Loving the Alien

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In the last two weeks of chemo, your nails get streaked and shadowed as the last of the cells die. Yellowish brown, like dirty animal claws. The highest of the chemical cocktail tides pushing its way out of your very fingertips. You have hit maximum saturation. You have been like an Egyptian hairless cat for months, that money you save on razors and the warm blankest at the hospital being the big bonuses of the treatment. Also, no eyelashes. Well, okay, three randomly placed ones on each eyelid and no eyebrows. The over all effect is one of a lizard. A friendly Geiko insurance kind of lizard, but a lizard nevertheless. Freaky!

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We are always shedding dead cells and skin and hair and aging and transforming, but chemo treatment simply magnifies that which usually goes unnoticed. During the last two weeks the nails have become brittle and broken half way down the nail beds. New growth is coming in healthy and pink. Pushing its way out. My head stubble is getting longer by the day. Hopefully eyelashes are not far behind.

The last week of chemo, as well as the first weeks after are surprising. Unwinding is not linear. It is choppy. Three steps forward, two steps back. Or one forward and three back. Full of energy, or incredibly tired. I do not push through. I rest when my body says to. Sleep is my bestest friend.

A great excitement when you know there is only one more, you are almost done! The horse is racing back to the barn but suddenly it veers right, because, you start radiation in 10 weeks, so you are NOT done yet. Not yet. Not only not done, but stepping into yet another unknown experience of which you should have no preconceived notion of how you will respond. Oh yeah. Shit. I almost forgot…

There is nothing to “get back to”, only where you are now and the unknown you are heading for each moment. Not attempting to recapture, or replicate, but allow something fresh and true with where you are right now to emerge.

When I share these images and these stories, it is so that others who have never ridden this ride, can have a glimpse into what it is like. It is a knowing smile and secret handshake I offer to those who have.

I continue to love the alien that I have become. She who emerged from this deep inner space adventure, stripped down to bare bones, spare and unadorned.

Next stop…Radiation Land. Stay tuned…

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On my birthday 4 months ago

 

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Chemo #1

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Chemo #3

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Chemo #6

 

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Chemo #12

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Chemo #10

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It is so lame to come to this party so late, but here I am. (Hangs head in shame.) Trying to catch up on Game of Thrones, as Season 7 is days away. Just days away, I tell you!

I have a task.

I had to work to enter Game of Thrones. It is not a friendly land. At my daughter’s insistence and with her guidance I crossed over the threshold. We were two episodes into the first season, when she paused the show, looked at me and said, “right now….this is as happy as these people are ever going to be.” She was not kidding. That is sobering.

The last two weeks in my reality have been rough. The creepy physical fallout of chemo has fortunately remained within the same bandwidth through out this round of treatment, but the psychological/emotional mind fucking that had skipped me for the most part this last 12 weeks, unexpectedly popped up like a leering demonic jack in the box and punched me in the face. Ouch.

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Rest assured, there is much writing flowing from this time. Stay tuned.

The last two days the smoke has cleared and I found level footing again.

Today was the final chemo. 12 of 12. I will continue to have an infusion of herceptin every three weeks, but without the taxol which is the component that kicks your ass the hardest. I will be finished with that in April.

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So what the hell does Game of Thrones have to do with any of this? I had started writing this thesis worthy discertation on why the show is so great and compelling. (Yeah, yeah, everyone else on the planet already knows this and has for years. Sit down and be quiet and watch the episodes!) I discovered that once you get past the Primary B’s of the show (beheadings and butt sex) it is the feel good show of the year!

Who knew?!

Thank freaking god I do not live in Ye Olde Times of Yore dealing with that bleak and hopeless nightmare wondering how and when you will be dismembered. Shit, I am just chillin’ in my air-conditioned house baking in some chemo. This is mild in comparison.

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I have the next eight weeks off to heal, and work, regain my health and work out before I start 6 weeks of radiation. A brand new unknown fire to walk through. Radiation coupled with the continuing infusions of herceptin. Then I shall emerge into a new life and a new routine and I am reasonably sure that being on the Night Watch fighting white walkers is not part of that, but then, you never know what’s in store in your life.

You see, I have these dragon eggs….

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“Sometimes the bear will eat you. Sometimes you eat the bear. “ -Joan Armatrading-

I am interested in option C…

One of the most challenging aspects of cancer entering my world, has been the language and energy that surrounds it. “War on cancer. Fighter. survivor.” It is angry, aggressive, destructive. Prompts fight or flight response. Cancer is more nuanced than that. It needs to be listened to.

Trust me, I don’t want to have cancer take over my body. I love being here on this planet as a human being in a fragile yet wildly resilient skin suit. I am thoroughly committed to living cancer free for a very, very long time, and I am not storming through the brush with a machine gun and a blow torch, screaming “Fuck you cancer! Die! Die! Die!”, going all Rambo and shit on it.

I do not like the energy around “killing, destroying, crushing, obliterating etc.”

I believe that cancer shows up when something is out of balance, and our inner world goes off kilter when our outer world is out of balance. Our outer world on a global level is seriously out of balance. We are endlessly bombarded with too much work, too much stress, too much information, too much worry, exhausting relationships, toxins in every form in our environment. Even if we love what we do, we can still be pushing too hard. Idling too fast. I know I have. God, have i ever.

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Yes, I am actively participating in chemotherapy. Today is #11. One to go. The plan is to begin radiation in September. I have doubts and questions about this. These are treatments that target killing cancer cells. I am aware of that, but I am choosing to see it as a process of cleansing my system. Wiping the slate clean. Cancer cells are healthy cells that have gone rogue. The treatment is to get rid of the rogue cells and create an environment where they won’t return. Then we have to do everything in our power to support our immune system, our adrenals, our nervous system, digestive system and tend to our emotional state.

Cancer shows up to call us out to be uncompromisingly honest with ourselves and how we are living our lives. Will you listen, pay attention, and make changes? Or will you angrily, fearfully ignore the guidance and attempt to hurry up and kill it so you can go back to living your life exactly the way you were before.

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I am sitting quietly with my cancer and listening closely. There is no going back, only creating something completely different. There is a difference between timid and shrinking and strong and silent. What can I change in my life and the way I respond to it? Where to put my energy and attention to transform it? Neutralize it.

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How do you enter the cave knowing there is a bear in there and not be terrified of waking it? Do not cower in a corner, endlessly striking matches and straining your eyes, but listen to it breath in the dark and be okay with that. Maybe in some odd way you can cohabitate. Sleep with the bear. We won’t disturb the cancer, the cancer doesn’t disturb us. Cancer is always present in our bodies, but it takes a trigger to activate it. Can we put the gun down and do something else?

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This approach resonates with me, and I am working with that stratagem.

I embrace Stratagem C…

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One of the most common experiences during chemo is a loss of appetite and nausea. Food tasting off or with a metal aftertaste. Difficulty keeping weight on. This has wonderfully, not been my experience. I am flourishing like Jabba the Hut with my bald head and insatiable appetite. My physique modeling itself after Lord Varys, the eunuch on Game of Thrones.

Hot. So hot.

Early on in my treatment, I had a reiki session, which was utterly quenching, as my body was screaming “what the actual hell are you doing to me? Again!?”It was also unsettling to feel my energy, my interior landscape, so far off-center. After my session, I was talking with my friend and he remarked how hard he could feel that my body was working. The image that came to his mind was of a group of men endlessly shoveling coal into the furnace on a steam ship and this huge steel mass cutting through rough roiling waters. We now refer to my eating, as “time to feed the Coal Men”.

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I rarely feel hungry, it is more this need to eat. My body needs fuel and the furnace can never be sated. I graze through the day. Mostly healthy, sometimes not. Protein smoothies, green juice, roasted chicken, watermelon, hummas and veges. A fine burger, vegetable sushi and seaweed salad, Annies Mac n’cheese, (comfort food) Indian food, sometimes pizza. All of the things, do I eat.

On the super challenging days, there is a hang-over quality to my gut, that craves grease. French fries do the trick beautifully. French fries are their own food group in my world under any circumstances. Since my metabolism is sluggish (ironic understatement) from the chemo, and I have ceased the two hours of exercise I have done for years, 6 days a week, I have gained 10 solid pounds. Not my favorite, but my body needs to be fed and for me to be gentle. I walk every morning and every night, even on the bad days. Not power walks or hikes, but a flowing deep breathing, walking meditation. Moving the molten liquid through my veins, my lungs, allowing it to infiltrate thoroughly and clear a new clean path.

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No dance, no yoga, no gym time. Not that I physically can’t, but it feels wrong in my body. I am learning to listen, instead of powering through. Surprisingly, it is not hard to not do. I am excelling at it. I am golden in the Not Doing arena. I am motivated to seek Pro Status in Not Doing. Until it is time to Do again.

Loving people in my community bring me food three days a week. It is an absolute blessing. I sit on my porch, looking out over the bow of the ship as it cuts through the waves, the choppy seas, breathing deeply despite the weight in my chest. Feet planted under me, knees soft as I roll with the movement. I rock with the ship and I feed the Coal Men who work so diligently. This is my job, and it has my full undivided attention.

I salute the Coal Men and my generous community. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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Years ago I read an unsettling collection of short stories by Barry Yourgrau, titled, “Wearing Dad’s Head.” The stories were dazzling examples of the short story form, most of them between a paragraph and one page in length, packing in an amazing amount of nuanced back story, atmosphere and punch.

They read like fragments of bizarre dreams. Funny and creepy, asking you to jump right into the middle of something already underway and there was a logic and deep understanding of what you were working with, and you just went with it.

The story titled “By The Creek”, concerns a boy who “borrowed” his dad’s head while he was taking a nap. (Relax, this is not Game of Thrones.)

How cumbersome it was to move in it as it bobbled about straining his neck.

His voice muffled through his father’s thick lips. Trying his dad on for size. At the end there are a half-dozen giant headed young boys gathered at a small pound, skipping stones, while their fathers torsos silently nap in hammocks and on beds, unable to snore.

Six years ago, two weeks after my final chemo treatment, (first go round) my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Dad’s head. He died 18 months later, that was three years ago.

I always seek out the same bed in the chemo lounge. To the far left, against a window with great sun. I can stretch out like a cat, do some yin yoga. If that one is occupied, I take the one next to it.

Always the same nook.

Last week, Pat, the charge nurse at MSTI, mentioned that she had read a post of mine and how much she enjoyed it. It helped her understand the other side of the equation even after 19 years of working in the chemo lounge. She knew my dad and enjoyed seeing him when he came in for his treatments. How sweet and funny he and my step mom, Syd, were and that he always chose the same bed in the same nook that I did…

Last week, I rode the rougher waters of the 48 hours apres treatment that flatten me into a liquid lead soaked paper doll. I am dressed in black leggings and a light blue soft cotton mans shirt rolled up at the sleeves. The same color combination and outfit my dad lived in. The same kind of shirt, actually. My forearms spotted with the same white flecks that come from so much time in this skin suit, my right hand mildly swollen with fluid retention, it looks like his.

One hand mine. One hand his.

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We made each other laugh so much , but were always mildly awkward and challenged in communicating about real things. Our time together infrequent and infused with a high-octane Disneylandish excitement level when he was home with my mom and my brother and I, and then he was gone. The adrenaline rush and the crash.

How many smiling yet heavy silences we shared together. Silence on the outside, as all of the questions ricochet around on the inside. Not wanting to spend what time we had together on anything that wasn’t easy or fun.

Trapped in our own heads.

The hanging baskets of geraniums on my lush back patio, identical to those in his backyard around the pool at his house. Their private, peaceful haven. I couldn’t understand why they never left the house when they were home. Now I find myself never wanting to leave my house, my geraniums, my porch, my solitude.

How much he gave of himself as a performer.

Endlessly available, for everyone else.

The vein I have laid open in myself to be available to every one I came in contact with over the last ten years, has been closed off and cauterised. Motivations questioned, reviewed and analyzed. I will not move forward in my life in the same way. Acknowledging the similarities and being clear about the differences, finding a space of understanding and maybe some insight. I attempt to look out through his eyes, to learn and make peace with us both.

Happy Father’s Day daddy. I love you.

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“Finally my mind caught up with my mouth…

My apoplexy ceased. My fury lost its redness. And, for the first time that trip, I really took my parents in: Dad’s once-chiseled face, collapsing with age. Mom’s hair, pinned up in a bun, one step closer to hoary and desolate white. How old they’d become. How many more visits would I even be blessed with? How many more chances to make things right?…These were not the same people who had raised me. Those people existed only in my head, caged and rotting behind my tight, unhappy grin for decades while my actual parents got older, gentler, wiser: while their bodies fell apart and their souls grew deep.” -Shozan Jack Haubner A Zealot Comes Home

 

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“Sitting in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices, reading articles on the effects of soy on tumors. The importance of filling your plate with a rainbow. The usual wishful lies, tragic in their insufficiency. Did anyone really believe in them? As if a bright flash of your efforts could distract death from coming for you, keep the bull snorting harmlessly after the scarlet flag.”                               – From “The Girls”- Emma Cline-

There is nothing remotely special about having cancer. All the kids are doing it. Seriously.

It’s no longer a long shot like being struck by lightning, it is more a given, like paying taxes., unless you are the President because he doesn’t pay taxes, or at least we are not sure if he does or not, which is unfortunate for oh so many reasons. All of the parts of that sentence are unfortunate.

Cancer is Kevin Bacon, only with two degrees of separation. It. Is. Every. Where.

My grandmother, my father, my mother in law. Five friends, six acquaintances (in the last three years) and not a day goes by that I don’t hear a story of someone else.

Not one day.

Most of them my age or younger.

Half a dozen more friends of mine are living with or are in treatment for it or just got diagnosed.

In the time that I started to write this post and the day I actually posted it, I learned of two more friends of mine who are dealing with this and three more people who have died.

Sometimes people go quickly, sometimes they get many years, sometimes it goes into remission never to return. Sometimes people in dire Stage Four territory beat the odds, and sometimes a seemingly easily treatable case goes south at breakneck speed. Anything can happen.

Deep steadying inhalation and a big fucking exhale.

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Life is not a bitch. It is amazing and breathtaking and hard as shit some times. Challenges that will take you to your knees can happen, and how they affect us depends on our ability to allow them to help us evolve. I do not believe that I brought this on myself, this is not some “Secret” bullshit run amok (“if only I had more positive thoughts and manifested harder!”) I am not being punished, it is not karmic, it is not part of God’s plan. It doesn’t really matter what I ate or what I eat, (within reason) It is a perfect storm of multiple ingredients, but I do believe that stress and over giving of oneself emotionally is the finger flick that can tip the dominos of cancer into action, except when it doesn’t.

This is the life landscape through which we navigate. Acknowledge that we have no control and yet be proactively involved in our lives. Live attentively not recklessly.

One driven by grace the other by fear.

As I put the brakes on, sit still and reorganize where and how I put my energy out into the world, the people I choose to bring into my field, paying close attention to the factors that may have tipped my dominoes, I imagine that sheer awareness and understanding of how I got here will grant me a deferment. My life visa will be stamped and extended and Death will smile and say, “Nice work. Way to pay attention and make changes.” This is the reality I choose until proven otherwise.

I continue to relish my quiet time, (even as it is tinged with Chernobyl), and my attempts to put words to the chemo ride. I feel like we got this, my prognosis not dire at all, I am dealing with the ravages of chemo not cancer, I’ve got a long life a head of me, unless, of course, I don’t. It could just as easily be me as someone else, and I am not in control of that at all. So I continue to dance and spin and leap and dodge waving my scarlet flag and singing “not today.”

Until it is.

My heartfelt love to the loved ones and families of those who have shifted dimensions.

The adventures continue…

 

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Okay, “tear out your hair” is a bit harsh. How about “let loose your hair”? Being a veteran of the chemo process, this being my second go round, I was familiar with the hair loss part of the show. I like this part. Really. I find it fascinating that your hair begins to come out of your head just by running your fingers through it. Bigger handfuls, bigger payoff. The last time I was obsessed with the process and left it out in my garden for birds and squirrels to make nests with. I loved this process of release, of re-purposing. Shedding your past.

It took till the third treatment round for the hair to begin to go. About three days in, you can actually gently pull small handfuls out. It is deeply satisfying, like peeling a perfect sheet of sunburned skin. I am allowing you to peer entirely too deep into my psyche….

After a few days of pulling and combing and shedding, I went to my hairfresser and had my head shaved. I kept a bag of hair and a dear friend of mine put it into an encaustic art piece that hangs in my living room. (See my blog, “ I am not like I was before” https://jodeenrevere.wordpress.com)

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So, as I geared up to fo through this second round, I was secretly thrilled to go through the hair release again. I wanted to have that experience first and then shave my head. I didn’t want to skip any of the parts, and, well, I like it. It appeals to my delight in the sensory. I scare my friends.

On the day of my third treatment it was the full moon and my hair had just begun to release its hold on my scalp the day before. Of course I played with it all day. Observing the color, the texture. The shine of the silver and grey strands, the auburn/brunettey blondness of the bulk of it. Later that night I was getting ready to go to bed, but realized I had not yet seen the full moon and thought I would wait to see it rise.

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It was a perfectly still and warm night, right before we got the 30 degree plummet two days later. I walked outside in my bare feet, padding down the block, watching her slow ascent between the roof lines of the houses and the leafy trees. Breathing deeply of the late spring to summer air. Breathing in the transition fullness. Making my way back to my yard I stood in the grass, feeling the pulse of the earth underneath me and stood still as the moon rose into view. You could almost hear it move through the night sky. As I stood there in the moonlight, all of my witchy DNA snapped to attention and I did the most obvious normal thing. I began to walk the perimeter of my house and mark every tree and shrub with strands of my hair. Combing my hands through, taking a small handful and the gentle tug and release as the hair came out. I draped it over the tree branches, tucked it into the bushes, sprinkled it on the ground and in the flower beds. “This is my home. This is my place of healing and rebirth. I willingly relinquish this way of being for something new, clear and expansive. I say “yes” to the unknown.” All the way around the house I walked, talking quietly to myself leaving a trail behind me. Gifts of me to the night.

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I felt shifted that night. Ready for the next phase. Two days later, before I could look like a Barbie doll who had her hair done by someones sadistic little brother, I went in and shaved my head. The sense of lightness. I felt the last 6 years of my life with all of the over extension, emotional exhaustion, relationship turmoil and not feeling quite right in my body, slide off of me in a pool at my feet. Yes, I have it in a bag in my room and it shall be released into the wild. Duh.

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In many mystical traditions hair is thought to be a source of a persons power and strength. The longer the hair the greater the power. It is an antennae towards the heavens, connection to the ancestors, and a testament to your past. There is a certain duality in that idea (always intriguing) both the cumulative wisdom and foundation that we develop during our lives that we carry with us, as well as the weight, trauma and habitual patterns we drag around with us, that are stored in our cellular body, that are stored in our tissue, our hair.

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As the hair fell to floor I felt the heaviness fall away. Saw my self emerge, my light brighter, even more hi-def (as if that is possible, apparently it is) Although I love my long hair and I do derive a sense of power, my femininity and my sexuality from that expression, shaving my head holds all of the same intensity but from a different perspective. The power of not being stuck in your past, not dragging everything forward, but shrugging off a heavy cloak and stepping out naked into the world on a fresh path. Your past has helped inform who you and will forever be an integral part of your makeup, and now, you can move forward making different inspired choices, not patterned responses. The antennae is turned inward to listen, not outward be told.

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What if my DNA are being rewired through the chemo and I am being enhanced, upgraded for an entirely new chapter of my life? “I am not like I was before”, and why would I want to be the same person I was six years ago, or 10, or 20 or 30 or…..? I am being challenged to shift, to adapt, to see what’s next. When I am complete with my treatment, I will not go back to how things were before. It will be even better, and my life was pretty great before. I don’t know what that is, but it will be fresh and expansive and I am ready to start anew with my sleek aerodynamic self.

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Source: My North End Bell Jar

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Suddenly a couple of weeks ago, I started having thoughts about bell jars and not the Sylvia Plath kind.

Plath’s character Esther in the Bell Jar experienced her madness as “an airless jar that distorts her perspective on the world and prevents her from connecting with the people around her”.

Although I understand and have had that experience of isolation myself, this time the image of the bell jar is a self contained place of quiet and comfort. Deliberately stepping away from the outside world to, reflect, to gather up, to heal.

I am blessed with a fabulous home, a marvelous landlord and the ideal roommate. It sits in the heart of the beautiful North End of Boise, Idaho. Truly idyllic neighborhood. Close to downtown, to everything I need. During the summer I rarely drive my car, but am on my bike or on foot.

I have a porch surrounded with tall trees and an expanse of sky. A dogwood tree that when I catch it out of the corner of my eye fools me into thinking it is snowing. Bird song, the chattering shenanigans of squirrels, the ringing of the wind chimes, the scents of flowers, trees and freshly mown grass.

I now understand Emily Dickinson in a way I never contemplated before. If your eyes are open, what is right in front of you and in your consciousness is more than enough to be endlessly engaged, enthralled and moved. Why go out?

There was a day last week a couple of days after the first chemo when I was leaden and stalling out and I spent 7 hours on the futon on the porch. It rained gently, winds blowing softly and then gale force sending blossoms spinning. Blue skies punching through clouds, the color contrast knob dialing up on the entire scene with God light and then turned down to mute. I was entranced, wanting nothing. Utterly content.

Sitting still and watching the landscape around you kaleidoscopically shift and change. Never still. Never stagnant. Always in motion, no place to get to. Right now, right now, right now.

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I read a lot. A couple of books in already. Some writing. I go for walks. Gentle yoga. Lots of sitting quietly and breathing, feeling my body dial down, cells killed off. When do you get to experience your own death and not die at the end? That is amazing. I am fully having this experience. I am paying very close attention. My body keeps loudly reminding me to be still. Be very, very still. I am listening,.

I am fully aware of what a gift it is that I can take this time. My expenses are minimal, no house or car payment. I don’t buy stuff. I live really well and very simply on very little. I have a tiny cushion to float me for a month and my lovely community is keeping me nourished. I am very, very lucky.

So I have stepped off of the carousel and I have no intention of stepping back on. Many new choices and priorities being made. I feel that this experience is about making me stop, listen, recommit to my well being on all levels, not get through this “horrible ordeal so that I can get back to my life”. Not backwards but forwards and my life is happening every moment between those two made up constructs.

Excuse me, but I need to get back to listening to the trees. My life depends on it.

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