We did it. We went traveling. We’d planned a nice long snowbird trip. My illness stopped that notion. But it didn’t say we couldn’t go… come back and get checked out… and then go again. And that’s exactly what we did.
The siren call of a warm summer beach was incessant during our white cloud winter days. We didn’t even try to resist. As soon as the CMV numbers went down, we made reservations. By the ninth of January, we were walking down that beach we’d dreamed of. Sometimes, expectations don’t match reality. But that warm water and smooth sand were exactly as we remembered it and the warmth of the sun healed immediately and deeply.
What we did on that sweet Mexican beach was not remarkable. We ate at seaside restaurants, protected our feet from the nocturnal sand fleas, and shuttled between sun and shade as needed. At night we watched the new moon trailing Venus slide into the sea. Fishermen swirled nets like capes into water, capturing baitfish. Pelicans, blue footed and brown boobies, Arctic Terns populated the space just above the ocean surface, spending each day in a languorous dance of gliding and acrobatic flying, punctuated by headlong dives into the water. Mexican families seem to love to spend time at the frontier of land and wave, spending their time playing with sand, burying themselves and each other, laughing as they do so. This activity I did my best to emulate, as it struck me as such a gentle and joyous way to enjoy the beach, no toys required. Steve calls me Curious George. He says his dad was like that staring and rubber necking while he was people watching. I confess, I am that person too. The rewards of such an intent pursuit are great… like the sight of several lean healthy women some years my elders emerging from the sea after an hour bouncing around in the water together was a new definition of mystic sea maiden. It filled me with hope and admiration.
We had friends and our daughter with us, so conversation was a major activity. Everyone walked so much it wasn’t even worth mentioning. You walked to get to where you were going, and then some cause it was so beautiful… like the nightly sunset walk.
Yoga was a daily project. Our music was a melody of surf, dogs barking, motors, voices, roosters and the monotonous and somehow enjoyable chant of the produce man and the cadence of “El Gas!” In the north, the focus is indoors, here it was intermingled with scents of every kind—salty, sweet, acrid, floral. The open architecture led into palm fronds. In the balance poses, I would center my focus on one still cloud in a robin’s egg blue sky. In Shivasana, or corpse pose, we laid on our mats, bare skin brushed by salty breezes.
In the evening, during the walks, we picked up plastic. It was everywhere. This became quite philosophical activity. I thought much about my talks and reading about Forest Dwellers. Staying healthy, going to the beach for fun and relaxation, yes. Must be done for healing. So picking up trash becomes something to be done in a relaxed manner, so as not to lose all the benefits that brought us here.
My major purpose in going to Mexico wasn’t adventure or to learn Spanish. We only dared take two weeks away from the doctor and weekly CMV testing. I have learned to have goals that are not larger than life, but life itself. My goal was to build “chi”, the internal energy that fuels our breath and blood. For that, I needed to exercise-gently. Stretch tight muscles and absorb the heat. Eat delicious fresh food. Rest. Journal, meditate and write. Absorb beauty and give thanks. Find some small service. Contemplate the Face of the Divine in the ocean. Live an elemental life outdoors. Read a good book. Enjoy. I managed to check off every one of those.
I learned the term Hypnagogia— the experience of the transitional state from sleep to wakefulness. Some places embody that state. This little town in Mexico did just that.
Then we came back, walked through the decision once again of whether it felt safe to go. Decided yes. And the trip to Maui took shape.
Aloha. There are many definitions of this word but the one that very clearly states our experience is “ let there be friendship and love between us.” We were lucky to have friends in Maui by friends who embodied this meaning. I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to witness this place, fighting for its identity, on a magical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Steve and I used our little used rental car to travel all over the island, and we experienced some wonderful hikes in the mountainous and sacred areas of the island.
The effort of Maui to retain its culture in the face of extensive tourism is one worth noting and honoring. This will echo in our hearts for a long time. There is much to feel and notice on Maui, if that is what you are doing. Like on Ireland, I felt this island as the body of the Goddess. I heard the primordial voices of the Elders guiding those who listened. There is a sense of waking up on Maui, right alongside the trance of pleasure. It is what keeps Maui from being an adult Disneyland. This feeling of waking up and the Divine Feminine, surrounded by the mighty Pacific Ocean made this trip very special.
But this isn’t to wander off on my reflections of our travels. I stayed pretty healthy in Mexico but it didn’t stay that way. I noted in my journal before we left that I felt a heaviness in my chest. That feeling grew and hindered me on our hikes. I seemed to be less able to hike uphill without a real effort and a recovery after that sometimes took more than a day. In between, the GI tract kicked up too, so that I experienced a day or two out and about on Maui, and then a day to rest, as in could barely move. My appetite would swing from zero to avid daily. When the “vog” (mixture of volano ash and fog) came in from the Big Island the chest heaviness settled in more deeply and went into a cough, fluid in the lungs and fever.
So, our return from Maui has been tarnished with getting sick with pneumonia, and discovering that my pericardial heart effusion (fluid around the heart) had grown, and it was affecting my activities. Even now, with the symptoms of pneumonia healed, I still feel the heaviness and the cough every time I bend over. Which has led me…right back to the SCCA and to UW Cardiology.
On a lonely trip back to Seattle a few days ago, I met with the Head of Infectious Disease at SCCA. She took my “case” to her entire team last week to decide what the next steps should be for the ongoing CMV issue. Always good to note you are confounding even to the doctors. Meanwhile, “regular folks” are always confused when I try to bring up CMV. They just want to know that I am cured of cancer, and I am indeed cancer-free.
Yes. Huge gratitude and appreciation. But by now, my immune system has been so damaged with the antivirals, that it may need some real creativity to repair it. Long Term Followup at SCCA is very difficult to negotiate, due to their policy of constantly rotating physicians. So when this physician assured me she would stay with me until we’d thoroughly dealt with CMV, it was remarkable. On her recommendation, I will double my dose of the anti-viral Valgancyclovir to 1800 mg, for three weeks, then go down by half, and then… wait and see. This Infectious Disease doctor (not giving names) readily agreed to work with my local oncologist AND the Naturopath. That has got to be unusual. The allopathic approach has come up against a wall. They don’t really know what to with me. Whatever course of action is next will have to be different from what I have been doing, so they are open to a new approach. While I am still hammering the virus with anti-virals, I will also follow the Naturopathic route to dealing with strengthening my immune system and dealing with anemia. This idea of actually having a team (all women): a local oncologist, a specialist and a Naturopath has me feeling more optimistic than I have felt for a long time.
By contrast, the cardiologist meeting was a bit of the dreary same old thing where I have very little time with the ever-busy doctors and virtually no time for clarification or questions. Despite that, I felt confident with them. The echocardiogram clearly shows a moderate to large effusion around my heart, which also causes my blood pressure to be very high. The fluid around my heart needs to be drained, they told me. The cause of the fluid is not known, but may be tied to the chemo pill, Dasatinib, which I have taking twice daily. This is an important drug, and one I don’t want to just give it up, but it may be the culprit with the excess fluid. Or it may be that my kidney has been injured and is spilling protein and that releases the fluid, in some way I don’t totally understand. And then, it could be linked to the pneumonia. The last time they found an effusion, it was in coincidence with last year’s pneumonia. I won’t lie. This heart procedure is scary to me. I can’t do it until April, so I am quietly hoping that things will settle down in the meantime.
It’s a lot—these wonderful mind expanding trips and the perplexing and maddening doctor/medical system. I came home with a commitment to Total Health. I think I have gone along, thinking “partial health” is fine and I am doing “good enough” for what I’ve gone through. This is reiterated to me by many well-meaning people in their desire to be empathetic. But Partial Health is not good enough. I want to see myself as on the road to Total Health. I don’t know if that sounds extraordinary, but it feels that way. It means giving up the Matrix where I have been operating inside the world of cancer, cancer treatments and allopathic medicine. It means going somewhere inside I have never been before. This was a gift of the two places we visited in the beginning of 2015! More on this as it happens.