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“One pill makes you larger…”

August 10, 2010

Toby helps mama organize the morning supplements

I’ve heard stories of alternative cancer treatments that involve hundreds of supplements a day. I felt sorry for people who, out of desperation I assumed, reached to such extremes.

And then I became such a supplement taker. I didn’t mean to. And I certainly don’t consider myself desperate. But between recommendations from my naturopath and iridologist/ herbalist, I take well over 100 pills and capsules a day. I think I’m too overwhelmed to count the actual tally but I suspect the number is closer to 150. The modest basket in which we used to store our family’s supplements now holds Toby’s toy cars and buses. In its place is a jumbo-size basket to hold my jumbo-size program. And that doesn’t even include the 6 or 7 tinctures and additional teas I consume daily.

Why so much stuff? Well, because Alice told me so. Alice is the iridologist/herbalist whom I met a few weeks ago. She peered into my eyes with a jeweler’s loop and made a few knowing ahas, hmms, and okays. Then she put the loop down, smiled, and told me: “First of all, you are going to be just fine.” I let out the breath I wasn’t aware I had been holding and smiled, and cried, and laughed, then cried some more. I realized that I was waiting for the “but”, which never came. I realized that I have been holding my breath ever since I got the cancer diagnosis on April 1. With every test and every appointment, from oncologists and immunologists to my medical intuitive and shamanic healer, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to fall–as though cancer wasn’t already shoe size gigantic.

What do I want to hear? What do I want to know? That I will live to see my children grow up and grow old. That I will be healthy and disease-free and live the life that I’ve always yearned to live, the one that flows easily and naturally from my soul’s direction. Nobody can count the number of breaths I have remaining. And if someone could, I wouldn’t want to know. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel elated by Alice’s reassuring words. I did. I took her pronouncement deeply into my heart and return to that place of calm optimism quite frequently.

When my mother was sick with leukemia, Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds became her anthem: “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing’s gonna be all right.” She listened to Bob Marley every day. She played the CD in the car, at home, and in the hospital when she was there for weeks following her bone marrow transplant. She had never been a reggae fan in her life, but there she was doing chair exercises to Bob Marley in her isolated room on the bone marrow unit. The music made her feel better, but underneath it all she was terrified.

I keep thinking about my mother, Toby Maxine. Now that I’ve done some of my own research, I think about all the alternative and complementary approaches she could have investigated during her illness. I tried once to talk to her about things like acupuncture, macrobiotics, and Chinese mushrooms. I sent her books, CDs, and a relaxation DVD from Amazon. We popped the DVD into the player. Gentle, instrumental music wafted into the family room and the screen played serene images of rivers and other nature scenes. Then a word would flash and linger on the scene, something like “Breathe.”  It reminded me of the videos that some airlines play to help relax passengers before take off.  After a few minutes of this, my mother said: “Turn it off. It’s depressing me.” Thus ended Mom’s exposure to alternative body-mind techniques.

She wanted the drugs. She wanted to do only what the medical doctors advised. She wanted my father’s support, and he wanted the drugs and he bowed down to the medical gods. After the shock of the initial diagnosis (she was admitted to the hospital through the ER, told she had acute leukemia, and started on chemo that night), my mother suffered terrible panic attacks. Home in my little one-bedroom apartment in Harvard Square, I wept for her almost daily. It was a harrowing 10 months from the time of her diagnosis to the time of her death. I wanted my mother to change her lifestyle, to become an entirely different person. I wanted her to drink wheat grass and meditate, and become an enlightened sage who when faced with her own mortality rose above it to higher levels of consciousness.

Then one night, while sitting on the sofa in my apartment, while petting the cat or drinking a cup of tea or staring into space, I felt suddenly pierced by a jolt of white terror.  It took my breath away. I felt like I had entered my mother’s body, or perhaps she had entered mine. “What if I were the one who had cancer?” whispered a small voice inside myself. “What would I do?” I realized right then and there how arrogant and naive I had been to expect anything of my mother. I dropped my agenda and determined that I would love and support her unconditionally, no matter what.

It’s 10 years later and now I am the one with the diagnosis. (Is it possible that I did take my mother’s cancer into myself?) I didn’t mean to write about my mother. I intended to write about my son, Toby, her namesake. I wanted to say that when I got diagnosed, I was so afraid of becoming infirm. I didn’t want my son to think of me as the sick mama. I tried to shield him from it, but then I realized that I can’t and shouldn’t hide my healing from my children. If I want to teach them to be authentic in their lives, I need to model it. Toby has seen all of my surgical scars. He’s tasted some of my teas. He can pick out the bottle of Paba from the Milk Thistle. At dinner, he counts out his peas and says he’s taking his supplements.

One afternoon while driving home after a particularly tantrum-filled day, Toby tells me that he has just seen the grouchy monster (our little game to help him identify and deal with the bad moods that descend like sudden summer storms).

“Oh, where is he?” I ask.

“He’s over there,” Toby says, pointing out the car window at some houses.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s doing work.”

“What kind of work?”

“Healing work,” my 3-year-old says confidently.

I haven’t yet made it to my zafu to meditate and instead of juicing wheat grass I drink straight chlorophyll and take baths in apple cider vinegar. I had contemplated pumping and drinking my own breast milk (yes, studies have shown that breast milk kills cancer cells), but let’s just say that for various reasons I’ve laid that one aside for the moment. But I love the idea. I love exploring the threads and connections and discovering everything I can about healing. It’s a great mystery and adventure, and this time it is even more personal than it was 10 years ago. Now it’s my body, my life.

Yes, we’re doing healing work, Toby. Healing work.

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One comment

  1. When I read about Alice and how you had been holding your breath waiting for the other shoe to drop, I totally understood. It is scary. You never planned for any of this…and now it is like you are trying to plan for the worst, just to have some control. Hopefully, the worst is over.
    Your revealations are powerful and helpful to anyone who has gone through a crisis, especially of medical nature. Your blog brings insight and healing to all of us. Thanks for sharing Shira.



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