I have been called to update this Caring Bridge for weeks, but I just didn't have the bandwidth, or any clarity/vision for what to share. So much is happening, globally, locally, internally...
This is a road that none of us have traveled before. I am meandering in my expression and giving myself permission to process here. Fair warning: it is long!
You'll notice that I do not capitalize the words associated with the v-rus...I put emphasis on that which I want to manifest and not on that which I do not!
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I've been asked by many of you about what it's like having cancer and taking chemo while also processing a “new normal” in this global pandemic.
Just like you, I miss my people, and the perceived “ease” of life before the v. I miss the sweetness of social connections and the tender, visceral medicine of a hug - you know I'm a hugger!! I miss prayerfully laying hands on people as a Reiki practitioner, and feeling God's universal loving life force energy move stagnation out and pour sweetness into my clients.
I miss a lot of things...but, in the midst of missing so much I am constantly turning to see, "What is here for me? What isn't missing?"
What I find when I look for it, is that I have so many blessings to focus on, and that keeps me grounded, strong and well.
Some of the blessings:
🕸 Food in the fridge and also fresh from the earth
🕸 A newfound strength and resiliency that I would never have known without this and all experiences that challenge my sense of safety, security and wellness
🕸 Laughing, friendships, dark and twisted humor, levity, levity, levity
🕸 The incredible energy of spring time bursting open. The birds and the squirrels, the flowers, the photosynthesis and the branches in the wind…the sun, the thunder, the dew droplets and their rainbow arcs
🕸 My family
🕸 My home
🕸 My family
🕸 My yard
🕸 My family
🕸 Paper crafts, art and creativity that is bubbling up out of me now that there’s room for it to express
🕸 Mail in the mailbox, texts in the text messages
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One truth that has lodged into my consciousness on this "cancer journey" is that I am well in my soul, I am well in my spirit. It’s like the wellbeing of my body had to be put on the line for me to really sink into this truth about the internal, eternal me. And I feel like this is the most important thing - and even in these past few weeks (months?) of corona, I've had the fortune to really anchor into the rich idea that I am okay, I am safe, no matter what the external circumstances.
The experience of cancer has given me the gift of Love and I am more open now to the help that’s available for me. The isolation time has given me a chance to go to the edge of my trust and to grow even more in my connection to the Love and support that’s available to me through my relationships with my friends and family and dogs...and also the incredible support in the unseen realms: the Holy Spirit, God, Magic/Synchronicity, Nature, my Well/Healed Ancestors, the Elements (in all their conscious glory) and Life itself.
I have reinforced the philosophy that the relationship that I share with my loving Creator is the first and most important relationship in my life, and it always has been...I’ve been reminded that even as a child I was called to hold space for people, to reach out and touch them with love, to offer support - I believe this gift is one of the most divine imprints of my soul.
Cancer has shown me how to turn my ability to hold space, to love and to be supportive back towards myself...It has also taught me to ask for and to be open to receive exactly the help that I need. It is in the safety and sweetness of that relationship, of that eternal connection to my own divinity where I get well and stay full…
I'm also using this quarantine to explore in depth the ancient, rooted and sacred practices that keep me well-resourced, and which have for *years*.
Earth-honoring teachings and philosophies
The Wisdom of words, poetry and the weaving wonders of language
These are the things which have taught me to make compassion and gratitude the watchwords of my inner landscape. And to connect the dots between what I’m feeling on the inside, to what I am experiencing on the outside.
It is within the still, quiet space of my own soul where I have learned to Trust with a capital T all of the experiences of human life - good, bad, shocking, horrible, wonderful, lukewarm, harsh...I see this manifestation of cancer as part of my soul's unique and powerful journey to be always on a path of Learning. Staying curious about what I am being taught, because I am a Learner (capital L)... everyday cancer teaches me lessons that lead me into alignment with more groundedness and more embodied compassion. It is leading me again into alignment with all the Love that has always been coming for me. I spent years of my life thirsty at the edge of a rushing river...Cancer showed me that we all have access to this kind of Love, it brought me the tools I needed to unapologetically dive down and drink.
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I have had anxiety, I have and continue to have fear...naturally. This is an unprecedented moment in history. We're in a time of great pressure and it can feel like the weight of dis-ease is creeping in from every angle - weirdly, this was something that I had first experienced as a cancer diagnosee. So, when the pandemic rolled up I had already been flexing that muscle… Life can change on a dime, what matters most is your response.
So, in a way, as a cancer patient in a pandemic, I feel relieved. I feel like the rest of the world has just now caught up to what I've been feeling since the bottom fell out in my reality in December.
Just like with cancer, this crisis gave me an opportunity to squarely look death in the face (my own death, but also death or illness in the context that it could - and might - easily come for those who I care most about). This cv-19 thing is an invitation to get intimate with the precious-ness of life, and our own relationship to it...we are not guaranteed any particular outcome, so what life do you want? How are you contributing to the health and wellness of the planet? How are you tending to your community, your body, your consciousness?
A few months before my diagnosis, after learning of the sudden death of a friend of a friend, I was struck for days about the precarious nature of having a body - of how fragile and wonderful and goddammed frightening it is to give yourself over to life…
To be born at all is a miracle beyond comprehension! The gift is that: to love and to be loved is our first natural instinct...then, we have experiences that teach us that life is dangerous and it's too painful to trust. We become skeptical of life, because trusting might lead us towards danger, or worse death.
What a fleeting gift it is to inhabit these bodies, to experience the beauty and wonder + the intricacy and the kaleidoscopic consciousness of nature/creation and then BOOM. We're gone. They're gone. The ones we love, leave. We leave…
These notions struck me down in a parking lot in early November after I learned of my friend’s loss. I shed hot tears and wept myself into a frenzy over the grasping, the longing, the fleeting uncertainty and the grief that is already written for us when we choose to live out our LOVE. I didn’t know that I was actively dying with state 3 breast cancer, but I’m pretty sure I knew.
Our nature is to love, but love is the only vessel that can carry grief and these experiences are inextricable from the human experience. They can never be separated. To love is to lose, but to never love is worse (and I'd be willing to wager impossible).
None of us are getting out of this alive + resistance is futile. This is something that cancer invited me to look at - and now this pandemic is taking me even further into it why it’s so important to experience everything, to eek the lesson out of everything.
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I've been very privileged to be able to isolate in the comfort and serenity of my home… And I’ve been doing that for months! So, all of these things (working from home, not socializing, avoiding crowds, paranoia around getting sick), all of this, I had already gotten realllllly comfortable with in my early chemo-days. And now that more people are also doing these things, and it's more normalized, I feel like more of the world stands with me in this space...so, for me I laugh at how ridiculous and natural it is, that in a global pandemic, I feel more connected and less isolated.
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In the time since my last update a lot has changed in regards to how I feel physically. One of the things that is different is the medicine that I am now taking. Today I finished my 7th out of 12 rounds of Taxol. Thank GOD I am not on the Adriamycin/Cytoxan chemo cocktail during this global meltdown; I was already melting down enough on that medicine!
I began Taxol on Tuesday, March 17th..
Now and since, upon entering the building for chemo, two gloved and masked medical assistants take my temperature and ask me a slew of questions about whether I have been potentially exposed to cv-19. The waiting area is almost completely empty, save for a few chairs strategically spaced 10 feet apart. There is such a stark contrast to how it was at my first appointment in January when the office was over-crowded with patients and their family members. Now, the only folks I see are patients who, like me, are also actively receiving chemo or other infusions - caregivers and family members are not permitted in the building.
During my first Taxol treatment, I found a chair in the corner of the room and sat alone for the duration of the 2-hour infusion. I cried off and on in my uncertainty and my loneliness...I wept for "the way things were" and felt deeply into a practice of embodying the stark difference of two weeks before, when my sisters had come to sit with me...when we water-colored together and cracked jokes and they made sure that I remembered to laugh, by making me laugh and singing in funny voices. I called their Love and their energy near. I felt their support as my body relaxed and I continued the treatment in peace.
I contemplated how, in just 2 short weeks so much could change - again a reality that cancer primed me for. Now the world seemed so different. So unhinged. That day in March seems so long ago now. I had been following the news of cv-19 as it ravaged Italy. I was stirring and worried at how the whole world, and especially this microcosm of the world, my oncology clinic, felt so unsafe - there was a level of mistrust permeating the atmosphere...everyone in masks, recoiling from one another, certainty spliced, suspicions on high. The external atmosphere hasn’t changed, but my internal experience has.
Because the Taxol is a much easier medicine to tolerate, I have been better able to shore myself up ahead of each treatment, reminding myself that I just have to give myself over to the experience. I have to be responsible with my mask and my hand washing practices and with my spiritual/energetic hygiene, too. I know I just have to get it over with, because I know that on the "other side" of the few hours I spend there once a week, I will be fine - I will be home again - I will be safe. Deep gratitude that that is true; I am extremely fortunate.
Taxol is known to cause neuropathy, which is numbness, tingling and/or pain in the hands and feet. To prevent neuropathy, my breast reconstruction surgeon recommended that I immerse my feet and hands into ice during the Taxol infusion. I have been doing that, and I've had success in staving off pain, numbness and tingling in my hands and feet!!!! The ice restricts blood-flood to the extremities so that the Taxol doesn't accumulate there and cause damage. Pretty genius! Also pretty uncomfortable!!!! Soaking my feet and hands for 60-80 minutes at a time is definitely a meditation in acceptance, and a practice in finding the power in mind over matter. I know the discomfort is temporary, and I know that the pain will benefit me in the long run, so I rely on that to keep me going.
The Taxol is a "walk in the park" (words from a friend of mine who walked this park last year)! The only real side effects that I have had are hot flashes from the early-onset menopause caused by the chemo. Sometimes these heat-swells keep me up at night. Otherwise, my sleep is good and my energy levels are strong. I get a little winded when I walk more than 2-3 miles, but I can walk 2-3 miles and I'll take that as a victory!
Since the 17th of March, I have now completed 7 Taxol infusions!! And I am happy to report that every time it gets a little easier. I only have 5 chemo treatments left. Cue that bullhorn sound effect app if you have one!
My blood counts continue to be 100% NORMAL!!! This is a huge blessing!! My doctors are so excited that I have held on to normal white blood counts, platelets and red counts! It means my immunity to strong - I'm still immuno-compromised, but all considered! - my blood is doing her job!!!!
I continue to envision the chemo going straight for the cancer cells, and not even being able to detect that the healthy cells are present...I praise the power of visual intention and the collective prayers of all of you - thank you for offering me your strength, seeing me well and whole and for texting me at random to lift my spirits with a joke, a song or an encouraging word. It is INCREDIBLE how much I feel your love and your support, in the seen and unseen worlds. Thank you!
Because of cv-19 I’ve pared down my “chemo shit” - that’s the stuff you bring to chemo to help you cope (snacks, coloring books, blankets, pillows). Now during the treatments I carry a small backpack and a fanny pack with my phone/headphones and hand sanitizer + my ice bucket and towels. I watch something on my iPad (recommendations for Netflix programs appreciated!!) or I read a book (lately, The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons). After the treatments, I have social distance picnics (weather permitted) with my family, and then I nap.
Because of this upswing in energy, I've had the great fortune to be able to do my heart's work - which includes both continuing my work as Director of Religious Exploration at UUFA, and my work as a practitioner. At UUFA we have moved to a 100% online platform for worship, socializing and spiritual development. I feel very fortunate that I still have a job (even though my salaried hours are part time) and I REALLY love working with the kids on this online platform...I do craft videos and meditations for the families + the church is very centered on human-rights and fair employment practices, so I feel very supported and tended to in my work.
I have also had the amazing privilege of doing my “other” work of offering spiritual support to folks through the mediums of divination, ritual and prayer. I've been virtually connecting to folks via facetime and zoom for Tarot readings...and I am so happy about that!!
You can support my work directly by referring people to www.followingwisdom.com/counsel - I am currently offering Tarot Readings on a "pay what you can" sliding scale! Dropping into prayer together, especially now is such a rich and powerful practice! The cards paint us a picture and that picture tells us a story...it's just another way to seek and find Divine Guidance and all are welcome to join me who feel called!!
People have continued to so generously ask me about my needs, so I'd like to share a list of things that would be helpful. I have SO appreciated the abundance of support that so many of you have offered!! I love receiving letters and cards. 6-0-5 Forest Heights Dr. Athens 3-06-06 :) I promise, I WILL write you back...I'm backlogged with letters, which is a good thing, I think!
Gift Cards are always appreciated. Helpful places are: Kroger, Publix or Trader Joe's; Amazon; Etsy; Local Restaurants/Businesses in Athens where my neighbors can swing by to grab a plate or some supplies are: The Grit, homemade., Viva Argentina, Avid Bookshop, KA Artist Shop, Indie South, Ted's Most Best, Hi-Lo Lounge, Cali-N-Titos, Clocked
I'd also like to note that any "donations" made to Caring Bridge go directly to the site to support their platform. If you're moved to send a love offering, you can (generously) do so through Venmo (Ke11o) or Paypal (kelli (dot) mcconnell at gmail (dot) com) (thank you!!!) - I promise I'm paying every bit forward as much as I can.
Thank you for taking the time and energy to read this long overdue update! I'm sending love and lots of virtual/air/imaginary hugs your way and it feels great to do that!!
p.s. Does anyone have a BritBox login? Would anyone would like to share a login? I'll pitch in! :)