Choose to be united and protest without having to be divided and self–righteous

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The other day a Seattle resident struck up a conversation with me at the lounge of our building. She was knitting by the sofa near the T.V. and had switched the channel to Fox News. Then she started talking about giving President-elect “a chance”, and wondered why “liberals” were being uncooperative and mean to him. Instinctively, I judged her political views and tried to avoid discussing the upcoming demonstrations in Seattle. I felt like leaving without being rude. Instead I whispered to myself “Don’t judge”, and told her there is blame to be shared on both sides. Though I tend to be politically progressive, I do not have much respect for Democrats, as a whole, and what they have done to the party. Frankly, both parties suck. It’s just that one party sucks more than the other.

We discussed how politically correct many people are around here, and we talked about the “Seattle Freeze”—it really does exist! We lamented how much easier it was to strike up a conversation in the neighborhoods where we grew up. Our conversation moved to where we are from (most Seattleites are transplants from another state). She is from the Southeast; I am from the Northeast. She lost her life-long partner to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her husband had a heart condition so he could not receive the full blast of chemotherapy and radiation. Eventually, he achieved remission and improved his health, only to suffer the unforgiving cruelty of relapse (the cancer came back with a vengeance). I moved to the Pacific Northwest and started anew after battling concurrent types of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was deemed “cancer free” four years ago having endured 10 rounds of what my body and brain could handle from an intense and full complement of I.V. chemo and intrathecal injections (chemo administered into the Central Nervous System).

It was a candid and thoughtful conversation. At some point I discussed the situation with my parents: neither of them has it made in the shade. My mom is a three-time cancer survivor with multiple health issues, and she is working full-time. My dad has advanced Alzheimer’s disease and signs of Parkinson’s disease: he can barely utter words (let alone sentences); he cannot walk or hold things, and he needs to be spoon-fed puréed food. He is also incontinent. At some point I mentioned that I would rather go through the hellish regimen of high-dose chemo again than to see my father suffer such a precipitous decline. Suddenly, the weight of emotions got to me. I stood there speechless with my head tilted downward–my heart was overwhelmed with compassion for my parents. She came over and gave me the sweetest, caring hug.

There will be protests, revolts and boycotts. People will express utter disapproval of the President-elect, his Cabinet nominees; and voice disappointment in our city and state representatives: both Democrats and Republicans. And there are valid reasons to do so! It is important to acknowledge how strong we are as individuals and as a movement. But don’t forget the underlying fragility that makes us so vulnerable and lovable, no matter what our ego attempts to project. Every person has suffered some form of loss in their lives. We can choose to be united and protest without having to be divided and self–righteous. If we are open-minded and compassionate, we can find something in common with one another.

Why Reiki?

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Life is a journey. Life is a mystery. Life has many beautiful moments and tumultuous obstacles. The trajectory we calculate for ourselves is not necessarily the road that is followed. Vicissitudes of winding roads forces us off the beaten path. In the process, we momentarily lose ourselves then eventually discover more of what we truly want out of our lives.

In the summer of 1983 when I was 13 years of age, my mother had a malignant lump in her breast which needed to be removed. My mom spent weeks in discomfort following the lumpectomy. My father worked long hours and my brother, who was 15 years old at the time, spent most of those days hanging out with his friends. Instinctively yet unknowingly, I took on a caregiver role in helping my mom recuperate.

My mother would have ongoing health issues as I grew up. In 2004, she was diagnosed with colon cancer.  I helped my mom in a different capacity with a more lighthearted approach as she slowly recovered from surgery and chemotherapy. In 2008, my mother underwent a bilateral mastectomy followed by breast reconstruction. I was there every step of the way to get her through the toughest hurdles.

My introduction to Reiki was not very memorable. Twenty years ago my best friend, Tom, began a journey to harness the subtle energy of Reiki. Initially I dismissed this practice, and I belittled his endeavors as a Reiki Master. As I matured and opened my mind, I gained an appreciation for this technique. Not shortly thereafter, I would request distant Reiki during marathon races as an extra boost of energy to help me cross the finish line. Later on, I would learn Reiki’s greatest gift is in helping others.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of lymphoma. Tom mentioned that the hospital where I was treated offered Reiki to cancer patients. So I made arrangements for a Reiki session before each round of treatment. I have scheduled periodic Reiki work since finishing chemo in 2013.

The experience in caring for my mother and surviving cancer paved a path for me to volunteer at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, The Double Hit Lymphoma Foundation, and to participate with Team In Training. It was also an inspirational way of paying forward to the patients and families battling blood cancer.  I have managed online support groups and befriended many survivors and warriors of Double Hit lymphoma. And I have been trained at LLS as part of the First Connections program to provide peer-to-peer support for patients with similar diagnosis.

My continuing fulfillment as a volunteer and as a cancer survivor is to broaden and improve my skills in helping patients navigate their journeys through listening, relating, empowering and providing positive energy to those who are open and willing to receive it. Getting immersed in Reiki is a complementary path on presence, community and healing in the curriculum to personal growth.

What a journey it has been during and after battling Double-Hit Lymphoma

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Cubs game at Wrigley Field April 2014 with my best friend, Tom Brophy, and some awesome people from The Double Hit Lymphoma Foundation, including Jill and Mike Folan, Dr. Adam Petrich and Aubrey Sharman.

In late April 2014, I drove across country from my former home in Hackensack, New Jersey to the Emerald City of the Pacific Northwest. Many thanks to my best friend, Tom Brophy, who took time off from his new job to fly out from Seattle and accompany me on this journey. Tom’s companionship was invaluable. And he did a great job as my co-pilot.

We matched the itinerary day-to-day from the start on Sunday, April 20th to the final destination on Monday, April 28th. I estimated 3,300 miles, including sightseeing stops, and we ended up covering 3,275 miles–only off by 25 miles or 0.7% from initial estimate.

Along the journey, we enjoyed Major League baseball games at PNC Park, and Wrigley Field (on the day of the Cubs centennial celebration). Tom and I canvassed the beautiful campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana on our way to Chicago. We visited Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. We drove through and hiked parts of Badlands National Park in South Dakota (and we avoided the rattle snacks). We saw plenty of prairie dogs in Buffalo Gap National Grassland. And we stopped by the “must-see” Wall Drug in ‘The Mount Rushmore State’ then hung out in Deadwood, where I went jogging along the George S. Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills. We made the awe-inspiring “Close Encounters” trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming (because it ‘meant something’ to us). And we got a glimpse of the historic Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in ‘Big Sky Country’ (in addition to seeing wild horses up close). I jogged along the natural sandstone Rims in Billings, Montana then Tom and I caught some nice views at Headwater State Park in Three Forks—just south where the Missouri River begins (longest river in the U.S.) and is met by three other rivers: Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin. We traversed three mountain passes on the last day of the trip, including the Rockies west of Missoula, MT and again upon entering Idaho then the Cascades in Washington state as we approached Seattle from the east on Interstate 90.

We met wonderful folks at The Double Hit Lymphoma Foundation. I reached out to Jill Folan, the founder of TDHLF, before I set out on the transcontinental journey. And I wrote this perspective of my battle with Double-Hit lymphoma for their Patient Stories. Tom and I had a great time with the TDHLF group at the ballgame and afterwards. I met three Double-Hit lymphoma warriors, and with other friends who I had been communicating with online prior to finally meeting them in person. It was a darn awesome and an amazing trip!

Kudos to my Honda Civic Si sedan for holding up just fine through multiple heavy downpours, including hailstones (the small, non-damaging size), sleet, wet snow, slick and winding roads, and occasional steep grades and fierce cross winds. In all we covered three time zones and 13 states: NJ, PA, OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, IA, SD, MT, WY, ID, WA.

Last but not least, let me just say there are a lot of beautiful places to see and people to meet in this country. Don’t be afraid to stretch and challenge your comfort zone! The benefits can far outweigh the risks.

TDHLF Patient Stories: My Battle with Double-Hit Lymphoma (February 9, 2014)