Gratitude!

Gratitude!

Hi Friends, here is a quick update from post-chemo-recovery-land.

Last week I had my chemo port removed in an uneventful surgical procedure. Today I removed the final bandages to find a well-healing scar.  I am considering a tattoo in the area (this will be my first ever), so please vote on ideas!  Here are a few samples, personally the super nerdy USB port symbol is drawing my attention.

This surgery completes my formal conventional treatment. Unless I experience unusual symptoms, my next appointment will be January 2021 for a follow-up CT scan.

After a tough period in June and July, I feel I am emerging from this period of insulation and acute pain. I am managing through a series of physical complaints that I referred to last week, as to be expected for 6-12 months after an intense chemotherapy regimen.  My hair is growing rapidly and profusely: I am even grateful for those annoying nose hairs. Without them, your nose constantly drips all day long!

I am noticing the transition of my attention from day to day survival and comfort-seeking to more traditional focuses such as relationships, career, purpose, practice, meaning, etc. More on all of this soon. I’ve been able to get out into the high country to enjoy the midsummer alpine heaven that is Colorado. Attached are a few photos from a recent solo backpack from an isolated lake at 12,000 feet.

Today, I simply want to re-express my gratitude for all the support and love that continues to uplift and inspire me forward. I originally was going to start naming specific folks – however, when I sit and reflect on everyone involved, I realize this list is too long! My family, my oncology nurses, my extended community abroad, my local friends, lovers, the random social media friends following my blog, my acupuncturist, and massage therapists, and other healers: yoga therapist, oncologist, kinesiologist, astrologers. All the staff and support personal. Everyone who delivered me home-cooked meals and groceries. All the children (and adults!) who drew me pictures, sewed masks or created some art for me. My best friends who offered or did travel long distances to be with me. My spiritual community and spiritual teachers, guides, gurus, and friends- the men in my men’s community and my extended authentic and relational communities. The dark horse podcast and other online sources of inspiration in this difficult time. May more that are not coming to me at this moment. And to all of the courageous folks in every walk of life inspiring me daily.

My eyes are watery and soft as I write this list and feel overwhelmed as I remember all of the individual acts of care and love – financial and physical and emotional and so much more. I purchased a big box of thank you cards that I intend to eventually send out – for now, trust that I am grateful and I am doing my best to pay it forward with my actions and intentions as I move forward into the next phase of life.

We did this together.

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.

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.

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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:

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Supporting Keith

I intended to write this over a week ago, yet with coronavirus affecting so many lives it feels somewhat irresponsible for me to ask for anything. This is magnified by the fact that there are truly, many people in greater need than me in this moment. For most of my life, asking for help has been extremely difficult for me. I have been very successful to this point using an attitude and approach of independence and autonomy. However, in recent years I have become increasingly aware of the limitations of my individuality. Therefore, as part of my practice and healing, I will take this opportunity to ask, to express this need, without expecting anything. I may even express it again, and differently, in the future.

And I would be remiss if I did not share that until this point I have received an abundance of support: fresh meals, cards, rides, packages, sweet messages, financial support and so much more. However, as I prepare for the journey of the next months, I know I will be ever more reliant on you.

Here is where I am, currently. As many of you know I have lived very humbly for the last 10 years, since retiring from IBM and corporate America in 2009. Decent investments and a modest lifestyle have allowed me to live the lifestyle I have desired, focusing my energies on my internal world, meditation, relationships, sexuality, yoga and small communities. I earned very little, I kept expenses low and used savings as-needed. I lived in monasteries, in bungalows and friends’ basements along the way. I cashed in many hard in frequent flyer miles to cover those transoceanic flights.

At the start of 2020 I started looking for work – for two reasons. One, I decided I needed to include more routine and human connection into my life. And two, my savings account is steadily approaching zero as the expenses related to living in the U.S. accelerate. Working is not an option right now, for several reasons. Primarily because remaining unemployed enables me to continue use Medicaid insurance for my cancer treatment. As far as costs go, I never see a bill, but my understanding is that the sticker price for all the diagnostics and 6-cycle chemotherapy is between $300,000 – $400,000. I am grateful every single day that I am receiving this benefit from the government, and more fundamentally to YOU (everyone currently paying taxes in the US – Medicaid is funded 50/50 from state & federal funds). There are many individuals out there today making decisions about whether to pursue treatment or to feed their families. I cannot imagine the immensity of this struggle. All of this to say that I do recognize my fortunateness, my privilege and luck in this situation.

Finally, as I spoke about in my Two Hearts post last month, something I have been overlooking, despite being a warm and kind being, very capable of love and care, is in fact my inability to receive that very same love and care from others and the world. To deeply, fully, profoundly receive it. Therefore, with deep humbleness I ask for your continued support and love throughout this healing journey.

Here is how to help:

1. Meals and Groceries:

My wonderful friend Nikki has organized a meal train that has had a group of committed friends dropping of wonderful meals and snacks each day. Some people are cooking, others are ordering takeout from local restaurants. I worry that this small group may need extra support during my 5 months of treatment. If you live around Boulder and like cooking, please consider signing up! Also, it costs about $25 for a good, healthy meal to be delivered from a local restaurant, so if you live far away and still want to support me in this, please see option #5 on how to send $ to buy a meal.

This is the link to the meal train: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/z1q9eo

2. Complementary and Alternative Care:

As I move through the process of chemotherapy, it is critical that I support it with alternative healing modalities like massage, acupuncture, supplements, etc. Due to coronavirus, the oncological clinic I was visiting has closed down and I am seeking outside and much more expensive support. Throughout these months I plan to visit integrated, holistic healers and doctors, which will not be covered by insurance. As I move towards the end of my treatment in June/July, I will prepare for a series of detoxes and alternative healing to fully support and quicken my recovery.

3. Local Support (Rides and Errands):

If you live in Boulder and can support me by running errands like grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, or potentially giving me rides to the healing center for my treatments, please let me know and share your mobile # with me. My friend Mary Kathryn has organized a text-message group for exactly this purpose.

4. Mail:

I absolutely love receiving things in the mail – cards, photographs, flowers, snacks, boxes, postcards from around the world. Anyone who sends me a wig or a hat I promise to wear it and send you some pictures.

If you have the time and inclination to send anything to me, you can trust that this will absolutely brighten my day in an instant! My address is:

Keith McGuinnes

410 S 38th St.

Boulder, CO 80305

U.S.A.

5. Financial Support:

If you have the desire to support #1 or #2, or wish to send financial support for me to use on anything in my process, please consider sending your support via PayPal or Venmo. Amazon gift cards are also very helpful. If you are specifically sending money for a meal or acupuncture or anything specific, please say so in the notes and I will apply it appropriately!

Venmo App : @Keith-McGuinnes (last 4 digits 6417)

https://venmo.com/Keith-McGuinnes

PayPal Transfer:  paypal.me/KeithMcGuinnes

(Be sure to choose a friends & family transfer – otherwise Paypal deducts a 5% fee if you choose Donation or Paying for Goods or Service)

E-mail Address: kmcguinnes@gmail.com

6. Love, Support, Blessing, & Prayers:

Most importantly of all I ask you to continue to keep me in your thoughts, to continue sending healing energy my way. If you pray or meditate regularly, please include me in these. If you have an altar and can offer a candle or a flower to your higher power on behalf of my healing, please do.

And please continue to shower me with supportive WhatsApp, Facebook and E-mail messages. I love receiving photographs, music, poems, and anything else inspirational.

With Love and Gratitude,
Keith

Bowing

Spring Equinox Meditation–TONIGHT

Hi All – I’ll be hosting a synchronized spring equinox meditation this evening. Join for all or part of it if you can!

This is an auspicious time and day in which our intentions and wishes that were planted and have been germinating within the previous season have the potential to burst forth in wild, optimistic color. Let’s dedicate this meditation to the healing and wellbeing of the planet and all beings.

Find somewhere to sit quietly with distractions set aside. 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. ‘See’ you there.

The exact moment of the equinox is 21:49 on March 19th in Colorado, so the meditation will be from:

21:25 to 22:13 MST

A few other time zones:

March 19

20:25 – 21:13 PST

22:25 – 23:13 CST

23:25 – 00:13 EST

March 20

4:24 – 5:13 (Europe)

5:25 – 6:13 (Israel)

10:25 – 11:13 (Thailand)

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Corona Brain Syndrome

As I attempted a short walk today I was contemplating the overload of information that has poured into me these recent days. I’m calling it corona brain syndrome (or CBS). Many people are writing about the different opportunities that are coming with this pandemic such as slowing down, getting outside, spending time more with family, and getting in shape. Do you really need a pandemic for this? I applaud the people who are on the optimistic side of this thing. Yet there is an even more fundamental opportunity here – to deeply examine long held patterns and beliefs around attachment, health, self and other. I hope to use CBS over the coming days and weeks to explore these themes for myself.

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Today I was contemplating the difficult choices that governments and individuals are making and the trade offs between these choices. In today’s news that ranges from lock it all down to live life as you always have and everywhere in between. Only time will tell who made the best choices with the limited information we have. We will analyze our individual and political choices for years to come. YET, what I am asking now is slightly more subtle: Wherever we fall on this lock down / isolation spectrum, WHAT is it that we are protecting, saving, etc. though the locking down, isolating or quarantining? 

I think the default, unexamined answer is simply physical life. Being alive is assumed to be better than dying or being dead. I agree with this, most of the time! However, is this physical organism really the most important thing to protect? It’s an old question that our illness and death-averse society has avoided for a long time. Now I’m not arguing against the plans of those who can stay home alone or with their families for a week or two. This seems like a prudent, wise choice right now, one that is rather selfless and in the interest of the greater good. On the other side, I have one friend who advocates for letting the elderly and immunocompromised fare for themselves- Darwinian warfare!

But what if, our government’s decree that we need to isolate for a month, for two, for four…  Let’s assume in a perfect world we didn’t have to consider financial concerns and this was possible for everyone. Then we might have to ask ourselves what does it mean to be alive – is breathing and eating and procreating enough? Or might we need some meaning in our lives? Let’s not wait until we are forced to ask this question. I will leave you with a hypothetical choice to grok:  You have a near-death experience and and your guide at the end of the tunnel tells you that it’s not your time yet, you need to go back to the world but you have a couple of choices for your remaining time:

      CHOICE 1:  5 years of life, healthy, routine, unexciting.

      CHOICE 2:  1 month of life, also rather routine and unexciting – but touched by one very particular moment of ecstasy – be it falling in love, seeing the divine, experiencing a union with cosmos.

I’m not sure if this is a fair question – but your answer may say a lot about your current state of mind!