The Mindfulness of Cancer

Photo: Larisa Forman

{Photo: Larisa Forman}

This is it: the last 6 days of me, Caitlin, as I (and you) know her.

The last six days of me with the two breasts God gave me, the ones I proudly used to nourished my son Griffin, the ones I  struggled to like as a teenager, and the ones I came to love as an adult. By next Wednesday, the 24th of July, they will be no more.

Truly, everything is temporary, especially our bodies. This entire adventure with cancer has been one big lesson in giving up attachments and identity and learning to practice mindfulness: learning to be as present in the challenging moments of my life as I am in the blissful.

In a class I taught at the Yoga Room, just this morning, I read the following passage:

Mindfulness is not about an absence of emotion or a way to steam the natural flow of illness, aging, loss and separation. This flow may be inevitable, but our response to it is not. As a person who lives with cancer and the uncertainty of another reoccurrence, I need to be mindful. This “bad” thing (cancer) is also “good”, because it forces me to remember that my time is limited. Knowing this is a gift that forces me to notice what brings joy and harmony and wheat does not. this is mindfulness: learning from what we do and acknowledging the patterns of thought and action that have been established so we can decide whether thy continue to sere us well. ~Elana Rosenbaum, Being Well Even When You’re Sick

As I’ve watched my hair fall out, my eyebrows thin and loosen, my skin redden and tighten and my moon cycles dry up, I have been forced  to learn impermanence on a deeper level I may not have otherwise appreciated in my 30’s.  Finding the silver linings has not always been easy. In fact, cancer has challenged me in ways no other life experience has, but for that I am now grateful.

As I prepare to say good-bye to my beloved breasts, I know I am meant to learn even more about myself through this process. Despite the anxiety I am feeling about the medical procedure (the vulnerability evoked by needles, tubes, paper gowns, and face masks), I am starting to feel the empowerment of knowing my cancer will soon be gone.

By this time next week, I will be finished with a day of pre-opertative labs and doctor’s appointments and getting ready for my surgery the following morning. When I think about this there is a small amount of anxiety that remains in my belly, but practicing Mindfulness meditations, both on my own and while teaching others, has helped me move out of the darkness of the past few weeks into a more profound appreciation of the moment.

Watching my breath, taking in my surrounding, listening, tasting, smelling, breathing, feeling – this is the practice.

The ultimate goal of this practice is heightened awareness to feel more alive and be free of suffering. It is a practice that cultivates compassion and wisdom. Mindfulness is an adventure. The present moment is a precious moment. 

We have come to the end of our first intermission… and it is nearly time for Act Two to begin.

These are the last 6 days of swimming in the ocean and being able to fully submerge myself in a tub or a pool. These are the last few days of being able to use my arms around the house: to make meals, fold laundry, shave my own legs, put away dishes or make beds. These are the last few days I will wrestle with my son or hold my partner. How delicious it is to have these six days! I feel oddly hyper aware of my arms and connected to all the amazing thing they can do.

I feel a great tenderness to my breasts and gratitude for all the joy they have brought me and others.

For sure there have been some dark moments for me over the past few months: a couple of significant panic attacks, some depression, some grief, some resentment and some anger. But I’m learning to sit with the discomfort. I’ve allowed it to rage and to subside, to wax and to wane, to take me down and let me go, and in doing so, have practiced being as much with the “bad” as with the “good”.

With patience and acceptance, the mind does begin to quiet, but not if we try to push it away or repress it. If we try to control it, it will, like a rebellious child refuse to calm. 

I’m ready.

Now I feel strong again and ready for what’s next to come. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Strength

{Photo: Larisa Forman}

The surgery that will “save my life”, as my breast surgeon described it, will commence some time shortly after 5:30am. Though anything is possible, I have been told to assume the operation will take about 8 hours. When I wake I will be with my partner, my girlfriend Elisa and  my parents (who will be returning from a 2 week stay in Maine). I hope to wake up with two new and fully reconstructed breasts and the best part of all, without ANY CANCER.

Yes, that’s right, no cancer, or in medical terms NED aka No Evidence of Disease.

You might remember from my earlier posts, that Act Three of our drama includes 4 more rounds of the chemotherapy drug fondly nicknamed “The Red Devil”, but if all goes well in Act Two, my cancer should be all but eradicated. These 4 infusions of Adriamycin/Cytoxin are considered an insurance policy that all the “invasive” cancer cells that may have been missed surgically will be wiped out. This process will start just two weeks after my surgery – some time around August 21st…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

So please, if you are inclined  I would be honored if you would think of me on July 24th – any time between 5:30am and 12:30pm. If those of you who practice yoga could include me in your dedications, I would be forever grateful. And certainly, if my dear friends  in the Boston area feel like popping by to say hello when I’m in recovery – I would love to see you. I’ll be at Mass General Hospital.

Right now I am enjoying my life. All of it. For the next 6 days I want to live to the fullest: I want to teach, swim, meditate, practice, snuggle with my little boy, and love up my man all as much as possible.

As Henry David Thoreau said “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” 

If you are in Nantucket this Sunday, I hope you will join us for my Boob Voyage Party. The details are in the attached poster. If I don’t see you there, I’ll see you on the mat, at The Green, or in my dreams.

Namaste,

Caitlin

Boob Voyage Soiree

Boob Voyage Soiree: Sunday July 21st, 2013

Cancer and Equanimity

Can you see the forest through the trees? by Caitlin Marcoux

Originally Published on RebelleSociety.com
July 10th, 2013 

{Photo: Robert Sturman / Burr Tupper}

{Photo: Robert Sturman / Burr Tupper}

You know the saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees?

It’s most often used in a negative context: If you can’t see the forest for the trees, the implication is that you can’t see your whole situation clearly because you’re looking too closely at the details.

But it seems to me that there are times when it is entirely appropriate, necessary even, to focus on the details of one’s circumstances. It can be the very details of a difficult situation that see us through, and help us to put one foot in front of the other. The loss of a parent or child, a life threatening illness, a natural disaster, an unanticipated personal tragedy; these are times that the trees can be the very thing that keep us from getting lost in the forest.

“Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky, We fell them down and turn them into paper, 
That we may record our emptiness.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

With the onset of cancer, the details are the trees that we cling to in the beginning, and we take what support we can from them: What is the diagnosis? What stage is the cancer? What grade is the tumor? Has it metastasized?

As we learn more about our illness, we climb up these trees and look out over the forest. We might begin asking ourselves: Do we like our team of doctors? What are our treatments options? Are we at the right hospital to do what needs to be done? What is our prognosis, 5-year survival rate, and overall life expectancy with such an illness? Each tree could be seen as one of this important question.

Maybe the forest represents the culmination of information gathered by these questions; data that informs the way we navigate through such a challenging circumstance.

Like big huggable solitary trees, the ritualistic details of chemotherapy can become oddly comforting. Week after week we see the same people at the infusion ward.

Every time we report for a treatment, we are weighed and our vitals are checked. Our ports are washed, disinfected and accessed for blood. We wait for our labs to return and our white blood cells, neutrophils, platelets and hemoglobin levels are accounted for. IV bags with our drugs arrive from the pharmacy and we get hooked up. We get comfortable. We put our headphones on, open up a good book, or chat quietly with a neighbor. A friendly nurse might offer a warm blanket.

There’s a consistent ritual. It is one of the few predictable routines in a world of unknowns, the details of which become a strange comfort. And for a moment or two, cancer doesn’t seem so bad. Through ritual, we’ve managed to normalize it.

Chemopause.

summer

{Photo: Nicole Harnishfeger for the Inquirer and Mirror. Nobadeer Beach, Nantucket}

 

Twice recently, I’ve run into a local resident of Nantucket in some public setting; coffee shop, yoga studio, and have been asked the very common Seasonal Resort Town Question: “How’s your summer going?”

This is a question that is used between year-round locals to segue into a discussion that typically includes commiserating about 12 hour work days, encroaching deadlines, Fourth of July traffic, the lines at the Stop n’ Shop, and a level of exhaustion we don’t navigate the other 9 months out of the year.

Other times it’s a question that’s asked with the polite assumption that you will be involved in one of the many festivals we host on Nantucket in June, July and August: the Wine, Film, Dance, Yoga, Comedy, Book, and Garden Festivals, or in hopes of sparking up a conversation that includes beach plans and recent BBQs.

Either way, the question has caught me off-guard each time. I’ve had to pause, and remember that yes, it is in fact summer on Nantucket; something we year-rounders live for and dread all at the same time — and I’ve barely noticed.

Cancer may have put a pause on my life, but for the average person around me, it is in full swing.

My friends in the trades and restaurant & hospitality industries are working long hours. Summer residents are over-crowding the grocery stores and making large-scale picnics on the beach the priority of their week. There are evening dinner parties to go to, fundraisers to attend, and glasses of rose to sip.

Thousands and thousands of people flock to Nantucket to celebrate summer, many of them spending as many dollars when they get here. Those of us who aren’t rushing to spend money this summer are rushing to earn it; making hay while the proverbial and not so proverbial sun shines.

Summer is in full regalia, yet for me it’s made little difference.

I have been so focused on the details of my cancer treatment that I haven’t seen the seasons changing right in front of my face. For four months now my days have been scheduled around getting to and from my weekly infusions, coping with side effects of treatment and caring for my little family as best I can.

So far, one of the only ways summer has been any different than any other season is the marked absence of my partner, who is a general contractor. The beginning of May thrugh the beginning of July is by far the busiest time of the year for him, so if it weren’t for the late nights and plaster dust, I’d have even less awareness of this particular time of year.

This is exactly the kind of bigger picture awareness, which becomes obscured by getting hung up on the smaller details, and I think it’s what the old saying “You can’t see the forest through the trees” was intended to illuminate.

It is a huge challenge, finding equanimity. It can feel next to impossible some days; moving back and forth between the ritual details of what’s happening in the context of one’s illness and the appreciation of everything else that’s going on around us.

We have a lot on our plates, but even cancer patients need to work on cultivating balance. If we can find equanimity in the face of this huge challenge, we can remain present in the flow of our lives;  for ourselves and for our loved ones. In this way cancer is our teacher, and she has put us on an accelerated quest for internal equilibrium. 

At the end of the day those of us in treatment are more than our diagnoses and blood draws, or the lost days of summer and the missed cocktail parties. We are people who once watched the seasons pass with clarity, and we will be those people again.

Perhaps it is up to us to share what we’ve begun to learn; that with or without illness, we can all try to find meaning in everything, both big and small.

I for one need to recommit to seeing not just the trees but also the entire forest.

Can you?

{Photo: Robert Sturman / Caitlin, Burr and Griffin: Nantucket}

{Photo: Robert Sturman / Caitlin, Burr and Griffin: Nantucket}

 

*****

 

{Open your eyes.}

ChemoAsana: my pre-treatment yoga cancer rally.

The Cancer Diaries: June 26th, 2013

What the hell is a ChemoAsana? You might be asking… 

che•mo asa•na (noun) ˈä-sə-nə

: the use of yogic arts to uplift the body’s assimilation of chemical agents in the treatment or control of disease (as cancer)

First Known Use: circa 2013, Nantucket, MA.

 

As those of you who have been following me since I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in March already know, I’ve developed a little pre-chemotherapy routine that helps me to feel empowered. This ritual includes packing up my chemo bag the night before (statues of Ganesh and Nataraj, Bose earphones, iPad, eye pillow, thank you cards to be written, and my son’s blankie) getting to the hospital extra early the morning of my treatment for my blood draw, and then taking a 75 minute yoga at my studio. The ritual continues with a stop at The Green (smoothie, green juice, shot of wheatgrass) on my way to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital and ends with getting hooked up to IV fluids and doing my ChemoAsana.

As of today, I have completed 14 infusions of Taxol and Herceptin, and I have the 14 ChemoAsana photos to prove it. Now I get to kick back and let the chemicals work their cumulative mojo while focusing on building my blood back up and preparing my body for surgery.

To celebrate I thought it would be fun to revisit all the ChemoAsana photos my friends and I taken over the past 3 months. The first two are hardly asanas at all, but as the chemotherapy progresses the poses get more complex. Looking back on the past three months, it seems that the days I felt the most out of control I would harness whatever power I could muster from my yoga asana.

Now more than ever I believe in the power of yoga to heal. I have my very own, first hand empirical data forever charted in my medical history; proof that yoga boosts your white blood cells, platelets and my personal favorite; the ANC, absolute neutrophil count.

Call me crazy but I attribute my son Griffin’s 2 hour natural childbirth AND the way my body has held up over these last 14 infusions of highly toxic chemicals. “Om F-ing Om” sisters and brothers!

ChemoAsana

Below is a compilation of all the pre-Taxol ChemoAsana I’ve done since the end of March. Some of them much more ridiculous than others.

1. Enter the Dragon

March 28th, 2013. Mass General Hospital
ChemoAsana: a first infusion. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

Awaiting my first infusion: March 28th, 2013

 2. Maskasana

April 4th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana #2: April 4th, 2013

ChemoAsana #2: April 4th, 2013

 

3.Pincha Mayurasana

April 10th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #3: April 10th, 2013

 

 4. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

April 17th, 2013. Mass General Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #4: April 17th, 2013

 

5. Anjaneyasana

April 25th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #5: April 25th, 2013

 

 6. Natarajasana

May 2nd, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #6: May 2nd, 2013

 

 7. Leg Behind the Head Pose

May 8th, 2013. Mass General Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #7:May 8th, 2013

8. Hanumanasana

May 15th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #8: May 15th, 2013

 

9. Inverted Chemoasana

May 22nd, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana: a first infusion. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #9: May 22nd 2013

10. Adho Mukha Vrikshasana, straddle variation

May 29th, 2013. Mass General Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #10: May 29th, 2013

 

11. Dragon Fly Pose

June 5th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
 
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #11: June 5th, 2013

12. Upavistha Konachemochairasana

June 12th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #12: June 12th, 2013

 

 

13. Flying Lover’s Padmasana (bonus #1)

June 20th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #13: June 20th, 2013

14. Group Loveasana (bonus infusion #2)

June 26th, 2013. Nantucket Cottage Hospital
ChemoAsana. Breast Cancer Jedi, Caitlin Marcoux

ChemoAsana #14: my final infusion of Taxol – a drug that made me absolutely sick as a dog.

 Sometimes pictures tell the best stories.

As I end my dialogue with Taxol and move phase two of my treatment (mastectomy and reconstruction) I do so feeling fully supported and cared for: nurtured by my practice and supported by my community. I have professed my love of yoga hundreds maybe thousands of times and I’ve said that I love Nantucket at least as many times. I’ve lived in NYC, Paris, Ireland, and Chicago, (and I’ve practiced yoga in everyone of those places) and yet I cannot imagine a better home than here.

###

The Tao of Community

Nantucket, MA.
Love Anchors

Cancerland can be a very lonely place. Yet thanks to you, mostly it hasn’t been. It’s been full of LOVE.

Some how, despite the trials of chemotherapy, middle of the night clock watching,  and a couple of time-stopping episodes of bone pain, the weeks since my initial breast cancer diagnosis have been racing by. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 2 months since all the Cancer Crazy began, and it’s shocking to me that this Tuesday I’ll be headed up to MGH for my 10th chemotherapy infusion.

Now that I’ve dug my heels into my new vocation as a Cancer Thriver, I’ve come to an even deeper appreciation the power of Community.  Specifically the two communities I connect with: best my Nantucket community and my global Yoga Tribe.

I’ve been humbled to no end by the outpouring of love my family and I have felt blanketed in since March. Support has come in so many forms: physical, emotional, spiritual and financial., and there have been donation yoga classes held in my honor here in Nantucket, Fayetteville, NY, Chicago IL and Cambridge, MA.

Electric Friendship

I couldn’t be moving through all this without your support.

As many of you know, on April 25th, The Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center hosted my my friends and I for the third time, and all together (with the additional help of musical support from Audrey Sterk and yogic support from Shannah Green) Peter, Floyd and I put on one rockin’ Electric Flow.  There were 82 yogis in all: every teacher from the Yoga Room was there, as well as other yoga teachers from as far away as Providence, New Bedford and Chicago, IL. Both Kristen Kellogg and Katie Kaizer were on hand to document the experience. The following slide show is a celebration of that night…

“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.”

Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead

 

As many of you know (since I have addressed it publicly here) I have struggled with self-worth over the years. There are times I feel overwhelmed by this incredible love – and question, am I really worthy? But as I wrestle with the side-effects of my cancer treatment, I begin to feel down – I look to this love and my spirit is immediately buoyed. In those moments I think; Yes. Yes I am worthy.

Maybe I had to experience CANCER to accept my worthiness. If that is true, cancer has been worth it. 

 

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

 

I know this level of support is exceptional, for exceptional circumstances. This kind of support is sustainable for a period of time, and then as God wills, it is transferred to someone else in need.  No one person is capable of nor meant to hold this kind of light for too long. So while my personal crisis is happening now, I know there will be others in need shortly.  I hope to Pay It Forward as quickly and as powerfully as possible when that time arises. This is the beauty of living here on Nantucket, in this amazing community.

We take care of each other.  

And if we’ve been lucky enough to be the recipient of this love, we pay it forward.

 ####

Saddle Up Your Hogs and Ride

This year, my old friends in Chicago will be passing along the funds they raise from the upcoming June 23rd 2013 Annual Shawn Koch Poker Run (motorcycle rally). Shawn Koch was a friend, an amazing person, talented musician, loving husband and father, and died after a long battle with brain cancer. This poker run is held every year in Shawn’s memory, and it is an honor to be the recipient of his community’s support.

Shawn Koch Poker Run

How to Talk to Someone with Cancer

Originally published on RebelleSociety.com
May 15th, 2013

Bummer. Sounds like you have to talk to someone with cancer.

I’m so sorry – for you both! After all, it’s no easy task for either party. Going through this very thing myself, I’d like to help you out with a little cancer context, so that we can put your inevitable dialogue into your loved one’s perspective.

How to Talk to Someone with Cancer by Caitlin Marcoux

Making the best of a bad day of tests at The MGH Cancer Center.

The thing about people living with cancer, is that we are a complicated bunch.

Our senses have been rubbed raw by diagnostic testing and medical evaluations. We’ve been graded, staged and given projected survival rates. We’ve seen the fragility of our lives held up before our own faces, and we come away from our treatments feeling vulnerable in a way we’ve never felt before. We cling to our independence, but know we’re dependent on others for healing and help.

We are emotionally taxed and psychically drained.

The very nature of our dis-ease has thrown us into a world off-balance. Not only are our bodies working over-time to halt the production of alien-like rapidly mutating cells, they are struggling to process the toxic poisons we voluntarily ingest to cure ourselves. The very treatments we implement to make us healthy, make us sick. We walk a fine, contradictory line on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Cancer survivors know better than most how fleeting life can be.

We live with a foreboding and heavy awareness of risk. We are almost painfully aware that each day we have is precious.While certainly there are many silver linings, we remember wistfully what our lives were like Before Cancer, before the silver linings needed to be pointed out. We navigate the remainder of our days knowing that we will never again feel the pre-cancerous freedom we may have taken for granted.

“Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.” ~ Helen Keller

We know it’s a tall order, and that our needs are inconsistent, but we really appreciate your patience as we figure out exactly what we need. We want you to be sympathetic, but we don’t want your pity. We want you to look us in the eye, but please don’t stare. We’d like it if you could meet us where we are, not judge us for where you think we should be. We want you to reassure us that we are capable and brave, but don’t blow smoke up our asses; being the authority on ourselves, we know we’ve looked better, felt better, or seemed more grounded.

We’d like it if you lent us a compliment or even two, but for heaven’s sake, please don’t go over board. Sure, Bald is Beautiful, but given the choice, most of us liked ourselves just fine with hair.

How can you love us? Let me count the ways.

We still want to be loved, and by that I mean made love to. Those of us withbreast cancer and facing mastectomy could be on the brink of loosing the very largest symbols of our sexuality and femininity. If in the face of buzz-kill cancer, we can muster up enough energy to jump in the sack, please do whatever you can to rise to the occasion.

We might complain all day long about not feeling pretty but at night we’d like to be pursued as if we were the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. We might ask you to turn off the light, just go with the flow.

Shower us with empathy.

Shower us with Love. Talk to Someone with Cancer.

Compassion is a prized commodity amongst our kind. It’s better that chocolate, red wine, or our anti-nausea medication. A single empathetic commiseration that indeed things can suck may be more appreciated than any other grand gesture of affection you can bestow us. It’ll certainly go over better than the knee-jerk condolences you might be tempted to offer up.

The truth is, no matter how above it we may project ourselves to be, we are embarrassed by our vanity. Even those of us who walk a path spiritually devoted to cultivating an awareness deeper than the skin, know real and intense discomfort when our physical identity starts to fall apart.

We may attempt to take control of our hair loss by cutting it short, or shaving it off. We may throw ourselves a Boobvoyage party before a mastectomy or parade around with our newly bald head held high. BUT we are actively engaged in the most difficult task of accepting that we are completely and utterly out of control.

This week I’m grappling with something I find simply humiliating. As if it weren’t bad enough that my hair has fallen out only in patches, to add insult to injury I now have something called folliculitis, a bacterial infection of the hair follicles, not only on my scalp, but also in the soft downy follicles on my neck and all the way down the small of my back. It is nearly impossible to feel sexy when touching your own head gives you the heebie-jeebies.

For all the cancer patients out there who have experience this particular itchy, hot, and unflattering torture, I bow to you. It takes a formidable person to rock this particular look without tears. And to those of you, who like me, have wanted to hide far from society in the seclusion of your own homes, or in the very least under a hat, I feel you. I know the last thing in the world you want to hear is how beautiful you look, when you feel like shit.

Let’s get real.

We know that you know we are strong, but don’t you know we don’t always feel that way? Do you know how hard it is for us to be brave when our hair is falling out and our bones are itching? Do you know there are days we don’t feel graceful, moments we don’t act graceful and times we fail to live up to our own graceful expectations? It is hard for us to feel empowered with an icepack on our head and a heating pad on our knees, dry red eyes and a rashes lashed across our skin.

Sometimes we feel bad.

Post-chemo Prayers: How to Talk to Someone with Cancer by Caitlin Marcoux

Praying at the Post-Chemo Alter. Summer 2013

We don’t envy you: those of you who run into us at the grocery store, or the coffee shop on one of our bad days. We know it’s awkward to hear us panicking on our cells phones with our mothers, or crying to our husbands. But please don’t walk away and pretend that you didn’t hear. Chances are in a moment like that, we need your help and we might be too proud to ask.

Forget attempting to offer up some gratitude platitude (we are more grateful for the chance to keep living than most), just give us a silent squeeze. One hand on the shoulder is worth a million well crafted aphorisms. Most likely, we will hug you back with all our strength; perceived or projected.

We want you to see us. To see our strength and our vulnerability. To feel our pain and to know the depths of our gratitude. Ask us sincerely how it is, and we will tell you the truth.

“There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer; no disease that enough love will not heal; no door that enough love will not open; no gulf that enough love will not bridge; no wall that enough love will not throw down; no sin that enough love will not redeem…” ~ Emmet Fox

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when you talk to someone with cancer:

1. If you know about our disease, address it immediately. Chances are we already know you had dinner with a friend of a friend the night before last and they told you all about it, so get it off your chest. Waiting for us to tell you how we are puts us in the awkward role of feeling like we’re complaining; usually things could be better, but if you’re curious about how we feel, just ask.

2. If you’re not prepared for some detailed response to your inquiry, just don’t ask. We may need to vent about some gnarly side-effect, and most of them are kind of yuckie. Be prepared to listen. Your shoulder to cry on might be the biggest boon we get all day.

3. Please refrain, if possible, from telling us a story about your friends and relatives who died of cancer. Just like a pregnant women gearing up to deliver her baby, it’s important that we surround ourselves with stories of success not fatality. If you haven’t experienced cancer first hand it is normal to want to relate in any way possible, but for our sake think twice before sharing a story with a bad ending.

4. Unsolicited advice might be great, but it’s still unsolicited. You might just have the most miraculous outside-the-box alternative therapy that you’re dying to put to the test, but please, unless we’ve asked, soften your enthusiasm. No one takes their diagnosis more seriously than the patent themselves. Most cancer survivors I know have thought long and hard about their treatment plans. They’ve often consulted their nearest and dearest and have gotten a second and third opinion. And by the time we are in active treatment we have a pretty solid plan of attack in place.

5. Empathy, empathy, empathy. Plain and simple, cancer sucks. If anyone wants to talk about how it’s a gift, leave that to the patient to offer up.

6. Shower us with love. According to the mother of Western yoga, Judith Lasater, all emotions stem from the two most basic: Fear and Love. We, cancer patients, are confronting our fears in a full frontal attack. Showering us with love is like helping us stock up our arsenals and helps us prepare for battle.

7. Lighten Up. The more you can make us laugh, the better. This is not to say we don’t appreciate you taking our challenges seriously, but let’s face it, laughter is the best medicine. If you can find a way to make us giggle we will love you forever.

I am lucky enough to have some of the best and silliest girlfriends in the world. When three of them came to visit me last month we took over the infusion room at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. When Gretchen, my infusion nurse, slipped out to go to the lab, the girls promptly took over and we turned Cancerland into Clubland.

Here’s the video to prove it.

 

9. Touch us. Cancer is not contagious. We can’t give it to you. What we can give you is the chance to heal our aching hearts. Most of us just want to be held.

How to Talk to Someone with Cancer by Caitlin Marcoux

The healing power of contact.

###

Flow Down. Slow Down.

Griffin & Mommy
It’s a rainy Monday morning. Still early by most accounts- but at 7:45am it is late for me to still be in bed.

This is only the 2nd time in 65 days I haven’t felt well enough to pull myself out of bed. I have a raging headache, stomachache, joint pain and I’m m pretty nauseous. None of these symptoms are nearly as frustrating to deal with as my inability to get up and simply be present for my 3 year old, who is at this very moment, trying to work his other daddy over.

It is both comforting and challenging to listen to them hash out the details of eating breakfast and getting ready for school. I wish I could be at the table. It is bittersweet.

But…this is what cancer looks like some days. Some days the flow is really slow.

So far there has been little predictability to how I feel on any give day. In the beginning it seemed as though chemo cycle days 3 and 4 were the most pregnant with side-effects. (I have chemo once a week. The “cycle” starts the day of treatment, so I have 6 day cycles) But recently I’ve been feeling pretty good until days 4 and 5.

Yesterday (day 4) I felt great; I got up early, taught a packed yoga class and played for hours with my son, before hitting a wall around 3pm. Then, at a BBQ at our friends house nausea hit me like a ton of bricks. If today gets worse before it gets better, it’s going to be quite a challenge.
So I’m clearing the deck of appointments and responsibilities and flowing down.
Some times that’s all we can do.

Pretty: It’s All in Your Head

I’m going bald.

Many of us have had that classic anxiety dream, you know, the one where your teeth fall out? According to Dr. Oz it’s one of the 5 most common dreams. Your teeth falling out of your mouth is likened to your emotions falling out of control and is said to represent the worries and anxieties that surround us in life.

If you dream of losing your teeth, it has to do with ‘loss’ in general such as loss of youth and all things associated with our anxiety of getting older.

~ Dictionary of Dreams

Today is April 25th. It’s been one month now since I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. It’s a big day, there’s a lot going on and a lot to be grateful for, so when I sat up in bed to enjoy my 6 am cup of coffee, I was feeling pretty excited.  I opened up my digital datebook to check the schedule of todays appointments, and reached up to scratch and itch. Then it happened – a snowfall of hair and flaky skin, and it rained down, all over the glowing screen of my iPad. A faint gasp and then a sob… grief.

Hey, I knew this was coming. I’ve been preparing for weeks. I’ve taken steps all along the way that I thought would help me to feel empowered and in control.

Back on April 1st, I threw myself a hair cutting party. I celebrated cutting off all my thick locks, and had my dear friend Darya free me from the long hair I had identified myself by for the last 19 years. Then on the 10th my friend Anne cut it even shorter. I still felt in control, and I was managing my anxiety about going bald just fine. Thank you very much.

Ice Pack Head: April 14th, 2013

Ice Pack Head: April 14th, 2013

But last week my scalp started to itch something awful. The skin on my head began to feel hot – so hot in fact that I started wearing Granny-style ice packs on my head at home, and I started having the dream, except it was my hair falling out, not my teeth. In my car on Sunday afternoon I noticed a disproportionate amount of platinum blonde hair on my steering wheel and car seat. It was enough to make me pause.

So really, it should come as no surprise that on my one month Cancerversary I am facing the anxiety that accompanies hair loss. Scheduled, no less, to confront it tonight while I teach class, up on a stage, in front of 80 yogis and yoginis at the Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center. I lived in Chicago for 5 years, where they have a saying, “Go big or go home”. This has never felt more apropos.

Yogis have a practice called Satya.  It is one of the five restraints, or moral codes of conduct, and is basically the belief that we must always tell the truth.

As much as I would like you to think I’m above and beyond feeling upset at the loss of my hair, the truth is I’m not. I can get on board with being bald, but  I am not beyond grieving the loss of my hair. I am not beyond feeling naked and raw. I am not beyond the pain and humility of this exposure. One month and 4 chemotherapy infusions in, my face is broken out, my chest and back are covered in red splotches and eruptions of localized break-outs, the tops of my hands are scaly and bumpy and itchy as hell. I am struggling to feel attractive, feminine, and sexual.

Blast from the past

Back in junior high school there were a couple of boys who’d taunt me and call me Pimple Face. I spent many nights in tears, struggling with a tube of Clearasil and my raging adolescent hormones. Those experiences left deep emotional scars and I worked hard in college to overcome the self-hatred that accompanied my teen years. Now that my skin and hair are being challenged by chemotherapy I am reminded how fragile and vulnerable my relationship to my body can be. And how diligently I have to work to keep loving myself.

The truth is that since surviving adolescence, I have enjoyed the privilege of being pretty and I’ve taken it for granted. Like many women I have wasted countless hours of my life comparing myself to others and have felt disdain for the the body I have been gifted with. I have worried and wondered if the men I have been involved with would find me attractive enough to continuously love me.

I have betrayed the beauty that I have been blessed with by longing for someone else’s. But I have never been traumatically scared, or chemically burned. I haven’t suffered an amputated limb or genital mutilation. I am fortunate enough to have a symmetrical face, and a strong physique. And now, on the brink of finally appreciating that, I have to stand idly by and watch my body morph into something I recognize even less. It is ironic. It is humbling. It is painful. But, it is also a gift.

It is an opportunity for growth.

Yesterday my friend and teacher, Elena posted on FaceBook that “Vulnerability is the best medicine”. If she’s right, I am getting one really big hit of medicine right now. Hopefully I can learn from this vulnerability and use to heal myself; not only from cancer but from the dark, ugly truth that I have not been appreciative of my body.

It’s time to embrace adage that bald is beautiful. In fact, both the men I’ve married in my life have been bald. Never mind that the first one died of cancer. He’s probably having a good laugh at me (or with me) right about now.

I don’t know if I continue to let my hair fall out naturally, or if when I go to Darya’s this morning for my pre-benefit pedicure I’ll ask her to shave it all off. There’s probably still enough hair on my head to spend one more night amongst the Hairy, but I’ll make that call in a few hours.

To all the women who have faced the loss of their hair, I bow to you. To all the cancer survivors who have showed their vulnerability and bravery, I bow to you. To all the BEAUTIFUL baldies out there – let me get down on my knees and bow. Thank you for showing me the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

when fight and flight turn out the light

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

Taxol/Herceptin

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.
Love,
C
 
 
turning tragedy up side down.

A great day to have cancer

Nantucket, MA.
April 8th, 2013
The campaign continues…
 

Dearest Friends,

So much love to all of you whom have continued to offer your support. I am continually humbled by the generosity of you all; near and far. I can honestly attest that only other time I have felt this level of deep primordial human connection and love was the day my son Griffin was born. It has been and continues to be  AWEsome.

Since my diagnosis on March 15th, I have had all kinds of tests and procedures, and am now comfortably navigating my treatment plan. To those of you who have sweetly offered up alternatives to the traditional Western medical approach, please know that your suggestions are appreciated, but that my family and I are fully committed to our current path. Please respect that our decision to seek treatment at Mass General Hospital is final (I say this with the utmost love and respect).

I have this amazing portal into my heart now, and I fully intend to use it.

portocath

Although it may surprise some of  you that I have embraced chemotherapy, I have complete faith that it is the right choice for me at this time. With the support of the Caitlin Marcoux Charitable Fund and donated services, I am thrilled to be able to  supplement my infusions with weekly Acupuncture  with Tammy Belanger,  bodywork with Casey Boukus and regular chiropractic care at Nantucket Family Chiropractic, with Dr. Mindy Levin. I have also begun practicing yoga with Sheri Perelman.

Most of you know I am an avid juicer already, and Jenny Bence has begun force feeding me a steady diet of wheat grass (read here to hear all about the benefits of this power-packed little plant). I am also pursuing colonic therapy, jin shin jyutsu, and Reiki.

So as you can see I am keeping myself tuned up and as in balance as I can be under the circumstances.

It is also my goal to begin each day with a big glass of alkalizing lemon water, 15 minutes of meditation,  a gratitude practice of some kind (journaling, thank-you note writing, and intention setting) and 20-60 minutes of gentle yoga. So far I’ve successfully done this the past three days in a row and hope to hold myself accountable for each remaining day of my treatment.

As I said in my Rebelle Society post last week, no man is an island, and neither am I. I don’t think so highly of myself that I cannot accept help. For me individual counseling has been an ongoing part of my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Now that I have cancer, I think it’s even more important. I’m also a big fan of couples’ therapy. So if I could write that piece again, I would add #11: Get a Therapist.

(incidentally, there will be a follow up to that Rebelle piece that will probably included several more tips, so if you have one you’d like to share please feel free to comment on this blog below).

In any event, the chemotherapy is going well. I already feel like my tumor shrinking, and I have less pain in my right breast. There have been side-effect of course, but so far I feel lucky that I’ve been able to work a little and there, and it has had less of an impact than I had anticipated.

I preemptively cut off all my hair at Darya’s Salon last Monday night, so don’t be too shocked when you see me all punked out and Billie Idol-like. I want to send out a HUGE shout-out to Darya Afshari for being an amazing source of support and sexy inspiration, and to my Cancer Ninjas:  Julie, Heather, Alison, Ariel, Emily, Megan, Patti, Tracy, Elisa, Kristen, Melissa and Siobhain for being there with me every cut of the way.

Haircutting Angles

 

I have good days and bad. I’m exhausted from the day I get my infusion (Day One) through day 3 or 4. On a good day, like today, I feel almost normal. On a bad day I have headaches, bone pain, joint pain, anxiety and lots and lots of bloody noses… but this I can take in stride, and it feels like little to sacrifice for the chance of living a long and beautiful life.

 

Until the next update…

Love & Light,

Caitlin

 

So, you have breast cancer.

Dear Friends, Students & Clients,

I have Breast Cancer…

On Tuesday, March 12th I went in for a routine mammography. Even though it’s not recommended to start getting annual mammograms until you reach 40, I’ve been getting them since May 2011, when I found a suspicious lump in my right breast. This particular exam was a follow-up to the last one, which was done 12 months earlier.  After having a mamo every 6 months (following the watch and wait protocol) it was decided that the mass was nothing to be worried about (you have cystic breasts with fibrous tissue I previously was told), so I was floored when it was suggested on the spot that we do a needle biopsy.

On Friday, March 15th, 2013, I went up to Mass General Hospital with my dear friend Megan. Things unfolded in both slow motion and fast forward from there on out. The pathology from my needle biopsy arrived just 9 minutes before we walked into the exam room, confirming my Cancer, and when I was told “So, you have breast cancer” for a hot dizzy moment, I thought it was the end of the world. Bone Scan

I was in shock. I was freaked out. I was scared sh*&less.

But 10 days later I feel very differently. As weird as it may sound, I am confident this is the beginning of a bright new chapter of my life. I’m no hero, and I’m not going to say something inauthentic like “I feel blessed” that I have Cancer, or “It’s a gift”, but I do feel like it’s an amazing opportunity for growth. As my teacher, Elena Brower, says, we choose our parents, we choose our life lessons, “We pick them perfectly”. So following this, somewhat Buddhist train of thought, I must embrace the fact that I have chosen Cancer too. This is the new reality for me, one I have chosen so that I may learn from it, so that I may teach from a place of deeper wisdom.

That’s the new plan. The total and compete acceptance of Cancer as my new Guru.

You will be hearing a lot from me, over the next 14 months. I plan to blog. I plan to write. To document. To teach. To inspire. To bring awareness to Breast Cancer in the under 40 population. To make sure my Strong Girls know that self-breast exams are mandatory. That we are our own best health advocates… that no matter who tells you your self-detected “likely benign” LUMP is not worth further investigation, should your intuition tell you otherwise it is. I plan to stay around for a long, long time. To love my family and friends, to nurture my partner and to parent my son.

Flight Like A GirlWhen I first found out I was sick, I preemptively took a leave of absence from teaching and massage therapy. But now that my treatment plan has changed quite a bit, I am hoping to teach as many of my regularly scheduled classes as possible. I am lucky that my chemotherapy treatment will not be scheduled on days I would normally be at the studio, and I will have several days after chemo during which I can recover without missing classes. So for those of you who would like to know as to whether or not I’ll be at The Yoga Room on any given Monday or Tuesday evening, or Sunday morning, please just consult TYR’s online schedule. I am forever grateful to my TYR colleagues for accommodating me and my last-minute needs.

Teaching has always given me strength. Walking away from it completely, would feel like a surrender, and I am very much a fighter.

Some logistical stuff:

Many people have asked me how they can best support us through these challenging circumstances. For those of you who would like to contribute financially my friends Jason Bridges and Emily Molden have set up the Caitlin Marcoux Charitable Fund at Rally.org. This is also where I will post medical updates from here on out, instead of on FaceBook, as it is a more appropriate platform.

And for those of you who would like to contribute domestically, my friend Kristen Lewis has set up a SignUp Genius campaign, where you can sign up to deliver a meal, volunteer to help with my son’s childcare (pick-ups or drop-offs to school, or playdates*) or help out around our home. *Please note: Griffin will really need some small friends to run around with on Thursdays and Fridays after school, even if it’s just for an hour. This is probably the best way anyone can help us.

I know that I can’t do this alone. And I am so very, very grateful to both my local community and my global yoga community for all the ongoing support. I can’t think of a better place than Nantucket to have Cancer, and I couldn’t be in a better place both spiritually and mentally to survive it.

I am a lucky, lucky girl.

A few special Thank-Yous to the following people who have helped me through this initial phase of my cancer treatment (many more thank-yous to come):Health Alter

Thank you to Shannah Green and Elisa Allen for facilitating an amazing and much needed retreat at Kripalu this weekend. To Alison Alpert for coming with me to my first needle biopsy. To Megan Soverino for being there now and always,  but especially for being there to hold my hand when I got the news at MGH on March 15th. To my parents Joanne and Steve, and my sisters Ariel and Grey. To my ex-husband Paul Budzynski, for being a rock at a time of need, for accepting me once again despite my mistakes and with all my faults, and for taking such good care of our son Griffin. To my friends Jason Bridges, Emily Molden and Kristen Lewis for setting up, in record time, all kinds of online support. To Amber Hinds, my web-designer. To Jenny Bence, owner of The Green, for making me drink way more wheatgrass than I ever would on my own. To Darya Afshari of Dayra’s Salon, for helping me feel pretty (sister, you will be shaving my head soon). To Elena Brower for being an ongoing source of wisdom and support and bad-ass coach. To my friends Kate Greer and Richmond Dickson for giving us a warm bed to sleep in and nurturing food to eat on Wednesday night, March 20th. To my beautiful yoginis in crime Caroline Pope Peavy and Juliet Loranger, for coming up on Thursday night, March 21st, to hold me after a long day of bone scans and blood tests. To Rebelle Society for giving me a place to write (the words are on their way). To my son Griffin, who inspires me to be the very best mama I can be. And of course to my partner, Burr Tupper, who is always, always, always there for me.