Reflections From Europe – Part I

I wrote this post on the train yesterday.  I should have been back home today but after spending nearly 12 hours at the Milan airport my flight was canceled and now I’m spending another night at an airport hotel.  Sigh… Fingers crossed our flight tomorrow goes off without a hitch.  Despite the insanity I never got stressed or anxious.  I just went with the flow.  And I’m crediting all the calming meditation and prayer I did this week for keeping me sane.  It’s a beautiful thing.  And tomorrow is a new day!

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The view from the train to Milan.

My last day in Europe, and I’m spending it on a 7 hour train ride from Foggia to Milan.  At least the scenery is beautiful – the charming little towns with the sea stretching out on one side and rolling hills and farms on the other.  Even though I’m not out there exploring I still get a glimpse of Italian life.

My spiritual journey through Portugal and Italy was just what the doctor ordered.  I am leaving with a renewed sense of strength.  An increased sense of inner peace.  A quieter mind.  A lot less fear.  And many steps closer to surrendering control and trusting the Universe.

The journey has also opened me up to the Christian faith.  Most of my life I’ve had an aversion to the word “God”.  My parents were raised in catholic families, went to catholic schools, attended mass regularly (heck, my dad even entered the seminary for a brief period in his teens).  But they grew into adults who openly detested the catholic church and as their child, their dislike somehow became a part of me.  So even though my mom was an extremely spiritual person (and even an ordained Soto Zen Buddhist monk) the word “God” was never used in our house and organized Christianity was shunned.  I was never baptized.  We never went to church.  Our spirituality involved walking in the forest or sitting by the ocean in silence.

On this trip I found myself admiring the conviction of the faithful Catholic folks around me.  Their deep sense of devotion.  Their ability to trust in God and surrender.  Now I find myself using the word “God” for the first time in my life and being ok with it.  I also feel compelled to find a church when I get back home and start going every week with Hubby and Miss M.

The healing energy I felt at Fatima, Padre Pio’s church, and the grotto of Saint Michael the Archangel was undeniable.  I spent hours in prayer and meditation…  on my knees shedding endless tears…  asking for guidance…  releasing my sadness, fear, worries, and attachments…  basking in the silence…  soaking up the beautiful energy of unconditional love.

While a part of me had hoped for spontaneous healing.  A miracle of some sort.  An apparition.  Or divine intervention….  It hasn’t happened – yet.  But I did experience many smaller acts of God.

Just this morning I was waiting for the bus from San Giovanni Rotundo to Foggia where I was scheduled to catch the 10:30am train to Milan, and the bus driver told me no, there was no 9am bus today to Foggia.  The next bus wasn’t until 1pm because apparently today is a special holiday and the buses run on a different schedule.  Oh ok.  I’m screwed.  But before I had time to get stressed a young lady started talking to me (luckily she spoke some English) and before I knew it she was calling her brother to come pick us up and drive us into Foggia.  Thank you Universe!  I made my train with time to spare!  I tried to slip them some cash but they wouldn’t take it.  Turns out her father is in Padre Pio’s hospital in a coma.  She, her brother, and mother all take turns traveling from another town where the live to visit with him.  I told her about my cancer and my spiritual pilgrimage.  We promised to pray for each other.  What a beautiful gift.

My whole trip was like that.  Full of gifts.  And kindness.  And beauty.

One of the biggest gifts was the lack of pain I’ve had this week.  Aside from the first day I arrived in Lisbon, when I was seriously jet-lagged, I haven’t had to take any pain meds.  Nothing.  I’ve felt pretty damn good.  This, despite the fact that the cancer doesn’t seem to be shrinking any, the hair on my head is falling out by the fistful, and the swelling in my arm is still pretty bad.  And despite the fact that I’ve totally ditched my healthy diet and had plenty of pasta, sweets, and wine.  Also very interesting, is that any pain or discomfort I did have disappeared entirely when I was at a religious site praying or meditating.

As I prepare to head home I hope to continue to nurture my newfound sense of spirit and faith.  That’s always the real challenge, right?  Maintaining serenity back in the “real world”.

I have some serious decisions to make about my treatment.  One thing I do know is that I’ll be requesting a biopsy when I get back.  In a dream I had this week I received the message that the cancer is different this time.  So I want to get it tested.  Then armed with biopsy results and the next set of scans I plan to seek a second (and probably third) opinion about my options.  One of those opinions will likely be Dr. K back in Ohio.  So all you Ohio folks prepare yourself for a visit from me and Miss M sometime in the new year!!!

There is so much more to tell about my time here in Europe.  Guess I’ll have to spread it out over a few blog posts.  Will do specific posts about my time at each site and each town.

In the meantime I’m excited to go home.  To hold my daughter and listen to her sweet voice.  To cuddle and make out with my husband.  To eat a great big salad!!

As I set off on this journey I thought, “Who does this?  Going on a solo international trip to 4 cities in 2 different countries in the middle of chemo treatment?”  Oh yeah, that would be me!  By doing this I feel I have reclaimed a piece of who I am – the nonconformist, the warrior, the adventure seeker.  I see just how strong I am.  And every time the cancer tries to push me back down I will remember this trip and fight on.

I am still a graceful woman warrior!

Love and blessings to all,  – T

Outside the Belem castle in Lisbon

Outside the Belem castle in Lisbon

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Offering a candle for blessings at the Padre Pio statue.

The stunning tile mosaics at Padre Pio's new church.

The stunning tile mosaics at Padre Pio’s new church.

Watch Out Europe – Here I Come!

Packing my suitcase!

Packing my suitcase!

It’s official.  I’m going to Europe!!   Woohoo!

Got the green light from my oncologist yesterday but didn’t make the final decision until I got into the chemo chair for treatment #4 on Thursday and happened to sit beside a lovely lady named Vivian.  Turns out Vivian’s family just happens to be from the town of San Giovonni Rotundo in Italy where Padre Pio’s shrine is.  Padre Pio is the reason for my whole trip.  Vivian’s family personally knew Padre Pio and used to regularly bring fruit from their trees to keep the friars nourished.  The moment I heard Vivian’s story I knew it was the Universe telling me to take this trip.  Do it now.  Don’t wait.  So I’m going.  I leave tomorrow!  And i’m over-the-moon thrilled!

My itinerary includes a few days in Lisbon, a visit to Our Lady of Fatima, a stop-over in Rome, some serious time with Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotundo, and a final pit-stop in Venice.  The challenge will be to honour my body, rest when I need to, and go with the flow instead of pushing myself to see and do it all.

On another positive note, I think I’m finally starting to feel better again.  Pulling myself out of the depressive funk.  It helps that the pain has been more manageable.  And I’m back to exercising again (low-key walks instead of running though).  I’m also starting to eat healthier.  My head space is clearing.  My confidence and inner strength seem to be returning.

Plus grandpa has arrived!!!  And he’ll be here for the next 6 weeks.  Hooray!  Having my dad here is a gift.  Just watching the joy in Miss M’s face as they play rhyming games and tell each other stories totally warms my heart.  Miss M loves her grandpa.  And I couldn’t go on this trip without his help.  Thanks dad!

All of this good news despite the fact that my tumor markers don’t seem to be getting much better.  We’re four weeks into chemo and already talking about changing up the drugs or adding new ones in.  My oncologist and I specifically talked about Perjeta (aka: pertuzumab) and Lapatinib.  I’ve gotta do more research before I decide.  Plus, I had an MRI done this week and the results came back with two tiny suspicious spots on my prefrontal cortex that are not confirmed to be cancer but definitely something we want to keep our eyes on in the future.  Oh joy!

Much to think about…  Thank god I have an 8-day solo spiritual journey ahead of me to contemplate what’s next.

In addition to the ‘standard’ treatment, I’m also consulting with an oriental medicine professional that my acupuncturist referred me to.  He’s based in Hawaii and specializes in integrative oncology that blends both conventional and natural/chinese medicine.  Right up my ally.  I’m curious to see what his recommendations will be.  And I have an appointment with a physical therapist when I get back to start dealing with the lymphadema.

Otherwise I continue to go to reiki, take my supplements, drink my green juice, make time to meditate, and see my acupuncturist two times a week.  I am always fascinated by my acupuncture sessions and the inherent wisdom that is contained in our bodies.  This week’s pain in the back of my shoulder corresponded with the acupuncture point for guilt in relationships (as I struggle with my guilty feelings about leaving Miss M for 8 whole days).  Plus, all my tumors and aches and pains keep appearing on the same chinese meridian – the large intestine.  And the main focus of that meridian is to surrender.  Which has been one of the most difficult things for me lately.  Fasciniating!

I realized last night just how much i’ve been operating from a place of fear lately.  I guess it’s hard not to when your body provides a painful reminder each day of your own mortality.  And even harder still when those around you are drowning in fear and leaking their fearful energy all over you.  But it’s gotta stop.  I gotta surrender this fear.  Give it to God.  Reclaim my faith.  Trust that the Universe has a splendid and beautiful plan for me.  For all of us.

While I recognize the need to visit the dark places of life.  I also realize that staying there is not where I want to be.  Once again, I thank all of you for your tough love, your supportive and insightful comments, and wisdom…  The reality checks…  The reminders not to be so tough on myself…  To let go of trying to be so perfect…  To not beat myself up over the emotional eating…  You guys are some seriously insightful and caring folks!!  And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

On Friday I met with my fantastic naturopath (and was accompanied by Auntie L who loved her just as much as I do!).  She is thrilled for my upcoming trip to Europe.  At the end of our session she reminded me to stay open on my journey.  To be aware.  To be fully present to all that is around me.  I am asking the Universe for guidance so I better be ready to receive it.  And to recognize that the answers and lessons may appear in unexpected packages.

All my prayers lately have been the same…  Show me the next step on my path…  Help my ‘family’ heal.  I can no longer live in fear.  It is not a fun place to be.  Just gotta keep focusing on the present moment.  Appreciating the beauty around me…  My daughter’s giggle as grandpa tells her funny stories…  The setting sun…   The smell of the ocean…  Watching the local holiday light parade…  The moments when my body is not in pain…  The thrill of traveling to new places.

Watch out Europe.  Here I come!

Storytime with grandpa

Storytime with grandpa

Walk on the beach with Aura

Walk on the beach with Aura