Archive for July, 2011

posted by Amy on Jul 26

I have a tendency to under-report negative things. This is partly because I have a sunny disposition.  It may also be a kind of whistling past graveyards. And it is possible that although I say I don’t believe I’m going to beat cancer with positive thinking, since it’s about the only thing I actually can do, I have some subconscious magical belief in it anyway.

Let the record show that I do get discouraged and scared. I do worry. In fact, was depressed yesterday.

I started out short of sleep, having stayed up very late the night before even though I had to get up at 5:30 to get to chemo on time.  I was on the way before I realized I had forgotten to brush my teeth or put moisturizer on my face. At least I was properly dressed.

I get weighed every week. Two weeks ago I had gained three pounds. Yesterday I was expecting about a five pound loss, on the assumption that the weight gain was caused by fluid retention caused by the steroid.  Since I’m no longer getting the steroid I expected that problem to resolve itself. Instead I was another three pounds heavier than the week before. How can anybody gain six pounds in two weeks? Good grief!

I was crushed. My reaction was far out of proportion to the situation. It’s still probably water weight, and at this point my weight ought to be the least of my worries. I should be happy that I feel good and that my doctor thinks I’m beating the cancer. But it threw me into a funk.

Going to my support group didn’t help at all. Two members who have bone metastases are increasingly disabled by the cancer in their spines and/or the treatments for that. We talked about long-term, progressive disability–how it affects self-concept and relationships with others, and how to address those issues. Those are important topics, but it made me feel like Scrooge being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, except that Scrooge had it within his power to change the trajectory of his life. I am powerless.

Yesterday evening it crossed my mind to go get some fried chicken and fries, and wash it down with a six pack of beer. I was feeling sorry for myself because all my virtuous eating and daily walking appeared to be for naught. I didn’t do it, but somehow it made me feel better anyway.  I do have a choice. I chose to eat a homemade bean burrito (on a whole wheat tortilla) and three kinds of salad for dinner.

Last night I dreamed that my tumor was growing. I imagine it had to do with the talk of cancer progression in the support group. It’s scary to confront the ugly realities of stage IV cancer. And it’s pointless. It would be better for me not to borrow trouble. But the healthiest thing to do when thoughts like that intrude is to acknowledge them as my current reality, then decide to release them after I have given them their due. Hiding from them will just give me more bad dreams.

I went to bed relatively early and slept eight hours. Before, with the Decadron, I never slept more than five hours on a chemo night, and it was a dreamless, drug-induced sleep at that. When I woke up this morning I felt better. Apparently this round of gloom has run its course.

Don’t think I’m brave. I’m not. I am just playing the cards I was dealt. If I could go back to assuming I’ll have another 40 years to live independently and productively I would gladly do so.  It’s still true that life can only be lived minute by minute, and we never know how much time we’ll have until we run out. It’s also true that what I’m doing right now is no different than what I would do if I had a guaranty of four more decades. But that doesn’t change the fact that cancer sucks.

posted by Amy on Jul 24

Recently a friend asked me what I’ve been reading this summer. I couldn’t come up with a complete list until I went home and looked at my stacks of books. I am always reading, usually more than one book at a time, and I have eclectic tastes. Here is an annotated bibliography of what I’ve read so far:

Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power; The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009. Bacevich teaches at BU, and I hope to figure out a way to take a class from him for seminary credit. A New York Times bestseller, this book succinctly describes how U.S. society came to be so hyper-militarized, and explains why we’ve reached the end of that rope. A lethal combination of greed, hubris, incompetence, intemperance, lack of accountability, and delusion have created a huge national security state headed by an imperial presidency. In this book Bacevich quotes Reinhold Niebuhr frequently and pointedly, for example, the “false security to which all men are tempted is the security of power” (119). I have read a number of books critiquing the national security state. This book provides additional historical background and analysis that helped fill in some of the gaps in my understanding. I don’t need to be convinced that it is insane to give up freedom and economic independence in exchange for an illusion of safety from all possible kinds of violence, but maybe this book will convince others. I am afraid, though, that it might be too late. Witness the complete absence of proposals to make meaningful cuts in military spending, which makes up fifty percent of all discretionary U.S. government spending, in a time when we are being told we have to “get our fiscal house in order.”

Bell, Rob. Love Wins; A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. New York: HarperOne, 2011. This is the other New York Times bestseller on my summer reading list. I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Bell admits that there’s nothing new here. He draws upon traditional sources to make his case for universal salvation. He does that without devaluing the concept of hell or being complacent or naïve about human evil. It’s a quick read, and I thought it was worthwhile.

Fromm, Erich. The Sane Society. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 1990. Originally published in 1955, this book advances a theory of mental health that is not dependent on culture. Fromm thinks that human beings all have innate needs, desires and drives that must be fulfilled. In this he rejects the idea that sanity should be defined with reference to how well a person is adjusted to her or his society, because society itself can be sick, and failure to adapt to it might actually be a sign of sanity. He says our society is, in many ways, insane. Modern society itself produces the alienation that it attempts to alleviate through consumption and entertainment. It’s impressive that in 1955, at the pinnacle of middle class “success” in the U.S., Fromm saw so clearly where we were headed. This book contains the best summary I’ve ever seen of eighteenth and nineteenth century proposals for alternatives to exalting the needs of capital over those of human beings, and forms an indispensable foundation for any critique of our current social ills and for designing correctives. In his writing Fromm follows the standard convention of his time that by saying “he” and “mankind” he means to include “she” and “womankind,” and that takes some getting used to.

Kiser, John W. The Monks of Tibhirine; Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002. This is the book which upon which the movie “Of Gods and Men” is based. Part of it was assigned reading for a class, but I decided to read the whole thing. It is about Christian monks in a monastery in Algeria, five of whom were kidnapped and beheaded in 1997. Although there is a little speculation about who might have done that and why, the story is about Christian love and faithful living. The Muslim town that had grown up around the monastery depended on it for their own safety, security and health. One of the monks was a doctor who ran a clinic that treated anyone who needed medical care, no questions asked. A story about a complex, high-conflict place where Christians are in the minority gives much food for thought. The evolving relationship of the brothers, their devotion to each other, to the people, and to God, and their faith, make for fascinating reading.

Peterson, Eugene H. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction; Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2d ed. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000. First written in 1980, Peterson uses the “Ascent Psalms” (120 to 134) to address common issues and concerns that arise for people who set out to follow Christ. In his meditations on these Psalms, Peterson addresses a broad array of everyday issues, such as work, community, worship, security and joy. He says that Christian spirituality must be grounded in Scripture and prayer. In the tradition of the Benedictines, he contemplates, engages, and illuminates these texts. This book introduced me to The Message, Peterson’s translation of the Bible. I had resisted using it before, but I now own a copy. The contemporary rendering of the words gives them a liveliness that traditional translations lack, and makes it easier to read long Bible passages in one sitting.

Pinkola Estés, Clarissa, PhD. Women Who Run with the Wolves; Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York, Ballantine Books, 1992. I haven’t quite finished reading this book, but I’m putting it on my list because I read it before, not long after it was first published. The author is an ethnographer, story teller, and Jungian psychotherapist. She retells ancient fairy tales and stories from all over the world, and interprets them in light of Jungian theory about universal psychic archetypes. She says that beneath our “civilized,” tamed, tamped-down, “good girl” personae we women have creative, vital, powerful, and wise “Wild Woman” natures that, if we are to be whole, need to have their say. Many psychic difficulties can be addressed by healing our injured instincts. She says women understand at a deep level the cycles of life and death, the ebb and flow of creativity, generativity and capacity for action. Some of the stories could stand alone as windows into the hidden world of the psyche. Some seem too violent or abrupt to understand, until Dr. Pinkola Estés illuminates and enfleshes them. Feminist and womanist Christian theology could benefit from these insights into the essential feminine nature.

Taylor, Barbara Brown. An Altar in the World; A Geography of Faith. New York: HarperOne, 2009. This little book is divided into chapters about “faith practices” that may not immediately seem to be traditional, such as “The Practice of Getting Lost.” The book is a treasure trove of insight and wisdom that would repay numerous readings, a few pages or entire chapters at a time. For example, Taylor says, “Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wise people do not have to be certain what they believe before they act. They are free to act, trusting that the practice itself will teach them what they need to know” (14).

Servan-Schreiber, David, MD, PhD. Anticancer; A New Way of Life. 2d ed. New York: Viking Penguin, 2009. The author is a psychiatrist with a PhD in neuroscience. At the age of thirty, he took the place of an experimental subject who failed to show up one night, and learned from his own MRI machine that he had a cancerous tumor in his brain. After treatment, recovery, and then a relapse, he began to take more seriously the idea that he needed to care for his body and mind holistically, as a system. To express this system thinking he uses the word “terrain,” and advocates for lifestyle choices that optimize your terrain. He explains his reasoning in detail, and backs up what he says with numerous outside references.

You don’t give yourself cancer by eating junk food or by failing to manage stress or control your emotions. Cancer comes from some combination of genetics and environment—exposure to carcinogens. But here’s the rub: everyone has cancer cells inside them. Everyone has “microtumors.” Four out of ten of us in North America will die from cancer, but six will not. Genetic factors only account for about 17% of cancer cases. To guard against developing cancer, or to help your body fight it once you have it, you have to tend your “terrain.” Servan-Schreiber says that to do this you only need to do four things: avoid foods that cause inflammation (sugar, trans fat, too much Omega 6 fatty acid, and foods with a high glycemic index), consume thing that have anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer properties (a “Mediterranean diet,” ginger, some kinds of mushrooms, green tea, turmeric, dark chocolate, Omega 3 fatty acids, etc.), get regular exercise, and manage stress. He himself used conventional cancer treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation) and he does not suggest that anyone who has cancer do without appropriate medical treatment.

To me the most convincing argument for fighting cancer with lifestyle is that even if it doesn’t “work” in the sense of avoiding or curing cancer,  it will, by itself, improve quality of life. Good food, exercise and serenity can make you a nicer, happier, more self-actualized person. They can give you a more mindful, aware, and meaningful life with no foreseeable ill effects at all. That is reason enough to do them.



posted by Amy on Jul 23

I just finished the work for one of my incomplete classes. The journal has been done for over a week, and the paper is now in near-final form. I purposely wrote a few too many pages.  I’ve learned that if I do that, then let the paper sit for a day or two, it’s easy to cut it down to the correct size. When I come back to it I always find words that weaken instead of strengthen statements, stray sentences that don’t advance the argument of the paragraph they’re in, and sometimes whole paragraphs that are weak or repetitious. I will hand in the work for that class on Tuesday, and get busy on the final paper for my one remaining incomplete class.

I’m relieved. I was beginning to think I might just fritter away the summer, forgetting I’m a graduate student. This week I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t blog until the paper was finished.

I got very good news last Monday. My oncologist examined me and says the drugs are “doing their job.” I thought so, but it’s great to have her validation. That would be cause enough for celebration, but she also switched me to a form of Taxol called Abraxane that is less toxic and does not have to be “blunted” with a steroid. Oh, happy day! The steroid, Decadron, was interfering with my sleep, not just for a few days after treatment but all the time. It was also causing weight gain, water retention, crankiness and a rounded face. I looked it up (for some reason I was not given an information sheet or consent form for it) and learned it is also an immunosuppressant in its own right, and can cause intestinal distress, heart burn and hair loss. I am so grateful to be done with it. I can already tell my immune system is working better, based on how long it took for the puncture wound for the IV to heal, and I’ve been sleeping seven or eight hours a night. That is bound to be good for me.

I keep losing hair. One of the women in my support group says her hair didn’t all fall out until after chemo was over and new hair started growing in, the way oak leaves hang on until springtime.  Since I have four, maybe five, more doses of Abraxane ahead of me, this hair loss issue figures to be a long term problem. I have been knitting chemo caps. My favorite kind of yarn for them is a blend of 70% bamboo and 30% silk. It is soft and lustrous, and comes in pretty colors. I also made a cap from a thin red cotton yarn, and I have some white yarn for another one like that.  Most of them have a fancy bottom edge of lace or a dimensional stitch. One has an overall pattern of lace and ribbing. They don’t take long to make, and I feel more secure knowing I can cover my noggin whenever I want. I also bought a wig, but I haven’t decided whether to keep it. It more or less matches my own salt-and-pepper hair, but maybe I should have gone for a completely new look–blond even. Or maybe I should have several wigs.

When Lily was here last time we talked about using food to improve or maintain health. For millennia, doctors thought diet was enormously influential in health and disease. The fact that modern medicine is mostly indifferent to nutrition does not necessarily mean the ancients were wrong about that. As I shared in an earlier blog, a connection between diet and specific health outcomes is hard to prove or disprove scientifically, but that doesn’t matter to me. To me, “healthy food” is simply delicious and delightful. I love the colors, textures and flavors of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains.  It is great to enjoy a wonderful meal, especially if I can share it with someone else, but I feel that way even if it’s just for me. And when I eat what some consider a cancer-fighting, diabetes-and-heart-disease-preventing diet it makes me feel good. It doesn’t matter to me if that might be “only” an emotional response. As they say, don’t just eat to live, live to eat. Life is too short for crummy food.

Lily bought me a book called Flatbreads and Flavors. This week I made two of the salad recipes in the book. One is about 100 times more delicious than it sounds. It’s called Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad. First you brown eggplant slices in a dry skillet or under a broiler. Then you chop the eggplant and cook it in a little olive oil with garlic, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes. Then you mix that with chopped red bell pepper, lemon juice, parsley and ground black pepper. You get a thick, chunky dip or paste that tastes fantastic; the garlic, lemon juice and hot pepper combination is very refreshing in hot weather. The other one is a lentil salad that has sweet red peppers and fresh coriander in it. The book said not to cook the lentils until they are mushy, but the cooking time it gives results in mushy lentils. I’ll make it again, because the flavors are good, and cut the cooking time. I also made a wonderful tomato, cucumber and green pepper salad with fresh basil and oregano, and some tuna salad with curry powder.

People keep sending me emails and snail mail, and I love that. I am not out of the woods yet (and, in fact, may never be), and I really treasure your kind words and loving gestures. It may not seem like you’re doing much by mailing a card or sending an email, but it means a lot to me. I will certainly remember that in the future, when people I know get sick. The worst thing is feeling alone and isolated. The best thing is feeling cared for.

posted by Amy on Jul 12

This is a roundup of blog posts and articles I’ve come across lately, plus one of the wisest, most serene, most honest comments on metastatic cancer that I’ve seen yet. The author is a young mother whose breast cancer was diagnosed when her son was four months old and she was 29. She’s responding to a post from another young woman who has two small children who just found out she has breast cancer:

I know how you feel. I have one son, and actually found out about my cancer shortly after his birth. At the same time as my cancer became stage IV, my own mother passed away- thankfully she never had to hear me tell her my bad news. Because my own life is now in question, I’m starting to sort-of let go of that desire to control my life. We really have no idea what this life is, nor do any of us know how long we have. I guess you can say that after I lost my mother, I sort of don’t care anymore about tomorrow and now only think about today. None of us have any control over the quantity of “life” (what ever this life is), but we have full control over the quality of life. I live each day to its fullest- trying to savor the beauty of it all. And I try to remember the people who have gone before me, and I realize we all will die someday- so why let that worry disrupt today.

I, too, try to live each day to the fullest–to enjoy my food, to listen to the beautiful sounds around me, to go outside and really take in what I see and hear and feel, to enjoy my body, and to be in the Now. Right now, at this moment, nothing bad is happening. I am blessed, and I am grateful.

I found a funny, snarky, perfectly thought-out post about what to say–and what not to say–to someone with breast cancer.  You can read it yourself at this link.

And here’s a sweet tribute to Betty Ford:

Betty Ford died at age 93 on July 8, 2011, and Breast Cancer Action mourns her death and celebrates her life. At a time when no one talked openly about breast cancer, Ford took her disease public and breast cancer out of the closet. She was known for “shooting from the lip,” defying convention, and telling the truth about breast cancer. Her courage in doing this was an inspiration to breast cancer activists. Breast Cancer Action salutes her courage and carries on her work by moving us beyond awareness to the actions necessary to produce systemic change to end the epidemic. In order to change the course of this disease, we need to change the conversation about breast cancer and take action to put patients first, stop cancer before it starts and challenge the health inequities that cause more women of color to die of breast cancer than any other group of women. (You can find the original post here.)

And, finally, a guest post from “Carcinista” about having ovarian cancer in a breast-cancer-aware world. Carcinista died recently. I didn’t find her blog until after that had happened. She wrote wonderfully, and deserves to be heard. She raises issues I intend to explore in more depth–about cause marketing, “venture philanthropy,” competition for donor dollars, and popularity contests.  Here is the post.

posted by Amy on Jul 11

I had my seventh Taxol/Herceptin treatment Tuesday, July 5. (I thought it was the sixth treatment–I somehow lost count. Seven out of twelve is over halfway!) Later that night in a phone conversation I heard words coming out of my mouth that were much more blunt and harsh than I intended. That’s when I finally realized that I tend to be feisty, if not downright belligerent, for a day or two after chemo. I look back and see a pattern of fights I’ve picked, snarky things I’ve said, and apologies I’ve offered a few days later. That’s because of the steroid that they give me to blunt the effects of the Taxol. That night I wrote in my journal that it was interesting to see how a chemical imbalance (or abnormality) affects behavior. What I said was always honest; it just wasn’t very nice. I had no intention of wounding, but I’m already fairly blunt, so pushing me a little farther in the direction of assertiveness can be pretty ugly. They didn’t warn me about this. From now on I’ll try to avoid situations that might push my buttons.

The steroid also makes it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep for two or three nights, and makes me perpetually ravenously hungry.  Then, usually the first night that I’m not hyped up on the steroid I get myalgia that wakes me up. I had my first really good night of sleep on Saturday night. It was fantastic. I stayed asleep for eight hours and had lots of dreams. And I think I’m learning to manage the hunger. Instead of gaining weight week before last I lost a pound, and last week I lost about a pound and a half. And, notwithstanding the sleep disturbance, I usually feel rested well enough. So I think I’m doing OK.

I’m mostly tolerating Taxol well. Taxol kills all fast-growing cells in the body (hair, gastrointestinal tract, and bone marrow are the major ones). I get a complete blood count every week before I get the Taxol, and those numbers have stayed in normal ranges. My hair is thinning dramatically. Every time I touch my hair (and I try not to do it much) there’s fallout. It will be interesting to see how much I have left by the last dose. My fingers and toes are still numb most of the time and tingling or burning part of the time. The neuropathy is no worse, and might actually be a little better than it was. I still have good manual dexterity. I’m proving that to myself by knitting socks with very fine yarn on size 1 needles.

I didn’t get any Taxol today. I only got Herceptin. I don’t mind taking a little break, but unfortunately the decision was made after I had already gotten the “premeds” (steroid, antihistamine, and something for my GI tract.) The reason for that is I had a rash that just appeared last Tuesday and has gotten worse. My nurse called in the Nurse Practitioner, who said Taxol occasionally does cause rashes, and we should hold off this week. I will see my oncologist next Monday before the next treatment. She may decide we should use a different drug to go with the Herceptin.

For all its faults, Taxol and its cousins, either alone or in combination with other drugs, work better than any available alternative for Stage IV breast cancer. The best results are with people who have not had them before. That makes it the preferred “first line” treatment for someone like me–whose goal is to put the cancer into remission. Since I’m tolerating it well, I’m glad I chose it–even if I now have to drop it. Not so long ago, the treatment goal for metastatic breast cancer was some degree of life extension (possibly only a few months) with a decent quality of life. Now some people are surviving (and functioning) for decades. A small percentage go into “permanent remission.”

I went to my Stage IV breast cancer support group today. I met someone who could not wrap her head around the concept that I was metastatic at diagnosis. The woman who leads the group says about half the members are in that boat. But this group member asked twice, “what about the first time you had breast cancer?” One new member is “triple negative,” meaning all they can give her that might help is Taxol (or some other broad-spectrum chemo drug. They can’t use a hormone blocker or anything the works with HER-2 positive cancer.)

The most common sites for metastasis in HER-2 positive cancer are bones, lungs, and liver, in that order. It can also get into the brain (or anything else–lymph nodes, pancreas, kidneys, etc.) This week I read a pamphlet on Stage IV breast cancer that was pretty sobering. The section on liver metastasis assumed a far more grave situation than I’m in. It says they can’t do chemo, but they can keep you alive (with radiation?) for about another month after diagnosis. Yikes. Since the liver is so essential for processing toxins (including medicine) that stands to reason.

I am so very grateful my liver metastasis was diagnosed accurately and early. I cannot praise my medical team enough for that. Of course, this all started with me noticing some subtle changes that aren’t on any of the lists of breast cancer symptoms, and getting them checked out. (The most obvious change turned out to be excema, but it made me notice the other changes. That seems really providential.) Most people find their own breast cancer. Probably 100% of men who have it find it themselves, since no routine breast cancer screening is done on men. That makes me wonder about the new recommendation not to do self-examination.

In other news, I have finally started doing the work for the two classes I did not complete last semester. I left off with just a couple of weeks of work left to do, so there’s not much left, and I know I’ll get it done before the deadline. I enjoy reading and writing. I’ve just been indulging myself, and doing what I want to do instead of what I’m required to do. But there should be time for both.

I got some lovely cards this week, a book, and a surprise present. I really appreciate that. Hearing from friends and loved ones (and especially from loved friends) does me a world of good. So do keep it up. It helps more than you know.



posted by Amy on Jul 2

This week I read Anticancer; A New Way of Life, by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D. The author is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who, at the age of thirty-one, discovered a tumor in his own brain when an experimental subject didn’t show up one night and he substituted himself in the MRI machine. Nineteen years later (after a relapse five years out) he is still alive. You can get more information, including a video, from his website, which can be found here.

Servan-Schreiber says that everyone has cancer cells in their bodies at all times. Although surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are indispensable  to addressing the onslaught in someone whose cancer cells have become a tumor, he says there is much that people can do either to prevent that from happening or to assist their own bodies in healing from it once it progresses.

According to this book there are four things we can do: avoid ingesting things that cause inflammation or otherwise feed cancer cells, consume things that appear to protect against cancer, control our mental states, and exercise. Servan-Schreiber says there is a cancer epidemic, and it is primarily environmental. He introduces the idea that the entire mind and body are a “terrain,” in which cancer can either thrive or perish. These four strategies can improve the terrain, whereas a sedentary lifestyle full of stress and helplessness, fueled by sugar and an unhealthy balance of Omega 6 vs Omega 3 fatty acids, all promote cancer.

For those who want proof that these four prescriptions will “work,” he, as a good scientist, admits that it is not forthcoming, not in the sense of double-blind studies in large human populations. But he points out that even though cancer scientists give no credence to epidemiological information, it is highly suggestive that diet and lifestyle do influence incidence of and mortality from cancer.

As a trained scientist, Servan-Schreiber is well aware that even his own remarkable story proves nothing, and he says so. But since when do we need scientific proof in order to decide what to do? People are constantly acting on common sense, hunches, and their own experience.  I believe in science, and I am grateful for what it has done to produce the treatments and tests that are helping me get well. But as a person of faith I know in my bones that truth is a larger thing than any scientific experiment can capture.

Read the book if you want the whole story, but the main thing I took away from it is that it cannot possibly do any harm to use food, relaxation, and exercise to improve your quality of life, whether you have cancer or not, and it might help. I am facing an incurable illness that may kill me. I can despair, or I can do all I can to strengthen my immune system and meet the challenge proactively. I can be a helpless victim, or I can choose to be an agent of my own transformation. Whether it results in me living longer than people with this diagnosis usually do is almost beside the point. Healing means more than simply living a long time with no physical ailment. It means wholeness.

On pages 30 to 31, Servan-Schreiber tells the story of a psychiatric patient who was dying of cancer. “Joe,” as he calls him, “had a long history of alcoholism, drugs, and violence.” He was unemployed and alienated from his family. He had no real friends. He had brain cancer, and he was terrified. In weekly meetings with the author, it became apparent that “what made his death intolerable was the fact that he hadn’t done anything with his life.” The doctor suggested to Joe that, in the time he had left, he do something useful for someone else. Joe, who had done some work as an electrician, said he knew of a church that needed an air conditioning system. He said he was willing to install one for them. After the pastor accepted the offer, Joe began going there every day to perform that service. Parishioners greeted him when they saw him, and they brought him coffee and sandwiches. Because of the brain tumor, Joe had trouble concentrating and the work went slowly, but he carried on. Then one day Servan-Schreiber was called in to see Joe as he lay dying. Too weak to speak aloud, Joe motioned to the doctor to come in close, and he whispered to him, “God bless you for saving my life.”

I have been walking an hour a day or more, and I feel strong and healthy. I already had a higher-than-average intake of fruits and vegetables, but I’ve increased it. Based on the ideas in the book, I’m also consuming more ginger, garlic, turmeric, and green tea. I listen to guided imagery and affirmations. I have been journaling and praying a great deal. The neuropathy is no worse, and might be a little better, even though I’ve had two more Taxol infusions since I first noticed it. (I take glutamine for that, based on information I found on the web. It’s an amino acid, present in food, and body builders use it.) I have plenty of energy, and I am calm and optimistic. My hair is still thinning, but that doesn’t hurt, it just makes a mess.The steroid medication that I get to blunt the effects of the Taxol makes me ravenously hungry, and it makes it hard to sleep for a few days after I receive it, but by Thursday night I begin sleeping soundly, with plenty of dreams.

I love the cards, letters, emails and phone calls I have been getting. I feel loved and uplifted. In one study cited in the book, women with breast cancer who could name ten friends “had a four times better chance of surviving their illness than women who could not” (179). This week I am in Philadelphia reconnecting with  my church family and other friends who live here. I laugh a lot. I stop and drink in beautiful sights–flowers, animals, cute babies, art. As one of my affirmations says, “more and more, I know that I will get well, not out of the fear of dying. I will get well out of the joy of living.”


Theme by Eric for Amy, who owns the copyright for this site, and has reserved all rights.