Tag Archives: sarcoma blog

Books: More Than a Treasured Wealth

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

It was a book lover’s dream. Only small wrapped tomes we had brought lay around the beautifully decorated tree.
About 15 children’s book writers and illustrators circled up. Before we picked out our packages, we were asked to give brief descriptions of what we currently were reading. How fun to hear people talk about the details of the writing skills of the authors—books they did, or did not, enjoy, and why.
Then we took turns selecting gifts. If we wanted to, on our individual turns, we could steal what someone else had already opened. In turn, someone could steal what we held in our laps.
Writers kept stealing a book about writing prompts and another about how to write for the screen. The most unique gift was an old book with the center cut out and a gift card and chocolate bar placed inside.
Interestingly, no one stole that gift, though the owner had squealed with delight when she opened it.
Clearly we were all bibliophiles.
My package contained a double delight, which I managed to bring home—How to Get Happily Published and Lemony Snicket Lump of Coal.
I’m grateful there are still booklovers among us—people who love the look and feel of a book, people who love to turn pages, people who know what makes for good writing.
Books helped save my life after I was diagnosed with highly aggressive end-stage cancer—especially Waking the Warrior Goddess by Christine Horner, M.D. They pointed to important studies that gave evidence for integrative practices I used to help my body return to health. They helped me understand what so-called solutions to avoid. And they helped me heal my life with insights and understanding.
The books I read during my journey back toward health are referenced in the back of Thriver Soup. For me, books are not only my treasured wealth, they also are life savers.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:
For a list of resources beyond Thriver Soup, see references used in the book on pp. 358-375.

Source:
Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862), American essayist and poet.

How to Manage Your Emotions

Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

 

Digging deeply into the present moment can be enraging, terrifying, or sorrow-filled. That’s why many of us are experts at avoiding our feelings, at living in our heads, at focusing on thinking and doing rather than being.

When we are stimulated into raw emotions such as rage, terror, or grief, we experience uncomfortable physical sensations in our bodies—a red face, butterflies in the stomach, an ache in the heart. This happens because our brains are programmed to respond to threatening stimuli by dumping chemicals into our bloodstreams, according to Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, author of My Stroke of Insight.

“It takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream,” she said.

Hearing this on her CD, I got my own jolt. She was giving a physiological explanation for what my psychotherapist had taught me, a practice called the map the emotions. Practicing the map provided me with enormous assistance for successfully navigating the traumas I’ve endured since 2009—end-stage sarcoma, then divorce, then the loss of my 19-year-old.

And suddenly the experience of grief rising, cresting, and crashing like ocean waves made sense.

During those 90-second surges, I had practiced staying with the physical sensations in my body without thinking about them, analyzing them, judging them, or making stories about them. I did not have a choice about what happened those first 90 seconds inside my body. I did have a choice how I would respond. I could observe and accept the sensations, staying in my body and in the physiological experience; or I could ignore the sensations and get stuck in emotional pain.

After the 90 seconds were over, I had another choice. Was I going to turn my attention to the source of that stimulation, allow my negative story-teller to re-weave a web of drama, get emotionally triggered again, and continue the pain?

Or was I going to live in the present moment, turn my attention away from the trigger, and choose to let the experience go?

Sometimes I allowed myself to be triggered repeatedly for more than an hour. Yet I stayed with the practice of experiencing the physical sensations with each surge of emotion. Finally I would want some peace and I chose to stop setting off my brain’s limbic system with my thoughts.

It takes practice, like any other skill. Allow time to develop these new thinking and behavior patterns. If you choose this practice, be gentle with yourself as you learn this new way of engaging your thoughts and emotions.

By practicing the map of emotions, I made a conscious choice. I became response-able. Taylor said, “If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you.”

You will be digging deeply in the present moment, and the water of life will spring forth.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you feel a sudden surge of emotion, focus on the physical sensations it creates. Notice how it moves around or possibly gets intense. Notice it lift after 90 seconds. Do all of this without engaging your mind. See if it brings you a sense of peace or relief, and watch your thoughts to see if they want to re-engage with the initial trigger.

Sources:

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (New York: Bantam, March 1, 1992), pp. 41, 42.

Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (Viking, New York: 2008), pp. 146, 148, 152.

Photo: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=5127&picture=breaking-wave

Heidi Bright awarded Champion in Cancer Care

Amy Ostigny nominated Heidi Bright for the Champion in Cancer Care award.

Heidi Bright, MDiv, Milford, Ohio, has been named 2017 Champion in Cancer Care by Cancer Support Community in Cincinnati.

The CSC gala on Saturday, Oct. 14, honored inspirational individuals working in cancer care.

Bright, in radical remission from highly aggressive end-stage sarcoma for six years, embodies the words Champion in Cancer Care—she champions genuine hope and hundreds of healing solutions for cancer patients, according to her nominator, Amy Ostigny, Executive Managing Director of eWomenNetwork Cincinnati.

As a national speaker and traditionally published author of Thriver Soup: A Feast for Living Consciously During the Cancer Journey, Bright emphasizes healing one’s life to open space for the body’s natural healing abilities to arise, said Ostigny.

“Her compassion shines through when speaking and writing because she knows the devastation of being told there are no more medical options and to get one’s affairs in order,” said Ostigny.

All proceeds from CSC’s signature fundraising event are channeled into free programs and services for anyone impacted by cancer. http://www.cancersupportcincinnati.org/Default.aspx

How to Quiet the Peanut Gallery

Be not thoughtless, watch your thoughts! Draw yourself out of the evil way, like an elephant sunk in mud.

The Dhammapada, v.327

Watch your thoughts! warns the Buddha. Negative self-talk and storytelling arise from an area in the left hemisphere of our brains that takes up about as much space as a peanut. Jill Bolte Taylor, author of My Stroke of Insight, calls it the “peanut gallery.”

Do you have a peanut gallery in your mind that runs negative thinking loops over and over again, like a broken record? Do you obsess over an event in the past or an upcoming situation, like a cancer treatment you have to endure? Do you whine and complain about the same things, like cancer treatment side-effects?

Perhaps you can steer your brain cells in a more pleasant direction.

Taylor says, “I have learned that I can own my power and stop thinking about events that have occurred in the past by consciously realigning myself with the present.”

Nothing is more empowering than realizing you don’t have to think thoughts that bring pain, she adds. “It is freeing to know that I have the conscious power to stop thinking those thoughts when I am satiated.”

How do you stop the negative thinking? Use that peanut in your brain to entice the elephant of negative thinking up out of the mud so you can wash the dirt of negativity away.

First notice that it’s going on. Try to simply observe, not judge, any looping thoughts. Watch your mind as an external witness so you can notice your habitual patterns.

Next, when you notice the negativity, try switching your attention to your body. Feel the four corners of your feet. Focus on your in-and-out breathing. This will slow down the self-talk and help you reconnect your mind with your body, returning yourself to wholeness and the present moment.

Then initiate some conscious self-talk. Some of my friends encourage me to say, “Cancel, cancel, cancel” when I express negative thinking. I also find it helpful to recite a ritual prayer or affirmation. Another method is to talk directly to the negative thinker inside our brains, saying, “Stop. I don’t need that anymore.” Or maybe imagine that clean elephant wagging its trunk in front of the peanut gallery, threatening it to shut up—or else.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Watching your thoughts takes vigilance, because the peanut gallery is persistent. It can chatter incessantly, especially when you are tired. You have to be more persistent with redirecting your attention. Have your own plan in place to first notice, then deal with the negativity so you can return to the present moment where there is more peace.

Sources:

Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 10: The Dhammapada and Sutta Nipata, by Max Müller and Max Fausböll, [1881], at http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/sbe10/sbe1025.htm 10/8/2017

Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (Viking, New York: 2008), 147, 148, 152.

6 Years Clear :-)

It’s official!
My 6-year chest X-ray is clear. I had an abdominal scan in March after December’s intestinal blockage/hernia operation; also clear.
With deep gratitude I stepped into St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Ky. I lit a cobalt-blue candle in front of Mother Mary, got on my knees, and gave heartfelt thanks for this incredible miracle.
And for the wonderful support of family and friends, for the conventional treatments that bought me time, and for all the healing options available.

Also of note:
You can catch the #ThriverSoup interview this past week on #MomentswithMarianne now on youtube starting at 36:25: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiAxuUTXqGo

How Nutritious are Your Eggs?

  1. You should not wantonly climb in trees to look for nests and destroy eggs. 98. You should not use cages to trap birds and [other] animals.

One Hundred and Eighty Precepts

These Daoist sayings are hard. I can understand not wantonly destroying eggs, but not using cages to trap birds and other animals? We wouldn’t have farms without them. Some would argue that would be a good practice, but for people who believe they need eggs and meat, the way to follow this with limited land resources would be to pasture-raise our farm animals. This is expensive and uses a lot of land, raising the price of eggs and meat.

I used to buy my eggs from a discount store at a discount price. The poor hens, most likely trapped in battery cages, probably never saw sunlight or moved outside of their tiny cells. (In a 2014 report, 95% of U.S. eggs came from hens trapped in battery cages.) What a miserable existence. I found the shells overly easy to crack open. They reminded me of the egg breakage I’d read about among wild birds. These fowl are experiencing losses in breeding success due to contamination by post-1945 “residues of synthetic organic chemicals used as pesticides and in industry.”

As I learned, I moved to slightly costlier eggs.

One day my son cut his finger and bled profusely. I remembered reading that eggshell membranes can be used to temporarily stop excessive bleeding. I grabbed an egg and struggled to get a little bit of the membrane out of the bottom of the shell. I got only a small crumpled piece out, and put it on his little cut.

The cut immediately stopped bleeding. We were both stunned.

I then looked up more information on those membranes. They can be used to

  • treat wounds to prevent scar tissue;
  • reduce the effects of osteoarthritis;
  • improve health of skin, hair, and nails.

That was the end of cheap eggs for me. I began buying my eggs from local farmers, and when they weren’t available, got organic eggs from the supermarket. I immediately noticed a difference when cracking the eggs—the shells were tougher to break open.

But how to separate the membrane from the shell? I tried a few methods, none of which worked very well. The membranes were slick, tore easily, and took forever to separate from the shells.

Okay, so maybe the problem, again, was with the eggs themselves. So I moved to the most expensive eggs—organic, free-range, certified humane (raised and handled), and no synthetic pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics.

Viola! The membrane, tough and gauzy, pulled right off in large pieces. So easy! And to me it meant the membrane must be full of nutrients, especially collagen. I wanted those nutrients.

 

[Watch the 1-minute video here.]

I clean the membranes and drop them into my Vitamix to blend with greens for my smoothies.

To me, it’s worth the extra expense to get high-quality eggs, not only because I am prone to osteoarthritis, but also because as a survivor of highly aggressive end-stage sarcoma, nutrition is extremely important to me. I want to maintain my cancer remission! Healthy eating can only help, in my opinion.

Plus I’d rather get the membrane from eggs I cracked, so I know the source, than something that has been put through a chemical or other process, and then who knows the quality of the membrane anyway. Probably not from the healthiest eggs.

And another benefit. I clean and dehydrate the shells, crush them with a mortar and pestle, then add lemon or lime juice and have my own calcium supplement.

I am happy to follow the Daoist precept to avoid at least the battery cages and go with free-range, organically fed, humanely treated hens. Happy hens make good eggs, which please me.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

For the healthiest eggs, look for free-range or pasture-raised organic eggs that are not treated with hormones or antibiotics.

Sources:

One Hundred and Eighty Precepts, http://fore.yale.edu/religion/daoism/texts/

“An estimated 95% of all eggs in the United States are produced in conventional cage systems, sometimes called battery cages.… According to UEP, conventional cage systems typically provide each laying hen an average of 67 square inches of floor space. In some egg operations, hens have less space.” https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/47ce/d140eac346b2b8d59781291411dd60148bfe.pdf

Contamination, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273074182_Changes_Attributable_to_Pesticides_in_Egg_Breakage_Frequency_and_Eggshell_Thickness_in_Some_British_Birds

What’s in eggshell membrane: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggshell_membrane, http://eggmem.org/en/about/

Treating wounds: http://eggmem.org/en/about/page1.php

Treating arthritis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2697588/

Improving health of skin, hair, and nails: http://eggmem.org/en/about/page3.php

Using Time as a Tool

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

Martin Luther King Jr., in a letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

 

Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, in the heat of the American civil rights movement, the long view that time could be an ally.

In our modern society, we typically don’t see time as an ally, but rather more as an enemy, an obstacle, a problem. We tend to view time in terms of something we lack, not something we can use.

Hundreds of years ago, even though people lived much shorter lifespans, time was viewed as a tool and was used to create beauty for future generations.

When I was in Norway recently, I was given the gift of a visit to an enormous wooden stave church. When the structure was built, the men looked for trees to use as tall interior pillars to hold up the heavy roof. When they had selected a tree, they topped it off. Then they let the tree stand for about 20 years, during which the trunk would fill itself up with resin.

When the process had completed, the tree was cut down and used as a fire- and water-resistant column that would last for hundreds of years without drying out, splitting, or cracking.

A few decades ago, the original pillars finally had to be replaced. Trees were cut down and turned into columns without the 20-year resin-absorbing process. Now the trunks are cracked and drying out. Time had not been used to create pillars that would withstand water and fire, heat and moisture. Instead, the columns will have to be replaced again in a much shorter time frame.

Using time as a tool became personally important to me when I was diagnosed with highly aggressive end-stage cancer. I knew if I did not do chemotherapy, the sarcoma cells would quickly fill my body and I would no longer have any time.

Chemotherapy became my tool to buy time. Time, in turn, became my primary tool for healing my life and doing numerous integrative therapies. It took two years for me to change my attitudes, behaviors, and make some major life choices. Those alterations, along with surgery, eliminated the cancer. For six years now, I have been free of evidence of disease and free of cancer treatment.

Time, as an ally, was a tool that helped save my life. My integrative therapies helped me rebuild my mind, body, and spirit so I could become more strong and resilient, like the resin-soaked tree trunks. It could not have happened overnight. It took two years, and I continue daily with rebuilding my life so I can be more resistant to dis-ease.

How do you use time as a tool in your life?

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Time can seem excruciatingly short for those with end-stage cancer. Perhaps find ways to use the time you have as a tool to reach a goal. Allow time for nutrition to produce positive effects on your body. Time for treatments to take effect. Time for healing attitudes and behaviors that might have an impact on your body’s abilities to heal.

It is better to have loved and lost, on Mother’s Day

… O evil day! if I were sullen / While Earth herself is adorning / This sweet May-morning; / And the children are culling / On every side / In a thousand valleys far and wide / Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm, / And the babe leaps up on his mother’s arm:— / I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!

“Ode on Intimations of Immortality,” Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

 

Flowers from TristanMy heart melted whenever my son Tristan brought me flowers he had culled.

When he was nearly three, he joyfully handed me discarded artificial blossoms. He asked me to smell them, so I did.

I asked, “What do they smell like to you?”

He plunged his face into the bouquet and breathed in. He looked at me with all seriousness. “Cheerios.”

For me, nothing has been more wondrous than raising my boys. Even with the exhaustion, the frustration, the terror, the powerlessness. The sorrow.

My motherhood began later in my life than for most mothers. A week after the due date, an ultrasound indicated my firstborn was twelve pounds.

Um, he wasn’t coming out naturally, even though I had a great midwife.

Sighing, I scheduled a C-section.

I had another week to wait. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when he broke bread with his disciples for the final time: This is my body which is broken down for you; This is my blood which is shared with you. Greater love has no one than this, than one lay down her life for her friends.

Or for one.

A baby boy named Tristan.

“Congratulations,” my doctor said after the surgery. “You’ve given birth to a two-month-old.” Tristan looked enormous beside the normal-sized babies.

I loved this precious new being with every breath. I held him at every opportunity. I sang to him, talked to him, read to him before we even left the hospital.

I wrote in my journal: “When I look at this baby, I don’t see a child; I see an extension of myself. I feel a bond that is stronger than death. It really hurts my soul to see him cry. I love being able to nurse him—to feed him with living water from my innermost being. To nourish and sustain him with my body. To give to him from my life’s blood, for it takes blood to make milk.

“Now I know what a mother’s love is. It has nothing to do with how the child turns out or how smart or gifted he is. All that matters is his happiness.”

When Tristan was a week old, I held him in my arms while I rocked. I cried for half an hour—a slow, silent, teary cry. I never wanted him to be hurt, so I prayed for his protection.

How prophetic. He could not find happiness for himself. He did not have the protection he needed.

It is said it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved. At the National Leiomyosarcoma Foundation national conference in 2015 I spoke briefly about losing Tristan two months earlier. A woman came up to me, her eyes brimming with tears, her voice tremulous. She had lost her daughter a decade earlier to leiomyosarcoma. The pain of losing a child can come up anytime, anywhere, and produce copious tears. Time does not erase the agony. Would she trade this desolation for never having her beloved daughter? Never. No, never. I know that love and am grateful for the 19 years I shared with Tristan.

And the bond of love continues beyond the grave. It is deathless. (And as I write this, the song “We’re Walking in the Air” randomly plays on Pandora—it’s one of the songs played during Tristan’s memorial service. He is with me, even now… His essence is deathless. His presence is present. His love lingers.)

Even without this precious child still embodied to celebrate Mother’s Day with, I would be remiss to be sullen. I loved being his mother for 19 years; even in the darkest hours, I loved him with all my heart. He knew. And he still does.

So I will celebrate with my living son, my second-born, who soon will have lived longer than his older brother. He delights me with his humor, his insights, his love. He is the treasure of my life.

I have much to celebrate.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Please share this post with mothers who have lost their children. Thank you.