August 17, 2009

Have you ever used visualization or imagery?


Our bodies are great at remembering hard times: The smell of alcohol in a hospital makes my heart race.  I can’t wear turtlenecks because they remind me of the compression bandage on my throat after my thyroidectomy.

But the flip side is that our bodies can conjure great experiences too.  Here’s one: My body remembers the days when I was a dancer.  Heat and humidity meant my muscles were always flexible, pliable, and ready to go.  I could enter the studio and launch into the fun stuff with little need to warm up.  Now whenever I’m in heat and humidity, I feel totally motivated to do physical exercise.  (Crazy I know.)

Before my second surgery, I requested to speak with a chaplain.  I got a Lutheran minister.  I was born Jewish, but I’m not religious, and don’t believe in god.  Still, I love hospital chaplains.  In fact, if there were such a thing as God in my mind, he/she might appear to me in the form of a hospital chaplain.

He got me to start visualizing what it was like to relax in bed with my husband.  Yes, it sounded kinda trashy and weird coming from a minister, and freaked me out at first.  But I realized that he knew I loved my husband to pieces, it was really hard being in a hospital in a different city than where I live, and he was trying to make me feel at home and relaxed.  He asked me all about my bedroom.  I told him about the pale yellow walls, my mahogany bureau that belonged to my grandma, and how great it is to dive into bed and put my head on my husband’s chest.  It totally worked.  When the chaplain left I didn’t want my husband or family to come back into the room.  I was so peaceful and relaxed I wanted to be alone.

The words visualization and imagery sound so hokey and new agey to me.  But I guess that is what it was.  And it totally worked.

Have you ever used visualization or imagery to coax yourself into a better mental space during illness?  Was it useful?  Did you use the generic peaceful river scene or a place you had actually experienced before?

Many of you have said your favorite part of my book is HollyAnna’s kick ass cancer and river visualization scene read.  Read it in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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March 13, 2009

Butthole Surfers

Some will fall in love with life
And drink it from a fountain
That is pouring like an avalanche
Coming down the mountain

I wanted to use this quote as the first page of my new book, but then I thought better of it. If you had never heard of this band, cracked open a book and saw the words “Butthole Surfers”, you might be slightly deterred.

The song has nothing to do with cancer and is a pretty harsh reality check about young people dying. So why do I love it so much? First, the music is an incredible receptacle for the of non-verbal, physical angst that piles up in my body, like right now as I’m only six days away from my check up. Blasting this song and dancing in my living room is an essential in my repertoire of fidgety distractions.

Secondly, I love the combined images of swallowing up life and having it cave out from underneath you. Avalanches are the most accurate depiction I have ever seen of what it feels like to be diagnosed with cancer as a young adult. You are sailing along, and it is not that you trip, or fall, it is that the entire face of the mountain you are on crumbles away beneath your feet and you go flying with it. Forget chanting or peaceful meditation; watching the intensity of avalanche videos just feels down right healing to me. Step away from the You Tube!

Do you have a cancer anthem song? What symbols, images, or metaphors do you relate to that describe your cancer experience or what it means to be a “survivor”?

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