World Cancer Day

February 4th is World Cancer Day.

I have mixed emotions about these “holidays”. Part of me thinks they’re important to acknowledge what we’ve endured, those we’ve lost and how far we’ve come. The other part of me hates that I even know about World Cancer Day and have yet to figure out the greatest epidemic in human history when we walk around with computers in our pockets, shoot cars into space and create lab grown meat. But, I’m also grateful to be living with neuroendocrine cancer now and not 20 years ago.

Since I was diagnosed in 2014 nearly every drug responsible for keeping me here wasn’t even an option. In fact, this afternoon I’m heading to the cancer center for my Lanreotide injection – a medicine that keeps my symptoms in check and was FDA approved three months after my initial diagnosis.

With some luck, I’ll be able to make it through cross town traffic to my yoga class to sweat, breathe and move in a way foreign to even the healthiest of people. At the end of class, as I always so, I’ll thank my body for giving me another day.

In honor of World Cancer Day, I’d like to take the opportunity to share this little video I put together for Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness Day (November 10th).

Cheers to Outliving It another year!

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Journal of My 10-Day Silent Vipassana Meditation Course

I learned of Vipassana meditation during yoga teacher training (YTT) in 2016 where I struggled to sit still and hold in the scream wanting to escape my mouth. The others in my YTT class will attest that I was the least likely of the group to take a 10-day course, so I surprised myself when I signed up.

While I continue to process the more serious lessons learned over the 10-days, I thought it would be fun to share a daily log of this often hysterical experience.

Day 0: Nervous road-trippin’. Matthew, the LSU college student, arrived at my house early for the eight-hour drive from Nashville to Jesup, Georgia. We’d been texting for a couple of weeks about our nervousness and excitement. While driving we got to know each other and shared our expectations for the coming days. He learned of the course through a friend and decided it would be a good way to kill time before leaving for a study abroad program. When we arrived at the Dhamma Patapa Center, Matthew and I said our goodbyes. Not only was there no talking, but men and women are separate throughout the course.

Day 1: Flammable meditation hall. My 10-day journey had a delightful start. I and the rest of the group looked like Walking Dead walkers who took magic mushrooms. We slowly shuffled around the property with our heads cocked to the side and stupid smiles on our faces. However, everyone made the rookie mistake of overeating at breakfast, lunch and “dinner”, which was only fruit and tea. By evening the hall was inflated with so much gas.

Day 2: Nauseous freak out. Dare I say I was having fun? I was destroying and dominating my meditations. My focus was laser sharp and I tingled at the end of every sitting. Before this, my eyes were an iPhone 2 and now they are an iPhone X. This was short-lived because by bedtime I was freaking out so much I became nauseous after the evening discourse instructed us to no longer give importance to aches and pains. The determination mediation was starting. I took an anti-nausea pill even though it violated the no intoxicants policy because I assumed vomiting all night will get me sent home.

Day 3: Premature torture. I made it through each session without moving, but the pain was intense and my mind and body had several bloody fights. “I don’t know if I can do this.” At the end of the day, I approached to the teacher who explained, “We don’t start Vipassana until tomorrow.” I misunderstood the instructions.

Day 4: Super Bowl Sunday. It was Vipassana day and everyone is traumatized after an hour of sitting without reacting to itches, sensations, aches and pains. To deal with the PTSD, I spent the late afternoon comparing Vipassana to the Super Bowl. I created a fantasy that the teacher and other staff were having a Super Bowl Party. I pictured them in the hall, sprawled out on our cushions, eating queso and chicken wings in their respective Patriots and Eagles gear.

Day 5: Miserably bored. Even though I am walking around with a perma-grin after breaking noble silence with Matthew via eye contact and a smile, the day ends bad. The evening discourse discussed how life is full of miseries. I decided, “I am miserable. Not in my outside life, but in this moment. Miserable because I am so bored. Bored to depths I could have never imagined.”

Day 6: Save Matthew. The 10.5 hours of daily meditation was getting to me, so I decided to give myself some PTO. I traded the 4am sitting for extra sleep and instead of meditating in my room I spent the afternoon walking in the woods and laying on the dock. This works and my spirits rebound. At “dinner”,  I see Matthew through the dining room window. He was barefoot and staring into his tea-cup for at least three minutes. I have an urge to call his devout catholic mother who feared he was being indoctrinated into a cult. “Mrs. Matthew’s mother? Hurry. Come fast. They got him.”

Day 7: Fireworks in my brain. A storm was brewing. I noticed agitation growing during the morning sitting. Then within minutes of closing my eyes in the afternoon session I was crying. A terrible event was, as the teacher says, coming to the surface and something real is happening. Inside my left ear, I felt popping and heard, what sounded like, distant fireworks. Per the instructions, I didn’t react, but observed and at the end of the hour, my face and clothes were soaked with tears.

Day 8: So much anger. I met with the teacher and asked about the pops and fireworks. She shrugged her shoulders. Great. Thanks for the insight, guidance and encouragement. My frustration with her grew when at the last sitting of the day, I hung my head low to stretch my neck and back. The Course Manager, Marie, approached me with a message, “Teacher says for you to go take rest.” With attitude and anger, I said, “No.” This was the first time I felt singled out because of cancer and I wanted no part of it.

Day 9: So much anger (Part 2). When I entered the mediation hall that morning, there was a chair holding my pillow next to my meditation cushion. With severe rage, I wanted to punt the plastic chair across the room. I stomped over, angrily return the pillow to my cushion and sat for the hour with fury and indignation. Afterwards, I walked to lunch and saw the Course Manager, Marie, coming toward me. My blood was boiling. I planned to tell her, “I didn’t ask for the God expletive mother expletive chair and I don’t expletive want it.” As her eyes grab mine, I’m stopped in my tracks. Marie has the most beautiful eyes I have ever gazed into. They are every color and shade an eye could be – blue, green, hazel and brown. I realized I have not looked into anyone’s eyes for over nine days. She says, “Stacie, that chair is there for you if you need or want it at anytime. If not, that’s okay too.” Still lost in her disarming eyes, I say, “Thank you.” Immediately, I realized their voodoo got me. I have remained equanimous. I know what I need to do. That evening, I sat in the chair out of acceptance of the compassion (and not pity) it represented and out of gratitude. When I went to bed, I noticed for the first time in days, I was not angry.

Day 10: A happy day. At 10am, noble silence ended and I was never so ready for anything in all my life. Instantly, I was met with high-pitched squeals, laughs, voices and excitement. It was overwhelming, loud, chaotic and disorienting. The rest of the day I gravitated towards smaller, more quiet groups. It was wonderful getting to know the stories of the strong, badass, women I sat in a room with for nearly 110 hours. Hearing their experiences I realized I wasn’t the only one in pain, anger, boredom and euphoria. We spent the warm, sunny afternoon reuniting with the mens group, eating, talking and laughing in the grass around the pond. It will remain one of the most treasured, memorable and happy days in the record of my life.

Day 11: Breaking out. After a final 4am wake-up gong and two-hour meditation, we were paroled from the self-imposed prison. Matthew and I partook in the symphony of squealing tires – everybody could not get out of there fast enough. He and I drove back to reality, talking and not talking the whole way. After a quick stop in Atlanta for tacos, we both agreed the outside world felt like a video game. As for Matthew, I could not have chosen a better person to spent 16 hours in a car with. Who knew I’d develop a connection with a 20-year old southern college student? Certainly not me, but I have learned that some of the most special bonds in my life have been created with those in unexpected packages. Tacos and video games aside, I could not to wait to get home to Fabien, who I longed to talk to thousands of times in the past ten days. I am so lucky to have a partner who not only encourages, but supports my crazy pursuits. I arrived home to a clean house, flowers and a thoughtful card. After retelling the day-by-day play-by-play, we went out for long-awaited wings and queso.

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll hash out the insights and lessons learned.

PRRT Diary #3: Magic

My blog has been quiet lately. I’ve been working on other projects and enjoying fall, which I haven’t been able to do in years because of surgeries. The fun, productive days sailed by and before I could get my fill of pumpkin spice everything, it was time for my 3rd Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT).

My pre-tests revealed normal blood counts, a falling tumor marker and no need for short acting octreotide injections. Smiles all around. Therefore, the husband and I decided a weekend of fun was in order before a week of not-fun.

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IDK, but I hardly look like a cancer patient, no?

With a late arrival in Austin, followed by a long night of sleep, we ventured downtown Saturday morning for breakfast, a walk to the Texas State capitol and a city Duck Tour. Disclaimer: we’ve never done one of these cheesey tours and I can say with 200% certainty that we never will again. OMG – it was awful. First, it was so damn cold. Second, we didn’t learn anything about the city. Third, the guide’s jokes were not funny. Fourth, they gave everyone duck kazoos, including the kid behind me who has permanently impacted my ability to hear from my left ear. Lesson learned. Newly impaired hearing aside, afterwards, we hit up a local recommended food truck (Torchys) for tacos and they did not disappoint. In fact, I think they were the best I’ve ever had and I am serious AF about tacos. The rest of the day was spent walking around South Congress and 6th Street enjoying the Halloween costumes.

Sunday was warmer and a picture perfect fall day. We rented bikes and rode around the city for hours stopping only for an hour long kayak adventure on Lady Bird Lake. In the evening we ventured outside our comfort zone to a Haunted House, which was good fun.

The following morning we took the Megabus to Houston – queue the jeers and boos.

Early Tuesday I reported to Excel Diagnostics for a full poking (port access), scanning (MRI, PET and Chest CT) and starvation test (I think exit pizza should be legally mandated if you’re forced to fast for anything over 4 hours). I even had to return Wednesday morning for a renal test.

I have to be honest – I was kind of a basket case. These tests were more lengthy than usual because my doctors thought we should do a halfway check-in. While I waited for the results my mind filled with all the worst case scenarios. Fortunately, my husband is very good at talking me off the ledge. But still, scanxiety is a real, tangible thing, people.

Wednesday afternoon we returned for the results. And with much excitement, my doctors shared that I’m tracking at 20% shrinkage. BUT, I re-did their math and it’s actually 22%, so I’m taking the Goddamn extra 2%.

Let me emphasize something, because I understand why some of you might not be impressed with 22% at the half way point – THIS IS HUGE. Medicine has never done anything but stabilize me in the past. Surgery has always been most effective on me, so it feels incredible to have found something that works and doesn’t result in cutting me open.

Later Wednesday night, the Houston Astros won the World Series, so it is with 300% certainty that I say there was some special magic floating around Houston and I am so grateful to have received some of it.

But, the celebration was fizzled because Thursday I still had to be infused and thank God some of that magic from Wednesday carried over because, finally, I avoided nausea and vomiting from the amino acids they give me to protect my kidneys.

Friday, I was back at Excel for a quick scan to reveal the medicine was in place and we headed home to Nashville that afternoon.

The only negative thing that came out of Houston this visit was a cold my husband and I both picked up during our travels. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad. We pretty much spent the weekend watching Netflix on the couch, ordering take-out, which is probably what we would’ve done anyway.

Once Monday rolled around, we were both feeling better and the only agenda item for the day was a trip to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for my Lanreotide. I’ll admit, I was pretty tired on Monday, but in a psychic stroke of genius I planned my appointment for 6pm, which allowed me to avoid traffic, wait times and rising early, which is no bueno for me. Each day I woke up with more energy and by Thursday, I was fully back to the land of the living. So much that Friday, I went hang gliding for World NETs Day. Read about that here.

Even better, I am officially free from cancer treatment until the 2nd week of January and we are off for fun in the sun and a European holiday.

Ciao!