Me & The Red Devil: Chemotherapy the Second Round

Any way you frame it, chemotherapy is no walk to the park. There are good days and there are bad days, and all of it is out of your control. Many of the side-effects you might suffer depend on which chemotherapy drug you’re given. People react differently to different cocktails, and no matter how much research you do, you won’t know how you react to your chemo until it’s pumping through your system. At least I didn’t. For us, nothing about my breast cancer and it’s treatment has been predictable.

IV Fluids, Chemotherapy, Caitlin Marcoux, Breast Cancer Survivor

checking into the hospital for i.v. fluids post-chemotherapy. September 6th, 2013

People in the know will tell you A/C is the worst. They call it the Red Devil. There are multiple urban legends circulating in the breast cancer circles about how this life-saving yet toxic drug earned its nickname. It has a broad range of side-effects including HEART FAILURE and get this, Leukemia. It’s the heavy hitter they say; much harder on the system then Taxol.

It comes in a syringe instead of an I.V. bag and needs to be slowly injected into your port or peripheral veins carefully, so as to not damage near by tissue. The infusion nurse who administers it will approach you with a battery of personal protective gear: gloves, a paper dressing gown, face mask and even goggles.

They’ll tell you you’ll pee it out (it turns your urine red), and to be sure to flush the toilet twice if not three times. They’ll makes you wonder  what A/C is doing to our planet, not to mention the insides of your own body. You’ll wonder what damage it’s causing as it makes it’s way from your circulatory system to your kidneys and bladder and eventually the sewage system.

I’m grateful for A/C, but it’s a powerful drug.

Following the tough time I had with Taxol in the spring, I was nervous to start A/C this August, and nervous more for the many ways in which it might effect my life. Having survived three months of chemo and a double mastectomy, I have to admit I’ve been ready to get back to my regular life. The break I was given following my surgery gave me a taste of living a normal(ish) life again, and I was thrilled to have enough energy to teach some yoga and play with my son.

The days leading up to my first infusion on August 21st, I began to worry. What was A/C going to do to me? Would I loose my slowly growing hair again? Would my eyelashes fall out again? How much sleep would it interrupt? Could I finally return to the gym? Do a handstand? Or would I be back on the couch every afternoon?

I wondered, how much of the Red Devil’s legend was true?

The Red Devil, Chemotherapy, AC, Breast Cancer Treatment

The Red Devil

So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  I’ve had two of the four dose dense infusions I’m scheduled for through October and I’m really only sick for the first 3-4 days following the actual treatment. As my white blood cell count drops again around day 7, I get pretty fatigued and my immune system wears thin. But seriously, I’ve been tired for 6 months, so a little more exhaustion is no big deal. It’s certainly a lot less than other people have to deal with.

I have to admit that the second treatment was harder than the first, but that still, looking back on how I felt in the middle of my 3 months of Taxol, the last 3 weeks haven’t been so bad. Some days I’m nauseous and tired and other days I feel like a perfectly healthy human being.

When I went up to Boston for my second infusion of A/C on September 4th, I wanted desperately to go out to dinner that night. I put much thought into finding a special place to meet my pseudo in-laws, who drove 90 minutes each way from NH to meet up with us.

My partner and I spent the day at MGH and I finished my infusion in time to change into a pretty dress and jump in a cab. Sadly, and very much against my own will, 45 minutes into dinner, I was making frequent trips to the bathroom. Socializing in a predictable and schedulable way just isn’t part of my repertoire yet.

Our evening interrupted, we rushed back to our friend’s Clarendon street home, where I spent the next 2 hours on her bathroom floor.

A/C, Chemotherapy, Caitlin Marcoux, Breast Cancer Treatment, The Cancer Diaries

A/C number 2: September 4th, 2013

Feeling broken and in pieces, Burr and I left Boston the next morning.  We arranged for a wheelchair to meet us curbside at Logan (a brilliant perk everyone dealing with acute illness should take advantage of if they have to deal with air travel) and hopped on a donated Cape Air flight made possible by my friends over at P.A.L.S.

Patient Airlift Services is a wonderful charitable organization which: “arranges free air transportation based on need to individuals requiring medical care and for other humanitarian purposes. Our network of volunteer pilots provide this service without compensation using their own or rented aircraft. In no case are fees of any kind charged for these services. PALS flies as far South as Virginia and as far West as Ohio.”

We arrived home mid-morning and I more or less crawled into bed.

The two days following my second infusion were brutal. On the third day I was dizzy, nauseous, and struggling with a gnarly headache. After speaking to my oncologist in Boston, I checked into the hospital here in Nantucket for three hours of I.V. fluids and anti-nausea meds.I left the hospital feeling like a much more complete person, and feeling fully recovered 24 hours later, stuck my first handstand in 2 months the  following day.

Sure, there are other minor annoyances. My hair follicles are irritated and angry again. I’ve got lots of little hot bumps on my scalp and on the back of my neck. I don’t often feel pretty, and it looks like I’m about to loose the baby hair that’s been growing back since my surgery. I scratch my head compulsively. Some times my belly gets oddly distended as soon as I eat the smallest of meals, and my cycle is all over the place. I cry for no apparent reason at all, often. Let me stress the word often.

But everything is temporary.

The storm surge that is A/C is over as quickly as it comes on. 4 days after my second infusion I felt fine. Really, like 75% normal. That Saturday night Burr and I rode our bicycles into town and he took me out to dinner. After sitting at the Proprietor’s bar for a couple of hours, I still had enough energy to ride all the way home to Cisco. I taught yoga the next day, and  4 more consecutive classes in the following two days: the most active work I’ve done in 6 months.

That all being said, I do have anxiety about Adriamycin and Cytoxan’s cumulative side effects. As I’ve been told to expect things might get worse before they get better. For me it’s pretty simple: I either feel bad, or I don’t. Thankfully right now, the good days outweigh the bad.

I am very, very grateful to be as healthy as I am, and thrilled to reassure my sisters in treatment that life can still go on.

A/C, Chemotherapy, Caitlin Marcoux, Breast Cancer Survivor, Mastectomy, new boobs

A/C infusion number one: August 21st, 2013

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As an aside…

I consider myself damn lucky to have a cool and innovative general contractor for a boyfriend. He’s really come in handy during this whole cancer thing. I could wax on and on about all the big expressions of support he’s made over the last 6 months, and all the little ways in which he’s made my life better, but for those of you who’ve been following my journey and are in active treatment yourselves, let me just mention the most recent idea he’s come up with which has given me some of the biggest sighs of relief since re-starting chemotherapy on August 21st: The Frozen Hat.

If you are in the process of loosing your hair (as I am for the second time this year) and suffering from an itchy, hot, irritated scalp, you need to try this at home. Take your two most favorite, preferably soft cotton hats and stick them in the freezer. You can put a plastic bag full of ice cubes or a plastic or jell cooler pack inside the hats, or  use whatever’s handy in the freezer: a bag of frozen peas for instance is perfect.

Once the hats are sufficiently cold and crispy: VOLA! Your own homemade Cold Cap. Place one hat on your head, and breath a sigh of relief. As soon as your hot head has cooled off one hat, you have another one waiting in the freezer to replace it with. Switch out as necessary. Enjoy.

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 {My Cancer Story: The Beginning}

(Making the Breast Decision)

(Life After the Knife)

{How to Talk to Someone with Cancer)

(Let’s be Friends)

Making the Breast Decision: Mastectomy & Reconstruction?

Originally Published by RebelleSociety.com
July 23rd, 2013

 

{via Tumblr}

 

It’s been 4 months since a core biopsy revealed I have invasive breast cancer. Since then, my days have been chock-full of research and reflection, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about the upcoming July 24th surgery that will theoretically save my life.

In the past 4 months I’ve had 14 infusions of chemotherapy and 16 weeks toweigh the options: single mastectomy, double mastectomy, reconstruction, no reconstruction, nipple tattoo, artistic tattoo, no tattoo. I’ve grappled with whether the path of least resistance would be to peel myself back to the bone, bravely staying flat chested forever, or to move gracefully forward with the replication of what I am about to loose.

Each option has its pros and cons. Of course they are all preferable to have no options at all.

With all the decisions that needed to be made, I’ve researched all my available choices (there are many) and prepared myself for the various possible outcomes of resection (there are a few). I’ve asked everyone I knew who’s gone before me all the relevant (and delicate) questions: Are you happy with your choices? Would you do things differently? Do you like the way you look?

Some of my fellow breast cancer warriors elected to remove only the breast affected by cancer, and haven’t sought to reconstruct. Some of these women use an external prosthetic in their bras and bathing suits, some don’t.

Many women I’ve spoken to have removed both the diseased breast and the healthy one prophylactically, and have reconstructed both. Some of these women were candidates for nipple-sparing mastectomies, which left their original areola and nipples intact; some were not and could not.

For those for whom saving the nipple and surrounding skin isn’t an option artistic tattooing can be healing. These women are empowered by reclaiming this part of their body with stunning tattoos where nipples or whole breasts used to be. Each woman’s options are affected by her case, diagnosis and genetic background.

The possibilities are many. The choices can feel overwhelming…

{Via BreastFree.org}

I’ve taken a winding, sometimes bumpy road to arrive at my own decision.

In the beginning I researched various autologous reconstruction procedures, all of which create new breasts using some fat, muscle, skin and blood vessels harvested from another area of one’s own body. But I came to the conclusion that this option could leave me physically weakened in the donor area of my body, and might seriously interfere with my yoga practice.

Then I asked myself if I’d be okay using cadaver or bovine (yes, cow) tissue to hold a silicon or saline implant in place. As an aspiring vegan, this presented me with a bit of an ethical dilemma, and I wasn’t sure if I could introduce any kind of foreign body into my own; whether it came from a four-legged friend or a chemical manufacturer.

Down to the bone.

In May, I came to the momentary conclusion that I would choose mastectomy without reconstruction. I started compulsively feeling my ribcage, imagining a smooth hillside slope from my collarbones down to my bellybutton. I’d press my fingers into the divots between my ribs and try to picture myself with a full set of 12 impressions instead of the breast tissue that presently occludes the spaces between my fifth, sixth and seventh intercostal muscles.

For hours and hours I Googled images of women without reconstruction to see how I would feel when trying on a more Balanchine ballet dancer version of femininity: flat chested and boy-like. What I found were hundreds, maybe thousands of brave women who have documented their journey through breast cancer and proudly displayed photographed themselves or posed for others.

Coffee table books and websites, like The Scar Project, celebrate these women and beautifully illustrate the process of survival and recovery. The photographs I unearthed revealed incredible courage and strength, and touched places deep inside my feminine soul.

 

{David Jay Photography via TheScarProject.org}

 

{David Jay Photography via TheScarProject.org}

 

But after sitting with this decision for several weeks, I realized that something was off. My decision no longer felt personal. It felt political, forced and academic. I realized that the pressure of what I thought I was supposed to choose was strangling what I wanted to choose. 

Through meditation and self-inquiry, I realized how reactionary my initial decision had been. I had judged myself harshly in April for wanting “fake breasts,” and I had labeled myself vain. I needed to get out of my head and listen to my heart.

When I finally did, I realized that choosing not to reconstruct out of fear of being judged for having implants is no more authentic than choosing reconstruction for fear of being flat chested. Either path is honorable and navigating breast cancer is brave, period. Other people’s opinions are none of our business.

CM

 

Beauty takes many forms.

I have unending admiration for the women who have lost their breasts to cancer and have chosen not to reconstruct. I think they are just as beautiful as women who’ve never gone through cancer, or prophylactically opted for surgery. But after much debate with myself, I have chosen another path.

Tomorrow, June 24th, I am having a bilateral mastectomy. I have chosen to remove both my breast that has cancer and the one that does not. If single stage reconstruction is possible, it will happen shortly after my breast tissue and cancer is removed.

If my cancer is still too extensive to save the majority of my skin and nipple, my plastic surgeon will put in tissue expanders that will stretch my skin until it is able to hold a pair of implants. Either way, I am excited to have a new pair.

This decision has brought with it great freedom. I feel released now; released from the pressure I was putting on myself to practice the asceticism I had applauded as part of renouncing reconstruction.

With my mind settled on rebuilding what cancer has taken from me, I’ve been able to return my focus to my heart. Spending time in quiet meditation and holding myself with greater tenderness, I’ve been mourning the imminent loss of the breasts I used to feed my son, and pleasure my partner.

In honoring our time together I’ve been directing thoughts of loving kindness towards my breasts and letting go of any negative feelings I’ve had about them in the past. I’ve come to realize that for me saying good-bye to my breasts has also been about letting go of any shame, blame or animosity I’ve felt about them in the past.

I’ve forgiven their colossal and quite early development in my pre-teens, the shrinking they did when I lost weight in my 20s, the tear-jerking mastitis I had during the first few months of breast feeding, and their abrupt deflation after I weaned my son. I’ve reached back into my relationship memories and forgiven the right one for being smaller than the left (a physically perceptible fact that mortified and embarrassed me in my 20s) and I’ve reframed any disappointments I’ve had in my sense of self as they’ve related to my beautiful mammary glands. On the brink of momentous change, I think I’ve finally made peace and let go of all the old gripes and insecurities.

I’ve put my hands over my chest and thanked my breasts for all the amazing things they’ve brought into my world: a strapping, well-nourished toddler, a satisfied and engaged partner, and a deeply loving maternal sensibility within myself.

I’m ready now; ready to make space in my heart to welcome myself home again: perhaps a little modified, but healthy, cancer-free and just as much a woman as before.

{Photo: Larisa Forman / Caitlin Marcoux}

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ~ Anne Frank

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Read more about my journey with cancer:

>> 10 Practical Tips for the first 10 Days of Cancer. 

>> How to Talk to Someone with Cancer.

>> Cancer and Equanimity: Can you see the forest through the trees?

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Looking for more 411 on Breast Cancer?

Check out these resources and personal stories:

Breastcancer.org

BreastFree.org

StupidCancer.org

Susan G. Komen

American Cancer Society

Breast Cancer Resource Center

Living Beyond the Breast

National Cancer Institute

Caring4Cancer

Crazy Sexy Cancer

Breast Cancer Blogs:

Generation Why

Chemo Babe

Boo Cancer Your Suck

Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer

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.

###

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.

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

 

Teach Them Young.

Originally published on elephantjournal.com 
January 13, 2013

photo by Robert Sturman

photo by Robert Sturman

No doubt about it, parenting is challenging.

I gave birth to Griffin at home, in table pose, on a well-worn yoga mat. We were in front of the fire, in the middle of the living room. The mat was green and helped hold my focus during Griffin’s lighting speed, two-hour delivery.

You probably know which mat it is: It’s the one with the large tree and floating leaves. Gaiam had it on sale with a matching mat bag several years ago. I’m sure a million people have the same one. Mine was special enough to me to be one of the few things I needed during labor. I had taken it with me on my pilgrimage to Santa Barbara nine months earlier, to the White Lotus Foundation, where it comforted me consistently during the transformative experience that was my first yoga teacher training.

Its California wear and tear soothed me during that riveting night in December of 2009. I still have it—though it now bears the even more poignant markings of Griffin’s birth. I didn’t know it then, but that night, on that mat, a new kind of practice was born.

He loves building towers out of yoga blocks, and skates over the studio’s hardwood floors in his socks. It’s not unusual for him to join in at the end of one of my classes for savasana and a chant an Om or two.

It wasn’t always this way though. Back in 2009, pregnant with Griffin, I made a ridiculous decision that being a Mom wasn’t going to change my yoga.

Wow, was that naive.

It’s difficult to admit (and still makes me feel guilty from time to time) but I struggled with postpartum depression. I resented my own child for taking away my me time, and I resented the world for what I then saw as a detour of my dharma from teaching to parenting.

I labored to find any sort of balance in my life, and I was angry. It took me the first year and a half of Griffin’s life to figure out how to bring my yoga practice and parenting together. But eventually I surrendered to the inevitability that my practice was going to include my son, and being a mother was going to require a serious shift in how I would navigate the rest of my life.

Since then, I have made it a conscious decision to incorporate Griffin into the very essence of what I hope to accomplish with my practice: a deeper sense of equanimity, and alignment with integrity. And so whenever possible I bring him into the fold.

Yoga began for me, as it does for many of us, as a collection of beautiful poses. Then it became a collection of tools I used to build and shape my life, and today shape the way I build my life with my loved ones.

I think this is a common yogic experience.

For many of us it begins with the asanas—we practice and reap the physical benefits, the feel-good highs and the calming moments of stillness. And then, like magic, it turns into something more: a level head, a quieter mind, a meditation practice, a change in diet, or a commitment to healthier mindful living. Maybe we dig a little deeper and study up on the traditional teachings.

If we can integrate our practice into how we run our homes and work our relationships, our children absorb yoga by proxy.

Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah

Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind

I recently took a workshop with Raghunath in Boston, and he started out his dharma talk by speaking to this very evolution. He reminded us that while we were there to practice asana, we were really there to use the practice to clear the vritti, or fluctuations of the mind, and that this could be best accomplished with the breath.

In my practice I have found that indeed, the moments when we slow down our breath, we can slow down the vritti and find a self-awareness that resides only within spaciousness.

“Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are.” ~Erich Schiffmann

When Griffin gets upset now, I’ll hold him and ask him to look into my eyes and breathe with me. Sometimes I put his hand on my chest, and rest mine on his. I try to help him find space between his cries or complaints and simultaneously put a pause on my own reactivity. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes all it takes is a little pranayama and touch, and my amped-up toddler will calm himself down to a place in which we can both be still. We are together practicing mindfulness.

“Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

No doubt about it, parenting is challenging.

It’s one of the hardest (and most rewarding) jobs on the planet. It’s difficult not to take a toddler’s temper tantrum personally, or stay calm in the midst of a Stop N’ Shop Def Con 5–sized meltdown.

Many of us parents find ourselves pressed for time and end up multitasking three or four different things in any given moment—folding the laundry while helping the toddler get his breakfast down, or answering e-mails on our iPhones, while skimming Huffington Post on the desktop and answering questions about the day’s itinerary. It’s all forgivable, but it’s not very mindful. There is no room for space in a torrent of activity like this and it can make usand our children feel claustrophobic.

Now when I find myself having a day like this, my yoga practice reminds me I’m not in alignment with my beliefs.

Multitasking, no matter how time-saving it may feel, produces half-baked ideas and an overcrowded mind. It’s ultimately anxiety-producing.

And it’s not yoga.

The next time you get caught-up in the whirlwind of your “life”/the vritti, practice bringing your attention back to the present moment. Invite into your heart the practice of mindfulness. You will be rewarded with tiny or not so tiny arms wrapped around you, keeping warm and grateful and grounded in a shared experience of the present moment.

“May we learn to allow the stillness in our hearts to live in our minds.” ~Elena Brower

Your children will learn. When you set a positive, mindful, spacious example for them when they are young, they will learn and lift off that much earlier and soar before your eyes.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Caitlin Marcoux profileCaitlin is a yoga teacher, workshop producer, mother, dancer, healer and writer. She is nationally certified in massage therapy and has been studying yoga on and off for over 13 years. A former modern dancer, she fuses her passion for music and modern dance with yoga, keeping her flow creative, playful and fresh. Caitlin lives on the tiny Island of Nantucket, Massachusetts year-round with her partner and three-year-old satguru Griffin, where she is an advocate of prenatal yoga, natural childbirth, midwifery, elegant tattoos, rockin’ music and eating like you give a damn. She teaches regularly at The Yoga Room and has recently begun teaching workshops in the greater New England area. Caitlin blogs about her practice on and off the mat on her website and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

DJ Pete Ahern & Caitlin Marcoux rock the Dreamland

Electric Flow Yoga

The Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center

Tuesday December 4th, 2012

Caitlin teams with locally renowned DJ Pete Ahern of Audio Architects  to bring you a blissful, electrifying vinyasa flow class.Peter and Caitlin grew up together on the island, and shouldered the triumphs and challenges of Nantucket High School, small town life, and the unique experience of living 30 miles out to sea. Now all grown up, Caitlin  & Peter both enjoy Island living once again; each with a 3-year old son (Griffin & Jocob) only two weeks apart  in age.

In this, their first collaborative effort, they will invite you to celebrate your Nantucket Roots – whether you’ve had them for 100 years or 5 and explore your connection to your local community through movement and music.  What better location to do this than heart of downtown Nantucket, in the  reinvented space at the Dreamland Film & Performing Arts Center.

Students will be encouraged to go deeper into themselves by way of a silky smooth vinyasa flow practice as DJ Pete lays down  the deep ambient, electronic, DnB grooves to raise up your vibration. Don’t miss this chance to practice with live accompaniment and dig in deep.

Tuesday, December 4th 2012

5:30-7:00pm
The Harbor View Room @ The Dreamland Theater
(17 S. Water Street, Nantucket, MA)
 



The Fall 2012 60-Day Yoga Challenge

Day Eleven.

Blah. I don’t want to practice yoga. Not today anyway.I’m sore. I’m tired. And I think I’m getting my toddler’s cold. I’d actually like nothing more than to crawl into Alison Alpert’s jacuzzi, and stay there for several days. But I have to practice.

Why? Well, it has something to do with discipline. A little to do with fortitude. Something to do with clarity. And a lot to do with dedication. It’s about seeing something through; setting a goal and attaining it. It’s about practicing for 60 days in a row; even on the days I don’t want to.  Yoga is good for me – it’s good for you too.  Just like flossing your teeth (though admittedly, I don’t do that every day, but I aspire to). And with or without a set “challenge” the equation is pretty simple: on the days I don’t practice I’m not as nice. I’m not as nice to my son. I’m not as nice to my partner. I’m not as nice to the person behind the check out counter at the Stop n’ Shop, and I’m certainly not as nice to myself.

In any event, I gave myself this challenge – and now I have to see it through. So despite the fact that I’m spent from last night’s adventures in yogic spinning (thanks DJ HyFi) and two margaritas at Corazon del Mar (thanks Kristen Kellogg) I’m going to meditate and do a little asana.

I cut this short video of my practice the other day  at The Yoga Room- to help keep me motivated. That was day six.

Practice

September 14, 2012