Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Write Treatment

In this month’s Poets & Writers Magazine there is a terrific article by the novelist Emily Rubin about writing and cancer. Rubin is the author of the novel, “Stalina” (Mariner Books, 2011) and she has also published many of her short stories in Confrontation and The red Rock Review.

In the P&W Magazine Rubin writes about her experience with cancer and her decision after her own treatment had ended to give back to her cancer community by offering writing workshops at Beth Israel Medical Center in new York City.

She started small, supported by the hospitals social work department, and developed a simple curriculum that allows patients and their cancer caregivers to attend and do writing practice. Rubin writes that, “I encourage participants to write about anything they choose and I hope the workshop can be a place to take a moment away from waiting rooms and procedures.”

Participants in the Beth Israel writing workshop work on fiction, poetry, biography or fantasy stories.

Writing and art are curative and they can also be –or facilitate—spiritual practices. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Life's About Learning Not About Knowing

A friend of mine who has been a cancer caregiver a long time has grown very wise from that experience. She has many great pieces of advice and she's also funny--which, I think, is a byproduct of wisdom.

One of my favorite things that she says often that I always hear as new advice is about the right attitude with which to face life and challenges like that ones that come with cancer. She likes to say this:

"Life is not about knowing things. It's about learning things. And if you make learning your template you can ask anybody anything." And then you never have to struggle.

Don't you love that? Simple and purely wise. And the inherent humility in that approach to living. Instead of trying to appear knowledgeable and smart you can be a learner (and be even smarter). You then start to use sentences like:

Can you show me how to do that?

How does that work?

What do I do in this situation?

Who can teach me what I need to get where I want to go?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Doing Nothing on the Cape

This was a Cape Cod weekend--a writing respite and a visit to John's mother at the beach. One of my secondary gains in this marriage is acquiring a fascinating mother-in-law--who is eloquent, funny, generous and so active she makes me look lazy. We always have fun when we visit.

This weekend I decided to go 48 hours with no technology--no Internet, no email, no texting etc. The first few hours were hard and then it was lovely. We walked and danced and read and yes, made love with a sense of leisure. I had begun to forget what it's like to feel that you have all the time in the world in bed.

Then on Sunday curled on the couch to read papers I read this terrific article on doing nothing. That's not an easy thing for me to do even on vacation but with this few days of deep leisure and no technology the writers ideas penetrated my head.

Here is the article from The Cape Cod Times. Take a look. Take a chance on nothing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

More about Eve Ensler--In the Body of the World

This post could also be called, "What we don't talk about when we talk about cancer". Eve Enslers's new book, "In the Body of the World" talks about many hard, uncomfortable, embarrassing, brutal things that are part of cancer.

I wrote about her book, "in the Body of the World"  a few days ago and I highly recommend it to you. In addition to being beautifully written, scrupulously honest and just so amazing in its structure, Ensler's book not only does not pull any punches, it pounds the reader with the physical reality of cancer and treatment. In telling her story she gives us the brutal reality of surgery and chemo and infection and secondary treatments and side effects and pain.

That last bit may seem surprising. In Cancer Land there is a lot of physical pain, but somehow it's not spoken of very directly. But Eve Ensler writes about screaming, and screaming and crying, and sobbing and being exhausted by the physical pain.

She also writes about blood, pus and poop. And she writes about good and bad nurses and bad and good doctors and how hard self-advocacy is when you are weakened by surgery, infection and all that pain.

I started writing this blog years ago because there was so little frank conversation about sex and relationships in Cancer Land and now I'm admiring Eve Ensler for her frank disclosure of the dark, painful, and literally shitty side of cancer too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What Michael Douglas Said

So yes, last week you may have giggled or maybe blushed or maybe you fumed that oral sex was linked to cancer. Maybe like some you tired of the Facebook bashing that Douglas was just bragging as he linked his experience of oral cancer to his experience with performing oral sex. (Some of the comments were quite funny.)

But as the attached article reminds us there was a public service buried in that bragging or blaming. There is a connection to HPV and oral sex and cancer. So here is the serious side of the story and--Thank you New York Times Science section--here are the facts.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler

“I could not put it down.” I have heard people say that about a book and I have read reviews that said that about a book and I always thought that sentence meant, “This is a really good book.”

I have read many really good books so I thought, “Well, I’ve had that experience too.” Until this morning. This morning, because the Sunday paper was late and I wanted to sit on my couch with coffee –my favorite thing early on a Sunday—I picked a book from the pile of new books waiting for me.

My thinking went something like: “Eve Ensler, vagina chick, great play, oh here’s more about vaginas, but she’s an important public intellectual, better take a look, probably can skim this, get the drift, then be done.”

I read the jacket cover and inside blurbs. And was thinking: “Oh, she had cancer, that’s too bad, wonder when I’ll get cancer again, look how she uses her life experience to make art, even cancer, good for her.”

Then I started to read. Introduction was intriguing, “She’s going to make women’s bodies, child abuse, war, the Congo, activism and the environment a whole. How in the hell can she pull that off?”

Then chapter one.

It’s been almost an hour and a half, and I kept saying, “One more, I’ll just read one more chapter.”

I could not put it down.

Except for this part of me that feels so compelled to tell you what I am seeing and thinking and feeling and wondering about. So I got off the couch to come here to say to you:

Eve Ensler’s new book is called “In the Body of the World” and it’s about a woman’s body and women’s bodies and rape and nature and a child’s sexual abuse and a grown woman’s addiction, and friendship and medicine and the Mayo clinic and the scariest kinds of surgeries, and it’s about the Congo and hope where, really, there shouldn’t even be hope and it’s also about language and transforming personal experience and shit—literally shit—into art.

And I could not put it down.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Spiritual Side of Cancer

I read a helpful  article today in the Times Union--Voices of Faith section about spirituality and illness. And of course there has to be a spiritual side of cancer. It doesn't mean religious or churchy or even prayer--tho prayer in it's broadest manifestation--using Centering and manifestations has to help.

It made me think a lot about what spiritual practices are valuable especially for people who are Agnostic or Atheist. It includes being quiet, meditation, being in nature, going to the ocean, prayer as stating intentions and writing.

Here's the link to the article by Michael S. Barry from today's Times Union:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

More on the Dance of Cancer

What if we replaced the metaphor of a war on cancer with the more energizing and empowered image of a dance with cancer? In addition to releasing all the war and killing and aggressive language we could invite a sensibility of partnership, grace, joy and even humor into our experiences with cancer—whether we are the patient or the caregiver.

I know that one of the reasons we use battle language is that we see cancer as an aggressive enemy but we often forget that in that militaristic dynamic we are also describing our own body as the enemy. After all, cancer does not come from outside of us. These are our cells dividing and our immune system responding.

But what if we saw cancer treatment as a corrective to our good body? As a way to make deep and life altering changes to our deepest being? And it is that of course. And as caregivers we too are deeply changed by the experience of cancer in our family and in our relationship. And caregivers—you know this—are changed forever. Just as the patient is never the same again, so too a cancer caregiver can’t go back.

I’ve been thinking about the dance of cancer this week and wondering about what kind of dance it is. What I realized is that a very long course of cancer and caregiving requires many kinds of dances. Sometimes it’s a tango—strong and sensual. Sometimes a waltz when you are counting out a rhythm and moving together, and sometimes it is the Flamenco with a lot of stomping! And of course as in any full ballet there are the times when it can only be a solo experience, and then others when the caregiver and patient face each other in full traditional Adagio—forceful and aggressive and insistent.

This quote from Friedrich Nietzsche hangs over the altar in my bedroom:

“And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

Cancer too, gives us opportunities to dance.