Monday, December 29, 2014

Grasp the Baton

Dear friends & family,

As a beneficiary of the first wave of Title IX, I play three sports in high school. I gain skills and understanding about so much in life, from the importance of teamwork & the commitment to discipline, from learning to trust & lean on others to knowing how to push past fear, difficult moments and disappointment.  I also learn how to be a gracious winner. I was an outside striker for the South Shore High School volleyball team in Brooklyn, SO FUN: I miss SMASHING something….anything…to smithereens like that! I certainly learn about being in the moment and finding ways to get my head in the “zone,” though I’m fairly certain that in 1974 we don’t call it that. 
Sporting #18 here, the Hebrew equivalent for the word CHAI= LIFE :) 
When I run track, my favorite event is the 4 x 100 relay race where I run the anchor position, the last of four runners responsible for catching up if the team is lagging or being sure to guard and improve on a lead if we’re ahead.

When I found the little “bugger in the boob,” on New Year’s Day last year, I never could have known how my year would unfold. Today I begin running the anchor leg on some iteration of an exceedingly long race; just one more chemo-can-can next Monday. In other words, I am turning the clubhouse corner into the home stretch. I am not competing with anyone per se or myself, but I feel a similar rush of adrenaline seeing the finish line in crystalline view a skinny slip of a week away. I know as I grasp the baton to take this last lap, it is from the loving hands of my family & friends. I would never have made it this far, in this good a shape, without you.

Sending Happy New Year Wishes to you & all the people you love, for good health, family peace, time for both reflection & action, work that satisfies and enough wisdom to grab for the fun stuff, too.
Love & light,
AMY

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Giddy up

Dear friends,

The sun burst through the sky this afternoon briefly, after a long stretch of grey, dreary days. I grabbed myself for a walk and felt like I was being reconstituted by the light, the air, even the cold. After having a bit of a hitch in my giddy-up this year, I am replacing it now with a hop, skip & a jump to the finish line. As that end point comes into vision, I literally feel like I am walking faster, going harder and single-mindedly determined to get to January 5th, my last adventure in the difficult to describe, always a bit bizarre, land of chemotherapy.

Of course the vital energy could also be credited to the two units of blood I slurped up (through a vein, not to worry,) this week. Been doing a good job keeping me platelets up, but when the baby reds went so low and as we say in the vernacular, I was dragging my arse, I said, let it drip! With that elixir of life coming in, I gave thanks to the kind soul who donated blood anonymously. And I immediately absorbed it, integrated it and let it power up some new experiences.

Like how ‘bout: this lifelong vegetarian finally learns how to roast a chicken. So easy! So yummy! So perfect. Decided to do two today, one for a friend!

Two roasted chickens ready to go!
And how bout: watch my first movie on Netflix.  I know, you think I’d have watched endless movies during this year when I had a seeming surplus of time, but truth be told, my grand total: 2.  Million Dollar Arm, which I thoroughly enjoyed & Two Days In New York, which I'd give a meh rating, though who doesn't love Chris Rock?

Or how 'bout our 1st Brown Bag Lunch via Skype with students in Seattle, Paul and I dressed professionally from the waist up, pjs on the bottom, hopefully sounding smart and articulate over the miles.

We also had our second annual virtual Hanukkah with the kids on a GoogleChat so we could light the first night candle together. Latkes do not translate well, but love sure does.

Sending along here season's greetings and happy times for you & yours. Thank you for your ongoing love and prayers, good thoughts and wishes. I continue to take it all in, that's the real medicine in my book.
With love & light,
AMY


My writing from this year can be found here: http://dramyrothenberg.blogspot.com   Feel free to pass any of it on if you think it might help someone you know. The Huff Po pieces are here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-rothenberg-nd/ 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bookends

Dear Friends & Family,

On one of the warm sultry days tucked into November, Paul & I planted two hundred bulbs all around the yard. Though we used fertilizer & covered well & even mulched about a bit, we know many of the bulbs will never see the light of day. But plant away we did with childish faith in both nature & the unstoppable promise of spring. 

We also asked Kim ( who runs NESH and many of our other work endeavors!)  to take a few pix of us that could pass for a professional look, I really needed a pix with the shortie hairdo—which by the way, I am really enjoying AND I am  giving Paul a run for the money in the curls department!

As might have been predicted, based on this nutty year, I hit a big bump in the road this month, a not very bad fall where I jammed my shoulder coincided with an exceedingly low platelet count, causing after some weeks, excruciating pain—turns out bleeding into a joint capsule and also forming a hematoma the size of a nectarine below the armpit and thereby pressing on the nerve bundle under the arm-- you should cross off your to-do list.   I have mercifully shot out the other side ever thankful that of all the gifts this year has bestowed upon me, pain of any lasting or intense measure has not been in the basket. I feel I now have tidy bookends: Thanks to my post chemo prednisone crashes, I am conversant with the deep hole of depression heretofore a foreign tongue, and on the other end, I now know the taste of unrelenting and agonizing pain. My ability for compassion is fanning out by the mile and yes, I think I have now completed all the lessons in the book of what I needed to learn this year. Enough is enough! May we all be spared these kinds of bookends from here on out or seek and find deep and lasting help.

Many times this November i felt how this really is not my finest hour, I have held on to the lifeline of faith: in myself, in my ability to heal, in my greater purpose in life, in god, it’s true, in my love with Paul and the kids, in my love to and from family, friends, patients, students. colleagues and even strangers who have come across my path. I continue to be blessed by predictable support from those close in, but also by so much kindness and care from people and places I barely knew before. When I recently mentioned to Paul how I could never repay everyone in kind, he didn’t miss a beat and said, have you ever thought maybe everyone is repaying you!? That is a very kind thing to say, he has always been quick on his feet.

Today I took in #8/12 chemo, so am into the homestretch now. I am a real pro. Had the infusion room to myself early on this morning so took the opportunity to put on some funky music and dance it out a bit, why not? The nurses sit on the other side of a glass enclosure and each had their iphone out taking pictures—HA! These lovely and sweet people have nowhere to file me, may as well let my freak flag fly!

Every Friday my oncologist threatens no chemo on Monday due to low blood counts, I rally & voila-- I either blow the numbers out of the water (my athletic, competitive, type A side vindicated once more!) or just slip in under the bar—either way, I wind up being elated that I get to have my chemo-a-go-go day in the sun.

During this week of Thanksgiving, may we all continue to nurture and encourage postures of gratitude; may we all know good health, family harmony and peace- inside & out. And may all the things we sow during this darker times of the year find light and beauty come spring.
Love & light,

AMY

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Breezy

Dear friends & family,

After chemo today, riding the energy wave of the dexamethasone, Paul& I went for a long breezy walk along the Hadley dike. The brush hog must have just come through; the unobstructed views of the meandering Connecticut River shimmered in the midday sun. Off to the side we saw a field of feed corn, I don't know how many acres, planted seasons ago, in meticulous row after row. We scampered down the embankment and decided to walk between the densely packed crops from one end all the way to the other. If you’ve never walked between endless rows of corn, I highly recommend it!  
Walking with the Tall Corn
First of all, this corn is just about 11 feet high! The ground was soft and smooth, with corn roots, like gnarly fingers, determinedly grasping the ground. The rustle of the crispy leaves poking at my sweater and drying corn peaking out from the cobs, spoke loudly of autumn. I felt protected in there; I felt quiet and peaceful and a little bit silly tromping along this long, slender corridor of corn. I felt like I was on a different sort of path, like this entire year, and one that has not been all bad. I’ve had things to learn and experiences to have everywhere I’ve been, both inside & out. God knows I am a better person for it.

And to catch you up after my previous post: After ongoing very low blood readings last Thursday, I was told I would have to forgo chemo unless the #s came up by Monday. Paul & I, with input from our loving advisor (thank you Jacob!), tweaked the game plan. I am back on the IV Vitamin C (thank you Ian!), which helps protect many organs and the bone marrow; I have bumped up some of my bone marrow supporting botanical medicines, added more of certain foods and less of others, kept up with acupuncture each week (thank you Ms. Lynn!), I really worked harder at staying better hydrated (bizarrely one of the hardest thing for me, just not a thirsty gal….) I took a homeopathic remedy. I added more exercise and cranked up my personal visualizations of healthy marrow. I also increased my own time praying for and sending +++ vibes to other people. And with my secret powerful ingredient of all your +++ thoughts & prayers, a scant 4 days later, I walked into that lab and wouldn’t you know it: platelets: normal! white count: normal! & my baby reds comin’ right along. SO! Like anything in life, it was gratifying to see a problem, make a plan, take specific action & see desired results. And in the end…….. I could have my chemocake and eat it too!

It’s true that these are powerful drugs doing good work AND my marrow is tired. My goal is to keep up all the things I do, along with the stuff of normal life……to be creative finding solutions for issues that arise, to not get thrown off by bumps on the road and to carry on strong to that glimmering January 5th finish line. That someone tells me, okay girl, you can have your chemo today and I feel elated, reflects the particular oddness of this phase of my life and believe you me, I will not miss it ONE bit.

Love & light,
AMY



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sweet Spot

Dear Friends & Family,

Today,  walking the perimeter of the newly mown fields of my backyard Mt. Pollux, I was blown away by the sultry October warmth, the grasses lying down as if swaying in water, the leaves on the painted mountains, the blast of colors alive. I could walk forever here, with breathtaking closeup eyefuls and of course this view. Most of you have seen the vista, curvy and soft, cradling the valley close. The puffy clouds run along the clear sky with late afternoon shadows coming across the meadow, this sweet spot in the middle of Amherst, a blessing I never take for granted. 

Side meadow on the way up Mt Pollux
                                                                                            Personally, I am in a different kind of sweet spot, between chemo infusions, where everything seems fine, cancer treatments are like a vague far away concept and life is normal & full. 

I often get the question, what can I do for you? What do you need? How can I help? 
Thank you for asking, thank you for caring. 
For the most part Paul & I don't need or want a thing, we are in a good rhythm with my treatments, our writing, teaching, family, resting and healing. 
But! My bone marrow is a bit weary at the moment, meaning that all my blood counts are quite low. The marrow, where new blood cells are born, has taken a bit of a hit by all the strong medicines I have taken for many months now, with very little reprieve. Once chemo is over, I will be able to build back up, but in these intervening months, I can use all the help I can get. I know what to eat and how to exercise; I am taking all the right supplements and herbs. I am good at resting and being peaceful, I know how to do powerful positive imagery. Now I am calling out for some prayers & +++ thoughts to help me along. And if you can give blood, please do. I was so helped by a transfusion last week and sadly, neither Paul nor I (later on!) can give blood any longer. We have traveled to too many (wonderful!) places or stayed too long in others, which puts us on the CAN'T GIVE BLOOD LIST. But if you can, it will help someone else in need and blood banks are pretty much always in need.
So…. here's that verbiage for some positive thoughts or prayers if you have a sec: Let Amy continue to handle treatments well, and make plenty of healthy white & red blood cells. Let her healing be complete.
I will now instruct my bone marrow to listen up :)
THANK YOU, thank you, as I go further into your debt!

Love & light,

AMY

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lordy- Loo!

Dear Friends & Family,

After my last post, a number of you wrote asking how could I continue to be relentlessly positive in the face of challenging news, intermittent discomfort & the sheer amount of it all. First off, know that I have the urge to write when I feel good. When I feel badly, like many people, I want to crawl into bed, curl up in a ball and pull the quilt over my head!

Got me thinking. I will share with you some views from the underbelly, not so you feel bad for me, but so you can see better the range of this experience. Last time round, I felt a bit defeated by fasting, seemed like a bit of mean culminating in worse mean with the attempted needle stabs into my veins. My erstwhile uber-competent nurse, who I trust like a bodyguard, kept hitting valves in my otherwise full and pumping veins; it took her 3 attempts to get my IV right. I kept my spirits up--just kept saying to myself and increasingly aloud, "Well it HURTS, but I'm not SUFFERING, I know the difference! I might have yelled that out Southern Baptist style, but reined in my enthusiasm, didn't want to scare the other kind people I share that infusion room with. We had a good laugh, but when the nurse walked away, I burst into tears. It's like that sometimes. My goodness, I would hate that job--having to hurt people to help them, no wonder I got into homeopathy, for God's sake, the medicine tastes like candy!
It somehow reminded me of my birthing stories, I always wound up, during the intense moments in those little back bedrooms of our homes where our kids were born, yelling through gritted teeth, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME... LORDY-LOO!!!!” And Paul would murmur to the midwife or to no one in particular, why is my New York Jewish wife praying to Jesus with a full-on a southern accent!?

Section II of the downer report:
As part of my drug offerings I am given “pre-meds,” via the IV. First in is an anti-nausea potion, fair enough, followed by what is essentially 100 milligrams of prednisone. The latter is given to prevent allergic reaction to the chemotherapy, but it was found to also potentiate the efficacy of these life-giving elixirs. Don’t know how many of you have ever taken prednisone but this sudden ramp up also helps prevent nausea, offers a huge jolt of energy, jerks around your sleep & messes with your head. A taper is not offered. 
So, day one and two have me doing all sorts of things like cleaning the refrigerator, washing walls, scrubbing grout, little house jobs, catching up with bills and filing all those chores that tend to slide to the bottom of the to-do list seem just easy as pie. But the drug wears off in a jiffy and at least in my case, that going a hundred miles an hour ends with me slamming head first into a thick brick wall of depression right around day 3. It’s a deep hole of depression, entirely unknown and unfamiliar territory for me, all consuming and sickening. Even though I know it’s from the drug. Even though I know it will end. Even though I know it’s not me, I would say this is the worst part of chemo. Eating helps, exercise helps, positive self-talk helps and nothing helps. I just say to Paul in a very small voice, “Can’t find my happy place.” Now that I’ve gone through this 8 times, I am better at handling it, it’s relatively short-lived and my ND helpers have given me useful advice; I also know it will help me be a better doctor to the many, many patients I see for whom depression is part of their story. 
On a lighter note, I had my first blood transfusion yesterday. I thought it was well-timed with impending Halloween and all. My red count has slipped precipitately low, not uncommon with these medicines; I was not all that tired really, but a few nights ago after a particularly exuberant hustle with my dance teacher, which sometimes might make me say, “Oh, my God, that dance took my breath away—meaning in an awesome dance, nice connection kind of way, I found myself so literally out of breath—the OTHER kind of taking one’s breath away, I realized I must have become severely anemic. My aorta was throbbing and I had to sit down, something I never do when I am out dancing. So, I was glad to be able to receive a lovely dark red unit of blood, while lying with my feet up and watching some low brow TV and eating a hospital burger on a gluten free bun. I had quiet afternoon by myself, they let the good stuff drip in slowly. I had views of the little Zen Garden, recall my spa experience! Of course the nurse who checked me in to that floor for my bloodthirsty adventure is someone I have danced with often, never knew he was a nurse. That juxtaposition of a dance partner, checking my vitals and my IV connection, like it was life or death for me to get back on the dance floor, gave me a good laugh. 
I am now 4 infusions down, 8 to go, after the next set will be at the half way mark. I see January 5th my clear finish line. Thank you to everyone who did a fast or a cleanse with me these last months, that shores me right up to know you would do that with me. I am thinking about NOT fasting this next time through, we have a Two Year NESH class beginning in Boston and I want to be part of the whole experience with this group of new people. And maybe take out our own Boston crew for a nice dinner on the town. Here we are a few weeks back at SOWA- I WAS fasting & missed out on the FOOD TRUCK experience! That's Felicia with us; we're just missing Jonah, who will hopefully be here soon enough for Thanksgiving! We all have so much to be thankful for.
Boston on a Sunday afternoon zipping around town!
Love & light,
AMY 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book of Life

Dear all,

Two infusions down, 10 to go. Making my progress, slow & steady. AND enjoying this spectacular fall, walking in the neighborhood.


I wanted to share this HUFF PO piece published today. Please post to FB or tweet if you do those kinds of things; I would like to spread this word. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-rothenberg-nd/brca-test-and-retest_b_5853156.html
As we are about to step into the Jewish High Holidays, I will share an image I love from the liturgy: that we all be written into the book of life for a healthy and peaceful new year!

With love & light,
AMY


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sparkly Gal


Dear friends,

When I have to go to chemo in the morning, I rise early to psych myself up. I stick to my morning routines at the house and take myself for a long walk. Today, a nip of fall in the air, I zipped up a jacket and tied up hiking boots and made my way down Middle Street. I turned left and walked east, face tipped to the warming sun, along the little lane that leads to the beaver pond. 

The rickety chairs set alongside the water’s edge were dripping with dew, but I sat down anyway to meditate a bit and take it all in. The morning sun bounced off the water golden & clear; the misty steam rose in billows from the deep green and black of the pond’s surface, mysterious and graceful like swirling clouds moving free. Thousands of spider webs connecting branches to tansy flowers and long grasses to cattails were backlit, water droplets clinging to their silvery threads. 

A spider web might provide one of the best metaphorical images around! The strength and resiliency of all those webs, usually not visible, now with their beauty and purpose exposed, called to mind so many things: the interconnectedness of life, the intricacy that goes into so much of what we do, the bravery it requires to both love & create and hopefully the rewards of consistent & hard work. Mostly today, sitting there, I was filled with the power of serenity.

The drugs I had today, Carboplatin and Gemzar, went in without a hitch; I can proudly say I no longer get bent out of shape when there are small inconveniences, discomfort or pain. I suppose I have reframed cancer care into the great teacher on the practice of equanimity. So, it’s one infusion down, eleven to go. I immediately renamed the second medication Gem Star, so I can think of myself as one sparkly gal with connections to the galaxies. This way I can stay bright and aligned and continue to be relevant and compelling to my astronomy-loving husband!

I can also visualize myself as part of a twinkling constellation of family & friends that have made this year tolerable and not without its silver linings. I continue to learn from the generosity of spirit, time, intentionality and material offerings from so many of you-- and there I thought I had that skill-set down! Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts, prayers and positive energy; I feel it all and drink it in right alongside my chemo-elixir, knowing how lucky I am.

Love & light,

AMY

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fast Friends

Dear Friends,

So many people replied with the affirmative to the in-jest line of my last email, when I wrote about my upcoming return to chemo-land: I will be doing the whole fasting regimen again (can’t wait, anyone want to join me?!)
Got me thinking.
Mt Pollux late summer
Part of what feels bad about a cancer diagnosis is that you can get to feeling isolated. And although I can’t say I actually missed too much this last year, I did have to narrow my plan-making and social world to accommodate appointments and procedures. And let’s face it, food is the great social connector. So during fasting, at least for me, it’s a very real manifestation of self–imposed isolation, even when fasting for a higher purpose. The higher purpose here is to weaken any cancer cells that might be trying to set up shop, so that ensuing chemotherapy is that much more effective. Turns out, a welcome benefit of fasting is to severely limit side effects of the chemo, so a win-win situation.

Another thing I hate about this whole diagnosis is the seemingly endless need for self-centeredness, which is neither my general nor preferred posture. I am a giver and doer and an outgoing, face-the-world kind of person. If I knew my fasting, just among my circle of friends, had some kind of  broader impact, something more lofty than just helping my personal health outcome, it would help me immeasurably and would help me feel more connected! My friend DH wants me to call this the ChemoNationFastingTour! HA!

That said, my 500 calorie for 4 days routine is a bit severe & I think for most, would be difficult to sustain while working and doing life. So I had an idea: I’m a naturopathic doctor, I LOVE to take patients through seasonal cleanses, something most people can do without too much planning or stress, which does not deeply restrict calories and which offers some pretty quick health benefits. So, if you’d like to join this virtual party, howzabout a Fall Cleanse? If you’re game, you can do one day, two days or three.  Okay, if you do four days I would start to think you have an eating disorder! And of course just do it once, not 6 times like me. I need to retain SOME bragging rights here folks.

If you want to fast/cleanse with me, you can tell me what it’s like for you. You can cheerlead. You can glow among coworkers. You can lose a few pounds! Heck, you can take the money you would have spent on your usual food intake and donate to the charity of your choice. Here are things a fast/cleanse will not do: permanently shift your BMI, bring back hair for male pattern baldness, provide effective birth control or get your windows clean!

If you’d like to take up a cleanse, see the attached handout for the why & how, food shopping list included. Here are the dates of my fall fasts starting right up next week. I do not recommend doing a fast/cleanse once the cold sets in, wrong time for it for it. I will carry on through the January 5th, mercifully the last infusion, but you shouldn’t go on into the cold.

First round of fasting: Friday, Sept 12 through Monday September 15th.
Second time if dates work better for you: Friday Oct 3rd-October 6th. This is serendipitous, coincides with Yom Kippur. If you tend to fast that day anyway, you’ll have a nice jump start!
Third round: October 24th-27th
I will sign off here with a surge of energy to create this little offering; you know me, always love a project!

With love & light,
AMY
Here's the link to the Fall Cleanse info:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByMZa1O2AxMZLU1Rdmt3cldaMmM/edit?usp=shari

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lushy Time of Year


Our neighborhood lotus pond is in full regalia with its platter-sized iridescent leaves waving and balancing on slender stalks, the prayerful and buttery pink flowers dancing in their midst. I always think about how mucky and ominous the pool looks in spring, and appreciate the transformation from something not very pretty to something "half wild & wholly tame" (with apologies to Kipling), something anticipated and awesome.

buttery pink flowers dancing in their midst
I can say the same thing about the growth around my ovaries. Ominous when determined to show cancer, but the awesome news we were hoping for arrived today, my pathology report came back
Stage 1. This is fabulous news in so many ways and entirely rare in the world of ovarian cancer.

And here the back story unfolds. Due to strong family history of breast cancer, I decided in 2007 to test for the BRCA gene. My results were negative. I breathed a small sigh of relief and kept up my state of the art detection approaches and uber-healthy lifestyle. With the breast cancer diagnosis in January, I was asked to get tested. I quickly reported my previous-not-that-long-ago negative finding and was told much more is known now; I should retest. Lo and behold I do carry the gene for BRCA.

All I can say is PROFOUNDLY BAD TIMING ON MY PART. I was being as proactive as I could be. Had I tested positive in ’07, I would have had prophylactic removal of my breasts and ovaries.  And how frustrating that one of the largest cancer research centers in the world would not be scouring its database and harnessing digital technology to alert patients who tested negative in the late 1990s and up through the 2000s, to RETEST. I have been in touch with my team there, you betcha, and will educate & write more on this topic going forward.

Not one to dwell on the frustrating side of life, I went to work on what else could I do to help prevent further issue. Which is why I was in a bit of a rush to have my ovaries out. And a good thing I advocated for myself and pushed this along. Most of my docs thought waiting until late fall would be ideal, give myself a chance to catch my breath from the onslaught that defines conventional cancer care. So the surgery I had last week, which was supposed to be entirely preventive, did not turn out that way, but to find ovarian cancer early is huge. Stage one is excellent. In some ways that breast cancer may well have saved my life.

So, what do you do when you are supposed to be recuperating from TAH/BSO (that's medicalese for total abdominal hysterectomy-bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, or simply put: removal of the precious uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries!) while simultaneously staring down the barrel at 6 rounds of chemo-yum yum? 

Here's my Top Ten List:

1. Clean the bathroom cupboards! Of course!
2. Work with patients a few hours at a pop, in person or by Skype, offers both deep satisfaction and helpful distraction. Keep on sharpening this mind.
3. Rework the yoga postures so my sutures don’t burst.
4. Create kick ass Powerpoints (a contradiction in terms), while lying on the couch, for a number of lectures I am to give this fall. 
5. Experiment with eyeliner (verdict: makeup makes me look like a tramp.)
6. Weed the flower boxes and commence the (annual) lament on the state of the fall garden.
7. Take slow walks by myself or with whoever will have me, build my endurance and speed right back up.
8. Listen to books on tape while daydreaming as I force myself to rest up (currently: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, a terrific read, even-keeled and lovely.) while lying in my chaise lounge in the shade.
9. Slip into my art room and send out birthday greetings, wedding wishes, and the ever increasing pile of condolences cards.
10. Stare at my basket of scarves and have the stunning realization that this fall I will be starring in a new show: The Reluctant Return of the Babushke Babe!
I will write again in a week or so, in response to all the replies I got about wanting to fast with me during my chemo-nation tour this fall. You guys rock! Know that I feel 100% myself, spirits high, happy at home, enjoying my family, my friends, my work and my ultimate good fortune this lushy time of year. 

Love & light,
AMY

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tough Cookie


Well, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is I am recuperating in my beautiful sun-filled home with doting Paul and Sophie nearby. Misha was at Mass General & we were in touch with Jonah, who is tethered to Chicago basketball. A finer family I could not find.  Again, no painkillers for me: they kept saying at the hospital, my, you must have a high tolerance for pain, but truth be told, I did not experience pain,  probably due to that secret homeopathic magic: Arnica  (and then for you homeopathy aficionados, Miss Bossy Pants over here took Nux vomica for the trapped air left in the abdominal cavity from the laparoscopic procedure. Worked like a charm!)

The bad news is the there was cancer on one of my ovaries. This is a bit of shocker as we had all visualized this surgical foray as the endpoint of this cancer tour. It was caught early and my spunky, red-cowboy-boots-wearing-surgeon, says it’s likely no cancer was left behind. But it does mean I win a free return trip, all expenses paid, to that bummer of a place, chemo-land, to begin mid September as a precaution…. which makes good sense to me. I have faith I will fair as well a second time through as I did earlier this year. I will be doing the whole fasting regimen again (can’t wait, anyone want to join me?!) and in these coming weeks will have to sort out all the many work, social, & travel plans we made for our now, not-so-celebratory autumn. Paradoxically, the main feeling I have, is feeling badly about disappointing or burdening people. So, I’m sorry!

Your ongoing love, support & humor really does help me. And I am always open to your prayers that I will tolerate well the treatments ahead with this strong body, upbeat nature, and my shiny spirit. Throw Paul & the kids in those +++ thoughts, too; I know it is hard on them to worry about me. Like everyone, I really need to get along with all the work I have set out to do, dreams to accomplish, family to cherish & love to share. But I have also learned how to be in the moment and focus on healing.  I’m a tough cookie as you know by now; I feel peaceful and powerful even with this news. As Jonah reminded me late last night: Ma, no problem so big, we can’t solve.
Love & light,
AMY


Friday, August 15, 2014

Flexibility & grace


Rechem is the Hebrew word for womb and from it comes the essential word rachmanus, or compassion. As I contemplate having a hysterectomy this morning, I am not thinking about losing even an iota of my own ability for compassion.  Each challenge feels like an opportunity for getting stronger and better and for leaning on the people and the habits of mind I am blessed enough to know. SO! No loss of compassion here J.
There is an element of stepping into the unknown, no matter how much I know about this procedure. Here’s to stepping in with confidence and faith.

Stepping out near Lake Michigan last week. Just like the ocean and very calm this day
What an amazing organ I am about to let go of, this peach of a womb, soft and warm, that has lived inside me since I was inside my own mother. It has graced me with blessing beyond belief, three healthy, robust children who came rushing out into the world, eyes open and spirits ready to fly. That growing with child and shrinking again, growing with child and shrinking again always impressed me. Not too many parts of us can expand and contract like that and do it without much complaint. That was and continues to be the exact physiologic metaphor for the flexibility and grace motherhood demands.

I like to think of myself as creative, in the art room, the kitchen, our clinic, all over. But surely my greatest creation is my kids who leap beyond me in that department and spread so many good ideas and so much beauty and goodness in the world. I am thankful I was able to have and raise a family. Now on the morning of this procedure, it seems even more poignant to me that though love with Paul brought our kids into being and intertwining genes left clear and specific growing instructions, it was in and through the womb each had their start and began growing into the people they are.

I dragged my feet after Jonah was born, through my 30s and I am embarrassed to say, through my 40s, too. I could never say for certain and greedy as it sounds, that I did not want another child. So now, at this auspicious age of 54, (I say auspicious as in Hebrew, when you take the word for life (chai) and give its numeric equivalent, it adds up to 18, so 54 is considered triple chai,) I can finally say, OKAY! I’m not giving birth to any more children! Time to shift my posture toward grandchildren (you reading this Sophie, Misha, Jonah!!?) HA!!

My friend ZP wrote: “It took me forever to let go of that uterus, when I finally resolved my attachment I visualized it as this lovely angel with the flowing fimbria wings that I was releasing after its glorious service in providing a nest for my 3 children to develop in.”

I feel that. I feel the self-compassion I know I need for healing  and I feel your compassion and love for me too. May we each go from strength to strength, be fortified by the challenges we face and know that in love and community healing and resilience happen.

With love & light,

AMY

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saving All the Good Stuff



Greetings from sunny, dry, blue skied Arizona. Paul & I just spent a fun, engaging, social, political HOT week with our naturopathic clan at our annual convention where I was one of the speakers. I am also on our national board, so even though that kind of work can be tedious, call me nuts, but I rather enjoy it.  I will never tire of these people, our vision and the promise of natural medicine. 

I also wanted to let you know that this Friday I am having a hysterectomy and hoping that everything goes well. If you have a sec drop me into your prayers and positive thoughts. I am visualizing a good outcome; I know I keep giving up body parts but not to worry, I'm saving all the good stuff!
Sending love & light for an excellent end to your summer!
AMY

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Unfold


Dear Friends and Family,
 
Some years ago while on a rare and special trip to the south of France to make books and art by the sea sans la famille, I wandered into an outdoor market. While there and on impulse, I bought a beautiful silk scarf, uncharacteristic for me, as I never wore scarves, not for warmth, not for fashion. How could I have known that many years later my floral wonder in swirling maroons and soft browns would be my favorite piece of cloth to cover my bare head during treatment for breast cancer? How could I have known how my friends & family would step up to love and support me through this crazy year? I guess we just never don know how one material thing, one event, one interaction or shared experience might connect us to the next as our lives unfold before us. This pushes me to be the best I can be at every turn, you just never know!

We are counting our blessings here with the completion of radiation treatments last week.  The kids were all home for a quick visit to help me mark the moment. And boy was it good to be all together, if even for just a skinny minute.

I am taking this month to build my reserves and gear up for the next phase of things.  I'll have surgery to gently remove my ovaries & fallopian tubes, & then the implants swapped out for more permanent ones later this fall. I will start Tamoxifen soon, which blocks estrogen receptors in my body…..in other words, a bit more diving into unknown waters. That said, everything now is in the realm of preventive and cosmetic and away from treatment per se, which is a good place to be. I continue all the natural medicine & lifestyle things I know to help build my reserves & my resilience. I am rocking the shortie-short hair do, with some class I am told. Random people ask if they can touch my head to feel the strangely soft fur that is growing in by the day. I am also working more which I love and yes, Paul & I continue to really enjoy the ballroom dancing, too!

I am hoping you are having a bit of summertime wherever you are and that our paths cross again soon! Keep in touch when you have a sec.

With love & light,
AMY

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Radiant Summer

Dear Friends,

I just completed my eighteenth zap, ten more to go! I am feeling the surge of energy that goes along with seeing the finish line in clear sight.  I am back in the proverbial saddle enjoying seeing patients, accepting other work opportunities and lapping up this perfect summer heat.

I decided that the more technical aspects of what I am doing during radiation treatment should be published beyond what I send out to you, my loving circle of friends & family.  So if you want to read about that, you can find Positively Radiant: Naturopathic Medicine Approaches to Complement Radiation Therapy, which was published today on the Huffington Post & can be found at this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-rothenberg-nd/radiation-therapy_b_5559377.html

Hope you are off to a healthy and peaceful summer & that our paths cross soon. Drop me a line when you have a sec!
Covered up from the sun, just how the doctors want me. Don't get too excited, not my real hair! This is the half wig I hardly ever wore but needed a pix for our practice newsletter. Not too shabby!
 Love & light,


AMY

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gracefully Moving Along


Long time, no writing here. Rest assured, that is only because my more typical life has come rushing in and I have been busy working my real job, tending our exuberant gardens, swirling away on the dance floor and well, just not thinking too much about breast cancer.
My recovery from surgery is complete, I have full range of motion & strength in my arms and mercifully, no lymphedema.  I seem to have sailed through chemo, and now, a month since my final infusion, am seeing a bit of hair returning to my head. Rapunzel I’m not, but baby steps in that department. Now if I could just figure out a way to keep the hair-free legs, we might have a marketable venture!
My next installment of treatment, radiation to the chest wall, began this week. I am now 3 treatments down, 25 to go! I attend every day, like one of the truly faithful, for about 5 ½ weeks; I have weekends & the 4th of July off. It's a bit Sisyphean, a whole additional piece to treatment and then the sheer every day-ness of it. Here's my favorite personal Sisyphean photograph, that's me at Ft.Defiance a few years back taking a break with a friend from my work on the Indian Reservation there.
Ft. Defiance, keepin' that rock at bay!
The rest of this writing goes into some detail about the radiation treatments. I enjoy demystifying medicine and articulating the experience. But if you are not interested in that, it could be filed with other missives under TMI. If that’s your feeling, skip to the last paragraphs under the *****.
Before beginning radiation I met with a number of experts, then my own radiation oncologist, and a gaggle of techie technicians and nurturing nurses. My RadOnc understands I am married to a geeky guy and that I too have strong interest in grasping the overarching goal of radiation (to prevent recurrence to the chest wall) but also to understand some of the more subtle aspects. She has explained in some mathematical and diagramatic detail, delineating just how much radiation each of my surrounding organs will receive over this time period, and how careful she is to insure these numbers stay low. The goal is the delivery of a total amount of radiation, parsed out over individual dosages. Interestingly, the anatomic shape of my upper chest wall allows for an angle of radiation which nearly spares the upper lobe of my right lung, an area that potentially could get a bit more radiation than anyone would like, keeping it safer from wayward radiation scatter. Who knew?
There are many ways to insure precision and like any sewing or carpentry project you’ve done, it’s all about measuring twice, cutting once. We’re not cutting here, so we can say measure twice, zap once. In the radiation room, there is a thin green line generated from a laser that runs along the ceiling above me. I now am the proud owner of several teensy tattoo dots on my chest area and there are computer generated maps of my body, both outside & in. Each of these tools helps create coordinates to line me up just-so each time I lay down on the movable metal table for treatment. The main goal is this: deliver the correct amount of radiation to the tissues in question while allowing for the least amount of radiation to my underlying and neighboring organs/bones like my lung, esophagus, trachea, ribs, spine & spinal cord. The team of technicians is patient and persnickety getting me set up and I appreciate their dedication to perfection. I understand that though there are guidelines and though there is physician preference, there are also many gray areas and some unknowns related to radiation; if we can control what we can, we should!
I lay on a crisp white sheet which overlays a long tray and they give little tugs to the sheet and nudges to the tray to get me perfectly aligned. Beneath me is a frame mold made during a dry run which also insures I am in the same position each day. My arms are stretched full length straight over my head and my neck is turned about 60 degrees to the left at a bit of a rakish angle, to pull my thyroid out of the radiation field. The big looming apparatus, which resembles an X-ray machine hovers quite close to my body. Inside its wide-open eye, I note an array of flaps, covers and levers, adjusted to decrease and increase the "rads" that come through, taking into account the particular contours of my body and position of my organs. The setup and computations are all done by computer but measurements are checked and rechecked, small rulers are pulled from lab jackets & are laid across my skin; I look a bit like a page from a dot to dot book, seems everyone has a thin black Sharpie in hand and takes liberty with dotting me up. No one is comfortable until everything is matched up, then I am good to go, the technicians scoot out of the room into the control area from which they deliver the treatment remotely.
There is a bit of a musical interlude, some whirring and whizzing, some high-pitched pings and then, voila!-- that dose is delivered. I have four areas being radiated each visit, so this process is repeated four times, with each one I am shifted a bit & realigned. I am to remain exceedingly still for the 40 or so minutes and to breath evenly, not deeply. Honestly, I am sort of fascinated by the whole process.  I love how the 3 or 4 women work in concert, choreographed to conserve motion and time, gracefully moving along the table past one another, each attending to a different detail. I make a lot of small talk, little jokes, pertinent questions, random observations and an ongoing sprinkling of thank yous to this dedicated staff. 
*****
I love to remember everyone’s name and to be uber-friendly and encouraging to all the caregivers, from receptionists, nurse’s aids & doctors to technicians, phlebotomists and even the insurance person. It’s like another angle on mindfulness. Don’t get me wrong, I also advocate for myself, and get my needs met. Sometimes I wonder, how do people without medical backgrounds go through having a medical experience? You really have to be informed and know what’s going on…..like having another full time job!
When I am in the treatment room, I lay there and think all kinds of good thoughts like: "May these rads do away with any cancer cells that might be around, may the rest of my cells and tissues be safe and healthy; may I tolerate this treatment well." After I’m done with those basic thoughts, I move on to sending good vibes first to my amazing husband & of course the kids, and then to my ever widening, overlapping circles of friends and family, patients and students. This takes some time to go through my lists. I do not rush.
In lieu of the hospital Johnny, I wear a flowery sarong when I walk from the changing room to the treatment area. I am sporting  my babushke du jour into that quiet lead-lined treatment room, comfy pants & cozy socks. With the lights turned down low & covered by a warmed blanket on the areas not being treated, I could reframe this whole experience into some kind of newfangled spa treatment. Just need someone working my feet, some moisturizer to my face & cucumber slices on my eyelids!  Actually, I have never even been to a spa, so it’s true, my images here may be somewhat misinformed!
As the kind of doctor I am, I also know there is individual response, so I am doing everything in my power to get the optimal benefit from this treatment with the least amount of damage. I thought you might be interested to read a bit about the naturopathic adjunctive approaches I am using, which I will write about next week. Stay tuned!
 Lastly, I am thinking about the word radiation and some related words like: radical—believe me, I have been called worse. Radiate—this is my love coming at you from all angles and lastly, radiant. May we all be so, giving off positive thoughts, our best intentions.
Love & light,
AMY

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Resolute Faith


Dear all,
Paul snapped this picture of me on my umpteenth sojourn to the powder room during my -read it folks- last chemo infusion yesterday morning! Hallelujah! DONE with that phase of treatment and looking forward to re-growing some luxurious eyelashes and my reliable head of hair.

That said, I think I am fairly rocking the scarf look, don't you think? Honestly…. who take pictures of their loved one during chemo infusions? We always were a quirky pair!

As it happens, I met an acquaintance in the (ever non HPPA compliant) treatment room today, the mother of one of our kid's friends. It was clear she has a much harder road to tow; after giving her all my shiny best thoughts & prayers, I am reminded of how my own road is tolerable and how much easier it is with you on my cheering & praying squad. Another kindred patient is the elderly father of a sweet friend of ours, and boy does he light up when I walk in the room. So you see, even in this crazy land. which I sincerely hope NONE of you EVER gets to visit; there are friends to be made and spirits to raise.

Today I complete my last 5 day wrap-around-chemo fast. I could not do the prepared boxed kit of food this time 'round; the sight & smell of those, what seemed like quaint camping food packets of soup during the first excursion & the crunchy spiced up kale chips made me want to gag-- mind you I have had NO side effects & especially no nausea, so this struck me as a bit ironic. Paul, my world champion of a husband, cum dietician, created a broth recipe I could make that had the same caloric, carbohydrate  & protein count of the prepared items & I've been good to go. I could sip this lovely soup all the livelong day, this merry, merry month of May.

I have a four weeks to absorb and integrate the chemo treatments now, I envision these powerful medicines acting like detectives, snooping out any cancer cells that might have gotten free and bringing them to their natural end. Everyday I do the things I know how to do to make myself strong & healthy, so I am in tiptop shape before embarking on the next installment of this journey to a new continent: six weeks of radiation.

After meeting with the head of breast cancer radiation oncology at Mass General last week, I feel clear this is the right choice. When we left our appointment, he personally went to the pathology lab and looked at the slides of the tumor to see for himself certain aspects of its growth pattern. It’s good to know smart people who have thought deeply about such things!

My tentative start date is on June 9th, which happens to be my mother’s, may she rest in peace, birthday. I take that as a good sign and know she is cheering from on high. My heart breaks to know her own journey through breast cancer was without my father, who had already passed, at her side. Additionally, during that time (mid '70s) treatments were nearly barbaric, and also, in her case did not end very well. OY!

That said, my daily visits, with the weekends off (thank you to the union movement) to get zapped, should leave me positively radiant by midsummer.

I will leave you with this little picture, of our happy spring garden with seeds popping up & starts standing cute & confident, full of promise in our jacked-up-from-our-own-compost—dirt.

Besides giving birth to children, seems to me that planting is one of the purest examples ever of hope and faith we have. There is hope that these plants will grow to fruition, (never mind the resident, exceedingly well-fed-looking groundhog & the unreliable, capricious weather.) And the resolute faith that they will!

Drop me a line when you have a sec, your communiqu├ęs mean the world to me!

Love & light,
AMY  


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

There Goes the Hair

Here's a little ditty from the Huffington Post today, enjoy!
Love & light,
AMY
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-rothenberg-nd/hair-chemo_b_5112802.html

Passover 2014: Shake Off the Dust



Passover starts at sundown tonight and Paul & I have been preparing for the holiday. I love the circle of the year, the way we mark the seasons with different holidays, the traditions we have created, the decorations and food we bring out and of course, the being together with people we love. Each holiday also comes with a layered platter providing different themes about life and the world we live in. When I search a bit deeper, I also find opportunities for reflection and self assessment and a chance to reset my priorities and remember my highest aspirations. Passover in particular, has so many metaphors: of course there are those of liberation and freedom; there is appreciating the irrepressible resurgence of spring; and for me, this year, I feel particularly drawn to the essential idea of being open to transition even when the layout and details of the next territory are not 100% clear or necessarily hospitable! 

I think of the Hebrews on the verge of getting out of Egypt and some freaking out a bit and wanting to cling to old ways, even if it meant being enslaved, it felt better somehow, at least safer than striking out across the Sea in to the land of the unknown. For me, at this moment, I know there is no way to turn back, that my own freedom & health is predicated on going through the rest of my treatments, so as I look out into these unchartered waters, I do so embracing this unexpected adventure on a trip I did not envision or expect into a land that may have all kinds of unpleasantries in store! 

             Paul snapped this pix of me a few days ago, on the shores of Lake Michigan, with the peaceful waters a much welcome sight.

We always told our kids, it's not how you do on a good day…..so I'm lucky that my nature is to be happy & upbeat. Don't worry, I also have my moments where I feel like WHAAAAAA? I'm practiced at having a good cry, stomping around a bit and then moving on. Seems the to-do list is long, I remain organized and efficient, so when I feel knocked down a bit, I pick myself off, shake off the dust and carry on. Thank you for your cheerleading and for your ongoing appreciation of all of me!

I am on the brink of chemotherapy #3/4, beginning my 5 day fast on Friday. (On the eight days of Passover, we avoid all leavened products, I like the timing of my fast-- makes 8 days of matzoh look like the glutton's delight.) In this interim time we snuck in 3 awesome days in Chicago with Jonah, enjoying his peripatetic life among commitments to the Chicago Bulls, the Chicago Sky & his junior year at Lake Forest. We have lunch in Boston tomorrow with Misha & Miss Sophia just sent in her official acceptance to the Master's program in Arts Education at Harvard, beginning this September. Seeing the kids thriving and engaged and so turned on about their lives and their friends, their work and own aspirations does a mother's heart good!

And, I cannot complain about how I feel. Honestly, at this point, I have more energy than most people I know. The house is tidy, the businesses we run are in good shape,  Paul & I go dancing whenever we can and have been walking the serene conservation lands in our backyard daily. We are happily spending more time with friends, for meals, for work, for movies & other diversions. I work out, do yoga, meditate & pray most mornings, have finally arrived at full range of motion of my arms and pretty much back to my normal high level of endurance. I am doing board work for my beloved organizations, am  plodding away in the garden and am tackling some in-house projects in & out of my art room. Paul and I are thinking about our future, where we want to be in 5 years, in 10 years. Nothing like a little nudge on the back to make those kinds of conversations even more relevant. The main thing I am not doing is seeing many patients (a few do slip in via Skype and phone,) which feels just about right, I am saving most of that healing energy for myself and taking a break from patient care after nearly 30 years, feels just fine.

As we head to sunset and our final search for any leavened products in our house, may we each be rid of all the bitter feelings, of our stubborn pride and all the old habits that no longer serve. May it be a season of liberation for everyone, from old attitudes and prejudices, from ways of being in the world that are no longer so effective. And may we be inspired by the sweetness and life giving exuberance of spring.

Love & light,
AMY