Saturday, 28 February 2015

Feliz sábado amig@s.

Feliz sábado amig@s.  It's Día de Andalucía !
It’s been another amazing day.

It's been a  cake, chat, and choto day.  What's a choto?  A choto is a baby goat in Spanish. 

At the end of each day, well almost every day,  I like to remember one outstanding thing that has touched my heart, and use it as a  spring board, a mantra for the next day. 

A few days ago the trigger was  hearing the Jesuit intention to 'be alive to the present.'

To be fully alive to the present moment takes me from auto pilot, to following the inner compass, to being drawn by my star.  Challenging, 'cos it's so easy to forget good intentions, especially when  bad news  get stuck to every cell in your being.

So, today it’s been a day about delicious cakes, very sad news, baby goats, and more. All of these have rocked the inner GPS.  Which one  will make tomorrows good intention/ mantra?

After the sun has set, any rogue, lingering negative thoughts need to get zapped.  They will  be  compassionately encouraged to leave, before the bedside light goes out.

How do I do this?  I don’t.  I ask (The Universe) for it to be done for me, in a way that will change my body's chemistry.  I don't want to end any day feeling spooked.

So, this morning, Dia de Andalucía, it's a public holiday. It's a lovely warm sunny day. I viewed a possible new place to stay, and then waded though many raw emotions as a result of listening to an acquaintances sad story. Hearing about other peoples very bad cancer news is traumatic. 

Maybe that’s why I then easily ate 3 pieces of delicious cake- sticky toffee - bread pudding cake, and a piece of shortbread at the fund raising coffee morning in the beautiful posada ( originally a staging inn) in Orgiva.

All  the goodies were sugar laden  and of course utterly delicious.  The company was great, the cause very worthwhile, but by 4pm I was feeling yuk!

So, I drove to the Rico Sucio (passed bar Venta Maria) and began to walk up the track.  I’d never walked there before.

Almost immediately I came across a  herd of goats, and almost immediately, for a few minutes,  I became  part of a little drama.  A mother goat had just given birth to three babies and was trying to birth a fourth.  One of her new borns sat shivering on the grass.  He was the  first born the goatherd told me later, so he’s tonto (stupid) he said.  
The other two were  trying to stand up, and comically falling all over the place.  The  30 something year old goatherd  was on his mobile phone, ignoring the birthing drama.

I watched in awe. Many conflicting feelings shot though my heart. Knowing nothing about the birthing of chotos, I decided to continue walking.  Maybe it’s all normal I thought, the fourth kid hanging out of it’s mother rear end, in its amniotic sack,  black, motionless and dead looking.   Is the goat heard just giving her time?

When I retuned 15 minutes later, yes I know, a very short  walk, a grandmother, her son and a grandson approached the new borns.  The grandmother was beaming, radiating pure  delight as she explained to her  6 year old grandson the miracle of the chotos births. The fourth  baby goat was nowhere to be seen.

Witnessing the new life and the joy on the grandmother face changed my body’s chemistry.  I got  exactly what I needed.  My  deep sadness  re the friends  cancer news was zapped, and my day slipped into a new perspective.  I drove off in my car with joy and awe waltzing  in every cell of my being.

So, I'm choosing to remember the alegria of today, and give the tragedy to The Gods, to the angels, and all our unseen helpers. These are the best hands to hold anybody's cancer.

Buenas noches queridos amigos.

May your sleep be as sweet as an angles kiss.

Tomorrows mantra ?

Let go and Let God.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Javi and San Cecilio

I’m learning a lot about Grace, and Kindness.
This morning at 6.30am, we left my house and arrived an hour later at San Cecilio hospital in Granada. I thought I was going for an X-ray for a throat condition, but it turned out to be a bit of an endurance test, with some  moments of pure pantomime, and unexpected  joy.
First was the blood test in the hospital basement at 8am, well, 8.30 actually. We  waited an hour.

The Spanish have a strong sense of right and  wrong when it comes to queueing, and if somebody jumps the  queue, as a woman did, they don’t actually challenge them, but they don’t like it. 
This little bit of questionable  behaviour  brought  about an instant unity, black humour, and the most  wonderful range of facial gestures amongst those of  us waiting.  People showed their true colours. Eyebrows shot up and down. 
Javier and I are about number 10 in the queue.  Javi is Merche’s husband. There must have been  at least 50 people behind us.

Our queue jumper calls the secretary an idiot.  We’ve all got our personal problems Javi   quietly comments as the culprit slinks  away, teeth gritted.  Then the accused secretary , unfussed, starts giving out our numbers, and things get speeded up. It’s a bit like waiting for the sales to open after Christmas.

I am tired, and little overwhelmed to be in the big city of Granada at 8.30 in the morning, with an unknown agenda about to unfold.

The young nurse cannot find a vein willing to part with Irish  blood.  She looks  upset.  I squeal and  grimace while she twists the needle.  Unexpectedly, Javi puts a hand on my shoulder and I feel a blast of pure kindness  entering by whole body.  It’s like the sun just came out in the basement of the hospital. The young nurse gives up and says her boss will do the job. She does.

Then we walk into the unknown. Javi, while we  were waiting for the blood test, has scoured  the basement of the hospital for where  we need to go next.  I have not been given clear instructions, they were relayed over the phone to Merche.  Something about 2 doors away from the chapel… wait there by the second  door. The basement of San Cecilo is a labyrinth.

I’ve missed my slot, but at 10 my name gets called and I enter an inner world of oncology x-rays. 

I’m momentarily freaked to find myself in this department.  Surely my throat thing  doesn’t have anything to do with cancer? I’ve had a thyroid problem for years.
The nurse injects something into my arm and tells me to wait 15 mins. She finds a vein easily.

15 minutes later I’m ushered into a room with a terrifying machine right in front of me.  It’s has a  tunnel and a huge iron square thing suspended from the ceiling.  The  iron square thing is going to be brought  down over my face, about half an inch above my nose by the sound of it.

Are you claustrophobic the young guy asks sweetly?

OH JESUS MARY MOTHER OF GOD am I claustrophobic???  YES !

How long will this take I ask.  About 15 minutes he adds.

OH NO! I say.  Well  then, 10 minutes  he offers.

Just  close your eyes  he says, and I  don’t hear what he’s saying about keeping  still and screaming.

I congratulate myself when it’s over for not freaking or screaming or falling off the table or swearing, or making a scene,  some of which I considered.

I closed my eyes, asked angels and unseen helpers to come in droves, and starting silently  chanting On Nevah Shiva, at least 1000 times. The time went  quite  quickly actually.

Then there was another hours wait for the doctor to come and look at the results. 

While this was all happening Javier was having experiences in the corridor . A  man just died he said and was wheeled past in a black bag.   He made friends with an elderly couple, one of them with cancer, who wished him a very fond goodbye.  Lots of life and death was happening outside the x-ray department.

We stop at a café  a few miles from Granada. Let me treat you I ask Javi.  He orders a bocadillo. It is the most wonderful bocadillo I have ever seen anywhere.  Huge, crusty,  filled with lomo and cheese, Javi grins the grim of a man with a hungry belly.

I order a media tostada  con queso.  It’s not on the healthy eating list, and I have 2   decaf coffees. Heaven.   Bliss and Joy.  On TV, Senor Rajoy is addressing the Spanish Parliament. The politicians  clap him.  How interesting.  He’s talking about not lowering pensions. The Spanish care deeply for their grandparents. The camera catches a young female official  playing on her iphone.

Everything is so poignant.  We all have our problems Javi had said.  The  black clad waiters in the café are seriously serious.  Rajoy talks with a deep well of energy. The  restaurants cook is multi-tasking, it’s almost lunch time.

We are now finished with our hospital challenge . We are fed. The sun is shining, the sky is blue. The drive home beside the Sierra Nevada mountains is astonishingly beautiful. 

My soul  is being filled and flooded  with exquisite moments as we sail past vistas so beautiful I want this journey to go on for days.

I think these moments are called Grace, and I know in my heart, all will be well.
Thank you Javi.

Cat and girl drawing by Saul Steinberg

¿Puedo hacer esto yo sola?

Hoy, por primera vez, iré yo sola a Motril para la quimioterapia. Merche no puede acompañarme porque tiene compromisos familiares. ¿Puedo hacer esto yo sola? ¡Sí puedo!
6.30h. Suena la alarma.
A las 7h conduzco hacia Motril envuelta en una completa oscuridad, ráfagas de lluvia, truenos y relámpagos espectaculares. Tengo el corazón en la boca cuando el coche de atrás decide prácticamente engancharse al parachoques. Imagínate una carretera con muchas curvas, esculpida en la ladera de una montaña, normalmente vacía durante kilómetros.  Hay un precipicio enorme a mi derecha, por el lado en el que estoy conduciendo, y un coche pegado a un metro detrás de mí durante todo el camino.
8.05h. Soy la primera en llegar al hospital de Día. Vuelven a hacerme el análisis de sangre para ver si mi sangre es capaz de aguantar la quimioterapia, la semana pasada no lo era. Me dicen que el análisis de sangre de ayer en Órgiva fue un desastre.
A las 9.30h gritan mi nombre. Unos minutos más tarde llega la jefa de enfermeras, Reyes, y me engancha a la máquina. Dime si algo te duele-siempre me dice. Reyes tiene masas de pelo negro rizado perfectamente fijado e  inmóvil por la laca. Cuando ella me mira a los ojos puedo ver un océano de bondad.
Bendigo los fármacos cuando entran en mi cuerpo, y les pido que solo me hagan bien. No he padecido prácticamente ningún efecto secundario durante el tratamiento, así que esta plegaria se ha convertido en parte de mi ritual de quimio.
Ya que la semana pasado no fui, todos los compañeros son nuevos, y todos son hombres. Parece que todos están en muy mala forma.

Uno tiene cicatrices por toda su cara y pesa no más de 45 kg. Otro esta estirado sobre una cama, detrás de una cortina.
Echo de menos a Encarni, mi amiga que siempre se sienta delante de mí. Hoy no ha venido. Tiene unos 55 años y es costurera. Sonríe mucho y viste con sumo cuidado y estilo. Su reluciente cabello gris oscuro es extremadamente corto. Siempre le digo lo guapa que está.
Después de Navidades Encarni no sonreía tanto. Parecía terriblemente enferma. En algún sitio leí que la quimio solo funciona para el 50% de la gente. Por favor deja que ella sea una de las supervivientes-sigo rezando. He sentido tanto amor hacia ella y tanta tristeza por verla tan enferma. Dos semanas después estaba sonriendo otra vez.
11h. Llega Jaime. Él es el voluntario de los bocadillos, y siempre esta bromeando. Hoy no bromea. Jaime va directo hacia el hombre que está estirado en la cama tras la cortina. Abandona su carrito lleno de bocadillos de jamón, zumos de frutos, yogures, pañuelos de papel y galletes sin azúcar, y se queda largo tiempo junto a este hombre joven. Después intercambia algunas frases de ánimo con otros tres chicos enganchados a sus máquinas de quimio.
La lluvia sigue azotando sin descanso. Desde mi silla normalmente puedo ver el Puerto de Motril y el mar. Hoy todo es neblina gris.
¿Cómo estás hoy?-me pregunta Jaime sonriendo. Él tiene unos 70 años.

Muy bien- digo, y lo siento así, aunque estoy temblando un poco después de haber conducido hasta aquí. Seguro que pronto me sentiré mejor.
Le pido un bocadillo y casi no me puedo creer lo vorazmente que lo devoro. No está en la lista de los más saludables, pero hoy no me importa!
12 mediodía.  El cura tímido, pequeño y de mediana edad llega y me pongo a pensar en la oración que le voy a pedir.
La última vez que se lo pedí  puso sus manos sobre mi cabeza y fui transportada a otra dimensión!
Siento como mi alma se eleva.
Como siempre corre de una silla a otra, saludando y preguntándonos cómo estamos. Echa un vistazo  a hurtadillas detrás de la cortina. De repente está  a medio metro de mí y pierdo los nervios. Me sonríe dulcemente, pero mi voz se congela y él y mi oración se desvanecen en un instante.
Sobre la 1 pm. Encarni está de pie enfrente de mí vistiendo un traje de rayas blancas y negras. Está radiante. Estoy tan feliz de verla que no oigo nada de lo que está diciendo. No sé por qué está aquí hoy, pero recibo sus múltiples besos en cada mejilla y me siento verdaderamente bendecida. Estoy tan feliz de verte-me dice ella. Igualmente-digo.
El viaje de vuelta es más fácil. La nieve cubre Sierra Nevada y las montañas se ven preciosas. La neblina juguetea con el paisaje. La lluvia es más ligera. Mi leal coche de 19 años sigue rodando sobre el asfalto. Ningún coche quiere pegarse a mi parachoques. Uff.
Una nueva amiga me ha invitado a comer tortitas esta tarde. Es Martes Graso. Vente y únete a mi familia-me dice.
Acepto encantada la invitación porque vive justo al lado, y porque ha recorrido el camino de la quimioterapia y ahora tiene una nueva vida. Esto me inspira más allá de las palabras y hace que mi corazón cante. 
“Debes saber que todo está en perfecto orden, lo comprendas o no.”
― Valery Satterwhite

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Amazing Grace

Today, I'm going for my first chemo session on my own . The day will start with a 45 minute drive from the mountains to the coast, here in 
Andalucía, Spain.  This land has been my home for the last 18 years. Today will be chemo  session number 6!

Merche, my faithful young Spanish friend who has been me from the start of  this journey, driving me, then sitting beside me at every session (every 15 days), is out of action because of family commitments.

Can do this alone now? Yes of course I can. Si puedo!

Hmmm.  Let’s see.

6.30am the alarm goes.

At 7am I drive to Motril in pitch darkness, lashing rain, thunder and spectacular lightening. My heart is in my mouth as the  car behind me decides to practically attach itself to my bumper.

Picture a very bendy road cut into sheer mountainside, mostly with no passing  for many kms, and huge drop on the right hand side, the side I’m driving on.

8.05am. I’m the first to arrive at  the day hospital. They redo the blood test to see if my body is capable of having the chemo, last week it wasn’t.   Yesterday’s blood test in Orgiva was a botch they tell me.

At 9.30 I hear my name shouted.   Minutes later the head nurse Reyes arrives and hooks me up to the machine. She handles the machine with great skill and patience. Tell me if anything hurts she always says.  Reyes has masses of curly black hair, always perfectly lacquered . When our eyes meet,  I find myself sinking into an ancient well of kindness.

I bless the drugs and ask them to do me only good. This prayer is part of my chemo ritual. I’ve had practically no side effects  at all, except for one amazing one.  There is cortisone in the drug cocktail, so for 10 days my legs feel brand new, and the arthritis disappears.

Because I didn’t come last week, this week’s companions are all new, and  they are all men.   It seems each one is in bad shape.

One has scars all over his face and weighs about 5 stone.

I missing Spanish Encarni, my friend who always sits opposite me . A seamstress, aged about 55, she smiles and talks a lot.  She dresses her size 20 body with great care and tremendous flair. Her gleaming dark grey hair is extremely short . 
It’s 'growing back in,' Merche commented one day.

I've lost lots of my hair , but not all, and that's stopped now.   So I have a deep  new appreciation of how other people treat their hair.
Encarni  and I  exchange lots of smiles throughout the morning.
I always tell her how guapa ( gorgeous) she looks . She beams more.

After Christmas  she  wasn’t smiling.  She looked terribly ill.  Chemo does not work for everybody.   Please let her  be  a suvivor, I kept praying. I felt such love  for her and such sadness she was so unwell. I have no pain and practically no side effects at all. Two weeks later she was smiling again.

11am. Jaime the volunteer sandwich man who is always joking, arrived.  He wasn’t joking today. One of ‘our’ men was lying on a bed behind a curtain having  his chemo. Jaime be-lined for him  abandoning his trolley with ham bocadillos ( fat white rolls) fruit juices, yogurts, paper napkins and sugar free biscuits. He then exchanged some encouraging words with 3 guys, each one sitting on a  blue chair, looking sad.

The rain was still lashing down. 

How are you today he asked me smiling.  Jaime’s about 70. I want to ask him why he has chosen to volunteer in the chemo day ward, but I never get the chance.

Muy bien I say, and mean it, though I’m a tad wrecked after the white knuckle ride here! This soon will pass, I'm sure.

I ask him for a fat white roll and can’t believe how ravenously I devour it.  It is not on the healthy eating list, and part of me definitely doesn’t care, today.

12 noon.  The shy, small, middle aged priest arrives and I think about the blessing I will ask him for. 

I feel my spirit  rise. I remember his last blessing.  He put his hands on my head,  and I was immediately transported  into another dimension.

As usual he speed walks from chair to chair saying hello /how are you.  He gives a fleeting peep behind the curtain.  Then he’s 3 feet away from  me, and I lose my nerve.
He smiles sweetly, but my voice gets frozen, and he  and my blessing vanish into thin air, fast.

The hours are slipping  by.  I dip in and out of The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. It’s  a fascinating autobiography set in Scotland and Canada.  A certain James Hogg features.  A certain James Hogg was my first  real love when I was 4 years old. Our paths crossed in kindergarten in Edinburgh.  I’d been  adopted from Ireland and was now living in Edinburgh.  James and I were inseparable.    Maybe it was he who taught me to smile, all those years ago?

So love synchronicity.  So love signs, signals, and messengers in whatever guise.
Today’s message/ reminder is definitely  all about recognising love, enjoying it, allowing it in new ways to awaken parts of me which may have been  hibernating way too long. 

And I'm learning how to be compassionate towards myself and others, without falling into dread. I'm learning about amazing grace.

1pm -ish.  Encarni is standing in front of me in a striking black and white outfit. She’s beaming. I’m so delighted to see her I can’t hear what she’s saying.  I don’t know why she’s here today, but I receive her multiple kisses on each check and feel truly blessed. I’m so happy to see you she says. 
Igualmente, I say (I am too).  

Could she have come just to see if I was here??

The drive home is easier. The snow covered  Sierra Nevada mountains are awesome.  The mist is playing with the landscape. The rain is lighter. My faithful 19 year old car trundles on. Nobody wants to hook themselves onto my bumper. Phew.

A lovely new friend asks me to come and eat pancakes this evening. It’s  Shrove Tuesday.

I will, because she lives next door.  And because  she has walked the chemo path , and now has a brand new life, which inspires me beyond words.

“Know that everything is in perfect order whether you understand it or not.”
― Valery Satterwhite