when fight and flight turn out the light

3:00am April 11th, 2013
Nantucket, MA.
Breast Cancer Day 26


Like I said in my last post, there are good days and bad days. This is just as true in regular life as it is in life with cancer.

So I knew it wouldn’t be long before the adrenalin my body’s been using to fight and fly it’s way through the first couple of cancer weeks would eventually wear off. Adrenaline is an amazing chemical that helps us deal with difficult things, prepares us for battle, gets us juiced up to win the big race. It gives us a powerful boost of fast acting energy, enables us to run like the wind, and in my case, got me from exam table to operating table, bone scan to CT, biopsy to chemotherapy. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself, I was too busy getting organized to save my life.

Over the last few weeks I’ve felt galvanized to attack my responsibilities with gusto. I’ve read the research, the this is your life with cancer books, created treatment plans and schedules, mapped out my calendar for the next 15 months, organized childcare and playdates, re-structured the medicine cabinet, organized the refrigerator, corresponded with countless friends, and plowed forward with work to the very best of my ability. I’m not bragging… I’m preparing you for the crash.

 office work in the MGH halls{Me: organizing my thoughts while awaiting a lymph needle biopsy}

Too much of a good thing is usually bad

Once you’ve won your race, passed the big interview, or absorbed the news without fainting, and bathed in your pool of epinephrin and nor-epinephrin, it’s time to get out. It’s not a good thing for anyone, to stay in a state of sympathetic nervous system overdrive. Too much cortisol; another neurotransmitter which is designed to act in harmony with adrenaline and perpetuate your state of fight or flight, will eventually cause damage to other parts of the body: things like

  • Exhaustion
  • Physical pain
  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Anger
  • Sleep problems
  • Aggression

Really? On top of having invasive ductal breast cancer, I was going to take on that list? No thanks…

So as it came a little closer to the time of my actual treatment I did my best to prepare myself to actually feel things, not sprint past them: fear, anger, resentment, shame, guilt, helplessness, and vulnerability, I let it all well up and come flooding out. I made  a pact with myself that I would allow myself to experience these things as they came up, sit with them, and then do my best to move through them.

So this is where the yoga, meditation, gratitude lists, thank-you notes and writing come in. I have absolutely no interest in becoming bosom buddies with cortisol, or any other part of chronic stress, or the PTSD they say many cancer patients cope with for the rest of their lives.

Have you ever been to a chemo session? The video below is of me, obviously before the recent haircut, getting my first infusion of Taxol and Herceptin (the two chemo drugs I’ll be taking until June 12th). It’s just raw footage, nothing very interesting… but if you’re curios, go ahead and watch. I won’t be offended if you don’t; it’s long.


Have a sense of humor.

It’s so true, having a sense of humor will take you far: way farther in fact than adrenalin, and without any side-effect.  Laugh at yourself wearing a stupid mask. Strike a gorilla yoga poses out in front of the hospital. Make a positive SPLASH in the murky, dreary often depressing world of deathcare, I mean healthcare.

Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn.  ~Irvin S. Cobb

my second chemo treatment{April 6th, 2013. Me: getting ready for infusion number 2}

Humor prevents one from becoming a tragic figure even though he/she is involved in tragic events.  ~E.T. “Cy” Eberhart

The truth is, I am very willing to be here and that makes it easier. I’m willing to sing out loud, probably off-key and to laugh at myself in spite of my fears. I’m willing to learn the most that I can from this crazy teacher named Cancer.

But just in case you thought I was playing this all too cool for school, I’, going to share one last (short I promise) video with you here. Maybe I’m the crazy one for sharing, but if my students are out there reading this, especially my Strong Girls, I want them to see that you can be fierce, loving and vulnerable all at the same time; that you can smile on the beach in the sunlight one day, and ball your eyes out the next – It’s all part of this amazing privilege we to enjoy as humans.

Don’t worry though – I’m laughing today 😉

Last thought for today..When life gives you lemons, make lemon aid! I hope anyone who has been affected by cancer will join me at the Yoga Room on Mondays, where I will be leading a FREE Yoga Therapy for Cancer Care class from 11-11:45am. You do not need to register, just drop in – just check the class schedule here, to make sure I’m not traveling for treatment that week.

Yoga Therapy for Cancer Care

Until next time, stay receptive.
turning tragedy up side down.


  1. The strongest dragons are the ones that can show where they are missing a scale and still fight. Bravery in a post!

    By the way, you might consider checking out my friend Amy’s site: http://babiesornot.blogspot.com/ She also went through chemo (it’s been at least a year) and radiation and did some really honest and raw blogging. She’s a fierce warrior as well and might be able to give you some inspiration, ideas and is a great person to talk to. She was 38 when diagnosed. No one inspired me more until now. xo

  2. Caitlin,
    I don’t even know you, but I feel, through your posts, that I am beginning to.
    My heart just bursts into so many directions for you and how you are dealing with and sharing ALL of your experience..
    You are in my heart today.
    My back bends are for you <3

  3. That gave me goose bumps and made me want to reach thru the screen and give you a big hug. How very brave you are to be sharing all of this.. good and bad. I am sure it will helps someone else one day when they start down this road to see all of it!! Your strong girls are so lucky to have such a vulnerable, open leader!
    I agree with the flying yogini comment up above.. you are one strong and graceful dragon, warrior, yogi, woman, momma, person!!!

  4. Oh sweetie!… “I should probably turn off George Michael now”???!! THAT made me chuckle out loud! Yin & Yang. You’re right – if you’re gonna laugh, you’re cry. But who would give up the laughter? I’m thinking about the country & western song – I’ve got to go find it… Maybe Rodney Atlins – “If you’re going thru Hell”…
    If you’re going through hell
    Keep on going, don’t slow down
    If you’re scared, don’t show it
    You might get out
    Before the devil even knows you’re there
    !! I always loved that 🙂

  5. You are a strong, beautiful woman!!! Thinking of you everyday.

  6. You are still giving every bit of yourself. Thank you so much! I think I’m one of your strong girls and I’m 20 years older than they are!

  7. You are human Caitlin! Tears can be healing. Wishing you acceptance when your face gets wet from leaky eyes:)

  8. Good Morning, we have never met. I have been following your posts via mutual yoga friends on Aquidneck Island where you have lots of love & support. I think you are a brave, beautiful lion (wearing a tiara, because…. why not!).

  9. Everyone you’ve known, and everything you’ve done has led you to this moment. You will get through this… and when you’re on the other side, healthy once again, you can look back and be proud that you had the courage, the confidence and the right amount of spunk to take on the challenge. Prayers and light are coming your way…

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