Thursday, July 30, 2009

Running with my dog -- what not to do!

Yesterday morning, after dropping my car off at the body shop to get fixed (someone had decided to run into my car a week ago while attempting to parallel park and one morning I wake up to my car with enough damage to warrant having it fixed -- of course, no note left on my car). I thought, "I should just get my run in from the body shop ... it's a little less than 4 miles." Then I thought, "No, Mister needs the exercise so i'll come home, get some work done then at lunch i'll take Mister for a run." [Note: Mister has been a great running buddy over the past months, unlike a previous dog we had, Shadow, who always insisted on running in zig zags and not by my side].

At lunch, Mister and I head out the door for our usual run ... down Jefferson Avenue to the river, then back up along Marshall/Lake Street and back home ... a nice, easy 4.5 mile loop. Yesterday's run unfortunately took a different turn :) I decided to cross the street on Jefferson to avoid a sprinkler and as we were getting onto the sidewalk on the north side of Jefferson Mister must've seen something VERY interesting! In a split second, he darted in front of me and the next thing I know i'm falling head first for the concrete sidewalk. Ouch!! Of course, I get up as quickly as I can .. a moment of embarrasment as i'm wondering if anyone saw me fall ;-) I contemplate continuing on our run (hey ... Mister and I both need the exercise!) then start to taste blood, not to mention feel my face and right shoulder stinging. I touch my face ... blood on my fingers. Ooops.... time to head home. Head down, Mister by my side ... we saunter back home and walk in the door.

My partner is a god send for me. I have no idea how badly my face looks. The look on her face says it all ;-) I tell her later, smile on my face, "it's a good thing you aren't wanting to go to medical school." She rushes to get ice packs set up as she admits it's hard to look at me with my face beat up. The ice on my cheek, lips, knee and shoulder feel wonderful. I look at my sweet boy Mister .... yes, I know it's not his fault. For a moment he appears sad ... of course, that didn't last too long. That's the beauty of dogs. The innocence and the ability to let go. I love that about them.

I love running. I love Mister. Yesterday, i combined the two and it ended up with a slightly unfortunate outcome. Heck, it could've been a lot worse. No broken bones or fractures (we went to the doctor to get an x-ray of my shoulder yesterday). The amazing thing about our bodies is their inherent ability to heal naturally. It was probably time for my skin cells to be replaced. Well, now they have their chance :)

I'll keep running there's no doubt about it. And yes, I still love my crazy boy Mister, and when my external wounds heal he'll be back running by my side. Next time though ... i'll be ready :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lifted by the homeless

A couple weeks ago while working at my office downtown (the US Bancorp Center on Nicollet Mall between 8th and 9th street) I took a break and wandered Nicollet Mall. It was a gorgeous Monday afternoon -- sunny and springlike. The air was filled with the hypnotic sounds of the saxophone being played by a homeless man standing on Nicollet Mall at the corner of 9th and 10th street. What is it about the homeless that both tears and my heart, but lifts my spirit so high -- is it that a homeless man, despite his circumstances, can hold a musical instrument so I don't even see the saxophone ... I just hear the piercing, penetrating notes that reach deep into my soul and lift me up to a place where there is no division, where there is no homelessness, where there is no suffering.

As i walk back to my office, I meet Nick. He has a cardboard sign that reads "Penny for a Poem". Next to him is his shepherd mix puppy, Sam. I ask Nick if I can pet his dog. "yes, he's very friendly -- he's just eating." "Where did you get Sam from?" I ask. Nick, with a big smile on his face, says "he was a gift." So often I have walked by homeless people. Sometimes I stop and drop coins or dollar bills. Compassion with detachment. That afternoon I wanted to connect with them. I stopped to talk to him, ask him his name, his dog's name. I hand Nick $25 ... it's all I have with me. In return, I get so much more back. He has a pile of small white papers in a tupperware container ... papers filled with black ink and words from his heart transformed into poems. Here is one of his poems:

"Beauty and Art
are things one can say when gazed at lovingly
in an open way
not too much here
not too much there
not too little
just how friends care
excitement and passion
what a clear mind wants
the day to day responsibility
the need we're taught to watch
Beauty and Art
the words
left unsaid
when asking the question
what's in your head
" --- Nick

I was wishing I had brought my camera to work to capture the many moments that touched my heart. Not having my camera I borrow a photo from a site that captures the bond between a homeless man and his dog.

Words and music lifted my spirit one Monday afternoon. As I walk back to my office on the 28th floor of the US Bancorp Center building, I carry with me the gift of grace given to me by two homeless men and a homeless shepherd.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gratitude: East meets West

Yesterday morning my partner and I met with my oncologist to go over the results of my breast MRI and PET/CT scan. Other than remnants of my surgery from mid May which showed that healing was still taking place, my scans all came back squeaky clean -- no cancer! I am glad we got a second opinion and that I took these additional tests. It has given me the reassurance that my surgeon was right :). She felt confident she had removed all the pre-cancer cells during surgery and recommended coming back in 6 months for an MRI. She said nothing would show up now. My partner and I were concerned, what if she missed something? Now we can rest that she didn't. Both the surgeon and oncologist have said I am at risk of abnormal cells coming back ... essentially, I am predisposed to getting cancer. With family history of cancer, it's my genetic make up. The key is to catch it early. This time, I caught it very early.

I went to see my acupuncturist, Jill, after my doctor's appointment. Jill has been a god send to me through these health bumps. I have chosen to utilize both the eastern and western approaches to healthcare in a complementary way. I said to her, "I got lucky this time in that we got to the cancer before it officially became cancer." My surgeon read the pathology report after my surgery ... I was right on the edge. Yes, an arbitrary (okay, maybe not so arbitrary) line that must be drawn. I certainly got the impression i could've fallen on either side of that line, but in the end does it really matter? What matters is recognizing that yes, I am at high risk of getting cancer. Jill reminded me that it's not "luck". I need to give myself credit for living such a healthy lifestyle and for being so in tune with my body that I was able to notice a lump. My dear friend Elaine (who passed away in April to breast cancer) unknowingly tapped me on my shoulder and reminded me to listen to my body and to pay attention.

Jill said to me "eastern medicine is about prevention -- it's hard to see the results." She's right ... eastern medicine is about preventing disease. Western medicine is about treating disease. It's become very clear to me even in this entire experience that my western doctors (whom I absolutely love and respect) are telling me that what I now need to do is be closely monitored and to come back every 6 months for more tests. It's about catching "the cancer" early. My conversations with Jill have all been about prevention, strengthening my immune system, my digestive system, my body and working with me as we figure out together what I can do/change in my life. She also asks me how I am feeling (yes, emotions). She wants to know what's going on in my life. She sees me as a whole person (mind, body, heart, spirit) and reminds me that everything going on in my life is connected.

One simple thing I have learned is that cancer cells LOVE sugar. In fact, that's why for my PET/CT scan I was injected with radioactive glucose as abnormal/cancer cells relish the sugar. For the past two months I have given up all sugar. I also gave up soy products. Dietary changes that Jill recommended took away fatigue that was incapacitating me for months. Over the past 9 months I have been losing weight ... I've gone from 138 lbs down to 105 lbs. My weight loss despite the restrictive diet i've been on for the past 2 months under Jill's guidance has actually slowed down. It's not just about eating lots of food and calories -- it's about eating the right foods and the ones that my digestive system can handle and the ones that will provide my cells with the rich nutrients they need. For me, it's also about feeding my healthy cells and in many ways, starving any cells that have any desire to become cancer cells. It's about flushing out all toxins from my body. Now we are actively working on ensuring I don't lose anymore weight.

I believe in the interconnectedness of mind, body, spirit and heart. We can't separate one from the other. Life is not black or white. Disease manifests when our mind, body, spirit and heart are out of balance.

"The curves and circles of the Yin-Yang symbol imply a kaleidoscope-like movement. This implied movement represents the ways in which Yin and Yang are mutually-arising, interdependent, and continuously transforming, one into the other. One could not exist without the other, for each contains the essence of the other. Night becomes day, and day becomes night. Birth becomes death, and death becomes birth (think: composting). Friends become enemies, and enemies become friends. Such is the nature - Taoism teaches - of everything in the relative world."
From the taosim site

On October 1st I will be celebrating 21 years of sobriety. Shortly before that I had "hit my bottom." It was one of my darkest moments in my life. Yet out of the pitch black I had the opportunity to emerge. Almost 21 years later I can now see that being a recovering alcoholic has been a gift and gave me the chance to choose another path. Right around that time, my doctor in St. Louis sat me down and instead of increasing my dosage of Seldane (meds I was taking for hives that were getting worse) he said "you need to take a look at your lifestyle and what you are doing." My cholesterol was 260 and my hives were progressively getting worse. I was eating junk food like crazy and working 70 hour work weeks. My diet consisted of quarter pounders, super size fries, and diet coke ... of course, ice cream for dessert. And we won't even discuss what kinds of snacks I had. Shortly after that conversation, I made a decision. I became a vegetarian and took a new path. I went back in two months to see my doctor. My cholesterol level had dropped to 160 and I no longer had hives or had to take medication.

Now, as I emerge from the worries of health issues ... I recognize that I have been given yet another gift. I am grateful for my life today. I am grateful for my partner. I am grateful for my family and friends. And I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience all that life has to offer.

Namaste. And thanks to all for your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Stray dogs and cats of the Philippines

I just returned to Minnesota the other night from visiting my mom in the Philippines. I was supposed to bring her back to the States with me. Unfortunately she couldn't return with me as she was too weak to make the long trek from the other end of the world ... she's 81 years old and continues to hold hope that she will get stronger and can still make it back to the States for her last visit here. I admire her for her hope and continued optimism.

It had been almost 6 years since I had last been to the Philippines. For the past 3 years I have been devoting so much of my time and giving so much of my heart to animal rescue work here in Minnesota. Consequently, I was especially moved by the number of stray dogs and cats in the Philippines. I returned this past month to the Philippines with a new set of lens - a new perspective - as not only did the poverty on humans there touch me, but the plight of animals who are even lower on the totem pole. I was touched by my mom (who has never been a huge animal lover) who leaves left over food out for the stray cats. Tuesdays are trash day pick up in her subdivision ... the dogs and cats know it and they were all out that morning scrounging through trash.

It's hard to witness such poverty ... both for humans and animals. Yet, if there is one thing that really moved me it was the warmth, kindness and the spirit of giving I felt from those whom we in the U.S. would say had "nothing", at least from a material perspective. I could sense gratitude. I was also struck by the strong and wide division of those with wealth and those in extreme poverty. That was also the case when I lived back home in Thailand where I grew up. I realized how far removed I've become from my roots since i've been living in the U.S. for the past 28 or so years.

Home ... a large part of me feels like Minnesota and the United States is home. After recently returning from an 18 hour trek from across the world, I'm realizing that home for me is also 10,000 miles away.

I captured photos of stray dogs and cats in the Philippines. I work tirelessly here in Minnesota on behalf of abandoned, abused and neglected dogs and cats. I also captured images of poverty and overpopulation. I return to the States with gratitude for the life I have here. I don't think I've ever really taken it for granted, but a trip back home to the Philippines, is the best medicine one could have for humility and gratitude.

To view more photos of stray dogs and cats click here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The bridge of life ...

Today is the two year anniversary of when we lost our beloved Shadow to intestinal cancer. I share a video i created shortly after he died, celebrating his life, through Ahnung's blog. He was first diagnosed with intestinal cancer on June 18, 2007. We were told it was an aggressive cancer ... our decision was to make his last weeks as comfortable as possible. After two weeks of sleeping with him downstairs on the couch as his body fought desperately to ward off cancer cells that had ravaged his body.... I realize now, his fight to hang on a little longer was for my partner and myself; he was giving us time to accept that it would soon be time; he was giving me the time I so desperately needed because of how quickly Shen was taken from us just eight months prior, also to cancer. Early July 2, 2007 he made it clear to me by digging a hole in a bush in our backyard by the memorial stone that read "if tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, i'd walk right up to heaven and bring you home again." It was a stone I bought shortly after the passing of my first dog.

Yesterday morning at 6:40 am, I pulled into the parking lot across from Fairview Southdale hospital for a 7 am appt for a breast MRI. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I became aware of how a five letter word "cancer" has moved to the forefront of my consciousness. I found myself thinking of Shadow, his upcoming 2 year anniversary -- how we lost him to intestinal cancer; how we lost Shen to spleen cancer; and how just last week I learned of a close family friend and my childhood bestfriend's younger sister dying from cancer; I also remembered my dear friend Elaine whom we lost to breast cancer on April 17th. Here I was in the waiting room, getting ready to take a test -- one of many more to come -- to see if any of the abnormal cells in my body had turned to cancer. A kind, gentle nurse came to get me from the waiting room. She explained every step of the procedure, from putting an IV in my vein so that they could push "contrast" into my body that would highlight abnormal cells in the images ... to the amount of time I would be spending in the "tube", the noise, the importance of laying still, the emergency button I could press if I couldn't stand it anymore and had to get out ... and all the while how she would be communicating with me the entire time.

I am laying face down with ear plugs to drown out the loud noises The nurse Linda asks "are you ready?" as she gently touches my left arm ... connection and reassurance from that simple touch. I say "yes". She lets me know she's leaving the room. A minute later I feel myself shifting ... I can't see anything but all of a sudden feel the air tighten around me. I know I must be in the tube. There's less air around me and for a couple minutes I feel my heart rate rising and panic sets in, "I can't do this for 30-45 minutes! I have to get out!" At that moment, I realize I have a choice and I start talking to myself, "Breathe. Imagine yourself scuba diving in the open water with dolphins and turtles. Breathe." I reach out to my father and ask him to stay with me through this. He does. And in less than 5 minutes I have crossed a bridge where I have left panic and entered a state of calm ... and in the ensuing 40 minutes i experience all of the following: loud noise that sounds like gun shots and clicks, my body vibrating from the machine, waves piercing through my body, moments of eerie silence, and a cold sensation radiating through my veins as the "contrast" is pushed into my body through the IV in my left arm. Yet through it all, I am calm, and I am grateful for the calm.

There are many bridges we will encounter through our life. Yesterday morning, I had a chance to cross the bridge of facing fear and panic and reaching deep within myself to find a place of peace. We are capable of so much more than we often think we are ... our minds are extremely powerful. We have the ability to create and build whatever web of life we want .... and some day, we will all cross the final bridge as Shadow did two years ago today, and Elaine did a little over two months ago. My wish, is that when that day comes for me, whenever that is, that I will cross the final bridge with the same level of grace, peace and acceptance. It may be the "final" bridge in a world we live in now ... deep down, though, I believe it is the bridge of eternity.

Today I leave for the Philippines to pick my mom up and bring her back to the States. Soon I will be reconnecting with relatives back home and building a new bridge with my mom.

My wish for today: May we embrace life and consider every "challenge" as an opportunity to build or cross a bridge. May we nurture our roots and plant seeds so that the web of our lives are far-reaching with tentacles touching the hearts and souls of all beings ... in all planes of existence. And may we bend, flex and embrace all that life offers us as we leap forward to reach beyond our comfort zones.