Cancer as Cure?

Many times I’ve wondered why I got bladder cancer (I was diagnosed March 4, 2019 and am currently cancer free after many surgeries and treatments.) Maybe my smoking for almost fifteen years, ages twelve – twenty-six, caused it, plus ingesting my dad’s constant pipe and cigar smoke for the eighteen years I lived with our family. Maybe the pollution in the environment. Maybe the fillings in my mouth, leaking mercury and other toxic metals into my system. Maybe chronic inflammation that resulted from infant surgery without anesthesia or adequate pain control. I’ll never really know.

What I do know is that cancer cured my ambivalence about life—about whether I want to live and appreciate being alive. Cancer forced me to want to live so badly that I’d do just about anything. What had to go was the attitude I’d adopted as a result of my early pyloric stenosis surgery at twenty-six days old: ambivalence.

I’ve written numerous blog posts about how that surgery impacted my life, which you can click on and read. One of the major impacts was that I had undiagnosed PTSD for most of my life, causing instability and distress. So while the surgery saved my life, at what cost? I have always felt ambivalent about having been saved.

So many burdens from the early surgery weighed heavily: the financial strain on my parents; the emotional toll my near death caused them; my brother’s anger at being neglected during my health crisis; a deep distrust and fear of my body; the grief over the abrupt separation from my mother and attachment problems that resulted; a large scar on my belly that made me feel ugly, unlovable, and alone in the world. I rarely, if ever, felt grateful that I had been saved.

My parents and doctors were, of course, thrilled I made it; however, my parents were so stressed and traumatized by almost losing me and by struggling to help me recover that they’d neglected to communicate much of the good fortune and gratitude part. I felt their stress more than their happiness.

So along comes cancer, saying, You want to live? Well…….., I began to answer. Cancer interrupts: Oh no, that’s not good enough. Uh uh. If you are going to beat me, you have to be all in—gratitude, trust, a new way to relate to your body: Not fear but friendliness. Learning from your body and listening to it.

Cancer came as a message: You, Wendy, can no longer afford the luxury of feeling ambivalent about living. No. You’ve got to flat out love your body and love the life you’ve been given. No buts, maybes, ifs, sort ofs, sometimes. Your goal is to learn to love this life.

No one in her right mind asks for cancer. But cancer cured me of any ambivalence I’ve held since those early days. It cured me of hesitation, and self-doubt. Indecision. Yes and no. Maybe. This change did not happen overnight. It took time. Through affirmations and Healing Touch bodywork, I began to change. My meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh helped, too. And while I am not always in the I-want-to-live zone, I am much of the time. I’ve learned to make my mind up about it and notice when I slip into ambivalence. Then I simply flip the switch on my attitude. And that is a very good thing. Because I want to beat cancer and keep on living.

I have a history of taking pride in being a disbeliever, a naysayer, a sarcastic person who was always looking for the underbelly of things—the gimmick or unfairness in life or the fact that things don’t always work out. But now that I’ve been given a second chance through my treatment at UCSF Medical Center, I’m taking it. I’m convinced that I have a right to be. I’m convinced that my life was worth saving as a baby and it’s worth saving now. I was meant to be here on this planet in this body. Sure, I feel despair at times, sadness, frustration, grief, and disappointment. I feel those feelings and then, get back to gratitude, ambivalent no more!

 

Finding Comfort in Our Bodies*

“Becoming comfortable in their bodies is, for our patients, the number-one, paramount issue, and if we can’t help them do that, then we can’t help them at all.” –Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, world expert on the healing of trauma As a survivor of infant surgery without anesthesia and/or pain control, my first two decades… Continue Reading

"Becoming a Trauma-conscious Society"

is slow, but we are moving in this direction. What do I mean by a trauma-conscious society? The phrase, coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk in his book The Body Keeps the Score, has to do with understanding that many individuals are suffering from trauma due to conditions and situations of all sorts and that punishment… Continue Reading

The Attack of the Great White Shark: A Trauma Trigger Strikes

As I lay in the dark in bed recently trying to sleep, the fear of death paralyzed me. My stomach was tight, my mind raced with fears: Has pyloric stenosis finally gotten me after all these years?   The week before, I had been pulling oil, i.e. chewing coconut oil, an ancient prescription for reducing inflammation in the… Continue Reading

In EMDR, Butterfly Sends Away Moth : Good-bye, Death

Here is Moth Baby, my colored pencil drawing, 1997. The feathery antennae, the bulky body, wings folded, no legs, pink face of a human baby. The lines across her segmented body mirror the stitch-marks of my scar from my surgery at 26 days old for pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage. For me, moths have always been… Continue Reading

Are Your Symptoms due to Infant Surgical Trauma ?

The following material is taken from psychiatrist Dr. Louis Tinnin’s former blog. The material was removed from the Internet after his passing last year, but I think it’s important for the public to have access to it. I called Intensive Trauma Therapy, Inc. in Morgantown, West Virginia (ITT) and asked the staff to repost the material. I… Continue Reading

EMDR and Preverbal Infant Trauma: My Experience So Far

In talking to a fellow pyloric stenosis survivor about EMDR, she wondered whether it could help folks like us who experienced such early trauma–stomach surgery for pyloric stenosis, typically 10 days to 6 weeks after birth, without anesthesia or pain control. She understood that EMDR helps people reprocess memory connections in the cortex, that part of the brain… Continue Reading

Profound Quotes from The Body Keeps the Score

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s new book, The Body Keeps the Score, is filled with wisdom, compassion, brilliance, and profound understanding. PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) has never been made SO clear. PTSD has never been presented as passionately and humanely. Read one, two, or all of the quotes below that I’ve chosen to showcase this… Continue Reading

Want to Really Understand Trauma? Read Bessel van der Kolk's New Book

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is my new hero. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, he delivers  the latest research and understanding about trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in an emotionally sensitive way, making the information understandable and accessible to all readers. Kudos! I can’t… Continue Reading