Category Archives: Inspirational

Chemo Infusion: Life is Good

I pulled my stool up and absently sterilized my lotion pump. She had just agreed to a foot massage. Chemotherapy dripped into the port in her chest.

Her husband tap, tap, tapped away on his computer in a chair behind me, listening without listening.

As she talked it became clear that it was the memory of past massages, long before cancer, that inspired her “yes”. She went on to explain that she was happy to receive the massage, but that the drugs had rendered her feet and lower legs essentially numb over a year ago. Her face was kind, apologetic.

“So, I don’t know that I’ll really feel anything.”

Placing my hands on her legs just below her knees, I began the session with a slow, still “hello” kind of contact.  I slid my hands down in small, deliberate movements suggesting that there was peace to be had here, even if it was only in my hands and only because we made ourselves go slowly.  I moved her pant leg up to her knee so I could apply some lotion to her lower leg and foot.

Before I completed the first stroke something shifted.

I slowed my pace even more, looking up to see what adjustment might be necessary.  What I saw brought a small swell of tears to my eyes.  She had closed her eyes and a faint, but unmistakable smile had crept across her lips and face.

I continued with my strokes.

A few seconds later, she squared her head, looked me in the eye and said. “I can feel that.” She looked off in the distance.  Searching somehow to confirm that what she had just said was true.  I waited a beat and then asked, “What’s the sensation?” It was actually a clinical question I was asking.  I wanted to understand what her nerves were telling her. Did it feel like dull pressure?…cold?…soft?…something else?

She thought for a moment and I watched her face surrender to a new expression. “Life is good.” It wasn’t a throwaway pleasantry.

It was a tender declaration, the truth of which seemed to surprise her as it came out of her mouth.

“Life is good.”, she said again wanting to be sure I understood.  Had I received it?…did I understand how hard it was to conceive of life being good, even if only in that moment, after more than a year of weekly chemotherapy and everything that goes with that? When advancing disease makes you acutely aware that every moment of “good” could be the last one?  She told me how easy it is to forget, “when you’re sick”, that life really is full of so much that’s good.  She took in a breath to say more, but instead just smiled again, choosing to stop there.

She sat back and closed her eyes, savoring the good.

I couldn’t possibly know how expansive that moment felt to her or to her dear and curious husband who sat dutifully behind me as I worked.  All I could know is that I was in the right place on this Tuesday morning in Washington, DC and that, once again, sitting still gave way to beautiful things.

The Year of Living Vulnerably

To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not…       –David Whyte

My heart is broken. I am tired of pretending that it isn’t. It breaks regularly or at least it cracks and I push hard against it to hold it together.

Last Wednesday, two dear friends and I scheduled a 6-hour retreat for ourselves.  Nothing extravagant.  Just the three of us, some silence in one of their living rooms and a few very simple, but potent heart-centered exercises.

I had been looking forward to this for weeks, but when my alarm went off on Wednesday morning it took every ounce of courage I could muster just to get out of bed.  I have done enough retreats to know that if you really show up, you will meet yourself and there will be no lying about what you see.  How painful that experience is depends on just how far I am from myself at the time.

I woke up Wednesday morning afraid.  I was not prepared to feel. I didn’t have time for it.

The feeling in my gut was unmistakable and it was quickly followed by an incredulous realization. “Wow.  You’ve really gotten away from yourself, haven’t you? Are you sure you want to do this?” The thing is that it doesn’t matter how many times you walk that path back to yourself.  It never gets worn.  You have to take your machete every time and blaze that trail again. A big part of me was very very afraid of that.  My hands were gently taken and I was hoisted out of bed by some much wiser, deeper part of me that was more clear than fear.

When I arrived at our wee retreat, the sight of my friends’ faces began a reluctant thaw. I showed up protected.  Arms crossed, but the warmth of gratitude for these two women who have become so important to me as friends, advisers and expert laughers and joke tellers crept around the edges of my heart.   Fingers of vulnerability spread out in all directions threatening to crash straight to the ground all that I had been holding up.  A softness wanted to be allowed.

We went to our cushions to meditate.

My mind growled and sniffed and salivated like a junkyard dog.  The time flew by as my thoughts raced.  It did not occur to me a single time to “go back to the breath”.  It felt like an endurance race and I had eaten a Twinkie and a Coke for breakfast.  Just. Sit. Still.

As we shared about our sitting it became clear that I was not alone.  Fear had come along on some level for all of us.  It wanted to be heard.  It was getting too big.

Over the next hour, each of us took a turn being asked by another, repeatedly, tenderly, persistently “What are you afraid of?”. Over and over.

It always starts a bit small with this technique.  “Spiders.” “Dying.” “Whatever.”.…but by the 5th minute or the maybe the 9th, truth was just spilling from my face. Pieces of my broken heart were flying out of my mouth as tears streamed down my cheeks.

I’m afraid that I am going to make the wrong choice about what to do next. I’m afraid of being hurt by people I trust. I’m afraid of wasting time, of letting others down, of being “so fucking little!”, of being in debt for the rest of my life, of working, working, working so hard until I just die and there’s hardly enough left of me to bury or burn.  I’m afraid that someone I love and trust will molest my son and I won’t know about it until years later. I’m afraid my body will fail. I’m afraid that my son will remember his childhood as an endless stream of mama saying, ‘I’ll be right there.’.  I’m afraid that my family will get so used to me being away for work that they’ll decide it’s better without me. I’m afraid of not really knowing my parents before they die. I’m afraid that everyone will find out that I can’t really be trusted with anything at all.

As it turns out, I feel fearful. A lot.

What’s more important than the fear itself is my relationship to it. When I got home?…after naming and sharing all of that fear?…I felt lighter.  I felt a vague freedom. Then something bigger and more concrete happened. I started noticing all of the places where I am making my life harder. Where I am denying myself access to creativity and flow because I’m afraid to be vulnerable.  Everything I fear boils down to the inescapability of vulnerability. All of it.

This is not for fixing. Please resist any urge to offer me kind words of support unless they are, “Me, too.  I feel fearful, too.”

This is what it is to be human. This doesn’t meant that I don’t live or that I live in fear.  It doesn’t mean that I just accept “wasting time” or that I wallow in my physical and relative smallness in this enormous world.

It means the end of pretending that I’m not afraid.  It means when I feel fear I will get out my flashlight instead of looking the other way. I will not neglect it and hope it goes away. It means no more propping up. It means embracing a new kind of affirmation.

Things are scary.  I am breakable. There is no control. I’m exhausted by my own lying about these truths.

I will smile at and acknowledge fear when it comes to sit at my table.  I will let it sit next to me as I get on a plane to Australia because my fear of dying in a plane crash is not as important as my desire to spend my time well, but I will still be afraid. It means asking my friends and my family real questions and waiting for real answers, even though I’m afraid of scaring them and myself.

It means no more small talk. It means juicy, real minutes that mean something and not because I am inventing meaning for them because it hurts too much to do anything else, but because I’m paying close enough attention to feel what’s there, even when it does hurt too much or if that meaning lies in the counter-pressure provided by fear.

No more pretending.  No more staying busy to avoid feeling.  No more being angry to cover up hurt. No more “Well, if they wanted to see me, they’d call me.”

No more defending my position.

I hereby declare 2015 The Year of Living Vulnerably. I’m going to seek out opportunities to experience and embrace vulnerability. I won’t have to look far.  I’m going to say what’s true and take a ringside seat at the constant breaking of my own heart. Curiosity. Surprise. Pants-down-in-front-of-a-crowd-of-strangers vulnerability. I totally don’t get the joke vulnerability. Broccoli in my teeth at a fancy party vulnerability.

It’s time to put my softest, most breakable foot forward.

Happy New Year!

By: Lauren Cates