- essentially cells have started going haywire and beginning to act like cancer cells. Of concern to her was a note in the pathology report "the changes are insufficient quantitatively to diagnose ductal carcinoma in-situ" ... to be honest, i'm not exactly sure what all that means. What I got out of my meeting was that although my official diagnose was atypical ductal hyperplasia that the pathologists weren't willing to completely rule out cancer. I chose the path of "close surveillance" versus hormone therapy or a double mastectomy.

Now six months later I prepare for my second lumpectomy of the year. The date has been set for the 21st. A new lump has grown in the same area. This mass appears to have grown with even more of a vengeance. Based on the results of the pathology report and what they find I realize that new decisions may have to be made. Trying to catch the cancer early is critical to a positive prognosis. The fortuitous dream I had a year ago about having cancer in my left breast led me down a path to hopefully catch the cancer early. I have always believed my Papa is watching me and protecting me from up in heaven. I think he sent me a message a year ago through my dreams. Thank you Papa for watching over me.

This time last year my partner and I were also preparing for our trip down to Marco Island for a week of warm weather ... this year we will remain in Minnesota. I still remember what an incredible time we had last year .... on Christmas morning while walking on the beach we saw several people wearing Santa hats ... this young boy was ecstatic and every time i look at the photo I took last year I savor the joy that this young boy has for the moment.

I wish I could walk along the beach this winter. I wish I could listen to waves rushing up onto the shorelines. I wish I could hear the seagulls and watch the pelicans dive for food in the ocean. I wish I could toss shells back into the ocean.

This year we won't make it to Marco Island ... at least not physically. This year, my partner and I will journey there in our mind and in our heart. Next year, God-willing, I will be strong again physically with more clarity around health issues. My surgery will be in a few weeks ... every morning when I meditate I ask for the strength and the courage to handle whatever comes my way. I never ask for a certain outcome. So as my second surgery of the year approaches, and I wait for the results of the pathology report ... I pray for the strength and courage to handle whatever comes my way. I pray to be more like a crab ... flowing with nature's cadence and shedding my armor.

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