Thursday, August 16, 2018

Carrot Juice and Untangling Self-Responsibility

Carrots that have grown intertwined.

The noise that juicer made was enough to wake the neighbors, and carrots came in 50lb. bags, all to satisfy Mike’s desires to make the best possible choices for his health.  Juicing was one of many paths he followed as he read Prevention magazine, bought supplements, followed eating plans and diets, turned slightly orange, attended EST* Seminars, and listened to the gurus of the 1970’s wellness cults.

Some of this was certainly focused on weight loss, and that he did, over and over and over. Diving into that is fodder for another time. Today what I want to play with is the concept of our personal responsibility towards our health, and how I have stepped away from the direct cause and effect model that sells so many dang worthless books.

Back in the 70’s Mike was lead to believe that he was personally responsible for making the right choices, and he followed the rules, so many of them. Forty years later, as I share my diagnosis, I heard from someone talking about a book that describes a plant based diet. They have been following it roughly for many years and remain healthy and “have never missed a day of work.” Others have offered medical advice straight off of Facebook, Oprah, or the local news. So often there is an “expert” telling us how to eat, what supplements to take, or some other strict prescription of behavior that if only you follow it correctly will make you a new, wonderful, sexy, healthy person. Have you gotten caught by any of these promises?

The dark side is that I see clients and friends berating themselves for eating sugar, or not eating enough veggies, or being too stressed from taking care of kids and parents while dealing with an auto-immune disease. People who have come to believe that any “wrong” move could spell disease. (No, I won’t spell it dis-ease dammit.) People who are convinced that making healthy choices is a moral imperative.

Mike Toombs, 1976
Mike died in 1978 of pancreatic cancer, by the time he was diagnosed it had metastasized to his lungs and liver. Many of the get well cards he received during the very short month between diagnosis and his death were from EST friends who encouraged him to think differently and be different, to “get over it.” They we telling him that he could think, live, and eat his way out of pancreatic cancer. To be frank, miracles aside, that was bullshit, the man was actively dying from a cancer that kills 80% within a year.

With such an extreme example, it is easy to see how off the well-meaning advice was. How much more compassionate it would have been for those friends to connect and come sit with him. They could have prayed for his comfort and ease, or simply sent flowers or a differently loving card.

Mike was my father, I was 16 when he died on May 11, 1978. 

Mike and daughter Amelia, 1963
Clearly, I grew up steeped in this belief system, I was told over and over how I had the power to transform and change my life. This belief fit well with the Yankee sensibilities of my ancestors, and aligned with the so common self-realization, "by the bootstraps" narrative that ignores gender, genetics, history, race, ability, sexual preference, socio-economics, religion, and more. Yet it was the truth as far as I knew.

I had attended EST seminars at 15, so I also knew I needed to focus on being here now, and If only I made all the right choices, I would find success in all aspects of life, love, and career, while my body would be healthy, slim, and fit. As I moved into adulthood, I was attracted to many of these same messages from the Human Potential Movement and read lots of personal growth, health, and healing books. 

I don’t question or regret any of this. This is a small peek into my life and these experiences have informed me. Because I have such a long and rich history with it, I have had a chance to consider how it is working. Some things work really well, a lot of others, not so much.

These days, I am acutely aware that some with a similar background would find the cancer now wandering in my bones to be something that I have brought on myself. Now, people are polite, I might not hear that directly, I do know that it is considered. Well… she could have lost that weight, you know, cancer and weight. Or maybe if she took these supplements… or perhaps her emotional life, or anger, or sadness, or fill in the blank… Perhaps if I was more present or conscious, I would not be having this experience. 

You know what? I think that is bull - all this blame and fault finding with expectations of perfect health. All humans have value, and all are entitled to live their best life. Not everyone is guaranteed health which is not a personal gift or failing. Perfect health, perfect life, and death in our sleep at a ripe old age is not real. Whose life works this way?  

What does work for me, is the knowledge and experience that I have options around how I respond to life’s circumstances. How I respond will often change my experience. This is where so much of the ideas around positive thinking really do matter. In this moment, I can watch the rain coming down and enjoy the sounds and softness. Or I can rail against the never ending rain and be mad. This is my lane, this is my responsibility.

Beyond that much of our lives is actually beyond our control.  Our health, our experiences, the people and places that influence us can almost seem random. Why does one coal miner develop black lung when another who worked side by side for 20 years does not? Why does this college campus feel right to my daughter when a dozen similar ones didn’t? Why did your eyes meet a stranger’s that day, the stranger who is now your spouse?

The best explanation I am aware of is called Prarabdha Karma. This is not the basic cause and effect stuff. This is about the lifetimes of our soul journeys, it is about living as ourselves in these bodies and having the chance to learn and experience many different aspects of life. I personally believe I was a part of making some of these choices before I arrived. I am also completely ok with the thought that the divine has set things up for me.

When you look around at the billions of us, even those who are living similar lives will often have different challenges, different joys, and vastly different experiences. How does that all happen? Prarabdha Karma.

Which seems like a conundrum.
Can I change anything? Yes.
Do I have the ability to affect my world? Yes.
What control is there? Lots. Especially in my choice of response and willingness to experience what is showing up.  In any given moment, I have some level of control to choose my response.  

One piece of truth I have carried with me for over 40 years is knowing that I have made the best possible choices in the moment. That does not mean I have not made mistakes or behaved badly, it is simply a surrender to the understanding that I did my best in that moment. I also trust the same for everyone else.

Sitting here today, I am not questioning that I came to be living with metastatic breast cancer. I continue to notice and let go of the healthism and judgment that I find sneaking in, and find it helpful to discern whose voice is speaking those old ideas. (I talk back.) My body is what has brought to and carried me through this lifetime, and my prayer is for the opportunity continue that life for quite some time. 

While I am here, I may drink some carrot juice, or a milkshake, read medical studies, even incorporate new information, movement, rest, or meditation into my days. Why will I? Because it feels right, because my body or soul is asking for it. I will make those choices through presence and attention. I find such choices more supportive and congruent to living the life I desire. The life that I understand is less about controlling and doing it right, and far more about allowing, accepting, connecting, and rejoicing.

*est or EST – Erhard Seminar Trainings which "brought to the forefront the ideas of transformation, personal responsibility, accountability, and possibility"

Friday, July 27, 2018

For My Birthday, I'm Taking Care of Myself

Dear Ones,

Seven years ago for my 50th birthday, I was prepping for a second breast cancer surgery, an axcillary dissection.

Today, for my 57th I am sharing widely so that I feel comfortable getting back to my writing and blog.

I am one of the about 30% who experience a return of breast cancer. It’s been quite a long road of discovery, and I am experiencing metastatic breast cancer, it is “diffuse and widespread” in my bones.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are a lot of effective treatment options, so don’t kill me off quite yet. Many live for many years, as is my intent.

It’s important to me to note some specifics around language, this may be new to you, I ask for your respect. I see this as a challenge and an opportunity.  What I hate is not cancer it is the way we talk about it and our bodies. My goal is to expand the love for my body and embrace its vast strength and health. No to “battles.” This is my living experience, do not call me a “survivor” - what does that say about all of our beloveds who have died? There’s more about this on this blog.

So, here I am on my birthday, planning to bake a gluten free knock off of Main and Market’s strawberry shortcake and getting ready to take Sarah to the dentist.

All is well at work, what amazing people Alchemy’s therapists are!
I’m seeing a limited number of clients and all continues to move smoothly there. Thank goodness!

I will write more about the diagnosis/discovery process. Short story, this presented really strangely and was intertwined with gall bladder, a tooth extraction, random pain, and a strange numbness that nobody could figure out. By the time I had a real diagnosis I was pretty miserable, and in a lot of pain. We then had to wait for additional pathology lab results to start treatment.

I’m feeling better about six weeks into treatment. Less pain, mostly manageable with ibuprofen, and a host of drug side effects. The treatment is a Aromatase Inhibitor that knocks down the estrogen in my system (yay- Menopause3) along with a newer drug that prevents the cancer cells from finding a back door to nutrients when the estrogen is cut off. This drug is chemo-like in that it tanks my immune system and creates those side effects.

So far it is manageable and things are improving. There is a large selection of options my oncologist (who I love!!!) has for treatment and my NP, acupuncturist and other therapists are supporting the health of my whole body. The reality is that this is stage 4 cancer and care is all essentially palliative, however there is a lot of life in me, so here we go - I will celebrate birthdays.

My blog is linked and I have so much more to talk about as spirit moves me. If you are interested, please read along.

What else can you offer? Love and support, prayers and good energy. Lunch perhaps if you’re local. Let Sarah have her privacy, she is doing great and is handling it well. If you are an Alchemy client, this is not a topic for conversation at the office or in session. Period. Big boundary.

Final Soapbox:
From here, notice how much money goes to “pink” and “awareness.” A tiny fraction goes into research for metastatic breast cancer to find treatments and cures. When October shows up, ask where the pink money is going. Send your funds to research that are actually working towards life not fear.

Soapbox Two: Please don’t send me links about the latest hokey diet cure, herb, oil, or articles about "what the doctors aren’t telling me." Actually, my docs are on it. I trust them.

Even more, I trust my body, spirit, and my path in this life. I will focus on my health, my beloved and amazing daughter, family and friends, Alchemy, and living my highest and best.


Friday, September 21, 2012

An Anniversary

Dear Ones,

It's Friday, Laura and I are headed off for a fun weekend. We are finding some resolutions for the new office challenges that we've been facing, and I'm healthy. So what's with the tears? What's with the feeling like I've been kicked in the chest? What's with the exhaustion?

It wasn't until about an hour ago that I made a connection. Perhaps not the only cause for all this effect, but certainly a part of it.

It's September 21st today. A year ago Laura and I were up in Philadelphia, it was the day of my second chemo infusion. The first dose had been a significant overdose, I had been really sick, nausea, migraines, and had to go to the emergency room to rule out a pulmonary embolism. Going back to CTCS was really hard. I was scared, we were scared. Standing in my power and seeking to adjust the dosages and find a way to get through the treatment was our focus.

It's not my style to spend a lot of time with this sort of anniversary, or even remember them for goodness sake! Yet, I can feel the trauma of cancer treatment - it is still there - new pieces are arriving for my loving attention, for healing.

This is our great earthy crunchy, renewable, solar and organic weekend (Mother Earth News Fair) and I can feel that during some in between moments, I will be letting out another layer of grief, fear and sadness.

The doctors listened. I have lived, it was ok.

There are parts of my body and psyche that don't fully know that yet.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

And You Know What

Dear Ones,

What follows is a bit of a rant, that started because of a few posts that I have seen lately from people who want to tell fat people that it isn't healthy to be fat.

Weight in and of itself is not the problem. The food supply, toxins, diets and other things are far more dangerous. There is such thing as Health At Every Size and a book by the same name By Linda Bacon PhD.

It is really easy to talk about healthy options, however we MUST stop with the judgement and the criticism and the assumptions about people who are larger than others. These posts make the assumption that simply being thin makes a person better. Is that true?

I have lived in a body that happens to be genetically predisposed to carry weight.  This has allowed me the opportunity to deeply experience the way the world treats people of size.  Because EVERYONE believed it was so BAD when I was a child, I was put on diets by 7 and was doing horrible fasting and starvation programs by high school.  My self-image was severely damaged by the large number of people who felt it was ok to judge me, tease me in the halls at school, tell me what I was doing wrong, and the perpetual.... if only you lost weight...

Guess what? I wasn't even "obese" back then. The dieting did that for me.

These days, I am working to make it safe in my skin for me to live happily, every day, every minute.  That's not actually too easy given the negativity that I have absorbed over all these years on this subject.

What I am also finding I must do it speak about this and ask people to think about it.  Im asking you to think a bit for yourself, instead of simply following what the experts, media and "doctors" have to say.

As we as a nation have gotten larger, we have become harder and harder on those who are large.  The State of Georgia thought it was ok to put up billboards that essentially mock and shame children of size.  That is child abuse in my opinion. That gives public permission to treat these children poorly.

I remember a Facebook post recently where someone was just throwing around the word fat, it was being used as a major insult, to demean.  It is a noun, it is an adjective, and it is painful, and often senselessly used.

There are dozens of reasons why we are becoming larger. And there are literally thousands of people who think they know more than the fat people about how they can be better and make their lives better. Because they are better, apparently.


  • We simply must find it in our hearts and souls to be gentle and good to ourselves and each other.
  • It is time to look in the mirror and say I LOVE YOU to our bodies, no matter what perceived flaws are seen.
  • This isn't about weight loss.  I can't be.  This is about caring for the bodies we are in, right now, not in some fantasy future. Thin isn't a synonym for healthy and fat isn't another word for sick.
  • It is time to remember that we cannot judge someone by their outsides. Unless you are living in their skin, you don't get to say/think/"nicely suggest" a thing.
  • We must start learning to listen to our bodies and teach our children that their bodies hold the wisdom of the universe.  We need to trust our bodies, they actually will let us know when we are hungry and what we want to eat.  However, we teach our children from when they are tiny not to trust their bodies or that they are wrong. So by the time we are adults, we have cut off the connection so far that having a "Gut Reaction" is a rarity.
  • Let me tell you, I live in my gut and my belly as much as I can these days.  It serves me with a vast store of knowings.
  • Can you imagine a world where it is really safe to be who you are in your body at whatever size it is? That could incite self-love and acceptance.  

You know what self-love and acceptance could incite?


At every size.

I love you all - thank you for sticking with me and reading to the end.

You are beautiful and handsome and your body is amazing - what a gift it is to get one and take this journey as a human at this time.

Blessed be.

and if what I am saying makes your skin crawl, thank you for getting to the end. Please read the book, I'll even loan you a copy if need be.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Llamas.. no ALPACAS... oh dear

Dear Ones,

Phalco is a dear and cuddly Alpaca 
Part of what I have found I need to let go of lately is, using the right word.  For someone who has always communicated pretty well and had a lot of words handy in my brain, this is something of an adjustment.

I've found it quite a challenge over the last couple of weeks.  In the camilid family; which includes camels, llamas and alpacas, I have been most familiar with llamas.  So somehow my neural net goes to the word "llama" when it sees something that is pretty close to a llama.  Like an alpaca.

Laura, Sarah and I have had a great time getting to know some llamas alpacas recently, we even got to shear them last weekend (long story, friend me on Facebook for details,) so I have become quite intimate with ALPACAS.  And alpacas are enough different from llamas that I really can tell the difference.

Sarah and Becky with the boys
So for fun, I will add Alpaca photos to this post, even though it really isn't about Alpacas.  It is about chemo-brain or brain fog.  It is here and it persists.  I have to be really careful with spelling, (bless iPhones) and I have often found myself looking at Laura searching her face and brain for the word that I want to use right now. She is good about providing them, gently, and good about softly correcting me when I am just completely off.

Laura, the alpaca shearing goddess
More than one person has suggested that I hold onto this excuse for awhile, say, the rest of my life, give or take.  The detached and evolved me can certainly laugh about that and say absolutely!  The other part of me that is more judgmental and frustrates easily, simply wants to say a complete sentence with all the right words.  I've been known to get a bit touchy!

My oncologist assured me that they now know that chemo-brain is real. He also told me that just a few years ago they actively denied it.  It's real.  No doubt here.

Cooler and a bit scruffy.
Words have always been fun and easy. I am doing my best to hold this new reality with gentle humor.  I had a client today who asked me a question during a hands on part of her session.  I was able to simply say "I cannot access that part of my brain while I am in deep therapeutic space."  It worked, as she didn't know my history and didn't need anything more than that.

So remember, llamas are bigger than alpacas.  And the alpacas at Becky and Cheryl's are really cute boys who seem to forgive me for calling them llamas. 

And I am grateful that I haven't, as yet, called them camels!

blessed be,
who loves new adventures, and shearing alpacas was a delightful adventure, they really are cute!

Oh and it could be the Tamoxifen too.  Just remembered that.

Anniversaries and Turning Corners

Dear Ones,

We noted the first anniversary of this adventure in late June. 

Happenstance got me back to Dr. Mrose, my favorite radiologist at Bay Radiology, for my first set of mammograms exactly a year after I had been in because of the lump I found in my breast.  All is well in mammo-land these days. 

As I continue to play with western medicine, there has finally been a shift to looking forward to long term health! A welcome relief from the "you are a cancer patient, you have cancer" mindset.  Now, the reality is that most of what I can do to support my system and offer it opportunities for wellness are outside of traditional medicine, and I have arranged a team of docs who are supportive of holistic health care, thank goodness!

So, I will be taking Tamoxifen for a couple of years, and then other drugs to reduce the risk of a re-occurrence.  Tamoxifen is pretty interesting and feels important in my situation, it blocks/interferes with estrogen receptors, especially in the breast.  Since the cancer in my breast was estrogen-positive, blocking some of that makes sense to me.  I had been aware of and working to shift the estrogen dominance in my body for many years, Tamoxifen is doing that for me, with sledge-hammer style results.

Because of the Tamoxifen, I have had to get my ovaries and uterus checked out, fun! We also had a unscheduled trip to the ER to rule out deep vein thrombosis one evening.  Thankfully I got to go home with the diagnosis of unspecified rash.  The leg cramps are epic and about a few of the other side effects - that will remain private.

Beyond that, there isn't anything else to do, except be healthy and take good care of myself. (And lots of supplements!) It is a very strange feeling,  after such intensive treatment for almost a year, to then be, simply done.  Hmmm... This huge threat, major danger has been treated, and now I am simply done.  "Come back and see us in three months." Wow.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am really happy to step back into my life and get distance from all of that, and it is a somewhat rough transition and redefinition of self.

But hey, I have gotten to re-define myself so many times in this lifetime and especially in the last year!

Have you seen the hair? 
I love it, it's staying short and blonde!

Blessings to you all,


Who also no longer has a medi-port in her body either, yahoo!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Good News Today

Dear Ones,

As you probably remember, Laura and I were back at CTCA this week for follow-up and a PET/CT, which is frankly just looking for spread of the cancer. They call it a "new baseline."

We got the results yesterday, And the test came back clear, "no evidence of disease." Blessed be!

So time for us to take a deep breath, feel a lot of relief, and gently step back into life, the new one that isn't quite like our old one.

My system was quite challenged by the radiation, and my immune system is still very diminished -so it may be slow, and with very limited crowds and hugging for awhile still.

Short term, I am focusing on getting our "new" home ready to move into, painting is good P/T and is helping me get my strength back. Then I will focus on getting back to work, etc. As I hope you remember, I hung up my super-woman cape at the outset so am really looking to be gentle and patient with myself in this new process.

Thank you all for your prayers, assistance, and love this year; Laura, Sarah, and I have felt and appreciated them greatly,

Many blessings and Happy Easter,

~Amelia and Laura