Friday, September 24, 2010

Power: A Single Cell

My birth number suggests power and abundance as two dominant traits in my life. Really? I have never felt especially powerful or abundant in the traditional sense, but lately, I’ve been examining these terms in non-traditional ways and discovered that I have quite a bit of both.

I have an abundance of friends. Truly I am so fortunate to continue to meet amazing people who support me so well when the going gets tough, in addition to celebrating the good times with me. I am blessed with good friends, near and far. I also have an abundance of freedom. I work from home for a non-profit that I founded, and can organize my days and months the way I see fit. I can go to a yoga class at 10 a.m. or the middle of the afternoon if I like or take a week off to visit my family. I can work when and how I like – from anywhere. There is a still a tremendous amount that needs to be done each day as the only employee of this organization, but I can do it when and how I like from a coffee shop or Timbuktu (not that I’ve been there).

Money has never been especially prominent or abundant in my life, but I am discovering that I have other types of abundance that make up for that in the form of friends who are willing to share their talents with me for free – guitar lessons, massages, coaching and healing sessions, time in their vacation homes. He is truly rich who has good friends.

Power has often seemed like an undesirable trait to me because so often those who have it abuse it for their own gain and to the detriment of others. To want to be powerful is thus seen as perhaps not an entirely wholesome thing for this reason. However, I have embraced my birth trait of power in the sense that I would like to have the power to help people, to inspire and to make a difference. I recently recognized that I am powerful in other ways as well when my subconscious intervened to bring to light some new cancerous nodules growing in my abdomen.

Since finishing treatment for ovarian cancer about four years ago, I have had regular follow ups with my oncologist which included CT scans and blood tests to watch for signs of recurrence. The visits had gone from every three months for the first two years to every six the last year and a half. When I saw him in February, my doctor decided we would stop doing CT scans since there had been no sign of trouble, and he was reluctant to continue exposing me to radiation unnecessarily (which has been proven to cause cancer).

My gynecologist is the one who originally diagnosed me after removing what we had thought was a benign cyst on my right ovary. We were all surprised when it turned out to be a rare form of ovarian cancer. She was comfortable with stopping the CT scans, but wanted to replace them with ultrasounds so that we could still get a look at anything that might pop up in there. I had my first one in April and got the all clear. The next one was scheduled for six months later – October.

This is where things get a little wacky. I had orders on my desk to schedule my six month follow up with my oncologist in August, and also for my October ultrasound, but when I went to schedule my doctor appointment, my brain told me that I needed to have the diagnostic test BEFORE that appointment, so I called the hospital and scheduled the US for early July. I have had enough mammograms, ultrasounds and all manner of diagnostic testing by now to know that I need to take the orders from my doctor with me when I show up at the hospital for the tests. They also remind you when they call to pre-register you a few days before.

Nonetheless, I showed up for my ultrasound on July 8th without the written orders. If I had taken them and the nurse who checked me in had asked for them, as she was supposed to do, she would have quickly seen that they said October and would have sent me packing. As it went down, it wasn’t until the technician was about to take me back that she said she couldn’t perform the test without my orders, and I realized I had forgotten them. Did I have time to go home and get them? Should I reschedule? “No,” she said. “You’re here now. I’ll just call your gynecologist’s office and have them fax them over.” They rewrote the orders for July and faxed them right over, and I got the test.

I knew immediately that something was wrong when the technician asked me to get dressed and hang around for a moment while she shared the tests with the radiologist to see if he needed anything else. They don’t do that when there is nothing to see – something was in there. This feeling was confirmed the following evening when I was sitting in the park reading and my gynecologist called to ask why I had gotten an ultrasound three months early (that was the first time I realized I had), and to tell me thank goodness I did because three small nodules were showing up that were cause for concern.

This call came after 5 p.m. on a Friday evening of my first weekend at home with no plans in months. I was looking forward to relaxing, reading, catching up with friends and taking it easy. My doctor told me NOT to sit around worrying about this all weekend, and I vowed not to, but it was tough. The initial shock of thinking the cancer might be back was tremendous. I immediately called a friend I had just spoken to and my voice broke as I left her a message about what was going on. Then I took some deep breaths, calmed down and went back to my book.

Luckily, the next afternoon, I had a meeting with my coach who reminded me that I could worry about this for the next month until I saw my oncologist, but it would only make me miserable. He was right, and from that moment, I literally put it out of my mind, and refused to let it weigh on me. For two months, between this test and my surgery, which confirmed the cancer was indeed back, I carried this knowledge with me and DID NOT let it impact my emotions. Now that is POWER! A friend recently bought me Michael J Fox’s latest book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future (which I highly recommend). In it, he offers this advice: “Never imagine the worst case scenario. It almost never comes true, and in the event that it does, you’ve lived through it TWICE.” We can’t control what happens to us in life, but we have 100% power over how we respond to it.

Next month: Here we go again. More about my treatment, challenges and triumphs this time around.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Don't Have Time for Cancer

Perhaps the most common reaction when faced with a cancer diagnosis is fear for your life, and I certainly had that, at least initially. I was lucky though, and was diagnosed early – stage II – so I never really thought that I might die. What bothered me most about cancer was the interruption to my life.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was the CEO of a small company, a whitewater canoe guide and an active volunteer with several different organizations. Just days before Memorial Day in 2006, I was told I had ovarian cancer, and I was immediately annoyed that I would have to be recovering from surgery and starting chemo during the fantastic Colorado summer! I labeled 2006 my “lost summer” as a result.

After four years guiding whitewater canoe trips on western rivers, I had just been handed my dream schedule with three trips on river sections I hadn’t done before. I was so looking forward to paddling the Dolores with its excellent rapids, the Colorado River above Moab and the famed five-day stretch of the Green River into Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I had never gotten that great a canoe schedule before, and I haven’t since. The only trip I got to do that summer was the guide trip three weeks before I was diagnosed. I still haven’t paddled the Dolores either!

As if that weren’t bad enough, I had just booked a trip to Alaska for the week after Memorial Day. Plane tickets had been purchased and reservations made for an adventure in Juneau three years in the making. It ended up being my one-year cancerversary celebration the following summer instead! I had been scheduled to present at two conferences, and had reservations at Mesa Verde – still one of the few national parks in the region I haven’t yet made it to.

I recognize my good fortune at having the luxury of annoyance rather than the fear of death. All things considered, I would take that again any day. But for a busy person like me with barely a free moment in my schedule to begin with, having to give up precious time in the mountains or on the river to sit in a chemo room, or lie on the couch recovering from surgery when the sun was shining was really trying.

I very much resented cancer’s interruption of my life, and the time required to fight the disease. . .time away from work that was important to me, traveling (which I love), and outdoor activities that feed my soul. It also cost me quite a bit of money – about $8,000 all told in doctor co-pays, prescription drugs and insurance deductibles. I would have put that money to such good use on awesome adventures if I hadn’t given it to cancer!

Four years later, summer is nearly over, and I just returned from the canoe trip for single survivors that I have been planning for the past five months. This weekend, 14 people joined us from across the country to embark on a three-day adventure on the Colorado River. Since I have been talking about providing services for the single survivor crowd for three years, this is a BIG deal for me – the start of something new and exciting! It was a big deal for them too. The trip was so rewarding and fun for us all. Here are just a few of the comments from the weekend:

“Thanks for four of the best days of my life. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve felt joy and at peace, and this weekend I felt both. Also, I feel hopeful again and inspired to get out there and really live. Thank you SOOO much!”

“I just wanted to say thank you for this weekend. It was something I really needed and came at the right time. I’m sure everyone on the trip had the best time of their lives, and you touched more lives than you can imagine - not just those attending, but those who are their friends, their family… etc. It’s quite amazing to see the change in people and you were the catalyst for that change. It was an honor to be a part of this event and I can’t thank you enough….”

The response has been tremendous, and we have a great database of people who are interested in future activities, even if three days camping on the river isn’t exactly their cup of tea or their schedule wouldn’t allow then to participate this time. We raised enough money to cover trip expenses above and beyond those generous organizations like Centennial Canoe Outfitters and Marmot who donated gear, Greek101 who donated t-shirts, and giving individuals who donated cash or frequent flier miles to provide travel scholarships. We couldn’t have done it without the non-profit sponsorship of Tamika & Friends, a rockstar planning committee, and river guides willing to donate their time and energy. Denver’s 9News did a feature story on the trip two weeks prior that generated local interest and added a few participants to the roster as well.

This entire experience has given me a feeling of profound gratitude for all of the amazing individuals who have contributed to making this trip happen, and created the foundation for a new organization to serve single survivors (Solo Survivors? Looking for a good name for the new venture – if you have ideas, email - would like for it to emphasize connection and relationship rather than alone-ness). If you are a single cancer survivor, and would like to be added to the mailing list for future events, please let us know.

Even if you are sick and tired of the hot weather and mosquitoes wherever you are, enjoy these last few weeks of summer. Get outside and do something fun. It will be cold before we know it, so appreciate the season and share it with friends.