Day-after-Tuesdays-at-the-chemo-unit: The Art of Waiting





Well, I think it’s time for me to discontinue Tuesdays at the chemo unit. I have had an epiphany! No longer will I spend my time at the chemo unit hunched over a keyboard, squinting at my phone or buried in a book. I have discovered the art of waiting!

Yesterday I decided that I would bring nothing with me – that is no book, no computer, no work, I even erased Scrabble off my  phone. All I allowed myself was a pen and notebook, so I could record any writing ideas I had. I found a quiet corner to nest in and I actively waited. I didn’t fall asleep this time, I simply waited. I looked around me, I relaxed, I listened in on conversations, I thought about my writing, sometimes I didn’t think about anything.  I just waited. And I discovered that in my very busy day, it was a treat to have a time carved out when I didn’t have to do anything, be anywhere or answer to anybody. I could just have a  private and quiet time. The bonus, by the way, was, again, an extremely good blood pressure reading.

I was actually a little sad when the buzzer surprised me out of my meditative mood to tell my it was my turn. Rather than be happy that I was called,  I felt reluctant to enter the world again and shoulder my responsibilities. I wanted to stay in that mellow space

I feel like I’ve discovered a big secret. Why did it take me 12 years to learn this?!! I want to tell everyone – their path to happiness in the waiting room is to…well… wait. I have seen the light!  We could all become waiting junkies. Eager to stay in waiting rooms the longest, courteous about letting others go before us. We might never want to go home or go back to work. “Please doctor, take your time with the patient before me – I would just like a little more waiting time”. Just imagine what a nice place the waiting room would be.

So next time you are stuck in the slowest line at the grocery store, look at it as an opportunity to wait and just see how good you feel.




Ultra Sounds Monday, April 30, 2012

I hope your week is starting off well. To give it a shake I offer you a poem by . Nigel is a “writer and artist with a strong interest in the relationships between media, culture, society and politics.”

Nigel says:

 I was driven to write it as my family have been affected by cancer on a number of occasions and I feel that there is little more tragic than cancer in the young.

This poem will stay with you. Do check out Nigel’s .




(She’s) Dancing With The Idiots (Tonight)

by Nigel Paul


She’s just nineteen and she’s got cancer and she’s the only one that knows,

She doesn’t want to tell anyone until she knows that the cancer grows,

And although the secret eats her, like the cancer eats her,

She’s dancing with the idiots tonight.

They say that ignorance is bliss, knowledge is a dangerous thing,

But when you’re forced to count and can only hope,

You see things for what they are,

So the show goes on, the boys flock round, stop and stare, pretend to care,

It means nothing to her now,

She sees things for what they are,

It’s not a game of  ’let’s pretend’, it’s clear thinking and self preservation,

It’s the sensible thing to do,

Carry on, put on the show and dance with the idiots tonight,

They say the truth will out, the story will be told,

And she will look into their eyes, searching for the genuine sympathy, the genuine empathy,

And the truth will out,

But until she is ready, until it’s time,

She’s dancing with the idiots tonight,

And we cry, a sadness by proxy, our personal release, our personal relief,

And we will cry,

So let us dance like only an idiot can dance,

Let’s dance as only idiots dance,

Let’s dance like idiots tonight.

The gold mine within

I belong to several online writing groups. Today I came across a treasure. The contributor, John Ngugi, wrote the following:

“…each person is like a gold mine that needs to be exploited. Since it is not possible for anybody else to come inside our mental faculties to mine the treasures, writing then becomes a vent through which the outside world can have a glimpse of what lies within each one of us.”

I just love this. To me it is a beautiful way of describing why we write and read.  When we can see a glimpse of the treasures in the mind of another, we can better develop our empathy and understanding of the different kinds of people around us.  Thus reading expands our world in many more ways than just giving us facts.

I believe the same could be said about art or any creative outlet, which is why I think the creative submissions to Ultra Sounds are important. They give us insights into other people’s ‘gold mines’ and help us understand the worlds of people  struggling with deep illness.

Enjoy your weekend!


Tuesdays from the chemo unit, April 17, 2012

Today is my long day at the chemo unit. Once a month I get an iron infusion which takes a few hours (watch out Popeye). Because I know it is my LONG day, my girl scout personality kicks in. I come prepared. As I walked over here, I did an inventory of everything I brought with me:

To do:

- my computer – with three running projects

- my book

- my iphone with email, scrabble, audiobooks and music

- my journal (but forgot the pen, dang)



To eat:

- some leftover pizza from last night

- a sandwich

- some leftover salad

- carrot sticks

- berries

- a pear

- some cookies

- some toasted almonds

- water and tea

(my appointment is at 9:30. At about 9:35 I’m wondering how soon I can break out the food)


Additional sundries:

- band aids

- hand cream

- lip balm

- spare bobby pins

- just about anything you might need (except a pen)


As I pop another almond in my mouth, I reflect on the other people in the unit.  Many of them walk in with nothing more than a wallet.  I’m in awe. Maybe it’s a zen kind of thing to be able to travel light, have few needs, and be able to sit for four hours with nothing to do. Maybe these folks are meditating. Maybe I am addicted to stimulation. Or maybe they just didn’t follow the motto “be prepared”.




Cancer and the art of storytelling

It seems to me that we are always reinventing ourselves through the process of storytelling. This process is even more heightened when dealing with crises like critical illness. Once we are past the state of shock, we assume an “attitude” about our illness whether we know it or not.

My husband met a woman the other day who has terminal cancer. Apparently when my husband expressed some sympathy, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Hey, I don’t have to worry about retirement savings. I’ve been travelling like crazy and having a good time”. She had decided that her story was not that of a victim, but of one who was going to enjoy every damn minute.

Some of the therapeutic writing programs for cancer patients use storytelling techniques. Storytelling gives people a chance to express how they feel and to choose how they tell their story. By choosing, they get to be an active agent in how others see them and how they see themselves.

I stumbled upon this video which includes interviews several young cancer survivors. They are on a sailing excursion run by a couple who specialize in a kind of storytelling therapy.

I believe the formal term for this kind of storytelling is Narrative Therapy. There is a whole body of study on this subject which looks in-depth and interesting.

The exciting part of this process for me is the power to choose the story – we don’t have to let it choose us. I believe that the therapeutic aspect of storytelling is the realization of the level of control we have over how we see and present our lives. There is no getting away from real pain, suffering and fear. And I don’t judge anyone’s “choices” – we all do the best we can.  But perhaps by writing our own stories, we don’t have to be passive victims. For me, I can decide to choose hope over despair; Humour over bitterness. I can choose to still “get down” like Viola Moriarty was portrayed in her daughter Anna’s cartoon a couple of weeks ago. It is a liberating feeling.

So here’s my storytelling story. Now I have not told this to very many people (so SHHHH).  Shortly after my diagnosis I was scheduled to have a stem cell transplant, a fairly serious procedure. My lovely in-laws had provided me with a stack of good books to take with me into the hospital and they included the first two Harry Potter books (this was 12 years ago). As I read about the boy wizard I decided that I could look at myself as if I was Harry Potter. I was targeted for some quest, by evil lord Amyloidosis. While the quest challenged me, I could be brave like Harry.

When I saw my illness in the light of a quest, somehow it made things easier.  There were moments where I felt like ripping out my IV and throwing on my superhero cape – at least until the nausea set in.  I actually tried to write a children’s story about a lazy pig who was called to a quest (he didn’t ask for the quest, the quest asked for him -ooooooo, deep). So there you have my deep dark secret that I only had told two people about.

Now it’s your turn. C’mon, pony up. What’s your story?