I’ve long believed that western medicine, despite all of its wondrous advances and inspiration for TV melodramas featuring heartthrob doctors, does not hold all the answers. There are countless alternative therapies out there incorporating eastern traditions, nutrition-based healing, and, yes, a variety of unsavory practices aimed at detoxifying the body. Worry not. There will not be another story about therapeutically hydrating my colon in the name of fine art–at least not in this blog post.
The types of “alternative” medicine I’m experimenting with lately, and which are regularly dispensed here at the 24-hour Dellerson-Hayes Pharmacy, include copious doses of laughter, super-sized horse pills of love, and novel therapies in the form of new friendships and inspiration from the most badass women I’ve ever met–fellow fighters waging their own wars against cancer who’ve reached out to me with a loving, guiding hand, letting me know it’s okay to be scared but that I’m not alone in this.
Laughter Therapy: Free, With Only a Few Side Effects
It is a tired and worn cliché for a reason: laughter really is the best medicine. I’m fairly certain that each of my recent fits of laughter is like a drone bomb strategically dropped on the terrorist compounds in my liver and the lone wolves hiding in caves in my lungs (I told you I’d be milking these war metaphors for all their worth). Most of the humor is derived from the highly inappropriate and often offensive inner-workings of otherwise sane-looking women.
By day, these women mask themselves as professionals, wives and mothers. But when duty calls, they suit up as the core Band of Broads (“BOBs”) force, a highly trained unit that has recently descended on the Dellerson-Hayes Pharmacy, turning what once was a respectable home into an odd mix (likely in violation of city code) that is equal parts bawdy sorority house, Sister Wives and a game of Cards Against Humanity come-to-life.
It has hurt–a lot– to laugh as hard and as frequently as I have over the last several days. The only ongoing pain I’ve experienced thus far in my adventure is not directly related to cancer, but to my utter lack of upper body strength. I can’t remember the last time I did a push up (and a girly one at that). In response, my chest ligaments have weakened and all it took was one cough to dislodge a rib or two out of alignment, causing extreme pain any time I laugh, cough or sneeze and sometimes when I’m doing nothing at all.
A laughing fit thus feels like someone stabbing me repeatedly in the chest, and yet, I continue asking for more like the junkie I am because the endorphin-laden ecstasy of such uncontrollable laughter far outweighs any physical pain it causes. I refuse to take any anti-inflammatory drugs or pain pills for it because I don’t want to put any additional strain on what little healthy, ISIS-free territory is left in my liver. So, I’ll just continue laughing/stabbing myself until I finally get the guts to go see a chiropractor.
Love and Other Elixirs
In addition to fueling my laughter/stabbing attacks, these women, led by my life-long activities coordinator and sister, Lara, have done the grocery shopping, cooked the meals, and done the dishes since arriving on Saturday despite the fact that I’m perfectly capable of doing all these things, as is my husband. Several of them have taken time away from their families and their jobs to fly here to be with me, to laugh with me and sometimes cry, to come to my chemo treatments with me, and yes, to cook and clean for me (thank you, sweet baby Jesus). This is love.
It is also a tremendously brave act of love to be married to me and to agree to have your home turned into an estrogen-packed clown car for a week. But my husband understands that there are parts of my soul that only these women can feed. Jamie also recognizes that driving me to and from all my hospital treatments, tests and procedures and going to hunt down my exhaustingly detailed order for an organic sandwich while I’m strapped to my chemo I.V. for five hours was contractually covered in our marriage vows.
Also, he loves me. In a way, that’s one of the hardest parts of this adventure so far–even harder than my self-induced chest stabbings. His love for me is now inextricably linked to fear and anxiety over what my terrorist tumors will do next. I watch him straining to remain positive and upbeat for my benefit, and then I watch him exhaust his capacity to do so until a good night’s sleep or a good run refills his emergency rations, which inevitably run dry again within a day or two. I am helpless to make this any easier for him, which in my less rational moments makes me feel like a terrible wife.
He freely admits that he is much more comfortable and adept at navigating the battlefields against terrorists overseas vice the ones that have infiltrated his wife’s body. There, he has a highly-structured playbook and more than two decades of experience to draw upon. Here, we are winging it. There, when things go wrong, he keeps cool and calm, looks around, makes sure everyone still has their limbs and their lives and continues on with the mission as planned or adapts as needed. Here, I so much as wince and panic spreads across his face, making the whitest man I know inexplicably whiter.
But this is all part of loving someone. None of us has the luxury of planning with any certainty what things will be like in 10 years, five years, one year…hell, tomorrow. We can dream and we can hope, but we are guaranteed nothing. My husband, hypothetically speaking, could choke on all the organic dark chocolate that he steals from me (and finishes before I even get a bite), and whatever we had planned for Christmas would go up in smoke. I’d be forced to give his gift–an exclusive membership to his favorite brewpub in Bigfork, Montana, and the swag that comes with it–to my new, non-chocolate-bar-stealing boyfriend. You just never know.
What we do know is that we have a house full of love–really full–at this very moment, and I’m confident that love, mixed with equal parts laughter and occasional indulgences in dark chocolate (which is now strategically hidden away in a place no self-respecting man would go looking) are all propelling me along the road to healing.
Then there’s the spiritual piece, which I’ve procrastinated because I don’t know where to begin. I’ve long perceived dogmatic, organized religion as suspect, especially when so many of its most vocal proponents seem to preach more hate than love and intolerance over acceptance, all while feasting on a steady diet of hypocrisy with a heaping side of scandalous cover ups.
My latest plan is to surround myself with symbols of positive energy and love, in whatever form or religious doctrine they may arise from, while focusing on meditation and prayer. I will pray to Ganesh, the Hindu deity my dear friend Puja likes best. I will pray to Jesus, even though I don’t believe he died for my sins, but he still seems like a good dude. I will pray to those I’ve loved who have passed, in hopes that some of them have made some good connections wherever they are and would be willing to negotiate on my behalf, and I will pray to the divine within myself, which Buddhism insists is inside all of us (even though I find this difficult to believe after seeing what came out of me during my colon hydrotherapy session).
The Sorority No One Wants to Join
The door to my spiritual exploration was recently kicked wide open upon meeting a woman who, if I’m lucky, will agree to do some guest posts here. She is my cancer goddess angel and, essentially, my “big sister” in a sorority that neither of us ever wanted to join.
I first met Susan about a decade ago when both of us were guests at a mutual friend’s party in Tacoma, Washington, where another party goer insisted on demonstrating his ability to wrap his Gumby-like male anatomy around his forearm in what he termed the “wrist watch” (much to his wife’s horror). Suffice it to say, I barely remembered meeting Susan. About five years later, we chatted at our mutual friends’ baby shower (sans dick tricks, thankfully). A few weeks ago, we met again. This time it wasn’t as fellow party-goers, but as fellow fighters. Susan is battling cancer, too. In her case, it’s metastatic breast cancer, but like me, she is also being treated at Georgetown’s Lombardi Cancer Center. Because she has about five months more cancer/chemo experience than me, and about 10 times the energy of five of me put together, she took me under her wing immediately, showing me how to navigate this strange new reality, all with an incredible sense of humor and endless compassion.
She came to my bedside as I recovered from surgery to place a medi-port in my chest for chemo treatments and delivered a giant hug and a giant trapper keeper with a shoulder strap. The trapper keeper, which also happens to be Seahawks colors (bonus!), is filled with labeled dividers, pretty folders and notebooks and just about every other well-thought out detail one needs when one’s new job is defeating an aggressive adversary with organization and moxie.
There are sections for lab reports, scans, doctor’s business cards, oncology visit summaries, clinical trial information and descriptions of whatever chemo drugs and other medications you are taking. There’s even a section for inspiration, where encouraging cards and article clippings can be kept. My only complaint is I can’t fit Susan herself into my trapper keeper, but I know she’s never more than a text or phone call away when I need her. She has made this entire nightmare seem manageable and called my attention to the silver linings before I was able to discern them for myself. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.
Peace, love and f&#k cancer.