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cancer, Grief, Guest Posts

Scared

May 25, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Trish Cook

“Scared,” my dad croaks, pointing painstakingly at me, then my brother, then my mom.

It’s an understatement.

We’ve summoned his personal physician to our home today to hopefully deny, but probably confirm, our suspicions: The cancer has gone to his brain.

We hold our collective breath as the doctor asks my father, “Who is the President of the United States?”

An underwater, foggy pause. Finally, Dad replies, “Reagan.”

The three healthy people in the room exhale a sigh of relief. He got it right! This must count for something, we think. A small shred of hope still inhabits the homey little den we’re all crowded into. Our prayers, crossed fingers, and wishes on stars and eyelashes might yet magically release him from cancer’s insidious clutches.

My dad is only fifty-two on this day. I am twenty-four, though, so both he and the non-descript middle-aged male doctor seem something close to old to me. Not old old, sitting in a rocking chair waiting to die old, but old enough to have really lived, to have really made it count. I hold on to this thought, stroke it for comfort inside my head like a beloved baby blanket. Even if Dad doesn’t beat this thing in the end, at least he made it far enough to look back and know he lived a long and satisfying life.

Today, at fifty, this notion seems ridiculous. My father was not old then, just as I am not old now. Not nearly old enough to die willingly, anyway, or to feel as though everything that needed accomplishing had been accomplished. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Guest Posts

Foxholy

April 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janet Reich Elsbach.

“Smile, would you please?” said my sister as I came through the door to see if she needed any help. “Jesus loves you.”

There were a number of surprising elements to this interaction, beyond the fact that the room we now both occupied was the bathroom. For one, she might more reasonably have requested that I do a tap dance. My sister was dying of cancer, her beautiful athlete’s body wrecked and wracked, and we were just home from another two days in the hospital, where as usual she had questioned and refused 98% of what was on offer, where as usual the doctors and nurses had glared at me reproachfully behind her back, and where as usual I had done a non-stop theater-in-the-round cabaret of advocacy and placation for 48 hours. Maybe I had slept for two of those hours, and not in a row. So of all facial expressions, a smile seemed farthest from my reach.

For another thing, we’re Jews.

“He does, you know,” D. continued as I attended to her. “Don’t you know that?”

Once I became old enough to really put some muscle into talking back to her, some time in my teens or twenties, I pointed out that a large percentage of what she said to me (and to others, to be fair) ended with an audible or implied, “you don’t, do you?” As in, “do you know you’re supposed to put X on Y in that order, rotate your whatsits seasonally, never accept domestic yah-yah and ONLY buy organic hmm?” Here she would pause for a second to see if there was a flicker of agreement, then sigh or even snort a little when it failed to appear. “You don’t, do you?” Eventually the sniff or sigh could stand in for the four-word codicil. Sometimes I would say it for her.

Cancer had intensified her dissatisfaction with rubes and imbeciles in ways I mostly understood, as well as raised the stakes. As her prospects grew darker and her misery increased, so did the percentage of the population around her who could get nothing right. Since I frequently numbered among them, staying present and supportive was not easy, and with this new Jesus angle, she had managed, yet again, to sling a curve ball that could completely undo me. Having a front-row seat at an epic struggle with mortality, even if it is not your own, can inspire a person to feel around in their toolbox for some connection to a higher power. Over the 18 months of her illness, I hadn’t come up with much.

We aren’t especially Jewish, even though we are Jews. I majored in anthropology, so it’s easy for me to put it that I am culturally Jewish, just not spiritually. Meaning the cuisine, the mannerisms, the sensibility: yes. I like the food well enough and the rest I couldn’t shake if I tried. Bred in the bone. But whatever spirituality I possess, I don’t tune into it on that channel.

When I was little, we were high-holy-day Jews. We had a seder at Passover, and some excellent little hamentaschen from William Greenberg’s on Third Avenue at Purim. A menorah was lit at Chanukah, but the house saw a little Christmas action, too. Barring a funeral, wedding or someone else’s mitzvah (bar or bat), the only time we went to temple was on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; on all these occasions everyone around me knew the prayers in Hebrew and I did not.

Our house was generally a mood tinder-box at the holidays, our parents reverential one moment and irritated the next, apparently with us for not taking it seriously enough. I liked to please them, but I didn’t have much to invest since my sisters and I had never gone to religious school. So I would feel guilty and anxious, as well as excluded and confused, and all in all it was not a pleasant base from which to grow a faith. For a long time I connected my not feeling Jewish to this history, and I bet my parents did, too.

Finally I asked my mother why they never sent us to Hebrew school, if their faith was strong enough to twist and bind them with what had seemed like anger when I was smaller than they were, but I now recognized as guilt. By then I was in college, and they had become more obviously and contentedly Jewish: studying, actively identifying as Jewish philanthropists, lighting Sabbath candles, and I had become more confused about where the faith I felt was rooted. I could tell I had some but I also knew it wasn’t found, or fueled, in a building or book that I had yet encountered.

“We didn’t want to force it on you,” she said. “We had taken a big leap getting a place in the country, and at the time I felt more sure that getting out of the city would be good for you three than I did about Hebrew school. And we couldn’t do both.” I scoffed a little when she told me this, but now that I am a parent I can see completely how a person could arrive at that kind of inconclusive conclusion as the rush of life came at them. Punt! I can’t say that I’ve done much better myself, for my own three.

Around this time I was in the habit of spending a weekend in New Orleans every spring, at Jazz Fest, with D. One of the notable features of that densely packed weekend is the stream of little parades, the congregation of here or there decked out in team colors, waving flags and belting out gospel songs at the top of their impressive and collective lungs. “You kind of need Jesus for that,” I remember saying to her. Judaism, Buddhism, anything else I could think of—none of these other belief systems really loaned themselves to this kind of ecstatic, toe-tapping spectacle of testament. It was enviable, to me—that pure devotion and utter certainty and frank enjoyment that characterized their faith. Jesus had a plan, and come what may, that was the raft they set sail on and clung to in a tempest. It seemed as comforting and appealing as it was out of reach.

I was amazed that my sister had found that raft. Both my sisters had certainly gravitated more resolutely towards Judaism over the years than I had, and I’d had many occasions to wonder how it had all skipped me as they both spoke knowledgeably and comfortably about things that felt utterly foreign, even alienating to me. D.’s son even had his bar mitzvah, a first (and only) in our family for generations. And I also knew that D. was pretty open, as a seeker. Around her house you could find a little altar to Ganesh and a portrait of Lakshmi as well as a mezuzah, some Buddhist prayer beads, giant crystals from Arizona and an Islamic knot. But Jesus, now. That was new. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Guest Posts

On Blue Skies and Loss.

March 14, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Chelsea Nolan.

It was winter when he called me. We talked daily so it was no surprise, but this time it was different. He said he had something to talk to me about but he wanted to do it in person this weekend. I was with my two best friends who didn’t know what to say. But I knew.

It was cancer again. I knew it the second I heard the sound of his voice, the way he told me everything was okay with a soft edge to his words. It was cancer, it was worse this time and everything was about to change.

He was diagnosed on February 10th and he told me on Valentine’s Day. Even though it was six weeks before, I consider that the day I lost my dad in so many ways. The father who carried my bags out to my car, bought me groceries, repaired holes in the wall, changed my oil, asked me about dates I was going on. The dad who would drop everything if I asked him to, let me beat him in chess even though he was so much better. The dad who took care of me. The dad who gave everything he had for everything I was going to be. From that day on it was me who took care of him.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

This Is What Cancer Does.

March 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Nancy Conyers.

This is what cancer does: it makes your body unknown to you, an alient presence dragging 50lb weights on each ankle and around your neck. You are exhausted, so exhausted physically and mentally your brain can’t send proper signals to get your unresponsive limbs moving. One time, for three days, you couldn’t even wash your face because it was too much effort to lift your arms. When you couldn’t stand your own smell anymore you tried to take a shower. It wasn’t your own body odor you were smelling, it was the drugs you’d been infused with: TCHP, Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin, Perjeta. They were seeping through your skin, through every orifice and the metallic medicinal smell was making you as nauseous as the drugs were. You turned on the shower but the weight of the water pushed you against the shower wall and you struggled to turn the water off. You sat soaking wet on the side of the bathtub until your spouse came to check on you.

“Honey, are you ok?” you heard her ask from the bedroom. When you didn’t answer she rushed in to the bathroom, saw the puddles of water at your feet, grabbed a towel and started drying you off. “You scared me when you didn’t answer,” she told you as she was drying your back. You knew she meant she thought you were dead.

You now spend hours on the internet trying to get more information about cancer, how you could have gotten it, what your chances are, but once you start reading you close your laptop because you don’t really want to know that the survival rate is only 70% five years later for your late Stage 3A aggressive breast cancer. What about 10 years or 20 years you ask, but nobody has those statistics. You don’t want to think in terms of surviving only five years. You don’t want to think that there is a 30% chance you could be dead before the five years are up. You look around your house in Santa Fe, the one you and your spouse bought for retirement that you don’t live in full time yet and you know that in five years she may not be ready to stop working. You want time here together when she retires, time to build a roof deck so you can sit and watch the sun set on the Sangre de Christos every night.

You’ve read all the other statistics about who gets breast cancer, the two most likely being you’re a woman and you’re aging. 77% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50. Since when did age 50 mean you were aging, you wonder. Women who’ve never had children, who start their menses before age 12, who took oral contraceptives and who do hormone replacement therapy are at risk. Women who are overweight, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, who are physically inactive and exposed to environmental pollutants are at risk. You fit some of the categories but you never took hormone replacement therapy, you don’t drink excessive amounts of alcohol and even though you are overweight you are physically active. Back when you thought you were straight, you took birth control pills for five years. You’ve never smoked. Ever. In your mind only people who smoke get cancer, people who won’t or can’t stop smoking and take drags on their cigarettes from a hole in their neck while they’re hooked up to oxygen.

Cancer. This cannot be your life. This is not your life. This will not be your life. You do not want to understand what these medical terms mean, do not want to become comfortable with spouting out breast cancer vocabulary and treatment options, do not want to know that once your treatments are over the cancer could come back. Once this is all over even if you’re told you are cancer free, it’s only for the moment, that place in time, that snapshot, not forever. You want forever. Continue Reading…

Binders, cancer, Family, Guest Posts

Of Mice and Snow.

February 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Mackenzie Cox.

It’s strange to think that Papa had sixty-five years of a life before me, because in my life, he was the fourth person to hold me.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Papa.

Since he died, I’ve mourned as if I were some other person. I don’t really feel grief until it’s all consuming.

It’s a strange kind of yearning; not necessarily wanting my grandfather back, but more, being sad that he was ever cold, or lonely or hungry.

But above all, I mourn for a piece of himself he lost in France.

In the snow.

He had just turned eighteen when he was drafted into World War II. He wore glasses and weighed one hundred thirty pounds. Within two years, Papa was awarded a Purple Heart and a medal for “Courage Under Fire.” He was one of 500,000 American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge, which put him in the city of Ardennes, France.

When I was little and learned that Papa had been in a war, I asked if he had killed anyone. He told me:

“Oh, hon, with the glasses I had to wear, I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. I had no idea what I was shooting at.”

Years later, I was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Papa and I always talked about books. When I mentioned this one, he said something along the lines of,

“Those poor devils, they looked like skeletons.”

“Were you there?” I asked.

“I watched them come down from the hill,” he said. As to which hill, which concentration camp, I have no idea. I wish I had asked, but the way my grandpa looked, suddenly sunken into himself, his arms folded over his belly, I knew he wanted to change the subject. I loved him, so I did.

I do know that the American military liberated four camps. The one closest to the Battle of the Bulge was Buchenwald. It’s an alien feeling, imagining that my grandfather was one of the men to liberate Buchenwald. He would have been nineteen.

I want to ask him, “What happens to your soul Papa, in places like that? Did your innocence fall off of you? Or did it melt away with the snow?”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

 

*

My soul, my innocence, shattered. I stood in pediatric oncology with my family. I heard the doctors tell my sister that my 2-year-old niece had cancer. The sky above me cracked, gave way. It fell in sharp, dagger-like pieces exposing a black void. Unfair and untimely death was suddenly real. My niece was hooked up to an IV with chemicals dripping into her tiny body. I held the pieces of sky in my hands, not sure what to do with them.

My sister’s baby.

Gone. My naiveté. My innocence.

At some point, it happens to all of us.

*

Papa and I had one of those relationships where we just gravitated towards each other. We were amazed by each other. We adored each other. In every picture we are in, one of us is staring at the other, smiling.

He was there for every holiday, every birthday, every big moment. He had my first essay titled “Papa’s Dumb Boat” framed. He hung it on his home office wall, along with my other achievements, like the ceramic plate I colored in preschool. He titled the plate “A Vision in Purple” and displayed it, also, in his office. It’s like he’d been waiting for me and couldn’t believe we had found each other in this life. He always greeted me by saying, “There she is!”

*

My best friend called me. His voice was almost indiscernible. I rushed out of Geology lecture. Any strange number on my phone almost always turned out to be Sean, calling from Iraq. He was one of many Marines deployed during the Iraqi War.

Through sobs, he told me his friend had just died in his lap. Whatever Papa lost in French snow, Sean lost in Iraqi sand. I curled up in the corner of the hallway, mourning with him.

My best friend.

My brother.

“He looked just like me,” he said. “It could have been me. Same haircut. Same uniform. Mac, there wasn’t a difference between us, except that I was next to him.”

He would have been killed if he had stood one foot to the left. Just one foot to the left. It was gone. I was there with Sean. I wish I could have been there with Papa.

*

I couldn’t have been more than four. Grammy was making dinner. Papa had carried me upstairs to where Grammy kept her collectable mice.

They were simple. Just little cloth mice. I was only allowed to play with them if Papa played with me.

Papa would let me pick a few to play with and we would lie flat on the bright orange carpet and act out silly, mice-like stories together. Playing with Papa was special. He changed voices for each mouse and created dramatic plot lines that were appropriate for the costumes the little collectables were wearing. If it was a pirate mouse, Papa would say ‘shiver me timbers’ while covering one eye. If it was a mama mouse, she would be kind and attentive. Always running around the other mice asking how their day was. Afterwards we would eat dinner and watch the only movie I had at their house: Tiny Toons Summer Vacation.

When I graduated from college, Papa and Grammy picked out the mice with which I’d played with the most and sent them to me along with Tiny Toons Summer Vacation, as a graduation present. Eighteen years later, he still remembered.

That routine we had was special to him and he knew it was special to me too. We were special to each other.

*

There is a place. Some of us have it. My husband calls it a spider web. You feel something touch your web and it shakes your world. Your dreams go surreal and you wake up tired because you feel like you were out there doing something. You have the wind knocked out of you. You fall. You smell things that aren’t around you. When Sean collapsed in Iraq from exhaustion, I collapsed in my parent’s driveway from nothing. When a taxi hit my husband I went home from work with a blinding migraine. My life. Call it what you will. This is a part of me. People to whom I am close somehow ‘trip’ my web.

It works both ways.

People find me. Something inside me that’s deep and old recognizes them. The ones who find me tend to be very, very ancient souls. They find me. And we hold hands. For days, they stay in my head. No drugs, no weird séances or prayers needed. If I’m trying to reach someone, though, it helps if I am in that in-between space of awake and asleep.

It’s not a place for the living to be. It’s a place of echoes and memories. You can slip into a memory to talk to a friend, a relative, living or dead. But if you’re going back to the corporeal world, you only have a little bit of time before you must return.

*

It took Papa two years to die from lung cancer. One day in January 2014, Dad texted me from Papa’s hospice bed, letting me know that ‘it’ was finally close. Still, he wouldn’t let go. For days, we waited. He grew weaker, holding on. Waiting. I had visited two weeks prior. Papa and I had held hands and spoken a few words. But the person in the bed, the skinny person with a slowing brain wasn’t my grandpa. The grandpa I knew was always reading a book, doing a chore, eating too many sweets. This frail, skinny person, I simply did not know.

He was past his time. I asked Dad if they needed me. He told me to stay put. He said,

“Sweetie, he’s not here anymore. You stay where you are. Concentrate on school. I love you. We’ll have a wake or something in a year.” My family and I are not religious people. The most important thing to us was that Papa found peace. That his ashes were next to Grammy’s.

So we waited.

I didn’t sleep for days. I wanted Papa to find peace. I was feeling that deep hurt, when you know someone you love is suffering. I sat down to rest my eyes. I had to reach him. I had to tell him that he could go. In that place, where we are all connected, we can find each other. I could find him. I could see him. I could tell him to let go. I closed my eyes and searched.

*

I knew where he would be. He would be at our convenience store. When I was tiny and he was younger, we would go there, sit on our favorite bench, eat vanilla ice cream on cones and talk about what the clouds looked like. My feet wouldn’t touch the ground yet and I’d be wearing a baseball cap my dad had hurriedly shoved my hair underneath.

I found myself like that again. I found myself in Jelly Shoes and a frilly, white summer dress. I found myself unable to touch the ground with my feet.

I heard him.

He called to me from the parking lot.

“Hey! There she is!” He clapped his hands once before opening his arms wide, waiting for the flying leap. I gave it my all because it had been a long time since I was four and I missed being held by him. We hugged tight. The clock was ticking. I couldn’t hold my four-year-old form for long.

By the time Papa put me down I was already a preteen with dark eye makeup. Somehow he had dark hair. I had never seen him with dark hair.

He was getting younger while I got older. He was closer to death, to being born again, while I was still somewhere in the middle.

“You need to go,” I said through tears. It was just us, outside the store with the setting sun turning the sky orange and yellow.

“Oh, I’m fine, hon,” he told me.

I told him he wasn’t fine. That he was getting worse. I told him what he was living in; grown-up diapers, a nursing home and that Grammy was already gone. I told him his skin was paper-thin and he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. I told him it wasn’t going to improve.

“You have to go. You need to leave.”

He just had to make that final leap. He needed to understand. I couldn’t hold my form any longer. The living, the truly living, are not allowed in that place, that web, for long.

He assured me he would go, but not quite yet.

He was getting younger than I had ever seen him, his 30’s, his 20’s. I changed height, weight, gained years, lost years, trying to stay with him. He held me tight over his large belly, which for some reason never shrank.

He hugged me at every age I have ever been.

He hugged my life.

When we let go, he was old again, getting older. The web was shaking, vibrating. A spider was approaching. It was time to go.

“Please Papa, you need to go soon. You’re not happy. I know you don’t want to, but please, let go! Don’t be afraid. I’ll love you forever.”

“I’ll go soon. I’m so proud of you, sweetie.” I told myself not to reach for him, to not make a move or cry because that might make him stay longer for me. I couldn’t stop my arms from reaching out anyway.

The spider grabbed me. It had me by the ankles and was dragging me back to the world where my real body was. I was twenty-six. Papa was old again. His white hair was back, along with his favorite grey sweatshirt and jeans. He walked heavily back to our bench, to watch a final sunset and imagine pictures in the clouds. Maybe he wanted to remember me the way I used to be, one last time.

*

When I was in in high school I wrote an essay called “The King of Clouds.” It was the last essay of mine Papa had framed in his office. Every time we spoke he would look at it, and tell me he was reading it. He loved reading about the clouds even though we had lived it together.

“Just beautiful, Mac. Just beautiful.” He meant the writing. Before he died, I received a letter from him containing a check for thirty thousand dollars. In painful, scratchy handwriting he scrawled, “This is for your school. I am very, very proud of you and I love you a bunch. Merry Xmas. Papa.”

There’s a reason why this was so profound to me. All through my childhood my grandma would re-gift me. I’d get a sweatshirt obviously too small for her. My favorite stuffed animal, Tiger, is only mine because Grammy gave it to my sister, who turned it down. Grammy wrapped it back up and gave it to me the following year.

Papa, on the other hand, snuck me Barnes and Noble gift cards.

He bought me books.

And school.

Reading and writing. He knew me. He knew me before I knew me. With Grammy gone, and Papa on his deathbed he was finally able to do what he had been waiting for: to give me everything I wanted. He was my King of Clouds.

*

I woke up to Mom calling my cell phone. I was back in my body, exhausted, puffy eyed. She told me,

“Papa died early this morning.” I told her I knew, because I did.

“I found him, Mom.”

“Did you?”

“I told him he could go.”

“I’m glad, sweetie. He was waiting for you.”

Was he really? He had said he was going to go soon. I found him at night and he died in the early morning. Someone else must have taken him the rest of the way to wherever we go. Whatever our souls turn into.

Who was he waiting for?

He was my fourth person.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Him. I would have been waiting for him. Were his first three people already gone? Maybe he was waiting for others. Others I never knew because I only knew him as a beloved grandfather. I didn’t know him for most of his life.

*

Grammy passed away first. Papa and I stood at the threshold leading to my grandmother’s wake. We were holding hands. Maybe he offered to escort me. Maybe I held my hand out for him. Or maybe we had just been holding hands. My husband opened the doors for us, my cousins followed awkwardly. But it was him and me. The pair of us. Together.

He allowed me to lead him through the crowd of people. Old women in black approached my Grandpa, saying the usual things.

“God’s plan.”

“She was so special.”

“We’re so sorry.”

To each of them, he held up my hand, showing them how much love and support he had and said, “I’m in good hands.”

He was.

*

I mourn in the most honest way I can. My mind understands that he was old. He had lung cancer. This was expected and not a tragedy. This was a natural passing of life. I tell myself that, and a large black cavity that masquerades as anxiety grows inside of my chest. It isn’t until I’m closing in on a panic attack that I realize I need to cry.

I hope the person who saw his innocence melt away in French snow was there to take him the rest of the way. Who saw him after I did? Who did he wait on our bench for?

It’s moments like that, moments I wasn’t there for that make me selfishly jealous of anyone who ever knew him before I did.

I want to find him, so many years ago, shivering in French snow, stinking of piss and blood. I want to find him and hold his hand and let him know that no matter what he sees, no matter the repercussions, he’ll be a great grandpa. That after he sees those poor devils come down from that hill, after he suffers in a hospital, receives medals for it and lives for another forty years, he’ll have a granddaughter. And they’ll ‘play mice’ together.

I want to be there with him.

Be cold with him.

Be afraid with him.

But I can’t. He wouldn’t know to look for me there. It’s not where our story started. I envy the person who was special enough to take him the rest of the way. I mourn for the bits and pieces of him I never met. Never will meet. I mourn for the pieces that fell off of him along the way.

Somewhere in the snow.

Mackenzie Cox is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Riverside.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Featured image courtesy of: paraflyer 

 

cancer, Guest Posts, healing

A Doorway To Love.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88
By Lavinia Magliocco.

This is not a piece about victory over cancer.

This is not to talk about fighting. This is the way I found through a thorny path. With gratitude, I dedicate it to my teacher, Shambhavi Saraswati.

There’s always a test. A scan, biopsy, and of course, the waiting period, during which time you try to pretend you’re not waiting. You try not to think about it. Cancer’s scary for many reasons, one being that both disease and cure decimate the body. sometimes, it’s not certain which is more fatal.

It’s not that I haven’t thought of dying. Truth is, I can’t stop thinking about dying.Years ago, my innards were ravaged with inflammation while skin peeled off my legs like strips of old wallpaper – I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. I had to give up the one thing I loved. When the future held nothing but more illness, I thought: maybe I’ll just slit my wrists, lie down in a hot bath, and die. Even so, thinking and strategizing how I might go didn’t prepare me for this: death may come not by my choice. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, motherhood

My Mother’s Hands.

November 12, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black
By Denise Barry.

Growing up, I didn’t really look like anyone in my family.

Adults would study me and proclaim that I must have come from the Milk Man. When I was mad at my family, for whatever reason, I’d use this as a tool to feel sorry for myself, casting myself as the outsider.There was, however, no denying that I had my mother’s hands. My three sisters had long, beautiful fingers, like our father’s. I, on the other hand (literally), had my mother’s short, stubby fingers. Back then I refused to see the resemblance. I was afraid that if I looked like my mother, then I would act like her too. My mother was part traditional/part tyrannical. At least to my child’s eye. She cooked, she cleaned, she baked chocolate chip cookies. But buried deep in the pocket of her apron there was a sadness, an insecurity and a loneliness so extreme it manifested in many ways. She was easy to anger, hard to please and in need of a lot of attention.

As a little girl I was always trying to please her and be her favorite, even if it meant tattling on one of my sisters. I needed to be deemed the “good” daughter. As a teenager I rebelled. I wanted my mother to know how much she’d disappointed me. As an adult, I craved her time and attention: a lunch out, a day of shopping, a visit to my house for a coffee chat. But my mother flatly exclaimed she preferred to stay home.

Years after I was married, I was able to bury the need for my mother. I focused on my own family, pretending it was enough.

On the very day my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, everything within me changed. It wasn’t about me any more. I didn’t care how she had made me feel once upon a time. I only cared about how she felt, and how to get her through this.

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cancer, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: How Do I Knock Down The Walls Cancer Has Built Around Me?

November 9, 2014

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By Joules Evans.

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column. Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s question is answered by Joules Evans, author of Shaken, Not Stirred. A Chemo Cocktail.

Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Click here. Please address it as if you are speaking to a person rather than life or the universe. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!

 

Dear Life,

I’m 32 now – 30 & 31 were filled with having double mastectomy, painful reconstruction, chemo and radiation. I’m starting heal my mind, to get back into the swing of life and letting myself look at possibilities I haven’t in years – seizing the day, romantic possibilities.

I like a boy – it’s crazy, it’s been a long time. How do I knock these fucking walls down and start acknowledging I do deserve something great in my life. My body is literally what is left of a battlefield. I look at myself in the mirror and feel so broken and impossible to love. I worry so much I will open up to this guy I will be completely and utterly rejected.. and even more broken than I started out. Help.

Love & light,
BC Survivor

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cancer, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Love In The Time of Drought.

September 28, 2014

By Cheryl Klein.

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1. Sunday Story

A couple of weeks ago, I said to AK, “Can we talk about The Hospital List again?”

She said no. I’d just had minor surgery, and she felt like we needed to deal with that first. I felt like she was making excuses, blaming me and my difficult body. More about that in a minute.

This morning, one of the hottest this summer, we went for a hike in the foothills of Los Angeles. I was excited because most Sunday mornings, she goes hiking with her therapist buddies and leaves me behind. Today I had her undivided attention and I didn’t want to squander it, although I knew from past experience that Hospital List conversations were risky. She might prefer to discuss Attachment Theory with her colleagues than act out real early-childhood issues with me. Continue Reading…

cancer, Grief, Guest Posts

After My Sister Died I Became Holey.

September 25, 2014

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Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat Sep 17-24, 2016 by emailing barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

By Jessica Yaeger.

Hi! This is me, Jessica. I’m a rectangle. (So- I’m not talking body types here, but just random shapes for the sake of my illustration!)

 

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This is my amazing sister Vanessa. She was a triangle (& see the V?).

 

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This is a hole I have in me. I got it when Vanessa died of stage 4 (metastatic) breast cancer.

 

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cancer, Guest Posts, healing

Falling Hair.

September 25, 2014

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By Sue Lick.

Reddish-blond fur swirled in the air as we groomed the shedding dog. In a single stroke, the comb was filled with yellow fluff. I released the fur to the wind, watching it drift across the deck and the lawn.

Fred ran a nubby rubber glove across Sadie’s back, emptied the fur from the glove, and rubbed her again until the dog squirmed away. Tufts of the pale stuff stuck out around her hips and butt as she walked to the edge of the deck, stepped off and continued across the lawn. She raised her right back leg and peed, then trotted to the hole she had dug under the garden shed, pawing her way in until all that showed was her waving tail. Fur lay in soft puffs on the deck and the lawn. Strands clung to our clothes.

“That’s how Mom looked,” Fred said.

Our eyes met. Oh God. Unconsciously, I stroked my own thick dark hair, which I had just paid $25 to have professionally trimmed and thinned.

When I left for California three weeks earlier, curly white hair covered Helen Lick’s head like a cottony crown. While I was gone, she started chemotherapy. After just one treatment, her hair had started falling out in clumps. We had no idea it would happen so soon.

As we brushed the dog fur off our clothes, Fred told me what I had missed.

Yesterday, when he took his mother to Corvallis for more chemo, they stopped at a wig shop and purchased a head of synthetic hair. It looked like something you’d see on a model in the Sears catalog, gray and white, kind of windblown, he said. The $190 they spent included a wire wig rack, a bottle of wig shampoo and three turbans. The shop, Healing Hands, specialized in cancer patients. The proprietor, Jeanie something, oozed kindness.

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cancer, Guest Posts, Letting Go, motherhood

A Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Mother/Daughter Bond.

September 22, 2014

By Lockey Mitten Maisonneuve.

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As she lay in bed dying, Marlene told her daughter Kathy, she could see a door opening, beyond it she saw flowers everywhere, Marlene said “it was beautiful.” Kathy whispered “it sounds like you have a beautiful place to go with a lot of people who love you waiting for you, it’s okay to go.”

I had the privilege of participating in Marlene’s final days on this earth. I would go to her house and help her through guided meditations. She liked the full-body scan kind with white light covering her entire body. At the beginning of one of our first sessions, she was weeping and wouldn’t make eye contact with me. She just kept trying to hold it together. I finally said “if you are trying to not cry in front of me, it’s not working, just go with it.” She did. She allowed herself to cry as she settled in to meditate. I guided her through, she wept, I reminded her to breathe, she relaxed, I guided, she became soft.

After the meditation, she was a bit frantic about needing to write letters to her three adult children and her grand children. She was in too much discomfort to write, so I offered to write the words she spoke. As I wrote the words she needed to say to her children I understood how loved her children are. After we completed the letters, we sat quietly for a moment.

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cancer, death, Gratitude, Guest Posts

I Will Miss You Every Day of My Life.

September 18, 2014

By Kathleen Emmets.

Note from Jen Pastiloff: Kathleen showed up at my Kripalu Retreat a couple years ago and has since become a dear friend and a great source of inspiration for me. She is the one who created the Fuck It List, that I so often speak of. She sent me this and I knew I had to get it up on the site. Humbled.

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Dear Jen,

Thank you for the beautiful way you teach people to express themselves. I wrote this in the voice you helped me to find.

I love you.

I stand at her bedside, holding her frail, smooth hand. She can’t speak today and her eyes, for the most part, remain closed. “It’s better this way,” I think to myself. Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, cancer, courage, Free Stuff, Guest Posts

Cancer Is a Bitch. But Wait! There’s Good News Too.

August 21, 2014

Shaken Not Stirred: A Chemo Cocktail. A Comedy About My Tragedy. By Joules Evans. (hint: good news follows.)

Hi beloveds, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. There’s a lot going on here with us trying to get the new site launched (eek! Thanks Carla White) but…it is very important to me that I get this post up asap as my dear friend Joules Evans wrote it. I met Joules when she drove from Ohio to Massachusetts to attend my Kripalu retreat last February.  (Yes, I am doing it again and it’s filling up fast!) Anyway, we have become buds, and, truth be told, I am obsessed with her and her book Shaken Not Stirred.. A Chemo Cocktail. The kindle version is FREE TODAY and tomorrow to celebrate 6 years aka 2190 fucking awesome days since hearing that damn word. each and every one a GIFT. even the hard ones.<< Joules words. That is the good news. To celebrate she made her book free for two days. Please get it and take the time to read what is below. Have your mind blown. Seriously guys, her book is moving and funny and divine.  I love this woman to the end of the earth and back. This post is an excerpt of her book. Please get it. And get it for people. And spread the word. And fuck cancer!

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