I Only Work in Inner Space, Part II

I jotted down the following one evening in Grants, NM, when I was staying over in order to go out to see a patient in a remote location the next day. I didn’t add the date, so I don’t know even what year it was, but it has been quite a while since I worked at that office. I’d estimate that I wrote it around 2010, while thinking about that matter of trying to explore inner space without becoming a “space case.” It came out more or less as advice to people who are starting out as intuitive healers in a world that may not even believe their work exists. I think it’s still worth sharing, so here it is, with some minor editing:

Be open to being wrong. Be open to being right.

Some new intuitives, realizing how often they turn out to be correct, might take off on a power trip of some kind. Especially when frightening or distressing material comes through, it should not be stated as an absolute fact that cannot be avoided. Don’t pretend to have all the answers to anything. And don’t impose your point of view or your system of beliefs on anyone as if it were the ultimate. Don’t judge or act self-righteous.

More often, though, the problem is that we constantly second-guess ourselves and fail to trust valid information when it comes to us. I try to maintain a healthy skepticism about ideas that come into my own head, the same as I would with ideas from any other source, constantly checking any way I can. However, the temptation to edit every thought can stop the flow and make it impossible to accomplish anything.

When I do intuitive healing with patients, I prefer to work in collaboration with the person on my table. So often, I see something that seems totally off the wall and vanishingly unlikely to me, but I screw up my courage and tell the patient about it, and it turns out to be dead on. This gives the patient an opportunity to add her own insights, and we find a path through the jungle together, tossing out ideas and testing them until we find the issues that are most fundamental and clear them. Sometimes the patient is sleeping or otherwise not amenable to joining in on this process, and in that case I can still get a lot done, but it’s all the more powerful when we work together.

My point is that I’m not in the business of proving I can divine all the answers; my job is to aid patients in their journey toward healing, not to impress them with my skills. Not that I never feel a need to prove that I can do what I do, especially with the pseudoskeptic types, but it’s crucial to let go of all such concerns if we want to get clear information.

I feel fortunate that I don’t have to identify myself as a professional psychic. If that were the case, I’d always be expected to come up with revelations of some kind, preferably earth-shattering ones. Sometimes neither I nor the patient can find profound meanings in their illnesses and injuries, and many times there’s no need to. We can just do some needles, bodywork, or herbs, and everything’s fine.

One of the things I admire about my mentor Mendy Lou Blackburn, who does identify herself as a professional psychic, is that she doesn’t tell her clients what they want to hear, unless that’s what they need to hear. It’s pretty easy to figure out what a person is hoping you’ll tell them, even without any great psychic ability. A person could probably make a lot of money just feeding comforting, flattering words to clients, but anyone who’s honest knows that would lead to no good. There is a middle way of using firmness to express hard truths without dictating to, insulting, or unnecessarily frightening the client.

I’ve been writing as if you are doing readings for other people, or planning to do so, but perhaps you intend only to gather intuitive impressions for your own development. We need to be all the more careful in reading or channeling for ourselves because we may be quite blind to our own beliefs and preconceived notions— they are so close we can’t see them clearly.

Be open to greatness.

Betsy Morgan Coffman told our beginning channeling class that we might find ourselves in contact with some very high-level being, Jesus for example, and that often people get upset and refuse to trust that this is happening. “But think about it,” she said. “Why wouldn’t Jesus want to talk to you?”

But what of the Wayne Bents of the world [Bent was an abusive cult leader who was jailed and was much in the news when I originally wrote this], the people who are sure that not only is God talking to them, He is telling them to gather followers who will treat them as His representatives on earth? Bent reported being told that he was the Messiah in so many words, if I remember correctly. I use him as an example because there is general agreement that he’s delusional. That is, he’s been less successful than some, and done more obvious harm, or at least been caught at it. But what’s the essential difference between Bent and, say, Joan of Arc? Perhaps “by their fruits” is still the best way that you will know them.

Some years ago I was part of a Noetic Sciences group that held meetings with inspirational speakers and uplifting activities. Once a young guy showed up and introduced himself, quite matter-of-factly, as the latest incarnation of some great line of spiritual teachers or world leaders, I don’t remember what exactly. This pronouncement was delivered in the same tone as if he’d told us he lived in Bernalillo or had just started college. Totally normal for him. When I looked toward him, I saw a black space in the room where he should have been. He scared the hell out of me, and I hoped he’d never come back. Nobody else had a bad feeling about him— I asked them later. I never saw him again, and I don’t know what fruits, if any, he or his message produced. Every so often I run into someone with claims along the same lines, and am not sure what to think. My own tales of my experiences with famous deceased humans and higher beings may strike someone in a similar way, so I can’t judge. I just know that that particular young man left me feeling extremely uneasy.

You probably will never receive a message that says you’re the Messiah or the incarnation of some other august figure. But never doubt that you are as deserving of enlightenment as anyone.

If, instead, a message you get tears you down, it’s probably coming from you and not Them. Source/Spirit/Higher Powers/the Divine might be applying tough love at times, not letting you get away with laziness or self-deception, but won’t belittle you or discourage your sincere efforts. They typically seem to think better of us than we do of ourselves; They see the reality of the infinite beings we truly are.

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No, I’m From New Mexico. I Only Work in Inner Space.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve so often thought of this moment in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (yes, the one with the whales):

Dr. Gillian Taylor: Don’t tell me, you’re from outer space.
Admiral Kirk: No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.

I’m not sure how to clearly describe the space in which I do so much of my own work. It isn’t exactly the “normal” Earth plane, but I don’t think it’s so very far removed, either. Likely it’s a place we all visit at least some of the time.

Staying grounded while working in some of the farther reaches of what one might call inner space can be a challenge. I’ve seen some healer colleagues leave the known galaxy and never return, going so far out that they couldn’t communicate anymore and became of little use to their patients or themselves.

And where do I live when I’m not working? It often feels like I don’t quite inhabit the material world the way I once did. Yet, I make every effort to keep solidly attached to my body and to bring my experience back to consensus reality in a way that’s comprehensible to everyone here. I think of myself as a journalist who goes to exotic lands and brings back the stories.

So from time to time I am criticized for being too intellectual, not letting go of thinking long enough to really fly. I decided some years ago that this is my natural place, to translate, to be a bridge between worlds and worldviews. So far that’s the best I can do. It may limit me as a mystic and psychic, but I won’t get too severely lost this way, and I may have a better chance of telling others where I’ve been.

I only work in inner space. I don’t want to become a space case.
********************************************************************

Back in the Star Trek universe, there have been some striking new developments. At the time of the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, last fall, I was most displeased, and didn’t see much hope for the new series. There are still a number of aspects of it that don’t work, if you ask me (Spock has an adopted sister we never knew about?  Seriously?), plus a few moments that have been just plain idiotic (everyone has panned Landry’s suicide-by-tardigrade), and I still cannot approve of this latest iteration of the Klingons! But they’ve worked their brow-ridges off on this story, and now I’m behind them all the way. OK, most of the way. All the way when it concerns their willingness to take on Big Questions in the way that Star Trek always has. What are we? Who are we, and how do we know? How do we deal with those who are different from us, and are they really so different at all? And what happens if we fall in love with our worst enemy?

[!SPOILERS FOLLOW!]

It feels like after all these years that I’ve followed Star Trek, it has now caught up to me. In this case, I was there first. The Discovery story arc, thus far, depends on a concept that I think is a lovely metaphor for the way things really are: all life throughout the universe is connected by a web of mycelia generated by a spacefaring species of fungi, and one can access this network and use it to travel anywhere and anywhen instantly. Space fungi? Sounds like something Stanisław Lem would come up with (not so different from his killer space potatoes!). And the animal they imagined as having a natural ability to traverse the network was something utterly ridiculous— a gigantic version of an actual Earth creature, the microscopic tardigrade or water bear (which to be fair has some science-fiction-like properties in real life). But the image of the network is beautiful, compelling, and evocative of the way everything in the universe really is entangled and in communication with everything else.

Although for a while I was still suspicious of the new series, I soon found myself intensely pulled into this “magic mushroom” paradigm of space travel, and I began to identify with its inventor, Paul Stamets (named for the quirky present-day mycologist). It all seemed so familiar. Why was that happening? It took me a little while to remember this:

“So I held the intention of looking at Orion, and I began to have quite a vivid vision.  First, against an image of space with stars, there was a huge burst of white light coming through what looked like a wormhole in a science-fiction movie.  I could see a round tunnel behind it, and on the other side, an equally huge, bright mass of light.  This seemed to describe where Orion was coming from.”

Oh. Kind of like:

 

 

 

 

 

“Then I felt myself flying or being pulled through the hole, and found myself on the other side, in the other universe.  I had only had the intention of looking at all this, but suddenly it was like actually being there, though I was still quite aware of the usual room around me.  I could feel tingling, like little sparks, and warmth all over my body.  As I more or less adjusted to my surroundings, I began to see the sparks as small, twinkling points of light all around me.  Somehow the points of light seemed excited and happy, as if they were glad I was there.  It felt like the entire space was filled with love and joy—and fun, a sense of lightness, as if I had walked into some wonderful celebration.  Mendy was observing all this, and she could see the same little lights and feel the sensation of love.  There was absolutely no seriousness or gravity about any of this.”
https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/orions-net/

(Discovery and her crew do in fact end up in another universe in the middle of the season, but their experience is far darker than mine.)

The spores are depicted as, guess what, little points of light that sometimes act as if they are conscious beings. At the end of one sequence of using the drive, one of the sparks flies with apparent intention onto the shoulder of Cadet Tilly and disappears into her body, leaving us with a mystery to look forward to in the next season. Perhaps we are meant to understand that, rather than being made of physical protoplasm like fungi on Earth, the magic mycelia exist as purely energetic beings in the mold of some other space-native creatures that have cropped up on Star Trek from time to time. That would be a bit easier to swallow, since otherwise one must explain how physical fungi could get sustenance out in the void.

Whatever sort of biology it is supposed to have, the mycelial network contains fascinating possibilities. Within it, one can communicate with others who have entered, even those who exist in alternate universes, and reconnect with the dead. Linear time seems irrelevant. For a while Stamets becomes understandably confused and unstuck in time, unmoored from the usual limited consensus reality and not yet able to find his way through the infinitely complex patterns beyond it. I found myself identifying with that too.

It’s music that allows Stamets to get oriented again, and later to bring the ship home. “Follow the music,” his deceased partner tells him, from within the mycelia. Discovery and her crew are saved by a gay man’s love of opera. Perfectly plausible, right?

As with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sub Rosa,” which I wrote about a few months ago, I began to wonder whether someone had seen what I had seen, and had packaged it as science fiction to make it more acceptable. Or maybe these ideas have shown up because there are truths that we all know about subconsciously, and they find their way to the surface when we let ourselves wander freely in search of stories.

Star Trek: Discovery wrapped up its first season tonight, and afterward one of the showrunners, Aaron Harberts, said that something they are really interested in for the next year is “the collision between science and spirituality.” We’ll have a long wait to see what they do with that, but even the fact that they have it in mind feels like light-years of progress to me.

 

The idea that everything is conscious, or “panpsychism”:
https://qz.com/1184574/the-idea-that-everything-from-spoons-to-stones-are-conscious-is-gaining-academic-credibility/

Human hearts are connected to geomagnetic and solar activity:
https://www.chi.is/resource/geomagnetic/?utm_source=CHI+COMMUNITY&utm_campaign=3d22c57494-September-2017-Community&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a80f47d270-3d22c57494-122790253&mc_cid=3d22c57494&mc_eid=16c170fb9a

Related post: 
https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/vulcan-ancestry/

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25 Years with Fryderyk

As of today or possibly tomorrow, it’s been 25 years since the earth-shattering day when I first found myself in contact with Fryderyk Chopin.  At the time I didn’t realize how important this event was and I didn’t make note of the date.  I know it was a few days before Valentine’s Day.

https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/how-i-met-fryderyk/

While looking for a particular portrait to add to this post, I came across the photo (not painting) at left, which practically caused me to faint.  I would love to know what processes were used to create it.  The hair is a little on the dark side, and maybe the jaw has just a tad too much bone, but overall the likeness is stunning.  It brings Chopin instantly, dramatically, immediately into the present moment, where, for me, he always is.

And I’m going to leave my observance of the day at that.

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Facing Cancer (or Whacked Upside the Head by Mainstream Medicine) Part II

For Dia de los Muertos, I extended the “crack” in my forehead and tried to show something hopeful coming from it.

Last time I told you about the existential crisis I had over a small skin cancer that led to a larger surgery than I was expecting and the threat of more slicing and dicing to come. What I thought would be, as my primary care doctor had suggested, a “cure” was no such thing. A real cure would have to involve much more than simply cutting out an individual piece of tissue.

The first order of business was to clean out the inside of my head. I needed to get past the pernicious suggestion that the surgeon had implanted, and believe with as much certainty as possible that I did not have to have any more cancer anywhere. I’ve made good progress on that, I think, but it may be a while before I completely stop hearing his words. As I write, it’s been about three and a half weeks, not really very long to heal either physically or psychologically.

The wound itself is improving steadily. The paresthesia from the damaged nerves has already diminished quite a bit.  The worst part now is the lumpy “dart” at each end of the incision. One is at the hairline so less obvious, but the other is very prominent on my forehead. It will most likely look better later on when I can massage the scar and soften it, as I was told to do by the surgeon’s assistant. The repair job does seem to have been well done in technical terms. At the moment I still feel disfigured, though.

I honestly didn’t realize that I cared that much about my face. I’ve never been particularly beautiful and I never relied on my looks to get me anything, so I wouldn’t have expected to react so strongly, but a facial wound feels like a scar on one’s very identity.

It’s interesting; I almost feel more willing to lose my entire body than to have individual parts chopped away. When I was threatened with a hysterectomy many years ago because of nascent cervical cancer, I fought that idea and insisted on keeping as much of my original equipment as I could, while being told I was crazy by the PCP I had at the time. And miraculously enough, even after two conizations (yet another example of not getting it all the first time) and stitches tearing out and needing an extra repair, my cervix eventually filled itself back in. All that’s left of the damage is a very thin, clean scar with healthy tissue around it. That is what the female body can do. I am holding on to the idea that every body has far more ability to regenerate than we give it credit for.

I was only in my first year of acupuncture school when that intimate surgery was done, and my understanding was more limited than it is now. Although the tissue that was removed was not yet invasive cancer and might never have become so, it was already making me ill. I had unusual, severe, long-lasting infections that year; it seemed that my immune system just couldn’t keep up with holding cancer at bay and fighting microbes as well. I knew something wasn’t right. When the carcinoma in situ was found, I just wanted it to be taken out as soon as possible and give my body a chance to catch up. I remember feeling icky about having that diseased mass inside me, unclean, which was probably not very helpful to the healing process in itself. That part I was willing to lose.

After the second conization, I landed in the ER with heavy bleeding, and lost over a liter of blood by the time the repair was done. I was the pale tongue model in my class for many months after that! The blood loss, combined with the stress and fatigue of school, led to some long-term problems that have not entirely resolved. If I could have known all that would happen, I would probably have tried to avoid the surgery. There might have been another way to reverse the condition. However, at that point it seemed that my body was unable to manage the job on its own. And indeed, I did stop getting sick.

As you most likely realize, cancer starts somewhere in your body over and over throughout your life, triggered by a host of possible factors, but your immune system destroys the errant cells before they can cause trouble. It stands to reason that anything that can increase the efficiency of the immune system is good for preventing cancer, while anything that decreases it— including emotional and psychological issues— can help cancerous cells get a foothold. Not that making use of the immune system is necessarily simple to accomplish. Mainstream medicine is doing a lot with immunotherapy for established cancers, but as people go along years after their treatment, autoimmune conditions like diabetes are showing up, because the immune system went over and above what was necessary to get rid of the cancer. So far we can’t control this treatment very precisely. However, I expect that eventually immunotherapy, using the body’s own methods but amping them up, is going to be the main way we deal with cancer. And that’s what I would consider a real cure, rather than just cutting out the lesion we can see without doing anything about the underlying process.

Let’s think for a minute about what that underlying process is. Most cells undergo apoptosis— after a predetermined number of divisions, they die and make room for new cells. You might think of immortality as a good thing, but cancer is immortality run amok. Cancer cells don’t die when they’re supposed to, but keep reproducing and invading healthy tissue, using up resources without performing necessary functions, and causing obstruction and pressure on other structures. So we need to either kill them or somehow cause them to revert to healthy cells that die as they’re supposed to after a full, productive life.

The thing that we often forget, with our violent rhetoric of “fighting” cancer, is that cancer is no more nor less than our own cells. It is not some horrific, alien invading force. It’s our own cells that for some reason are operating under incorrect instructions. Really, that’s all. All that suffering caused by parts of us.

Which brings me back to cleaning out the inside of one’s head. Ultimately, every disease is psychosomatic, because we are constructing the reality of our bodies from moment to moment. It’s crucial to examine whatever is going on psychologically and emotionally and deal with it as best we can. There is no substitute for that. However, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a toxic exposure is just a toxic exposure, and solar radiation is just solar radiation. So many issues can be involved in cancer, and there is no sense indulging in victim-blaming, including blaming ourselves. Our bodies are subjected to the various insults and influences of the physical world, and sometimes, it seems to me, stuff just happens for reasons we can’t understand, and it may not be worth analyzing it to the nth degree, to the point where we start doing ourselves more harm by obsessing. We can go forward and figure out what to do next instead.

I haven’t heard anything from dermatologists about preventing skin cancer other than staying out of the sun and/or using sunscreen. The guy who took out my stitches went as far as to say something like, “Even if you’re only exposed for a short time, like getting into your car, the damage builds up with every drop of sun.”

OK. Let’s just stop right there. I don’t see where paranoia is going to help any aspect of our health. Believing we are being harmed every time light hits the surface of our bodies is incredibly counterproductive. We also have evidence that when everyone started religiously dousing themselves with sunscreen, the rate of colon cancer went up, likely because of depletion of vitamin D. We need sunlight. We just need to be careful with it.

It’s well established that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a range of health problems, including a greater risk of cancer and a worse outlook for more severe disease and for recurrence. What is not so clear is whether supplementing vitamin D in established cases of cancer will help cure them. I advise my patients to keep their vitamin D level up, since as far as we know that’s best, and I take it in supplement form myself. Even in sunny New Mexico, blood tests show that a lot of us are seriously deficient, and of course that’s more likely in the winter.

For years I have been referring patients to this website from the UK:
https://www.canceractive.com/
The originator, Chris Woollams, collects every piece of information he can find about cancer treatment and prevention. I don’t always find every bit credible or useful, but overall this is the most comprehensive source of cancer knowledge I’ve seen. It’s also a source of hope. A major recommendation given at this site is the “Rainbow Diet,” the concept of basing one’s diet on colorful vegetables and fruits. Although there are conflicting recommendations about diet for treating and preventing cancer (as for everything else), there is broad agreement about eating whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, including lots of vegetables. You can’t go too far wrong that way.

At our house we’ve been breakfasting on green smoothies to get our intake of phytonutrients up, and they are yum. I bet my husband, not a big vegetable fan, would never have expected that he’d enjoy snarfing down blenderized kale and spinach, even with fruit added, but he’s loving it. I’ve noticed a small improvement in my vision, which I think is remarkable after just a week or two of extra carotenoids and such.

There are so many substances that have shown activity against a particular cancer or against cancer in general, and many of them are found in those colorful plant foods. Others are herbs or components of animal-based foods. Each one could be a post or series in itself. Here is a partial list of substances that as far as I know are well-researched:
turmeric
medicinal mushrooms (reishi etc.)
DIM, indole-3 carbinol, and sulphoraphanes, all found in cruciferous vegetables
green tea catechins
fish oil
modified citrus pectin
vitamin C (including topically as a sunscreen ingredient)
vitamin A
astaxanthin (from algae, the pigment that makes flamingoes pink)

A simple and surprisingly effective measure is to take aspirin daily. Even a low dose has been shown to reduce the risk of getting cancer in the first place and of having tumors spread if they have already occurred.

Melatonin seems to have a number of useful effects for cancer patients, including reducing damage from chemotherapy and radiation and helping tamoxifen to work better for breast cancer survivors. It has been shown to lower excess levels of estrogen and IGF-1. Here is a worthwhile discussion of it:
https://www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=1242


Cannabis is often touted as a cancer cure, but from what I’ve read, the situation is muddled and complex. For some types of cancer, it seems to help, but for others it may make things worse. More research is needed, and if the US government would stop making it so hard to do research with marijuana, we’d likely get it faster! I am using a CBD salve around my incision at the moment because it seems that it may help, and at any rate keeping the scar tissue moist and softened is a good thing.
http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/25/cannabis-cannabinoids-and-cancer-the-evidence-so-far/#.Wfe1EK293b0.facebook

Dairy is another controversial subject. Some authorities state that it encourages the growth of cancer and forbid it. Yet, in the form of cottage cheese, milk protein is a major part of the Budwig diet for cancer patients, which apparently has been of help to some. If I had to give advice on this issue, I would say to use only organic dairy with no hormones given to the cows, grass-fed if possible, and as with any food to pay attention to how you feel when you eat it. Don’t eat anything that you don’t tolerate well. I don’t have any clearer information than that at this moment.

While I was in my first week or so of recovery, the film Cancer Can Be Killed showed up online. It tells the story of the filmmaker’s wife, who had bladder cancer and was given no hope except to have her bladder entirely removed. A relative of hers had gone to Germany and been treated with hyperthermia, and had recovered completely, so she did the same, with an excellent outcome. Hyperthermia is not available in the US except in combination with chemo and radiation, they said. It seems like it ought to be.

The hyperthermia was combined with nutrition and other naturopathic treatment. I don’t think we can argue with the concept of helping the body to be as healthy as possible while trying to get rid of the cancer, no matter how we go about the cancer treatment itself. Mainstream oncology hasn’t tended to do that, to say the least. There were a number of statements made in the film that made my BS meter go off, though. One issue was the insistence that eating sugar feeds cancer. I’d heard that many times, and hadn’t really questioned it, but it’s become clear to me that it’s misleading.

Cancer cells do take up more glucose than others, because they are dividing rapidly, and that fact can be used in PET scanning. However, it does not follow that sugar in the diet increases the growth of cancer. In fact, check this out:
https://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/cancer-cells-are-what-they-eat-and-it-s-not-glucose/81252451

This does not mean that a cancer patient or anyone else should be eating a lot of concentrated sugar. Insulin resistance and diabetes contribute to cancer as well as other health problems, and excess weight is associated with cancer too. Sensibly reducing or eliminating processed sugar from your diet is healthy. Living in fear that eating a molecule of sugar is going to make your cancer grow, though, not so much. Here’s a good overview:
https://www.oncologynutrition.org/erfc/healthy-nutrition-now/sugar-and-cancer/

I don’t want to do anything, or avoid anything, out of fear. That cannot possibly be the way to health. This afternoon I spent a few minutes standing in the yard with the sun on my face. It felt sooo good— just comfortably warm at this time of year, not overwhelming. I let it sink in and told myself that the sun’s energy was healing my body and soul.

On the website of the clinic that treats with the Budwig diet, I saw a lot of questionable ideas and products, but I also saw this, which seems like the perfect thought to leave you with: “As I emphasize to my patients that come to the Budwig Cancer Center, forgiveness and ‘counting your blessings’ are two of the most important emotional states you need to stay strong. Forgive absolutely everyone that has disappointed you at some time in your life because holding a grudge is too heavy for you to carry and especially at this moment in your life.”

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Facing Cancer (or Whacked Upside the Head by Mainstream Medicine) Part I

I’m going to whine for a little while, and then, I promise, I will have some solid, useful information for you.

I thought I knew better.

I thought I was an educated patient who would make sure to get every available piece of information before I let anything be done to my body. I thought that since the effects of the surgery for my cervical carcinoma in situ had been worse than the disease in some ways, I’d never again go for surgery without learning about every conceivable alternative. So much for that.

I also thought that I was well aware of what typical skin cancers look like and what the warning signs are. Nope. Some don’t fit that set of rules.

So I feel pretty stupid at this point.

I did know that skin cancer is extremely common and that we have particular risks in New Mexico because of our clear sky and high-altitude strong sun. I didn’t worry all that much about it for myself because of my vampire-like lifestyle— I don’t enjoy being in direct sun and largely avoid it, in the same way that my mother did. I did know, too, that moles and skin tags and bumps show up more with age. The smooth, pink bump on my forehead, with its even color and its round shape with no irregularities, didn’t set off my radar. It was new in the past year or so, but it didn’t seem all that different from some other objects on my skin. Now I know that the shiny pink appearance is not unusual for basal cell carcinomas.

I did know that something was wrong. Near the mole there was a tiny triangular spot, barely visible but easy to feel, that would crust and slough off over and over and never heal. It wasn’t getting bigger, at least not by more than a few microns, but it didn’t seem right at all. Last spring I asked my gynecologist to look at it, and he suppressed a laugh as he told me confidently that it was nothing. (He is never one to belittle patients’ concerns, so he very definitely thought it was inconsequential.)

The tiny triangle kept doing the same thing, and it seemed to me that the pink mole changed color ever so slightly. They were both right in front of me every time I washed my face or brushed my teeth, so I never stopped noticing them. Eventually I made an appointment with my primary care doctor. When I got there, I told him, apologetically, “This will probably be the tiniest problem you see today.” He judged the triangle to be an actinic keratosis, a possibly precancerous lesion thought to be caused by sun, and said it would be worthwhile to freeze it off. The mole struck him just as it had me— it didn’t seem obviously malignant, but it didn’t look quite OK either. He had me make an appointment to remove it and send it to be checked out.

A couple of weeks later, we did that. I was left with a 1/4” scooped-out divot in my forehead. When a letter showed up the next week, I was delighted to see it, because they don’t give bad news by letter. I opened the letter to find that the lesion was a basal cell carcinoma and that the biopsy hadn’t gotten all of it. My PCP had figured that since we’d already discussed this as a possibility, I wouldn’t be too upset by getting the message in the mail. His assumption was incorrect.

Now, as I said, this condition is extremely common. People go through it every day and don’t make a big deal of it. I had the least problematic form of skin cancer, and only one lesion, not terribly large. As my PCP told me, it’s considered very curable. I was instructed to get scheduled for the state of the art treatment, Mohs surgery. Patients of mine had had it, and it hadn’t looked all that bad. Yet I was completely flipped out. I’d already been at the limits of what I could deal with before the diagnosis— the death of my mother, other devastating hits on the personal and professional levels, our democracy moribund if not already dead, the threat of nuclear war, and in the background the certainty of further destruction from extreme weather. This pushed me over the edge.

Part of that was because of what our cat, Rico, went through at the end of his life: He started with what looked like a tiny scratch on his nose, and it turned into a cancer that literally ate away a great deal of his face. I also had a past-life connection to cancer that was near the surface of my mind.

My PCP attempted to reassure me by email. I read whatever I could find about Mohs surgery, including some pretty technical stuff. Enough that I thought I understood what was going on and got much less anxious about it. Unfortunately, my earlier apprehension turned out to be well founded.

The practice where the surgery was done has about the best information about what to expect with Mohs that I’ve seen, on their website— but I didn’t know about it till after the procedure. No one at their office told me anything before the day it happened, nor suggested anything for me to read. I asked the pleasant young woman who assisted the surgeon to explain what would be done, when it became clear that no one was going to explain anything on their own. She only told me what I already knew, but I insisted that she go through it anyway. It’s astonishing that it wasn’t all made totally explicit, in writing, when I was asked to give consent.

As it turned out, even after all that, I had very little understanding of what was going to be done, no clue about how extensive it would be, and really not much basis to give informed consent. In fact, I don’t feel that I ever had a chance to give truly informed consent.

My husband had had a much larger cancerous lump removed from his arm some weeks earlier. It was a simple excision (that’s what they call it, “simple”), and as with me, they didn’t get all of it on the first try. He had to go back and get a bit more of a crater scooped out. The wound was about a centimeter across and fairly deep, but he had no significant pain, and it healed fairly uneventfully. I was expecting something along those lines. Since Mohs surgery is supposed to take as little tissue out as possible, and I had already had what seemed like most of the problem removed, I was not at all prepared for a dime-sized disc to be cut out, ending up with a 1 1/4” incision, with 9 stitches (not including the ones on the inside) having lumpy darts folded into my skin in order to bring the edges together, and having a chunk of my hair shaved right in front. I’d seen patients of mine who had had Mohs, and seriously, their incisions were not all as big as this.

Yes, I’m whining. Yes, I understand that until the surgeon gets in there, it’s impossible to know how much cancer is underneath the surface. Yes, I know I was lucky that he only had to take one layer off in order to get all of it. It could have been worse. But would it be so hard to TELL the patient that all this is going to happen?

I expressed some surprise and dismay at the time, and the surgeon totally minimized my concern. I had already noticed what I thought was an odd sense of humor, and he applied it again. He said that what I’d had was the smallest surgery they ever do, and that they don’t consider it big until it’s the size of a dinner plate. That is literally what he said. Then he told me that I was almost certain to get more lesions and need more surgeries.

But it got even better. Poking his finger at my nose and cheeks, touching one spot after another, he said, “You’ll get one here, and here, and here. And they’ll be bigger and more cosmetically significant.” It was as if he had put a curse on my skin, or injected poison directly into it. I was in such a vulnerable state that his words sank deeply and immediately into my system, without any filtering. I put up a feeble argument, but he repeated that a recurrence was nearly inevitable. The only excuse I can come up with for his incredibly inappropriate “curse” is that he was trying to scare me into making an appointment with a dermatologist ASAP. (Which I did.) Whatever he was thinking, his words and his attitude were the opposite of anything related to healing.

When I pointed out that seeing a dermatologist and being vigilant otherwise meant that any cancers that might start would be caught early and be small, the assistant replied, in a kind tone as if speaking to a small child, that there’s always more beneath the surface. They didn’t give me the slightest hope that there might be something I could do for prevention, just left me looking at a future of having my face sliced to pieces, with absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I wrote a strongly-worded letter to the surgeon, speaking as an experienced clinician as well as a patient, and delivered it the day I got the stitches out. Which was not done by the surgeon himself, by the way. He never even took a peek at me to see how his work was turning out. That apparently wouldn’t suit the flow of the assembly line in their practice. A different assistant did the work, and he actually supplied me with more information and advice than anyone else had. Then he turned me loose— nothing in writing about what had been done or what to do next, and no followup appointment.

Again, nothing at all was said about how to increase my chances of keeping my skin healthy. I started researching right away to see if there might be something I hadn’t seen before. The statistics I saw were dismaying— not only was the chance of a recurrence in my skin (and my husband’s) quite high, it had been found that people who had had skin cancer were at much greater risk for internal cancers as well. This was already my second brush with cancer, so that shook me up. On top of that, one of the healers who does energy work for me said that he was seeing cancers getting started in at least two other areas. By this time I was pushed well over the edge and hanging on to a very thin twig.  I felt like a ticking time bomb.

But I already knew that cancer is a systemic disease, and was prepared to treat it that way.

Next: Responding to the challenge, and what you can do if you find yourself in this sort of situation

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STTNG “Sub Rosa”: Predatory Love

I wrote the following in May of 2010, as part of a letter to a friend, and today I ran across it while looking for something else. It seems like an appropriate story for Halloween and Día de los Muertos, almost a ghost story but not quite. 

There has been so much news of sexual abuse and coercion lately, and our group mind is busy chewing over what constitutes abuse and what possibly is just a matter of being a jerk instead. For my own rather different reasons I have been considering this question as well. The situation in the STTNG episode I describe here is pathognomonic of abuse: one being takes control of another and prevents her from living her own life. Yet, as in real relationships, things aren’t absolutely cut and dried.
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The other night I had the opportunity to record a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that I’d been wanting to get my hands on for years, “Sub Rosa.” I hadn’t seen it in probably a decade or more. This time around, I found myself thinking, “Was Gates McFadden’s acting really that bad?” [sorry] and “I can’t believe they piled that much makeup on those poor women,” and “Why did they give Deanna Troi SO much hair?” and “Geez, none of their uniforms really fit.” Somehow the show, which honestly was high-quality overall, seemed even more dated than Classic Trek from the ‘60s!

But the story was still of interest to me. It was about almost exactly what an ex-friend and colleague insisted was happening to me: a disembodied being was making inappropriate and harmful use of humans, while claiming to love them and take care of them. The story began with Dr. Beverly Crusher, the Enterprise’s chief medical officer, beaming down for her grandmother’s funeral. The planet where her grandmother lived had been terraformed into a replica of the Scottish Highlands– which I guess was someone’s idea of the perfect environment– and the clothes and houses looked like they came from around 1800.

When Dr. Crusher read her grandmother’s journals, she discovered that this century-old lady had had a handsome lover, a guy in his 30s! Very soon the lover made an appearance and offered his services to the granddaughter. He represented himself as a ghost, a regular human spirit, nothing too untoward. She quickly fell under his spell. For short periods he would appear as a corporeal man, but then he would dissolve into a green mist and sink into her body, merging with her in a way that looked eerily familiar to me. They didn’t make it clear whether this was an overtly sexual act, but it sure looked like Beverly, squirming around most sensuously, was having a wonderful time.

The green mist guy, whose name was Ronin, asked Dr. Crusher to stay with him on the planet so that they could be completely joined forever. She was so messed up by that time that she instantly resigned from Starfleet and did as he asked, having no problem with leaving all her friends and everything she’d ever worked for. But by that time the captain and others were on to Ronin and trying to get Dr. Crusher out from under his influence. They had figured out that he was not a ghost at all, but an alien being made of “anaphasic energy,” a (made-up of course) kind of energy that was unstable and couldn’t exist without some kind of physical host. (Making one wonder how such a creature could ever evolve in the first place.) He’d been preying on the women in Beverly’s family generation after generation. They had a sort of candle, a family heirloom, that was where he lived when he wasn’t invading their own bodies.

And that’s when Ronin started attacking people, even killing one, to save himself. Finally Dr. Crusher had to kill him herself– of course, what else– blowing him away most dramatically with her phaser.

But at the very end, looking at her grandmother’s journals again, Dr. Crusher commented wistfully that whatever else he’d done, he had made her grandmother very happy.

Star Trek at its best has often managed to find stories that resonate for a great many people, at some deep subconscious or even mythological level. In this case, the plot concerned something that does appear to happen, a disembodied being interfering in the life of a human, but it also can be taken as being about physical-world relationships that are obsessive and controlling. It’s kind of the ultimate in codependent relationships.

And it’s very close to the kind of relationship my ex-friend accused me of having with Fryderyk.

I don’t have the slightest worry that I am being preyed upon or abused, but this story did make me take stock yet again. What would I be doing these days if Fryderyk had not happened to me? Would I have followed my “plan A” and studied jazz bass? Would I be a really hot lutenist? Would I somehow have become more myself if I hadn’t been concentrating on him? It seems like I might have saved many thousands of dollars by not buying a grand piano and not taking so many lessons, but then, I was already taking lessons and teaching, and I might have done all that anyway.

I do think that I’ve been significantly happier than I would have been otherwise. Maybe the happiness of romance is nothing more than a bunch of oxytocin circulating through the system, but it’s happiness nonetheless.

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It Couldn’t Have Happened

When I was a kid I had what appeared to be a persistent memory of something that happened when I was very small. A meteorite fell in my Aunt Betty’s back yard and met its fiery doom one evening while we were having a cookout or something. I can still see the image of a large sphere, at least a foot or so across, burning in patches and dark elsewhere, with a crater around it, not too much bigger than the sphere itself. The image is vivid.

But that could never have happened. A fraction of a second’s thought will tell you that meteorites just don’t work that way. And if a substantial one had fallen anywhere in Girard, Ohio in the early 1960’s, and pieces had reached the ground still being 12” or more in diameter, the destruction would have been epic and everyone would have known about it.

At some point while I was still a kid, I happened to mention to my mother, “that time the meteorite fell in Aunt Betty’s back yard.” Of course she told me that no meteorite had ever fallen there during my lifetime. I was shocked to realize that my memory wasn’t real. I’ve never been able to explain what the image means or what could have happened to leave a memory trace like that.

So many impossible things have been happening lately, and I’ve wondered about this one again. What can it mean? I wonder if perhaps there was a typical, far smaller stone that did fall from the sky in front of my eyes, and my little brain turned the memory into something more dramatic. But surely my mother would have remembered even that. Did I see it in a movie? Did I dream it? Being so young, was I unable to distinguish dream from reality? Something happened, even if only in my mind, something significant enough that it is still with me. What did it mean?

A week ago something else happened to me that seemed like it couldn’t have happened, something that was even more improbable than the burning rock in the grass and that strangely feels less real in my memory. The only person who can corroborate it is the one who caused it, and perhaps that person experienced something completely different from what I did. A couple of friends who were also in the building could tell you that I described it to them right afterward and that I was visibly shaken, but they didn’t see the actual event. Did I misinterpret it? Did my mind turn it into a more devastating missile from the heavens than it really was? All week I have asked, What does it mean?

And meanwhile, and before, other unthinkable occurrences took place. Entire cities burned to the ground, houses disintegrating in literally seconds. Far away, we destroyed another city “to save it.” People there who were just going about their business were obliterated by explosions from the sky, and their homes turned to dust as fine as the typical meteor. Others, here, were going about their business when an unprecedented rain of death poured down on them from high in a hotel window. Many are still struggling to find even the most basic necessities for survival after having their homes drowned or pummeled flat by the storms weeks ago.

More and more, every morning I turn to some source of news with dread in my heart, bracing for whatever new horror has taken place while I slept. Maybe you are this way too, waiting for the next shockwave, the next stone to fall. I know that whatever I complain of personally has no comparison to the immensity of tragedy that has befallen myriad human beings during this incredibly difficult year. I know, just as surely, that I am affected by all of it and so is each one of us, and the whole of us.

And I know that my perspective right now is skewed, especially since I’m recovering from a procedure during which the doctor did his best to terrify me about my future health— another unexpected blast from above. I haven’t yet been able to dig out from under the rubble. Yet, what feels like such dark, heavy boulders may be no more substantial than the meteorite of my childhood.

 

This is what it wasn’t:
http://www.grindtv.com/random/man-claims-found-burning-meteorite-yard-real-video/

I searched for the origin of the photo used at the top of this post, but could not find anything clear, so cannot give credit for the image.

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