Friday, January 31, 2014

The Uncommon Cure for the Common Cold

The winter cold. Sniffles, headache, sore throat and that dam tickling cough. I try all manner of Eastern, western, traditional, folk and home-remedy medicine. I’m gargling with salt water, and also garlic juice, sipping hot water with lemon, hot water with honey and hot water with lemon and honey. I’m taking zinc and vitamin C and cod liver oil and Lysine. I’m reading online advice, bearing down on the Handbook of Nutritional Healing and nodding along with every friend and coworker who recommends a food, an herb or a powerful prescription med. I’ve tried rest and exercise, staying home and going to work.

But there is one remedy for the common cold that no one talks about: an orgasm. (Or two). Really. Orgasms release oxytocin, reduce cortisol, balance the body by naturally shifting hormones and create a calming effect. It’s cleansing and stress reducing and helps you sleep if used at night.

No, of course not with a partner. There are cold and flu ethics after all. A lovely, cold remedying orgasm is definitely DIY.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gratitude Poem

When I write the word “gratitude”
I think recovery.
I don’t think “cancer”.
I think gratitude for him
for me, for this.
Surely not this?
We are grateful or we are not.
We say Yes! and Thank you.

All around me well-meaning
friends say,
“You can say "No!"
But I say Yes
I don’t No
Who knew?
“It’s like a relationship on steroids”
I told a friend
then realized
that was no

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Virginia Woolf On Being Ill

I’m revising the syllabus for my class, The Literature of Caregiving, and I found this incredible sentence written by Virginia Woolf in her book, “On Being Ill.” It is one of the most virtuostic sentences in all literature:

 "Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise in temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth-rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us—when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

I counted them: This sentence has 181 words.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Make Me Crazy. Keep Me Sane

Here is a concept that I promise you will help you when you deal with difficult people. And in Cancer Land there are many difficult people--doctors, nurses, clerks, receptionists, people at the end of many healthcare phone lines and yes, sometimes or often the patient, and double-yes, sometimes even the caregivers.

What? Who me? Well…Read this and memorize it:

"The things about people that drive us crazy are the things that are keeping them sane."

Isn't that absolutely true? And if we could just remember that is behind the control freak, the testy tone, the list maker, the refuser, the giddy pleaser and the no eye contact among other crazy making characteristics.

Repeat after me: "The things about people that drive us crazy are the things that are keeping them sane."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Charm Bracelets in Cancer Land

I was in the beauty salon today for a pedicure and I got to enjoy one of my favorite indulgences: reading trashy and fashiony magazines for over an hour. It is like too much candy but also a visual feast.

But today I discovered a true gem in a copy of Bazaar Magazine. There was an article by J.K. Rowling—yes, the author of the Harry Potter series and of the new bestseller, “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

There between photo spreads of models in extravagant clothes and exaggerated makeup was a two-page story called, “This is a Story of Three Charm Bracelets”. The article had a simple outline: Rowling told the story of her first little girl charm bracelet given by an aunt, then of a much fancier and significant set of charms given her by her editor--representing the seven volumes of Harry Potter. And finally—the point of the article—Rowling describing her philanthropic passion—a foundation that helps children with disabilities who receive either no or very substandard care around the world. Rowling’s Lumos Foundation was offering an opportunity to win an extravagant charm bracelet to those who made a donation to her charity.

Bravo Rowling and bravo Bazaar Magazine—a wonderful editorial partnership and occasion of mutual marketing.

But it got me thinking about charm bracelets. Yes, I  too had one when I was younger. I remember a tiny airplane representing my first flight and a teeny typewriter symbolizing my ambition to be a writer, an artist’s pallet for a very temporary desire to be a visual artist, and there was also a cross for my then commitment to church and faith. There must have been numerals for birthdays and a small ruby as my birthstone.

That bracelet is long gone but I wondered today: If I were creating or compiling one now what symbols would I choose to represent the most significant events in my adult, nee, mature life? And what would a cancer caregiver charm bracelet look like?

Would we ever have charms for things like the first bad phone call from the doctor? A teeny notebook for the spiral binder that I still tote to every doctor’s appointment? How would I represent months of chemo? And neuropathy? And all the tears? Very, very small packets of tissues? Miniature pill bottles?

It’s the intangibles that are hard to represent. I know that one can find small broken hearts so I’d certainly have one of those. Maybe I’d include an anchor—the Christian symbol for the word Hope, and certainly a small telephone—all those calls to friends to talk. But how do I represent tray after tray of lasagna? And a sweltering summer with no air-conditioning because his sensitivity to cold air was so painful?

Perhaps you have some ideas of what would be on your Cancer Caregiver or Cancer Survivor charm bracelet. Please share them here. Remember these tiny things are more than trinkets—in fact they are called charms because we believe in the power of talisman, especially in Cancer Land.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Love Lost in Cancer Land

I found a note in one of my cancer files today. It’s from 2008 when our cancer dance began. Reading it stabbed me—I can recall that pain so vividly, but it also heartened me—in a sense—because I survived and we survived and yes, love survived.

But this old note I had written to myself also reminded me how dam hard cancer is for couples. How painful this worst side effect truly is, and that this is what no one at chemo talks about and what no doctor—or nurse—ever asks about.

There is so much loneliness in Cancer Land. And it is untouchable from the outside. Both patient and caregiver have their own versions, maybe mirror images. But sometimes I think there is much less room for the partner or caregiver to have this acknowledged. Reading this I ache for every couple facing cancer.

Here is the old note I found today:

“I am so lonely. It’s not a lonely that a movie or a meal or a pep talk can fix. The man I love cannot see me or take care of me. He is so sick. What I hoped for is not realized. The relationship is not one of equals. My dreams, my health, my work, my struggles are pushed aside. I am hurt, sad, angry, grieving.”

July 19 2008

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What About Anxiety?

“Is pathological anxiety a medical illness, as Hippocrates and Aristotle and many modern psychopharmacologists would have it? Or is it a philosophical problem, as Plato and Spinoza and the cognitive-behavioral therapists would have it? Is it a psychological problem, a product of childhood trauma and sexual inhibition, as Freud and his acolytes once had it? Or is it a spiritual condition, as Soren Kierkegaard and his existentialist descendants claimed? Or, finally, is it—as W.H. Auden and David Riesman and Erich Fromm and Albert Camus and scores of modern commentators have declared—a cultural condition, a function of the times we live in and the structure of our society?”

Those words are from the new book, “My Age of Anxiety” by Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic magazine. Stossel’s highly reviewed book is both a memoir of his own crippling anxiety and a history of anxiety itself. This book is beautifully written and powerful in its blending of science, psychology, history and personal memoir.

Caregivers and cancer patients know anxiety. It begins on day one—diagnosis (or even before, when the first symptoms appear) and never ends. Doctor’s offices and infusion centers and emergency rooms and even support groups all have a surround of anxiety. Sometimes that hardest thing for a couple in CancerLand is managing their mutual anxiety. Honest sharing about fear is hard but so is the strategy of keeping one’s own fears and phobia’s to oneself.

Stossel’s book, detailing his own brutal experience with multiple phobias and overwhelming attempts to treat and manage his anxiety, is actually a help to us in CancerLand. No, not just because after reading his book we can say, “Dear God even cancer isn’t that bad”, but because –and this is the power of Stossel’s writing and truth-telling—in reading his book we absolutely know that our struggles and illnesses, of whatever kind, make us human and we are bound to each other by this kind of human suffering.