Monday, June 9, 2014


Most people, thankfully, are "chemo-naive" and will always be. Technically "chemo-naive" means you have not had chemotherapy. It's a clinical research term, for classifying subjects. You are chemo-naive, until you aren't.

But that first time, Round 1 Day 1, you still don't know how it's actually going to feel for you. Because "everyone is different" and may or may not experience some or all of the side effects. I called it Stepping Into The Void. You come home...not knowing. You sit, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the hammer blow. Cowering, basically. But I did write everything down, as was advised by a colleague who'd been through it before, so I'd at least know what to expect the next time. I even made a little data-table of side effects (I made a passing acquaintance with almost all the side effects), with Consumer Reports-like circles indicating severity. Overall, the best description I can come up with of what chemo feels like inside is "unbidden storm" -- some strange weather that presents itself in your bloodstream, clouding up ang giving a waterlogged feeling especially in your abdomen, chest, neck and throat.

I'm not naive anymore. My eyes are wide open. My friend Natalie passed along this etymology: "In Greek the word for poison and medicine is the same: pharmakon. Also related to sorcery and sacrifice. A heady stew of the most elemental human stuff and all working their magic." With the help of my Quaker Guides, and a book by Stephen Levine entitled Healing Into Life and Death, I practiced reframing my attitude towards the chemotherapy from "poison" to "healing medicine" which I openly invite into my body so it can be conveyed into the areas of need (See Meditation on Taking Medicine Within). I also have a nickname for my "port" (medical device inserted under my skin above my right breast, into which infusion needle is placed to deliver the medicine). I like to call it the portal. And, I worked with my friend Marilyn, who recorded a guided imagery meditation for me to listen to while getting the infusion (and any other time I want to listen to it). It incorporates images from my favorite places and associations, and carries me safely along while the medicine is coursing through my body.

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