We’ve had a beautiful painting hanging in our front hall for a few months now. My friend Birdie visited from Ontario in October and her gift to us was one of her encaustic paintings called “In the Pink.” I’m always pleased to have another piece of art from Birdie and the title of this new piece was perfect. I remembered the many months last year of “thinking pink” for the skin graft on my leg to heal. And now it’s not quite ready for a swimming pool but it’s looking healthily pink.
Birdie who is artist Andrea Bird (www.andreabird.com), was definitely “in the pink” when I saw her as she had taken on an adventure coming to B.C., exploring various locales she’d never seen before. It was good to talk to her about the cancer “journey” we each had at different times and how we felt changed by the experience.
We both acknowledged there was a different and very special sort of intimacy with our partners and how we fell in love with them all over again. Those are among the very special and unexpected blessings.
Birdie and I agreed, we are also aware of anniversaries such as the date of diagnosis, the first day of treatment, the last day of treatment, the day of surgery.
January 5th was the anniversary of my surgery at Vancouver General Hospital and I wrote to Dr. Paul Clarkson, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Musculoskeletal Oncology Service at the BC Cancer Agency, to thank him.
I haven’t seen him since that date as it was a member of his team visiting me each day at VGH. And as I went to Vancouver ten times to see Dr. Mark Hill, the plastic surgeon, I wasn’t up to another visit to Dr. Clarkson. Besides thanking him for removing the spindle cell sarcoma, I wanted to let him know the recovery time was much longer than expected. He actually hadn’t predicted a recovery time when he said this would all be over in four months.
I also wrote to Lisa his Nurse Co-ordinator as she was very cheerful, helpful and available with follow-up questions.
While the surgery was more than a year ago, the body remembers past trauma of any sort. Recently, I’ve been having a look at a book called The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD (Viking, 2014). I must be meant to read at least some of the book as it was referred to in another book I read, came up on Facebook, was prominent on a shelf at Volume 1 Bookstore in Duncan and I see from the latest Hollyhock calendar that Dr. Van Der Kolk is offering a program there in August.
I had a look at the chapter on yoga first as I started back to yoga in early December by doing some private sessions in yoga therapy. Julie Horwood, my yoga instructor, works with people who have had surgery or have chronic conditions. www.sixpersimmonsyoga.com
In Dr. Van Der Kolk’s chapter, “Learning to Inhabit Your Body: Yoga,” he writes: “One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection with our bodies. We do not truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life. While numbing (or compensatory sensation seeking) may make life tolerable, the price you pay is that you lose awareness of what is going on inside your body and, with that, the sense of being full, sensually alive.”
I definitely can relate to the term “numbing” as it’s a tactic I learned early in life. The trouble with that state of course is that you don’t get to feel anything. As Dr. Van Der Kolk puts it, “It muffles the everyday sensory delights of experiences like music, touch, and light, which imbue life with value.” He found that “Yoga turned out to be a terrific way to (re)gain a relationship with the interior world and with it a caring, loving, sensual relationship to the self.”
Dr. Van Der Kolk’s observations resonate with me as I do a private session with Julie or a daily practice on my own: “In yoga you focus your attention on your breathing and on your sensations moment to moment. You begin to notice the connection between your emotions and your body – perhaps how anxiety about doing a pose actually throws you off balance. You begin to experiment with changing the way you feel. Will taking a deep breath relieve that tension in your shoulder? Will focusing on your exhalation produce a sense of calm?”
He says: “Simply noticing what you feel fosters emotional regulation and it helps you to stop trying to ignore what is going on inside you. As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are ‘Notice that’ and ‘What happens next?’ Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Getting back to yoga is among the survival lessons, which is the title of a small book written by Alice Hoffman fifteen years after being diagnosed with cancer (Survival Lessons, Algonquin Books, 2013).
She said: “It took all this time for me to figure out what I would have most wanted to hear when I was newly diagnosed, when I lost the people I loved, when I was deeply disappointed in myself and the turns my life had taken. In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss.”
Each chapter is about a particular choice and in the chapter entitled “Choose the Evidence,” Alice writes: “Write it down. Even if it’s a few sentences. Because you won’t remember. You think you will never forget, but you will. Write down your life story or a poem. Sometimes shorter is better. Make a list of what all you have loved in this unfair and beautiful world. Fireflies. Blue herons. Fresh coffee. Manhattan at dusk. The man waiting in the other room. The woman with dark eyes.”
Alice Hoffman agrees: “You are a different person now. You know it and I know it. You’re not the same. You’re a survivor.”
My word for 2017 is “REAP” and making of a list of all I have loved sounds to me like a good practice and will definitely raise my vibration so that I’m “in the pink.”