While walking through the woods with friends on New Year’s Day, the topic of Pookaride came up. It has been several years since I have written on the blog. My life has been full of many things, and thankfully, cancering has not been one of them. However, The World has experienced a collective ride on the Pooka’s back in recent years, complements of a global pandemic.
During our chat on New Year’s Day, as we meandered through the woods, it occurred to me that sending out an update from the far side of treatments might be helpful to someone who somehow stumbled upon this blog. While in treatments it was very beneficial for me to learn about the stories of those who made a remarkable recovery. To simply know that recovery is an option. Though I do not attribute my own rather remarkable recovery to any one thing, I do know that I suffered less during that year of treatments, just knowing that sometimes people get better, and that I had a chance of being one of those people. Perhaps my experience negotiating transformation, loss, and recovery during the past 9 years might be useful now in a broader way beyond breast cancering, i.e. the pandemic?
Over New Year’s we got together with our Portland Kin, some of whom we have not seen since late 2019. A topic of conversation was of course how the pandemic has impacted our lives, especially our perception of time. How the stress of the pandemic has made memories fuzzier. Fuzzy time is something I have a lot of experience with, and somewhat ironically, during the last three years my mind has been clearer than the 6-7 years prior to that. (Proof and confirmation of the slow yet continuing cognitive recovery from neurological damage rendered by the chemo drugs.)
Cancering definitely was a watershed moment in my life – and for a while it largely filled my thoughts. These days I don’t think about it all the time. This is not to say that it didn’t profoundly change my life, it did. The fall outs from treatments continue to have lasting daily impact. Specifically managing lymphedema in my arm, accomplished with a compression sleeve, and navigating the neuropathy in my hands and feet, and the impact of having muscle removed with my mastectomy. Not to forget, the cognitive impact of chemo brain. (Pun very much intended.)
As I stand here in 2023, my two sons are grown to adulthood, and I am very grateful to be here to witness their brilliance. That gratitude is not diminished when I acknowledge that treatments profoundly impacted the capacity of my physical body in ways that show up in my daily life. Acceptance of my limitations is the result of significant effort. The point being, as always, big events bring big feelings, and the emotional work doesn’t do itself.
Emotional work has its own timeline. I have found that my body remembers, and brings up the topics I need to attend to regularly. Recently I experienced a rapid onset migraine when a difficult interpersonal encounter triggered an older unresolved conflict. The current situation is relatively minor, however the older event, was not. The body holds what we leave untended. In a very real way the body is always left holding the bag on our unaddressed emotional work. Eventually we need to unpack the bag.
I think that the pandemic fuzziness is a direct byproduct of the massive overwhelm that so many experienced. It was literally just too much to handle in the present moment. So, we put away the feeling until later. However this putting away disconnects us from the now. Brain fog is likely connected to the virus, and the vaccine, however, the deferment of emotional work also impacts cognition. If we are concentrating on keeping big feelings in the bag, we have less inner resources available to attend to what is currently happening.
All in all it has been a lot. Our resiliency has been eroded on a a mass scale as a result of our collective experiences. Eventually the numbness may start to ease – the fuzziness starts to dissipate. It seems like 2023 might be that time for some folks. Talking to a friend, she said that the only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other. Each day when we wake up, we are still here. If you are reading this, you are still here. Your lungs are breathing, your heart is beating – you are here in this very moment. You are not alone.
This is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. We can remember that others have come to terms with loss and transformation, which means that we can also.
The Earth is still here – through fire and flood, freeze and heat – the Earth is still here. We are part of the web of life – we are very much ALL ONE, as Dr. Bronner proclaims. Simultaneously the ways of healing are many – there is no one way to heal. There is no one way to integrate your experiences. Remembering that you are not alone in this process can make all the difference. Traveling the path of the Pooka while cancering was a collective path – there were so many people who supported me in ways from small and enormous. At this time we can all help each other.
My hope for all is that we can each find our way to reconnect emotionally to ourselves, to each other, and to the land. Each time we do so it becomes easier to navigate this wild wild world of healing.
So much love-
P.S. I just heard recently about a surgical advancement to prevent lymphedema after mastectomy. Something I would have sought out for my surgery had it been an option.
Here is an article from UC San Diego health about it. “Novel Surgery May Prevent Lymphedema in Patients with Breast Cancer” Here is a link: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2019-11-05-novel-surgery-to-prevent-lymphedema-in-breast-cancer.aspx
Helpful Omens for the New Year. A few gems from our walks over the weekend in natural areas around Portland while visiting kin.
1. Nest from the past, still filled with beauty.
2. Evidence of a past wound, healing.
3. Fruits of Summer, persisting.
4. A swirling of crows, communicating.
1. Our efforts are worth doing even after their time has past.
2. Focus on the healing rather than the woundedness.
3. Abundance is a collaboration- remember the pollinators.
4. We need to gather to talk it out in order to be free.
Thank you to the songbirds, who decorate with lichen. Thank you to the Douglas Fir, for making visible your healing. Thank you to the wild rose for all the love and beauty, and thank you to the Crows for gathering.
May the land speak to you to help you on your way in 2023.