I have done traditional meditation for years.  I visualize, I do focus exercises, I’m even now dabbling in transcendental meditation (it all makes me sound so deep).  It’s an incredible experience.   I come out calmer, centered, and more focused.  It eases my physical pain.  Meditation is a wonderful treatment for a variety of things that may be ailing you.


Back when I started meditating about 10 years ago, my favorite exercise was focusing on the sound of the fan.  The noise, the patterns, the soothing way that it repeated.   Everything else melted away, until it was just me and the fan as I floated off.  Usually to sleep.


That was pre-cancer.


Now is post-chemo brain.


These days, my fan can’t crack the surface of my thoughts.  It’s like a maelstrom in there, a hurricane of ideas, reminders, and unrelated facts that only seem to come to me when I am trying to forget them.  Some days, I can’t sort through the debris.  Sometimes I wonder why I want to.  It’s a whole bunch of nothing.  A pile of crap.  Stuff I’ll forget in five minutes anyway.


But then I made a discovery.  Pretty mind-blowing, actually.  Something that has spun my meditation to a whole new level.


I almost hate to admit this.  And I apologize to all the yogis out there who think that I am crazy.   But I’m going to just come out and say it.


I may be the only person in the world who meditates to Metallica.


Yes, THAT Metallica.


I know others may listen to music while meditating.   It may even be beautiful,  uplifting, inspiring tunes.  That doesn’t do it for me.  I need noise to calm my thoughts.  Loud, pounding, angry,  head-banging kind of noise.  Sort of like pouring ice-water on your brain kind of noise.  Yes, it may hurt for a moment, but then comes the sweet relief.  I only hear the sounds from the song, not the nagging of my mind.  My head bobs in time to the beat.  Maybe theres even some fist pumping, let’s not judge.  My thoughts feel less disjointed, more associated.


And I get calm.  I float off to another plane, if I can be so honest.  They are putting into words what I am thinking.   All the pain, the grief, the madness, the anger.  Its all there, and the music helps me release it.  It’s actually kind of incredible.


I still practice the same habits as before.  I’m not completely shutting down my brain.  But I am sitting back and letting the waves turn into eddies so that I can sort out what I need to.  And I can turn off the music and feel the tranquility that has washed over me.  It doesn’t matter what went on that day.  Or what will happen tomorrow.  Or in ten years.  I am centered.  I am whole.


And I have found what works for me.






Bucking the norm

In the hours after getting the results of my biopsy,  I remember having the sense that I was suddenly a mutant.  I was no longer normal.  I was suddenly bombarded with big words I did not understand, and scary sounding treatments that I dreaded.  And I wanted to go back to my ignorant, normal bliss of being healthy.


Over the next few months, I started coming to grips with the fact that I was on a year-long journey that had more downs than ups.  And what helped me through, what sometimes drove me to just survive this hour,  was the expectation that after it was all said and done, that I would get back to a normal life.  I would go to work, putter in my yard, enjoy my hobbies, and travel the world again.  On my worst night, when I was bawling my eyes out because I couldn’t face the prospect of getting out of bed the next morning for chemo #12, I gritted my teeth, told myself normal was just around the corner, and took care of business.


Which is why it was so frustrating when normal never materialized.   As I finished chemo and navigated radiation, I started getting strength back.  I began to exercise again.  I grew hair.  I went on a trip to celebrate life.  But so many additional items were packed in my suitcase.  The neuropathy in my feet, the anxiety, the chemo brain, the aching in my bones.  I started looking for a new job and had such bad panic attacks that I delayed any searching for a few months.  I developed lymphedema  (swelling in my arm from lymph node removal).  Life was still surreal six months after treatment ended.  And I kept asking once again, where is my normal?


As I come up to the one year anniversary of my treatment conclusion, there are still ups and downs.  I have developed nerve pain my arm, and the aches in my bones keep getting worse.  I am plagued by continuing fatigue, and periods of anxiety I don’t ever wish on anyone else.   But I found a temp job that I am loving, and I am slowly getting back to doing all the things I have missed at home.  And I have come to the realization that there is no normal.  Life is constantly changing,  and what is normal one minute, is crazy the next.  I am learning to embrace it.  Because this is who I am, and I want to live for now.  Not for one day when I am “normal.”

Take a ride on the Reading

Cancer takes things from you.  It has taken my inhibitions.   That happens after being felt up and stared at by more doctors, nurses, medical assistants, techs, and med students than I can count.  Hopefully they were all hospital employees.  It has taken my taste buds.  I literally cover all my food in hot sauce and peppers just so I can taste it.  It tried to take my hair, but I got the last laugh when I realized that I actually like my mane super short.  HA!

But I never thought it would take the activity that is nearest and dearest to my heart.

You see, my friends, I cannot read.

Clearly, I don’t mean that in a literal sense.  I still look at the page, and the collection of motley symbols crystallizes into prose like magic, and I am whisked away to far off places.  But I can’t make myself sit down and actually read the entire book.  I now careen through life with dozens of partially read books in my wake.  I used to devour books, now I sit down to read one and think, meh, maybe I’ll just watch a movie.  What???

It is called chemo brain, and the struggle is very real.

According to MD Anderson Cancer Centers, some symptoms of chemo brain include:
  • Difficulty concentrating on a single task
  • Problems with short-term memory; forgetting details of recent events
  • Feeling mentally “slower” than usual
  • Confusing dates and appointments
  • Misplacing objects
  • Fumbling for the right word or phrase

This last one is the reason you can find me standing in the middle of the kitchen frantically pointing at the stove, with no idea what the big hunk of metal is called.

This lack of focus does not extend to my work life.  I hit the office and immerse myself in the fascinating world of numbers with an intensity I haven’t felt in years.  We tussle, we fight, sometimes there is foul language, but at the end of the day, I’ve solved the puzzle, and all is right with the world. My superpower? I create order out of numeric chaos.  I am Nancy Drew, charging around in my roadster looking for clues.  I am Hercule Poirot using my little grey cells to ferret out what is missing from the picture.  I am Kinsey Millhone, drinking cheap wine and piecing disparate bits of information into a patchwork quilt of problem solving.

Just call me the numeric detective.

What I am not anymore, however, is a reader.  I have tried books on tape, but I would frankly rather watch a movie.  Reading gives me a headache.  I also can’t remember what I have read by the next page, so I have to constantly re-read passages.  Words no longer flow like a peaceful river; instead it is like a slow moving bed of lava.  It hurts. Ever been stabbed in the back by your best friend?  Yes, it is that level of emotional pain.

I am coming to terms with my limitations.  I find other ways to occupy my mind and combat the chemo brain.  My planner and a stack of notebooks accompany me everywhere.  My best buddy gave me a sudoku-a-day calendar that is my daily mind warmup.  I don’t blank out quite as often in the middle of sentences anymore.  I still hope to find that literary drive again.  To be a bookworm extraordinaire. An ultimate nerd.

Or to quote Ms.Millhone –

“There were pieces missing yet but they would fall into place and then maybe the whole of it would make sense.” 
― Sue GraftonA is for Alibi