Not in Control

Today marks two months since completing my chemotherapy treatment. It is hard to believe so much time has gone by, so quickly. This morning I met with my acupuncturist Kate, in an appointment that ended up feeling much more like therapy than acupuncture! I am very grateful for Kate’s healing touch over the past months. First, she is highly knowledgeable and skilled at what she does, and more importantly, she deeply cares and deeply listens.

I walked out of her office with tears streaming down my cheeks. I do not think I have cried for a while. What happened? We started speaking first about several of the physical issues I have been facing since chemotherapy – weight gain, odd body pains, skin discoloration, and a few other things. After examining the strange discoloration in the middle of my back associated with a lot of tension, Kate starts digging a little deeper – how are you feeling, what are your thoughts about the cancer? Do you feel responsible, do you blame the outside world?

After being needled thoroughly, physically, and verbally, our conversation eventually reaches a point of discussing normalcy. This concept has been affecting me and many of you, as we learn to live with the societal changes coronavirus has thrust upon us. For me, this goes a step further, as I emerge drastically changed physically, emotionally, and spiritually after this healing journey with cancer. I am struggling in many ways internally. Looking from the outside, things in my life appear normal. I am beginning to socialize, date, taking on projects, and going on retreat. I just spent 3 magical days in the wilderness camping at 12,000 feet at a pristine alpine lake.

The struggle centers around this concept of normalcy. My hair is growing back, aspects of life are returning to pre-cancer as much as they can considering the coronavirus backdrop, I feel motivated and directed in my activities. And YET, I also fear this normalcy. Was this just an 8-month bad dream? I am very proud of myself for tackling my healing process so strongly, for integrating the tumor and embracing the strong chemotherapy regimen. But I know this is not the complete healing – my mind wanders to the possible sources of the disease. If they were emotional or spiritually rooted, have I addressed the source? If I have not, how do I?

Therefore, these contradictory energies play inside of me – on one hand, this desire to return to what was, to all the masks and shadows I danced with previously, and on the other hand, pressing my foot on the brake, slowing down. Did I receive my lesson(s) from this healing process? Is there more to do? Returning to who and what I was is impossible, there have been too many changes this year.

Who am I and who do I want to be?

And this thought itself may be the greatest part of my struggle – during my treatment with tuning forks vibrating on my heart and crown, Kate instructed me to remind myself daily that I am being guided and that it is not always me who is in control. As obvious as this is, my entire being resists this knowledge with incredible force.

PET-CT Scan Results

Reflection on my most recent test result –  I’m out of the woods!

The report was clear and I’m essentially finished with conventional treatments for the time being. I’ll have follow-up scans every 6 months for the next two years (the highest likelihood of a recurrence is in the first two years), but other than this, I will be on my own, free of pharmaceuticals for the foreseeable future.

Ordinarily, it would be a beautiful time to celebrate the confluence of my 41st birthday and the end of treatment with a big party, but unfortunately this pandemic will delay this until a yet to be determined date in the future!

Embracing Your Light–Summer Solstice & End of Chemotherapy Meditation

This year, June 20th marks the summer solstice and June 21st marks the final day of my 5-month journey with chemotherapy. This has been a long voyage, and while my healing will continue for much longer, this feels like an auspicious time to celebrate a transition: individually for me, but also collectively and planetarily for all of us.

To honor this moment, I invite you all to join me for a synchronized meditation this Saturday.

The exact moment of the solstice is 3:43 PM MST, therefore the meditation will be from 3:20 PM – 4:10 PM MST. I will also sit a second time to allow my friends in Asia to participate from 7:00 PM – 7:50 PM MST.

I included a time zone converter below. Even if you are only able to join for five minutes, please take this opportunity to celebrate your own light as you also celebrate the end of treatment with me.

What is the meaning of the Summer Solstice?

What is special about the solstice? It marks the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer. The solstice is a peak, a climax, a completion, and a beginning all at once. This year it also nearly coincides with a new moon and solar eclipse (only visible in Africa), which have their own powerful influences on us.

Many ancient civilizations dedicated rituals and festivals to the summer solstice. They intuited and realized the significance of this moment. While there are external and astronomical aspects associated with this day, for those spiritually inclined it represents an opportunity for an inner transition.

Wyld Witchery says:

The Summer Solstice is aligned with the element of fire, passion, will and drive. This is the time to seek right action, to choose to walk in alignment with your beliefs. Now is the time for you to look at the grander scope of your life and spiritual path and take note of what is out of alignment. What doesn’t serve you? What things do you tell yourself or others that are not in line with what you preach? What things do not serve your personal and spiritual growth?

There is also a slow side to the summer solstice – it reminds us of the importance of patience:

There is the slow, sure rhythm of time that events will enter into our lives if we let them. We can’t hurry things, but if we just relax and let go, things will reach their fullness without effort or the striving of ego on our part. The seeds of spring have been planted, we’ve labored over them all spring-now it’s time to let nature take its course.

And finally, there is our relationship with the element of fire. The sun is, literally, all fire. And for nearly 24 hours a day, the northern hemisphere is soaking up all that fierce, intense, electrifying, invigorating, exhilarating energy.

That means there is an absolute abundance of that rich fire energy available for you and me to soak up as well. We can use that energy to inspire up, to uplift us, to energize us. To light our fires and to allow us to embrace our light and share it with others.

How to Participate

Find somewhere to sit quietly without distractions. This can even be done in bed (as you’ll see it’s very late/early in many time zones). Meditate however you wish, connecting first to yourself, then to each other, eventually to the entire planet. No special technique is needed. If you are a regular meditator, choose whatever method helps you connect with your heart and to expand your awareness as wide as possible.

This will not be a guided meditation – we will all simply sit at home in silence at our own pace, absent technology.

Join one or both of these two meditations on Saturday, June 20th (the first one is more potent as it is the exact time of the solstice).

Clicking the link one will take you to an app that will determine the time in your location.

𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟏

𝟑:𝟐𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟒:𝟏𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Asia)

𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟐

𝟕:𝟎𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟕:𝟓𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Europe and Asia)

This weekend I will be fasting from the Internet and social media, so I will not be online until Monday. I wish everyone a beautiful solstice, meditation, and weekend.

Anti-Gratitude

I have been grumpy these days. I am hesitating to write today because I feel that writing like this is just a big, fat complaint. However, many of you have said it feels real and vulnerable so I will go for it with this permission! A friend recently told me that she wondered when all of the gratitude and joy towards having cancer would wear off and I would just in the mud and pissed off. Here we are!

This cycle has been particularly difficult – it’s the first one I’ve gone through completely alone and as I mentioned in the last post, I’m struggling with the conundrum of no longer wearing the banner of I’m going through chemo!, as I transition to post-chemo: weak, immune-compromised, and alone. Yesterday I bumped into a friend on my evening walk – it was a man who back in January expressed a serious concern about what was happening with me and a sincere desire to support me as I went through it. I never heard a word from him since. And just two weeks ago a close friend from abroad promised to show up in a specific way during my last cycle and she went completely silent on me. As if I wasn’t already feeling abandoned enough! There is some self-judgment hidden in here too – in this life I have not been a particularly wonderful caretaker or support person, often feeling very unsure of how to show up for others in difficult situations. I realize that these situations are reflections of the others’ situation and state and not necessarily something intrinsic in me. I have learned a lot from being in the role of needing help and support that will eventually empower me if and when I am in the role of the giver. Two points come immediately to mind:

1) Genuinely inquire into what the person needs in the current moment and don’t assume that you know. Today’s needs may be different than yesterdays.

&

2) Be honest about your boundaries and abilities to give and support and don’t make promises that may be difficult to keep

This week I also began asking myself: why am I focusing on these particular cases other than the abundant support that I have been receiving? The answer is that I’m a little depressed. It’s hard to admit this to myself as I don’t think I’ve experienced this outside of a day or two or in acute situations like a breakup or sudden loss. I’m trying to explore this space with curiosity and wonder, as it is something that has affected many people very close to me, family in particular. As anyone with depression can tell you, that cup looks half-empty way more frequently than it does half-full!

Yesterday I took the step of reaching out to the social worker at my doctor’s office who directed me to a series of support groups and therapists covered under my insurance plan. I am already in the process of initiating contact with a few therapists to get his process moving.

The other thing that I’m pondering right now is something that I’ve always struggled with in life, getting out of the way of my own past. What I mean by this is that much of what we are doing in life is a sort of performative dance where we are creating a presentation package to the outside world. When the previously offered presentation package (mask, ego, shell, whatever you want to call it) conflicts with the present-moment, who I am right now, a dissonance is created. I will call out my friend Jessica because we have laughed about this many times – she’s known me for almost 20 years and in the beginning, I was a corporate guy, in a long-term monogamous relationship, generally rather Boulder status-quo and over the years a lot of shifted for me and my attitudes and practices in life started changing rather dramatically. Many times Jessica would say “Keith I just can’t believe it!” when it came to some recent experience I had that conflicted with that early 2000’s Keith presentation package.

This dissonance has never been more apparent – of course, none of us are who we were 20 or even 5 years ago, but in my current situation, I can barely recognize the Keith of just a few years ago with all the changes that have happened in my life, to my body, and in my heart. Maybe there is a request in here. Mostly to myself, but also to you, dear reader: I’m simply asking to be met anew, for this current moment version of Keith to be given space to be present and alive, with all of his beauties, flaws, mysteries, and idiosyncrasies.

BTW, the support wall is still growing. This, I am VERY GRATEFUL for:

IMG_1886 (002)

Tumor Dissolution Cycle 6

Last Friday, I walked out of the Healing Center in a rather anticlimactic way. It was 5 pm, and that was that. No more drips, no more drugs with the word toxic in them, or with hazardous materials stickers on their bag. There were no balloon drops or pizza parties – only a few nurses preparing for their weekend and a couple of patients completing their late afternoon treatments. Fortunately for me, one of these patients was Carol, a friend I bonded with several months ago over our common love for stuffed animals (mine is a little lion named Kiki and hers is a pink rabbit named Phillip).

IMG_1877
Carol’s husband treated us to lunch from a local Italian restaurant and we caught up on our trials and tribulations over the past months. While my process has been difficult, Carol had the additional test of a major surgery amid her chemo treatments. I am recalling 5 months ago when I was convinced that major thoracic surgery was in store for me and how overwhelming that was. I am beyond amazed at how well her spirit and heart and body were handling everything.

She has invited me to host a joint party with her in September, once she is clear of chemo and hopefully pandemic restrictions will allow for us to get out families and friends together in some sort of life celebration! We discussed how critical it has been for both of us to make future plans for mental sanity, even with the knowledge that pandemic or health or unknowns may force the need to cancel those plans.

As for me, this has not been my best cycle ever as I wrestle with some serious pain. Interestingly, I seem to choose to write whenever I am in the midst of this. Writing is a good outlet from the body.

My pain level has been 9/10 since Saturday night as the Neulasta shot continued to bring an increased pain threshold with each cycle. I will get through this knowing that this will only last a few days and that this is my final experience with this sadistic drug! I have serious sympathy for folks with chronic pain. My heart goes out to those who deal with pain where there is no clear end in sight – I can imagine how this can potentially take someone down the direction of a depression.

Emotionally, I have been flat, tired, sad. I have been crying a decent amount and in general feeling bad about myself. On one side there is a feeling as if I should be celebrating. Like I said above, chemo is over! And yet, and yet, and yet… this week marks the lowest and most vulnerable point in my journey back to health. The accumulation of 18 weeks of treatment amid this global pandemic of fear and panic has taken its toll. On me and those in my life. It has been a long road, and unfortunately for this journey, I’m still in the middle of that journey, not as close to the end as much as I want to believe.

I frequently notice a strong desire to return to normal ASAP – as if next week I can begin to put all of my plans from January back into play. I watch my mind in its better moments take off into creativity and excitement and aliveness.

I notice this feeling of being left behind. Even though everyone had to slow down for lockdown, my fears and insecurities have relegated me to a time-out corner, where I watch as all my friends have fun without me. I know, that this is not true, and within the time-out is an incredible opportunity. The phrase ‘reinvent myself’ comes to mind but that is too clique – it’s more like an opportunity for a deep examination of my energies, attention, and intentions. My thoughts wander off in many directions here, not excluding a remote cabin in the woods…

A tear in my fabric continues to remerge with a focus around meaning its relevance to life, to my life. I’ve written about this in the past and will come back here again soon.

I think its time for vegan ice cream and a movie.

Tumor Dissolution Cycle 5

I am midway through cycle 5 – this cycle could easily be titled Keith dissolution. I notice myself disappearing at times- hours and days blend together in a strange array of vaguely interrelated activities. I keep hearing this term and discussion around ‘the new normal’ in the news. I’m trying to be careful not to make this state my ‘new normal’, but at times it feels like it may be. Now, three months into chemotherapy it feels like I am getting used to it and the people in my life are getting used to it. I’ve been poor at communicating, at staying connected, and I am noticing a desire to put all of my energies into a sort of self-preservation mode. I feel closed, disconnected, less open than I did in the early phases of my healing. This morning as I glanced in the mirror I realized I have been avoiding looking at myself or taking photographs (despite all the feedback about how well I rock a bald head). Yet again, this points to the intimate body-mind connection. This is no surprise at this point in my treatment. Many, in similar situations suffer from pretty severe depression as a combination of the physical and life changes along with the side effects of the various drugs. I do notice occasional depressive thoughts, however, I would consider my lower moments more like numbness or disconnection than depression.

IMG_1819

I should share that I am writing this at my nadir point, where I am at my lowest blood counts, energy levels, and therefore mood. Only ONE more of these cycles, thank God. Checking my HRV app over the past months I see that it is exactly this Saturday, eight days after chemo where my vitals and energy begin to turn around. An interesting observation is that over the last couple of cycles I’ve also noticed a strong uptick in my sexual impulses and thoughts around this day. I find this a remarkable aspect of biology – despite being nearly dead physically, as soon as the energy shifts towards more strength, the ability, and impulse to procreate, along with the hormones and thoughts, follows. During my chemotherapy I have been observing a strict sexual continence, a topic I notice is sorely missing in discussions around healing and health, and men’s sexual health in general. This concept I will unpack post-chemo when I look back and share and analyze the different factors and choices I made to support myself during this period.

Allie has remained with me in these weeks, despite the difficulties of trying to share a space with a man going through significant physical, emotional, and mental swings daily. I am incredibly grateful for her willingness to sacrifice her health and sleep at times to support me. She has postponed her other plans stayed longer than we had anticipated as it was too difficult for either of my parents to travel here with the pandemic still rolling. I’m very grateful for her friendship and presence!

For now, I look ahead to (hopefully) a better week and soon the conclusion of my chemotherapy. My last treatment will run June 1-6 and the sixth, and final cycle will conclude on June 21. At one level, it feels like forever since I began, at another level time has passed quickly. I am beginning to plan and prepare for the shift from conventional to holistic treatment. The alternative and holistic care center I was visiting has begun a gradual reopening, allowing me to receive acupuncture again. I’m in the process of scheduling appointments with an integrative oncologist, kinesiologist, nutritionist, massage therapist, etc. The healing will continue in one fashion or another well beyond June.

Progress!

Good news team. All that we are doing is working. Last week I performed my mid-treatment PET-CT scan and the results are in. My tumor has shrunk in size by about 80%! For those more imagistically inclined, that’s a 9 cm diameter grapefruit down to a 3 cm strawberry!

Red Grapefruit - Each : TargetFile:Arrow east.svg - Wikimedia CommonsWhat Rot! Strawberry Proteomics and the Art of Staying Fresh    

The other significant news is that the SUV (standard uptake value) of the tumor is now 2.4, down from 27.0 in January when my first scan was performed. The SUV is the rate at which the different tissues and/or tumors in the body metabolize special radioactive glucose injected intravenously before the test. You can see from my scans the significant difference:

January 22nd, 2020 (Before Treatment)

No need to circle anything here, as the massive tumor is indicated by the bright color in my left lung space – the organ appearing next to the tumor is my heart.

BEFORE

May 1st, 2020 

(After 2 months of healing work and chemotherapy)

AFTER2 - Copy

This time I circled the tumor in yellow, as you can see it is MUCH smaller and does not ‘light up’ like it did in January. I’ll explain this below.

The bright portions you see in my recent scan are what is clinically called a therapeutic response – meaning my bone marrow is lighting up because of the Neulasta medication, stimulating new blood cell growth. This was expected as my last injection was a few days before this scan.

What is important to note is that the tumor is not lighting up any more than the organs around it. My report said the tumor has a maximum SUV of approximately 2.4, minimally below mediastinal uptake, meaning that it is in the normal range for tissues in this area. This was given a Deauville Criteria score of 2, indicating a complete response to treatment. This is a very positive result for me as often patients’ mid-treatment scores can be Deauville 3 or 4, as inflamed tissue or continued cancerous activity may still be present.

image

When a nurse read the report to me over the phone I turned to Allie and high-fived her and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Since it was Cinco de Mayo we celebrated that evening with a Chipotle bowl and a terrible margarita in a bottle. Days later, my stomach is still not happy about that decision!

I told my doctor I was considering skipping the last two rounds of chemo – she suddenly became rather stern and explained that I need to complete the protocol to clean up any microscopic cancer cells not detectable on the scan. We laughed when I said I was joking and I just wanted to see her reaction.

Many people have asked me if I am elated or super-excited about this result. The truth is that I expected it. I know the work that I’ve been doing to heal, how you all have been showing up to support me, and listening to my intuition of what is happening inside me, was going to result in such news. Of course, I am thrilled to have it confirmed by a million-dollar machine and to be certain that the decisions I have been making the past 3 months have been good ones.

Today I am fasting and preparing to begin the fifth round of chemotherapy tomorrow. As I have written recently, the last weeks have been particularly difficult. The results above certainly help with my motivation, outlook and mood. June 21, the official last day of my chemotherapy regimen, feels a lot closer than it did in February. The healing and recovery will continue much beyond June, but at that point, most of it will be back in my hands.