Do you remember the late ’70s/early ’80s Heinz Ketchup commercial with Carly Simon belting, “Anticipation, anticipay-ay-tion … It’s making me wait?”
Well, as most of the world sleeps, many cancer patients anticipating chemotherapy lie awake. They become nocturnal. In my case, random songs rolled through my brain. Up waiting. Again. And I only wished it was for ketchup.
Before and during cancer treatments, I consulted a renowned Chinese medicine doctor who dedicated much of his 30-year practice to acupuncture and alternative therapies for people living with cancer. In no way, shape, or form did he dissuade me from Western medicine whatsoever — quite the contrary. When I first met with him, he noted that he believed strongly in chemotherapy and radiation treatments. What he would provide with herbs, supplements, and acupuncture was a way for my body to “harmonize with the internal civil war I was about to embark upon.”
The doctor was thoroughly knowledgeable about all the types of chemotherapies — including the cocktail I was about to have pierced into my veins. He listened and took his time with a kind, compassionate ear and assured me that with his assistance, I could be less symptomatic during treatment.
In the end, he was right. I never lost my hair (also due to targeted therapy). I kept my weight on, and I never knelt heaving over the toilet like in the after-school, made-for-TV movies.
After my visits, the doctor provided me with a detailed timeline and schedule that would become my “Cancer Bible.” In fact, I still use it today when coaching cancer patients through their rounds of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is cumulative in the body’s system, and I was provided with a detailed breakdown of what to expect while I was waiting for the chemo to kick in — phase by phase. Anticipation …
Here's the blurb the doctor gave me about the first four days post-chemo:
“The essential effort on these four days is to enhance your circulation through your body. Chemotherapy drugs are dependent upon your blood circulation to carry it throughout your body. It is in this way that it will encounter cancer cells; if there are areas of your body that, for whatever reason, have poorer or less-than-optimal circulation, then these areas will be somewhat underserved by the chemotherapy. For example, areas of your body where there have been previous surgeries, scar tissue, or other injuries are all places where blood circulation may be inhibited. In addition, areas of your body that hold tension (lower back and neck, for example) are also areas where circulation may be especially poor. The goal in Part I, then, is to promote circulation with gentle walking.“
So, I walked in the park that week. Gently. I tried to define for myself what “gentle” meant. I took what I considered “gentle” and then toned it down by about a million. I walked to the very familiar park that’s two blocks away. I sat on a bench, listened to some Daniel Barenboim (because my usual Ella Fitzgerald scatting was too stressful), drank water, then gently walked again.
Then I walked across the park, sat again, did my daily meditation, and when I opened my eyes, I saw things differently than when I began. The man next to me had a cat. On a leash. He was there previously; I just hadn't noticed. He and his cat both had red hair. The house across the street had a hand-painted sign in the window that said, “Love Love.” How had I not seen that before? I’d walked by that ragged, hoarder-looking house a million times and the sun-faded poster had clearly been there for years.
There are signs everywhere when we take the time to step back, be “gentle,” and see them. The lesson here for any of us may best be summed up by a quote from my sister's favorite ’80s movie character, Ferris Bueller: “If you don’t stop and take a look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
“Love, love.” That sign was clear. The ginger man and his leashed ginger cat? Up to interpretation.
Do yourself a favor, do me a favor — take a gentle walk in a familiar place. Slow it down by a million. Make your pace drive you kind of nuts in the beginning, but stay slow and steady. See what you see. See how people look at you. See how you look at people. Be gentle. And then wait for the signs. You may even find you suddenly have a craving for some ketchup.
“Anticipation. Antici-pay-ay-tion … It’s making me wait …”
MyLungCancerTeam columnists discuss lung cancer from a specific point of view. Columnists’ articles don’t reflect the opinions of MyLungCancerTeam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. MyLungCancerTeam content isn’t intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.