Monday, September 30, 2002

Guess where I'm at

ok, I fixed one problem. I figured out how to peek at the BlogThis! code, and when I did, I noticed that the user's name isn't embedded anywhere in it. Where it gets the user's name is beyond me. Anyway, I cut and pasted it in my Address bar, and it showed my journal. How it managed to fix itself so that I can use it is also beyond me. Whatever. At least I can use it now!

Blogger (And ATT Broadband) Suck!!!

Well, I've had a somewhat frustrating evening. Still trying to figure out the quirks (better known as bugs) of Blogger. Aaaarrrrggghhhh!!!! I sent an e-mail post which got lost. John created a Blogger blog and upgraded, and his upgrade appears to have gotten lost (we're in the hole $55 because he got a confirmation e-mail saying our credit card was charged), because he can't add stats to his site (it says he doesn't have a blogspot plus site). I don't get a BlogThis! link in my Settings, but he does. I found a BlogThis! link in the pro.blogger.com site, but now it won't change the BlogThis! that's already in my links and assigned to John, so I'm forced to post via my maintenance page.

The biggest pain is that there appears to be no support for problems which don't show up in the help pages. No support@blogger.com to send problems to, no phone number, no message board. As far as I can tell we're screwed!

Maybe this is just newbie frustration. It doesn't help that our cable modem connection (cable modem just started being offered in our town) has been down ever since we've had it installed, and ATT Broadband support is AWFUL!! They claim they know about the problem. They say they can't give us credit until it comes up AND we call them back. They say there's no way to escalate the problem, even though they can see we've been down for 3 weeks straight. There's no way to actually confirm that someone is working on the problem!!!

Grrrrrrr!!!!

Sunday, September 29, 2002

A Beautiful Quote From iamkatia

The Wondrous World of Online Journalling, and How It Helped My Recovery

I spent the entire day yesterday and through the night copying my LiveJournal entries from 2001 to my Blogger journal. It was interesting, reading my old entries from when I was going through treatments. I remembered what it felt like being sick, having good days and bad days, feeling the beauty of the sun shining on my face, and having fun hiking with Mac the Lab in the woods.

Keeping my LiveJournal throughout my cancer treatments was a very very big part of my recovery. Every day I would wonder if someone was reading my journal and waiting for an entry. I'd wonder if someone was just diagnosed with cancer and might be coming to my journal to see what my experience was like. Whenever I posted, I imagined people hanging on my every word. That feeling, that there were other people out there, is what kept me going every day. It gave me something to live for.

My LiveJournal community became my support group, maybe even more so than the real life support group that I had. These are people who read what I had to say and accepted me at face value.

Online journalling has become, to me, an incredibly powerful medium for expressing myself. People who come to my journal don't have any preconceived notions of who I am. My words are me. If they like the words, they stay, if they don't they move on. The community we each build is as dynamic as a real-world community, with people coming and going, fighting, making up, etc. etc.

I love sitting at my computer and typing out my thoughts about a subject and being able to air them to the world. In reality, maybe nobody cares about my journal entry. On the other hand, I get feedback from people from all over the world at times when I least expect it. So here I am, expressing myself. When I click on the "Post" button, the bits and bytes which make up my message to the world will begin their travels. Will I get a "you asshole!" comment tomorrow? Or will I get nothing, or will someone tell me that, yes, they too were diagnosed with cancer and yes, they too have fallen in love with life for the first time as well.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

My First Real Blogger Post

This is the first (real) entry of my new online journal. I now have all of my LiveJournal entries migrated over to this journal.

I owe a great deal to LiveJournal and the amazing LiveJournal community. I decided to migrate to another online journal tool so that I could have more services available for backing up, tracking readers, etc. Thanks to foreverandever for turning me on to Blogger. It's turned out to be, not perfect, but pretty close to being what I want. This past week has been an increasingly more and more addictive learning experience into the intriguing world of blogging.

LiveJournal was SO easy to set up, and you get an amazing set of services with LiveJournal -- you can't get a better commenting system anywhere else, that I've found. I think LiveJournal is fantastic for people who don't have a lot of time to set up the html, who just want to start journalling and getting a community of friends quickly. It's the best.

My biggest complaint about LiveJournal was the difficulty in backing up my journal after journalling for a year. I wanted to have a copy on my PC, and there's no good way of getting a copy of your journal. Plus, I wanted to add tracking to my journal, and links. Blogger doesn't have a lot, but it gives you the capability of editing your HTML, so that you can incorporate other people's tools into it. Blogger has much more support for things like advertising your journal on the Internet.

The comment system that I've incorporated into my Blogger (it doesn't come with comments -- I really miss the great LiveJournal commenting system) only works so-so. It's supposed to send e-mail, but doesn't do that.

Long time no see..... almost losing my finger, San Diego, and

Well well well, it's been a long time. Here's my story....

I went to San Diego for 2 weeks to visit with my dear mother. It was hot hot hot!!! I fought rashes on virtually every conceivable part of my body. I guess I'm not used to the dry, hot heat. It was 2 weeks of being with my mother, swimming at a local outdoor pool, and hiking up the local mountain, along with dog-sitting my ex-sister-in-law's doggie and spending time with my mother's dog.

I visited the San Diego Rigpa sangha, and had a good time chatting with them. Their group is really tiny compared to the group that I go to. Their shrine is different, and they don't do one of the prayers that we do. The hostess was a breast cancer survivor, and we talked a great deal about our experiences. It was really nice.

The woman across the street has become good friends with my mother and they go to each other's house multiple times throughout the day. It's really wonderful that there are kindhearted people in the world. I'm so grateful for this woman's friendship to my mother. They sit out in front of her house in the evenings, eating pumpkin seeds or whatever else they have to snack on, chatting about history and their lives.

My mother is doing very well. Meningiomas are pretty dificult things to recover from, though. I've read that sometimes it takes as much as 3 years to really get to the point where you feel normal again, after an operation to remove a meningioma.

I reaffirmed with my visit how much I love my mother. Compared to things I've heard about other mothers she's been a pretty wonderful one. I only hope and pray that whatever years she has left are happy for her, and that I can help. The last Sunday I was there, I looked up a Unitarian Universalist church and found one about 1 mile from my mother's house. We went there, and I could tell she was ambivalent about being there. Then she looked over and saw a friend who is from the same town in Hawaii as my mother. We sat by her friend, and after the service I asked if my mother could call her if she wanted to go to church in the future. Serendipity. It was very nice to have my mother meet a friend at this church. I love the UU church, and would probably be going to the one in my town if I wasn't already going to my sangha meetings.

Last weekend John's father was in the hospital, so we went to NY to visit him. On Saturday, John took me home to feed Mac the lab, and went back to the hospital. I was in a rush to get Mac the lab fed, so I started shoving raw chicken wings into his mouth. Yes, people, my dog eats raw chicken bones. He's a holistic doggie, and eats a holistic doggy diet. No, dogs don't get salmonella poisoning, and they don't choke on raw chicken wings. They could choke on cooked bones of any kind, however, because cooked bones splinter. And larger chicken bones probably are not good for them, but chicken wings are small and a good source of much-needed calcium. Only do this is your dog is used to a raw-meat diet.

So..... here I am stuffing chicken wings into his back jaws so he'll eat quickly. I feel something chomp down on my finger. Ouch!!! I look down... there's the end of my finger dangling off. I rush to get a paper towel to hold my finger together and stop the bleeding, which is now starting to envelop my hand, and dash to the phone to figure out how to find my hubby. Even though I had just asked him to take his cell phone with him, I thought it unlikely that he would have done that. It's a real sore spot with me that he forgets to carry his cell phone around. And then when he does carry it around, he keeps it powered off. Anyway, predictably, I couldn't reach him, and forgot where his father was in the hospital. I call 411. "New York something" I tell Information. She goes down a list of "New York...." hospitals. I pick the name that ends in "Queens", and have it automatically dial for 35c. I don't know how much time I have before I faint. Hospital information comes on. I ask for my father-in-law and tell her his room number. She connects me to someone who doesn't know anything about him. I hang up, frantically dial 411 again, and this time write the number down with my left hand. Blood is dripping on the note pad and I know it will be rude to leave it there, but I'm too consumed with trying to get myself to the hospital to worry about cleaning at the moment. My hand is shaking from the panic, but after several tries I manage to get the hospital number dialed.

I finally get through to the right room. "I had an accident and Mac bit my finger off!!" I scream at my mother-in-law -- a little overdramatic I admit, especially since as far as Mac was concerned, he bit into a chicken bone. "Tell John to get back here right away and get me to a hospital!"

I don't know what would have happened if I'd called 911. Maybe nothing untoward. But being in New York City and dialing 911 sounded like something I should do only if I'm truly dying. Otherwise, I have no idea where I'd end up. Maybe somewhere in the middle of the bronx with no phone?? I didn't want to test that theory.

Well, eventually John makes it back to the house and takes me back to the hospital where his father is hospitalized. We sit in the emergency room. Luckily the blood on my hand makes it obvious I have something somewhat serious, so they triage and bandage it. An hour later, they call my name. When the nurse takes the bandage off, she says "ok, this is bad. We have to get you to x-ray right away and see if you have a broken bone." When emergency room personnel say "this is bad", you really have a problem. I had already seen my finger fall off, so I knew it was bad anyway, so her comment came as no great surprise.

Well, Mac got my bone too, so I ended up being hospitalized for 3 days and am now on 2 weeks of IV antibiotics.

The hospital food was ungodly. I have no idea how they manage to make eggs taste like cardboard, but they do.

The woman in the bed next to me was diagnosed with gastric cancer about a month ago. She had a stomach obstruction and couldn't hold down food. She was having a stomach tube put in, and will start chemo this week to try to shrink the tumor so that they can operate. Life in a hospital is a very sobering experience. Lives and good health seem so disposable. She made my problem seem like a scratch.

On a positive note, I discovered percoset and Sogyal Rinpoche audio tapes are a fantastic combination! Sniuggling up to my tape player with my head swimming happily in the clouds with Rinpoche talking was just the most totally comforting experience.

Over my time off I received this e-mail: "I read some of the comments in your on-line diary. I have to say that I was discouraged and very disappointed in the vulgarity and your comments which ripped Christianity and praise religions which worship idols. "

I hope one day this person can open himself up to understanding a little bit more about different religions and the possibility that all religions might somehow be interconnected.


What an incredible joy life is!

Oh I'm enjoying life to the max! My mind totally doesn't understand what people say about after-treatment depression. I haven't felt it at all. In fact, lately, I've been thinking that there's no high that's better than the high that you get after cancer treatments. I feel like I've had a new lease on life. I don't think there's a single time that I eat that I don't think "god, it's such a joy to eat and not have food taste like shit". I doubt there's a single time I walk outside that I don't think "it's such a joy to be able to walk outside and see the birds and feel the sunshine and feel GOOD!"

I guess part of me knows that the cancer can come back at any instant, but it's all the more motivation to totally enjoy every minute of feeling alive and well, and make the best of what I have.

Last night I took my doggy to an old couple's house. They're both in their 80's, and pretty disabled and housebound. They have wanted a dog so badly, but can't have one because of their old age and not being able to take care of one. Mac the Lab was so incredibly sweet. He kissed the lady, and went with her into her kitchen to get treats and water, and then he carried his toy around the house, wagging his tail.

That was my first truly successful experience at using Mac the Lab for pet therapy, and it was really nice, and I had all kinds of great karmic feelings about it. I think I'll be taking him to visit them regularly.

I'm off to San Diego for 2 weeks starting next Tuesday (gone until Sept 3rd). My mother had surgery for a brain tumor recently, and her recovery has been a little difficult for her emotionally. Amazingly, it feels like cancer and cancer treatments has really been significant training for me in compassion and dealing with sickness and/or dying. To me she's a joy to just have in this world. My perspective is so much more different, and so much more grounded in the person I've always wished I could be.

I simply don't understand how people could possibly go through a cancer diagnosis and treatments without having a cataclysmic change in their lives and perspectives. I've heard about some people that just don't want to think about their cancer, don't want anything to do with it. They just want to re-create their lives as they were before their diagnosis and pretend that the cancer never happened. That totally baffles me. Not only is the quality of my life completely, totally, 100% improved, but my readiness for dying, or whatever else life has to throw at me is totally here now. I don't live in denial of my mortality. That's powerful. Just that total removal of fear is the core of what makes life so completely joyful and worth living to me.

Seredipity

Monday, August 5th, 2002

I decided to cut out most of the stuff I usually schedule in my free time in favor of working overtime, meditating, and exercising in preparation for seeing my mother later this month. What I've discovered is how absolutely flipping grand life is when you don't schedule every single free second with stuff. Yesterday I decided to make a concerted effort to figure out where my swim suit was, so I dedicated the morning to pouring through boxes in the attic and under the beds and in closets.

I finally found it, and went to the pool and swam for 20 minutes. When I came home I felt absolutely heavenly. I spent some time straightening out stuff to be put in the attic, and then went down to where our library was to get something. I saw a book on swimming, and opened it up. It was so fascinating. I spent the rest of the day reading it, and then last night went down and got the other books we had on swimming to read.

Serendipity. It's a fine thing to have, and you won't get it if you schedule your life away.

I'm so jazzed about what a great time I had swimming laps yesterday that I'm thinking about joining the local masters swim team. I love love love endurance work. About 5 years ago John and I would to put on roller blades and roller blade 40 miles. It was a blast. I miss that a lot, but I can't imagine doing something like that now and leaving Mac the Lab home, which I would have to do, since I'm not a good skater.

My meditation is changing my life. Last night as I was meditating, I realized how to describe meditation. It's like "runner's high" if you've ever experienced that. Runner's high comes from running for an hour or more. It's not really a high as much as it's a completely cleansing of stress from your mind and a feeling of well-being. When I realized that meditation was that same feeling, I found that I could just pretend I was running and my thoughts would clear. It's hard to describe. Everything about meditation and Buddhism is really hard to describe. The results are remarkable, though. I'm completely sold on the benefits of meditation. I don't know what meditation is like without Buddhism, so I can't comment on how it would be without the spiritual aspect. To me the spiritual aspect of meditation is very important, because it shows me a life that's worth living. The meditation itself gives me the peace of mind and presence of mind to implement that life.

Anyway, my latest fantasy is to start doing some long distance swimming. Tomorrow I'll be trying out my first 6 AM swim. Think I'll make it? Hm......

How wonderful meditation is

My meditation practice lately has been amazing.
Damn, I've been having a mental block on learning how to cut my journal entries, and finally have read enough of people complaining about long entries that I decided to bite the bullet and learn it. Not too hard!!!

Back to my original post on meditation.... I used to sit and it would seem like hours, and then I'd look at my watch and it would be 5 minutes. Now I'm sitting and can't seem to get enough of it. Before I know it, 25 minutes has gone by. I seem to have found my inner self. The feeling of clearing your thoughts and resting in the perfect peace that comes with a world without the past or the future, but just nowness.

I think it takes lots of sitting to figure out how your mind is supposed to feel when you've cleared out your thoughts. When I started meditating last fall I would force myself to sit for 20 minutes. Then I stopped for a while, and then I started doing it for 5 minutes every-other-day.

When my hot flashes became so intense I couldn't stand my nights, I used the hot-flash time to meditate, and that's what I've been doing for the past 6 months or so. I started off meditating for 5-10 minutes at a time every time I had a hot flash, which is about 3-4 times a night.

Then my mother went in for the operation to remove her brain tumor, and my practice became very difficult because of the stress and distraction of worrying about her and the family. I kept sitting and sitting and sitting, though, and now I've seem to hit a very enriching and fulfilling point in my practice.

Some of it could be connected with my decision to go home to see my mother. I'll be going August 20-Sept 3. I have so much peace with that decision. It means working longer hours to try to make up for the work I'll be missing, so I decided to drop my freelance writing and just concentrate on work, exercise, and my meditation practice with my spare time, at least until I get back from San Diego.

The tremendously beautiful thing about my practice being so wonderful is its impact on the rest of my day. I'm just so much in love with the world and life. And people seem to be responding positively to me.

Last year, I made a committment to myself to learn to meditate so that if I ever had to go through another experience like my cancer treatments last year, I'd have another tool to help me cope with the emotional as well as physical problems. Now I'm feeling so very rewarded by my efforts. I don't think I'll ever give up meditation, now that I've experienced how it feels to practice it regularly. I sit all the time -- before I write, a couple of minutes in front of my computer at work, in the bathroom, in the car (I don't know if I should or not, but it doesn't seem to prevent me from seeing obstacles or anything when I'm driving.)

A really good time to sit is right after exercising. It's easy to clear your head at that time, because your worries are gone right after exercising. It's that feeling that I'm beginning to learn to capture. Instead of being really hard, and taking a lot of eye-squinting (figuratively) concentration, now I think "relax", and my thoughts float away and I find myself sitting somewhere deep inside my head.

Warning.... religious rant!

Friday, July 26th, 2002

It's really a funny thing about religion and spirituality. I ALWAYS imagined that if I ever had a life-threatening illness I'd turn to Jesus and the Bible, and Christianity. I just always thought that in my hour of desperation I'd start believing in that stuff. It was very strange that that never happened. When I was diagnosed, one of the first things I thought was "I need to come to grips with this cancer and with the possibility of dying, but I don't want to hear about how Jesus is going to help me with that, because I just can't force myself to believe something that I don't think is true." I documented that about a year ago in LiveJournal.

The really funny thing is that I'm probably more "Christian" than I have been in a long time. A friend of mine in my Buddhist group is from a strong Christian background (her father was a minister), and she's done a lot of studying and writing papers on the topic of Jesus as a Buddha. There was a period of about 14 years in his life where history books are quiet. During that period a man showed up in India who was a great Boddhisattva (someone who helps others). There is lots of documentation on the things that this person said when he taught, and a lot of it is almost an exact quote of what is in the Bible. Reading the Bible in the context of Buddhist teachings makes infinitely more sense to me now.

Viewing Jesus as another Buddha who helped people really, to me, makes him believable and it makes the Bible a very real and meaningful thing. To a fundamentalist Christian, though, this attitude would be sacrilege, because Jesus absolutely has to be God, who is this separate being who guides our lives from some great place in the sky. In the Buddhist philosophy, there is no separate being called God. The gods in Buddhism are really perceived as gods within each of us. The Buddha is really our fundamental nature. Heaven and hell in Buddhism are really states of our own mind, created by the good or bad karma we've accumulated throughout our lives.

I love the idea that we're all good, pure, Buddhas underneath. The whole philosophy behind Buddhism and meditating is to clear the noise so that you can access that Buddha that is buried within you. The more you meditate the more that Buddha will be revealed, and the more that happens, the more confident and self-assured you'll be, and then be able to help others.

To me all this makes perfect logical sense, and that's why it's really easy for me to buy into it.

I think some fundamentalist religions take themselves too seriously. Buddhism may have factions that do that, but my experience with it so far is, you take what you want, you don't take what you don't want, and that's that. When I walk out into the world as a Dharma follower, I feel as though I'm at one with the rest of the world. I feel that everyone is my brother and sister, regardless of whether they believe in the same things I do or not. I used to be a very strong Christian (many many years ago in college), and I remember Christianity creating a chasm between me and the rest of the world. The whole world was divided up into two camps: "the saved" (those going to Heaven) and "the not saved" (those going to Hell. sorry Charlie. you don't believe what I believe in, so you lose.), and if you were a "saved" person, everyone who is "not saved" is to be preached to so that you can convince them to join the ranks of "the saved". From the Christian viewpoint, you're doing this because you "love" them. But I've seen how much this seemingly self-righteous attitude alienates others more often than attracting them. I really think that modern-day Christianity is misinterpreted and misunderstood by most (not all. I predict that the people who get most pissed off at this entry will be the ones that I'm talking about) of its followers and teachers.

In Buddhism, you don't convert people at all. You work on yourself. Period. You work on making yourself a better person. That's how you change the world. By being a better person yourself. Not by trying to change others. I love that philosophy.

How I wish I could control my emotions better, dogs, Best Friends Pet Resort -- what bozos

Thursday, July 25th, 2002

I so truly appreciate the total annihilation that the suffering of a parent can do to a family.
My mother's suffering has been such an incredibly unbelievably amount of stress on the family.
I think it's especially powerful because people in my family don't take stress well at all.
None of us do, so we seem to have a tremendous amount of conflict, just talking about her.

Last night my younger brother Peter called and wanted to talk about Mom. I started screaming
at him. He started going into his irrational (to me) "Jesus" rant which really gets my
goat (that's my problem, not his). Luckily for me Peter maintained his composure (he usually
hangs up at that point) and we kept talking. We talked for what must have been hours. It
felt so good to talk through our anger with each other. It's as though we both, in our
very deep love for our mother, could see how important it was to continue loving each other
and telling each other we loved each other. When I hung up, I felt so good about how
the conversation ended.

At the time I was spilling out with anger at him, I knew I was getting angry, but the
eruption was too much for me to catch. Afterwards I felt so badly, because I've been trying
to remember when I feel strong negative emotions, the enemy is the ego inside of me that
allows my emotions to get out of control, not the person or thing that causes the emotion.

When you think about it rationally, there's really very little in life that's truly worthy of
anger, hatred, stress, jealousy -- negative emotions in general. Things that have happened in the past, or anticipation of things
happening in the future are the main causes of these feelings. And those things are not good reasons
to harbor anger, hate, stress, worry, etc. etc.

I understand that intellectually. I'm still having problems implementing it, though.
I've been listening to my latest tape by my teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, and he said
that it takes a continuation of regular, practice practice practice (meditation practice).
Not only practice, but practice with the proper motivation. The motivation is just
as important as the practice. We're meditating for the benefit of all other beings.
He also says when your mind starts thinking negative thoughts, don't harbor those
thoughts but distract yourself. Do anything you need to do to not let them fester
within you. As one gets more and more advanced in their practice, the feeling of
peace that you have when you meditate isn't just during sitting, but throughout the
day, and that supression of negative emotions is automatic. As a beginner, though,
the important thing is not to carry those thoughts around.

BTW, the outcome of my conversation with him is, I'll probably end up with my mother's
dog some day. Everyone except my mother seems to hate her, and she's not been properly
trained or socialized, so she's pretty mean when she's in an unfamiliar environment.
Getting her is going to be an added stress to my own family life, which is pretty
peaceful and contented right now. I'm not looking forward to it. On the other
hand, she'll be put in the pound and certain death if I don't take her. My experience
with her has been that with the proper person (me) to train her correctly, she can
at least have a chance of being a decent dog. She's smart and has a gentle side.
It's just that she needs training. My mother is simply not a dog trainer, no ifs-ands-
or-buts.

The good thing about getting this dog is that Mac the Lab will finally be
able to talking out his objections about her with her. When we've visited her in the
past, it's been hard to let them work out their differences because their "doggy
discussions" are a little scary to people who aren't familiar with dogs. Mac the Lab
has been involved with many many dog groups, and he's very articulate about expressing
to other dogs what proper dog behavior is, and he's pretty intolerant of unsocialized
dogs (That became extremely evident when he was going to dog care at Best Friends --
a place that's notorious for having incompetent help. They let him get into a fight
with an unsocialized shar-pei (a fighting dog, and this dog had a history of being
unsocialized). Instead of pulling them apart, the young girl who was watching them,
I guess, ran from the room, and the shar-pei was left with bite marks all over his
face. We were left with an $8000 lawyer bill when Best Friends gave our name and
address to the other dog's owner and told her to go after us for vet fees (we ended
up paying her vet bill). In reality, Mac wouldn't have killed her dog (I don't
think. He's met literally hundreds and hundreds of dogs and hasn't ever seriously
hurt any of them), but probably taught it a really great lesson. The other owner got
the best of both worlds. A good, hard lessons for her dog, spoken in doggy talk that
cannot be taught any other way, and free vet care.

Anyway, most people who read my rantings about dog behavior won't understand. You'd
really have to talk to lots of trainers and people who have been around lots of dogs
(I have), and do lots of reading and watching of dogs at play to understand. There's
a fantastic book out about dog body language, and how dogs train each other in proper
social behaviors. I can't remember the name or author at the moment.

I think with Mac the Lab to give her a couple of doggy socialization lessons and
me to give her training in how to live with humans, I think I can make a happy doggie
out of her. I hope so.

I visited a genetics physician today. She explained to me the probabilities of my having
a BRCA1 gene defect, which is the gene that is responsible for preventing cancer in
the breast and ovaries. BRCA2 is also responsible, but not as much. Both of those
genes are tested when you have your test done. If either is positive for a defect, they
recommend having ovaries removed (and uterus since you're having your ovaries out
anyway, and there's a chance of uterine cancer). She also said that there was a
possibility of false negatives.

I'm thinking maybe I'll go ahead and have the operation anyway to take out my ovaries
and uterus. I don't really have a panicky fear of getting cancer again. That's not
really why. It's mainly because it sounds like from listening to her that there's
really not a lot of risk in having my ovaries and uterus out since that part of me
is essentially dead now anyway, thanks to chemo and tamoxifen. Some recent studies
have shown that having prophylactic removal of ovaries has significantly reduce the
occurence of ovarian cancer. With the small risk, and a certain amount of
responsibility I feel to my husband to continue to do everything I can to stay alive,
I feel like the choice is a good one. If I can have the operation done when I take
care of these baseballs (oh they're not baseballs? They're tissue expanders? Oh! --
could have fooled me) that are on my chest maybe I can save my body an additional
operation.

Dream the other night and turning to Jesus

I had a dream the other night. I dreamt that I was on the roof of a house that somehow broke off and went peeling off at a zillion miles an hour. It was going so fast me and the people I was with were 100% sure we were going to die.

In that moment of knowing for sure that I was about to die, seeing trees and houses rush up and knowing we were going to go "splat" any second, guess what came to my mind. The Lord's Prayer. I grabbed the hand of the people next to me (people in my family I'm pretty sure) and started saying the Lord's Prayer out loud. It was an automatic reaction on my part. Then everyone closed their eyes and held each other's hands and said it together.

When I woke up, I mused about how when push came to shove, it was Jesus that I turned to. I guess we're brought up saying the Lord's Prayer, and so that's where we would naturally turn when we're in a state of panic.

Thankfully, praying to Jesus is not a Buddhist sacrilege, and I can feel ok about the idea that I'd probably do the same thing in real life.

It reminds me of the dream I had last year when my left tissue expander was hurting so much each breath felt like a heart attack was about to happen. That night I dreamt I had my fake boob on a stick and was climbing a hill and asking Jesus to help me. *chuckles*

Settling my mind and finding the buddha within me

Wednesday, July 17th, 2002

My mother's suffering through her recovery from brain surgery has been difficult, and that has really challenged my meditation lately.

Last night and today, though, I developed a couple of images which really helped me. One is an image that my teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche talks about. He says that your thoughts are like dirt in a glass of water. The more you stir the glass, the murkier the water is. When you let the glass sit quietly and let the dirt settle, the water clears. He says that the noise caused by our thoughts causes our minds to be so clouded that our true nature is obscured. In order to reach that true nature which is the pure, buddha-like creation that is within all of us, we need to sit quietly, and let our minds settle like the glass of water. Don't let the thoughts muck up our access to our true nature.

That is one image that I used. The other is something that one of the other students in my class gave me. He said that whenever you're feeling strong feelings (sadness, anger, worry, stress, etc. etc.), remember who your enemies are. They aren't the people or situations that cause this strong feeling, your enemies are the feelings themselves.

So when I feel really stressed out, I can remember that my true enemy is the stress emotion, not the situation. To conquer the problem, I need to first tackle the enemy. Let my mind settle, access my true, inherent, pure nature. By doing that I've conquered the "enemy", and then the original problem either disappears or the solution reveals itself.

Last night and today, I thought about making my mind a pure glass of water. I could almost feel the clarity of the water appear as I let my thoughts settle to the bottom and not take their hold on me. Whenever I began to worry or stress, I remembered that my enemy isn't the problem, my enemy is the thought, and to conquer it I need to let my mind clear and let the pure water be created.

They are simple principles which I've heard a thousand times since I've started studying Buddhism, but recently these principles are starting to really become a reality for me, instead of just intellectual "yeh yeh, I understand". I think this is the fruit of my increased practice, which I'm grateful to my hot flashes for.

Oh summer has been so wonderful. Today John sent me e-mail that Mac the Lab was outside walking around our deck, twitching his nose and sticking his muzzle through the rails of the deck. The poor thing spends the summer itching something crazy because of all of the bugs and other nasties in the mud that he plays around in. I bathe him weekly now to try to keep his coat clean.

Last night I had a ham radio club dinner. It was called "FARA night out", and I guess it's a yearly dinner that they have. The club president gave out awards, and they awarded me "New Member of the Year". It was really a great honor. This is a club of over 200 people. The certificate is very cool, and I'm going to put it up in my ham shack.

I feel so very lucky. My ham radio friends and my Sangha (my Buddhist group) are such fantastic people. It's absolutely ironic that I have my cancer to thank for the most gratifying social life I've ever had in my entire life.

I wish everyone could have the happiness and peace that I feel today.

Busy busy busy

Wednesday, July 10th, 2002

Well, things have been busy busy busy here. I'm working on another ham radio article. We're holding a lot of tsoks at our house. Tsoks are a kind of Buddhist pot luck. They're a really nice sort of "family" meal, with a religious ceremony attached. The prayers are very cool. Most of them are more like songs. And the sacred aura that eminates from the group as we pray and chant together is something that I can't describe. Most of the prayers invoke deities of various sorts, and you really do feel like these deities are in the room with you. After doing this, everyone is so totally relaxed, it's an amazing closeness you feel, being with these people who just spent the last hour-and-a-half sitting mindfully with you. What I mean by sitting mindfully is, they're all there mentally. It's not like normal social gatherings where people are pretty much half-there, daydreaming, thinking about other stuff, etc. In Buddhist sittings, everyone is exactly present, and nowhere else. That presence creates a really powerful feeling of healing and peace.

Work is hectic. I'm on a high-pressure project with short deadlines. It's nice though. I really love it, so it's no pressure (or I should say very little pressure). It's interesting watching the people on the project and how they react to things. Most of us are pretty senior engineers, and it's fun being in meetings where people are focused and have a really good sense of working with each other. I'm really lucky. I love the people I'm working with. They're really sharp and low-key. There are a couple who are a little more high-strung and freak out fairly easily, though. They're funny to me. I guess I've been on so many projects in my career there isn't anything that can happen or any schedule that can be inflicted on me that I haven't already experienced. It's nice to be solid and confident enough in your abilities that you can remain focused on the issues. I'm lucky to have landed in this career and to have worked with the people that I have throughout, because I think I've learned a lot of really great things about the power of a good attitude and clear thinking.

I guess that's one thing that's come out of my cancer and the treatments I had last year. I've realized two very important things. My husband and my job are absolutely what I want in my life.

Speaking of husband, I bought John a really nice birthday card. Today is his birthday. I came home from work today and sitting on the kitchen counter was another card. I read it. Completely different pictures and font, but exact same wording as my card. Ugh. His parents bought him essentially the exact same card as me!!!!

I've been jogging regularly, about 20-40 minutes at a time. I'm REALLY really slow. I think it's because of the peripheral neuropathy. When I get up to go to the bathroom at work, my feet go "clump clump clump", like they can't move properly. My legs feel really heavy, and I think parts of the feet must be numb or something. Luckily I can live with it. Doc says it'll go away. It'll be ok even if it doesn't, though. As long as I can walk and jog, I'm happy, even if it's slow. The exercise feels really nice. I love exercising. Lately I've been taking Mac the Lab out to our local soccer fields and running around them. I can take him off leash for part of the run. Today he found mud puddles and jumped in them. There really is no way to keep a labrador retriever clean.

I have a project, I have a project!!!

Monday, June 24th, 2002

Well, I'm FINALLY on a project at work, after 6 months of bug fixing. It's wonderful to be assigned a project. When you have a project you have a family. It's nice. People to work with who will know me and my work, plus an opportunity to show my company that I'm still a good engineer.

So, that's the good part. The bad part is that party time is over. No more slacking, leaving work early, coming in late, etc. etc. It's going to be much longer hours now, although I don't think it will be too unreasonable considering what I've done in the past. Plus, I HOPE I'm still a good engineer!!

Hot flashes are still coming -- about 3 or 4 a night. Last night I got so sick of them, I started feeling whiny. I thought about something I heard on a tape. It's a tape called "Good Medicine" by a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. She talks about "tonglen", which is the Buddhist form of helping people who are suffering. She suggests that the first step to learning tonglen is to recognize that we are all connected. So, when you feel pain or suffering, you should begin by saying "others feel this". When you feel joy or taste something delicious, or experience something wonderful, you say "may others feel this". So, I remembered this, and I said to myself "others feel this". Immediately, the whiny feeling decreased. I wasn't alone, I was part of a group of people, all who spend their nights having hot flashes. It wasn't bad at all, thinking about being a part of a group. It is isolation, or the feeling of isolation that makes suffering worse. That's what Pema Chodron said on her tape, and she was exactly right.

I've recently started writing dharma thoughts down when I meditate. One of my teachers in my Buddhist classes recommended doing that, and now that I'm spending a lot more time meditating, I'm beginning to get a lot more ideas and thoughts. One thing that I wrote last night was how to deal with my mind when I have problems controlling it. Sometimes I will sit down to meditate, and 20 minutes later, I realize I daydreamed the entire time, and never once meditated. This will happen without me even knowing that my mind was wandering until the 20 minutes pass. Last night, my mind was doing that, and I thought about ways to calm it. One way I've had of calming a noisy mind is to do mantras for about 5 minutes or more. After doing that, my mind is usually calm. Another way I discovered last night is to tell myself that I'm going to assign 100% of my mind to being the "watcher". My teacher Sogyal Rinpoche says that 25% of your mind should be on the outbreath, and 25% should be a "watcher" -- the part of the mind that watches itself, and gently pulls it back home if it wanders. I discovered that if I tell my mind that 100% of it will "watch", I find that I stray much less, and when my mind does stray, I can catch it and pull it back within a couple of minutes.

Mom is so much better these days. Today she was telling me about how they spent the day shopping. Emotionally she's still having difficulties, but operations are pretty tough things to recover from, and brain surgery probably has a tremendous potential for impacting things like your emotions. At least she's physically healing, which is important right now. Prayer is powerful medicine!

Yay!!! I live for another 3 months!!!! *dancing*

Wednesday, June 19th, 2002

I had an amazing day today!! My 3-month exam was today, and all of the signs of cancer recurrence I thought I had turned out to be nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. The swollen lymph node really was just a temporary thing, and all of the other lumps I was feeling were gone. My doctor said it's very typical for the week or two before your exam to cause a lot of worries and concerns.

Last weekend I finished the article about my social worker at the hospital. It took many many many drafts to complete it, and lots and lots of meditating. I sent it to her and she really likes it. It'll go into my hospital newsletter. It was a very rewarding experience, writing that article. It was a challenge, both emotionally and as a writer, and I feel super-good-karma from doing it! She stopped into the examination room and told me how much she liked it. It was really cool to see her in person and to see that she really liked it.

So, now I'm in-between articles, and I love the breath of fresh air! Both of my ports gave blood on the first try today, my appointment was a success -- what better way to start my summer!! I feel like I've been given another 3 months to live!

How can I describe the feeling of living on this earth as a visitor? You'd think it would be a bad or depressing feeling, but no, it's not. It's quite the invigorating, happy feeling. In the Buddhist world, I can describe it as the feeling that you have right after your outbreath, when you're doing sitting meditation and watching your outbreath. In that very brief instant after you've let your breath out, you have a moment of seeing your inner being -- a moment with no thoughts, before your thoughts start flooding back in. Having cancer is kind of like living in that tiny moment. Everything that you see in the world, you see at face value. The beauty of life explodes, and the unhappy parts of living are just a part of living, and no more than that. I can't say that I can live this way all of the time, but when I see other people and the petty stuff that they stress out about I really do feel so lucky.

Speaking of stressing out, the other day I had an interesting (but obvious) discovery. I was worried about my mother, who had a brain tumor removed last week. She's been recovering nicely, but it really really unhappy about her physical condition. In particular, her eyesight has become very blurry. It's hard to see her unhappy, because she's generally a pretty happy person. Anyway, she was on my mind whenever I woke up with a hot flash. I decided to try doing something called "tonglen". It's a Buddhist act of compassion, where you breath in the suffering of others, and breath out happiness to them. I tried this 6 months ago with John once. We were in the car, and he was upset about something that happened at work. He was going on and on about this incident, whatever it was. I decided to try to help him by breathing in his sufferng. What happened was that I found myself getting really upset.

Later on I talked with someone about it, and they said you're supposed to meditate before doing it. So, the other night, I did just that. I meditated for about 10-15 minutes. When I knew that my mind was clear and calm, I breathed in my mother's unhappiness, and breathed out happiness to her. I did this for quite a while. What I discovered was that, with a mind that is clear, an infinite amount of suffering can be absorbed. It's as though the spaciousness and clarity of your mind when you meditate gives you an infinitely large ocean into which you can drop suffering, and it floats away without ever hitting your conscious mind and putting you in danger of being tainted by it. What I realized was that, this is what Buddhism is all about. This is why compassion is such an important concept in Buddhism.

Something else that I realized when I was doing tonglen for my mother was that, focusing on making my mother happy was giving me good karma. I was feeling very good about doing that. I was really feeling like I was helping her.

So, for these two reasons, it became a very meditative experience which was rewarding, because I really felt that I was doing something positive. I can imagine now why in Buddhism you wish for happiness for all sentient beings -- because you CAN. There's such a tremendous amount of power in being able to absorb suffering and replace it with peace.

The really neat thing is, the next day my mother started walking on her own, and also the next day was the day that my swollen lymph node started to go away. Coincidence?

Bouncing boobs. Mom.

Thursday, June 13th, 2002

Ever feel like something's not quite right? That's the feeling I get when I'm stressed out. The world feels really wrong. That's how I've been feeling this week. I think most of it is the stress that my mother's operation has on the family. I guess it's always a heartache to see your own mother suffering. Other things that have been contributing are work problems and lack of sleep. I was in a Covey 7 steps to Effective Living class Monday-Wednesday. I don't really feel sleepy at all these days. I think chemo-brain is still a very real part of my current physiology. Because of the class, I've had to be at work by 8:30 in the morning. I didn't know I was tired, until Tuesday night when I was on my way to my Buddhist class. I couldn't keep my eyes open in the car. At one point I woke up, on the other side of a stop sign, seconds away from broadsiding a car crossing on a cross-street. I slammed on my brakes and screeched the car to a halt. The road was a little slick from rain, and my anti-locking brakes shimmied something fierce. I think they saved me from a serious accident. It was a good wake-up alarm. I made it the rest of the way (1 block, actually) fully awake (surprise surprise). It's very strange about how weird sleep has been for me. Of course I'm up a good portion of each night with my hot flashes. You'd think that would make me feel exhausted. It doesn't. Maybe because I spend that time meditating. So, I don't really know from moment to moment how tired I am. It's weird.

Prior to last year I would yell at John whenever he'd keep me up past 8:30 PM. I had to have 8 hours of sleep. The other day he asked me "whatever happened to your 8:30 PM bedtime?" He asked that because 10, 11, and 12 o'clock come and I usually puttering around with no intention of going to bed. My body doesn't work the same way it used to.

Last night I had a wonderful sitting meditation, and it really cleared my head of stress. I continued to be mindful all of this morning. With my mother in the hospital, and my work problems, I knew I had a lot on my plate emotionally, and I wanted to be able to give work 100% when I got there. It worked. I put in a great, productive day. I'm really very happy with the positive effects my spirituality has on my life.

The other day I decided to try an experiment with my fake boob. It's as hard as a softball. Pretty alien feeling. Even my dog hates it. Once I leaned over him and he growled like my fake boob was hurting him. Up until now I never imagined a boob could hurt anyone. Anyway, I thought I'd see if I could bounce on my boobs. First I did it in on the shower wall, and then I tried it in the bedroom doorway. If I fall at an angle towards the wall or doorway so that I hit it with my boobs, I can bounce like I'm bouncing on a volleyball. It was pretty interesting. I stopped doing it because I don't want to deflate it, even though I often think about how nice it would be to do that.

Today I talked to my mother for the first time since her operation on Tuesday. She's still slurring her words, but she recognized me which is nice. My heart aches for her, and I think about how much I miss our daily telephone conversations. I think about days I was busy and didn't call her and now I wish I had called her every single day and used every opportunity to hear her voice. I know that this is samsara -- clinging to things, and not understanding impermanence. Those principles are very vivid to me right now. I remember napping with her when I was a little girl -- sleeping on her belly, sleeping in spoon position and feeling her mommy-farts -- her very presence was such a comfort to me. That feeling that I mentioned at the beginning of this where the world doesn't feel right -- it was always gone when mommy was with me. When did I stop calling her mommy? When did she stop being my whole world? Today she is my whole world again. Mom, I love you so much.

A wonderful weekend, and some melancholy feelings

Sunday, June 9th, 2002

What at day we had! John and I volunteered at a parade at one of the nearby towns. There must have been 3000 people IN the parade -- kids, cars, trucks, bands, girl scouts, boy scouts, farmers, school kids, cheerleaders, there was even a guy on stilts that walked around all day long. The stilts were about 6 feet high. I don't know how he did it. John said he saw the guy walk to a tree and sit in the tree to rest. Another guy had a moped and a bunch of flags and just showed up and joined.

The parade was Americana at its best. It was called "Flag Day Parade". People set up barbecues on their front lawn and picnic'd as they watched. Kids, dogs, grownups all lined the streets and cheered as the marchers walked by. Most of the time the marchers were little kids carrying flags that you could barely see because the flags were either upside down, or being carried by their tired little arms at odd angles.

Afterwards, John and I went to the Elk's lodge behind the parade route and had free beer and food. That was without a doubt the best beer I've had in years. The day was so hot, and we were so tired, and the beer was so cold. Mmmmm!!! Then I came home and crashed. I slept for an absolutely wonderful 2 hours, no hot flashes!! When I got up, a hot flash came upon me, and I jumped into the shower and took a cool shower. It's really a wonderful feeling to be showering when you're having a hot flash.

Anyway, all this to say, it was a great day!

Yesterday we found out that John was accepted to graduate school. We celebrated by going to see Spiderman (so-so) and then coming home and playing one of our 2-person boards games that we hadn't had a chance to play before. It was a nice day. We don't spend many days doing things together anymore, since he's in school, and both of use are involved in our various activities. We opened up the packet of blessed bodhisattva relics that we received from Sogyal Rinpoche at the retreat, and put one grain in each of our drinks. I found a nice Russian box to put them in and put it on our dining room table. I decided we'd put a grain in our morning drinks each day. Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about this as far as its effectiveness; but, everything that you put this powder in is blessed, so is supposed to have some healing power.

I've been feeling lately that my time is getting short. I have what feels like a swollen lymph node on my neck, and a strange sort of tiny lump under my tissue expander on the right side. Feeling that maybe the cancer is back is not so much a terrifying feeling as much at a little bit of a melancholy feeling. I don't think anything more profoundly demonstrates the meaning of impermanence than having cancer. Impermanence is one of the fundamental Buddhist principles -- "the whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent". It is understanding this that helps us not cling to things -- people, feelings, experiences, things, etc. I look at things and think "this may be the last time I see this" or "this may be the last time I experience this feeling".

A couple of days ago, when I realized the swollen lymph node wasn't going away, I started to "bargain". I can't remember exactly what the bargain was, but I did think it interesting. They say that you generally follow the same stages as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's dying when you have cancer. One of the stages is bargaining with God (or whomever). For instance, if you could have another year, you'll do good things in that year. I caught myself saying "if I could only have another year or two....". That's samsara in Buddhism. Clinging.

My mother is having surgery to remove a brain tumor on Tuesday. This has been another source of clinging for me, thinking and worrying about her and what will happen to her. Sometimes life seems so sad now that I'm older. It's brevity seems so impossible to comprehend when we're young.

Last night when I was meditating through my hot flashes, I found my mind racing about, not wanting to settle. There was an exercise in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, where you imagine the Buddha in front of you, eminating light into you and cleansing you, and then merging your mind with his. I've had a hard time practicing this, because imagery is not something I'm good at. I did try, though, and will keep trying this one. It's been mentioned several times in my Buddhist classes as well. It's a kind of calming exercise to help you in times of trouble. I want to learn these different Buddhist practices, so that I can have a "toolkit" of resources to help me through life's twists and turn

The preciousness of life.....

Monday, June 3rd, 2002

A friend of mine from Buddhist class told me that whenever I see or experience something really beautiful, I should take a "snapshot of it". Look at it, listen, feel, close my eyes and try to remember every aspect of the experience -- like a kiss from my husband, the beauty of the trees when I'm hiking. It's an exercise in building up your ability to use imagery.

It's been a very useful lesson for me, because in addition to helping me use imagery, it makes me very mindful, or aware of the world. I'm so intensely in awe of springtime. Is it because of my cancer, or is it because I lost a year from my life last year when I was in treatment? I don't know. I don't regret or resent last year. It was no fun going through it, but now, looking back on it, it was a year of self-introspection. How many people in this world get the opportunity to reflect on themselves for an entire year? The cancer treatments and the feeling of impending death forced me to be totally focused on where my life was going and what I needed to do to get it going in a direction that was right for me. If I had never had the year off, or if I'd never been given a cancer diagnosis, I think I wouldn't have had the profound motivation to have such a deep soul search.

The other day, John told me that he saw an interview on TV with Michael J. Fox. John said that it was surprising to hear Michael J. Fox say that parkinson's disease is the best thing that's happened to him. I know I really really didn't want to hear this last year, but now that I'm past my treatments, and can look back on the experience from afar, I can honestly say that it's never been so easy to live and enjoy my life fully, without baggage.

Lately my hot flashes have been a source of inspiration for me. That sounds silly, but hot flashes aren't so terrible that they're the cause of severe pain, they're just a serious annoyance. I set up a shrine by the side of my bed, and now when I have a hot flash, I get out of bed, and meditate at my shrine. If it's overwhelmed me to the point where I can't meditate, I chant mantras, or read a dharma book (my current book is called The Heart of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh. What a great and eloquent person he is!! Very inspiring!). I think I'm starting to average about 40 minutes of meditating a day because of my hot flashes. The reason this is so important is because I'm beginning to see it affecting the rest of my day -- The way I approach problems is very different now, my attitude is different. Today at work, I've been working on a problem and I stopped and came to the realization that work is a source of mindfulness. It isn't really work. When I have a difficult problem, the challenge is for me to be mindful of the problem -- don't get pissed off at the person that broke things, don't feel overwhelmed at the complexity of the problem, don't worry about deadlines. Just as I sit and clear my mind when I meditate, or try to take my "snapshot" of a beautiful scene, I can direct my mind on the work problem at hand, clear out all other noise, and this becomes a kind of dharma exercise.

The other day when I had a work problem, I woke up, got a hot flash and meditated, and took Mac the Lab out for a jog in the woods. While I was jogging, I was very specifically not allowing myself to think about the work problem. I tried to be mindful of my running, and my body moving. I stayed mindful all morning. Finally, in the car on the way to work, my mind was really wanting to take a stab at the problem, so I allowed it to at that time. I was absolutely dumfounded when, by the end of the drive to work, I'd solved the problem. This is a problem I've been working on for about a month -- writing, rewriting, testing, continually finding obscure timing problems with every solution I was trying. The problem was totally and completely simple, and virtually 100% free of timing issues. Sometimes it's shocking at how something can appear so so difficult and complex, but given enough time and the appropriate attention, will fall out into a very simple solution.

I love this life. The birds are so filled with miracle in their song, and the shades of green in the trees as I hike, with rays of sunshine piercing through, are really breathtaking

The first bird of the morning

Wednesday, May 29th, 2002

Have you ever heard the first bird of the morning? I've been sitting here working for the past couple of hours. It started with (another) hot flash. I came in here and decided to do a little bit of work and haven't made it back to bed yet.

For I think the first time in my life, I heard the very first bird of the morning! How beautiful it is to hear the silence of the night pierced by the first song! It's so much like the feeling of life after cancer treatments.

More hot flashes (surprise surprise) -- Rinpoche blessing

Tuesday, May 28th, 2002

I'm looking at my journal and realizing how infrequently I update it now. Wow, time is flying by SO quickly!!

I've been racing around trying to get a lifetimes worth of living done. I never felt like I had enough time to accomplish all of the things I wanted to accomplish in this lifetime, and with my breast cancer diagnosis, this feeling has been dramatically heightened.

We spent the Memorial Day weekend at a Buddhist retreat on Long Island. It was very inspirational. Extremely. The bad part is that my hot flashes are still pretty bad, and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I was SO tired during the teachings that I fell asleep throughout the entire thing. When I was awake I was suffering from more hot flashes that I couldn't dissipate because we were sitting in a large room with very little air circulation (at least for what I need), and then freezing spells. I was pathetic. A lot of times during the weekend I felt so sick and tired of the hot flashes. In general, I THINK I might be able to live with them. I've made a sort of peace with them w.r.t. my nights and having to get up throughout the night. I use the time to meditate and study my dharma books, which is really pretty neat. But this past weekend, it was just too much to ask of myself, I think, to be able to tolerate the rigors of a retreat.

I spent a lot of the weekend trying to forgive myself for feeling badly about everything, and just wanting to go home and sleep, and not caring about meditating, or what Rinpoche was saying.

At the end of the retreat, Rinpoche gave each one of us a blessing. I wondered if he'd know that I was the one who slept the whole time. I smiled at him, and he smiled back at me when I went up to him for my blessing. I felt so forgiven, it was inspiring.

I don't think I every REALLY believed there were good people in the world until now. Maybe I did, I don't remember. But now I do know that there are good people in the world. In fact, I think I'm starting to understand that everyone is good. The people we call "bad" are really confused and ignorant, but not inherently bad. It's wonderful to have met someone who is so close to being "not confused". His kindness and gentleness with me really made me feel good.

Along with a blessing, we received a picture of a very famous bodhisattva named Padmasambhava and a small packet of sacred powder which I think might be made from the relics of bodhisattvas through the ages. It was nice receiving those presents from Rinpoche. Rinpoche, by the way, is the name that is given to Tibetan teachers. It translates to "precious jewel".

On another whiny note, I saw my plastic surgeon. The tissue expanders have to stay in, since my tissues are still going through changes from the radiation. She said to come back in 3 months. I said "instead of coming back every 3 months and having you tell me to come back in 3 months can we just make it 6 months this time?" and she said "ok". I REALLY don't think I will be healed in 3 months. My left chest wall is still pretty sore from the pressure the tissue expander puts on it. At times I hate this situation, but in the realm of things, it's minor. The discomfort isn't too much to bear, and compared to chemo, it's a walk in the park.

Speaking of chemo, I've been gaining weight. I remember when I had no taste buds when the taxotere burnt everything away. For months everything tasted awful awful awful, even water. I wondered if people really did enjoy eating. Eating was such a terrible ordeal, I just couldn't imagine anyone actually enjoying, liking it. It was almost like I finally was thinking maybe this is REALLY how humans are. I laugh to myself when I remember back on thinking that. I pretty much sold myself on the concept that no one on earth REALLY enjoyed eating, that everyone lived in a state of deception about the taste of food.

All this to say, now I'm having a really good time with food, and gaining weight. Ugh. Today I made a committment to myself to stop eating the junk food. All weekend long, I didn't want to eat desserts, and people kept getting desserts and putting them in front of me, and then I'd crumble and eat them. oink oink.

Miscellaneous ramblings

Saturday, May 11th, 2002

John, Mac and Lab, and I had a fantastic jog through the woods today. It's a special place, called Misery Mountain, and people take their dogs and kids there. There are miles of wide, well-maintained trails, which are terrific for running. After our run, Mac ran into the pond at the head of the trail. He started "digging" the water. He's done this ever since he was a puppy. He used to go to doggy daycare, and he would come home with ear infections, because he would put his head into the bucket that they used to let the dogs drink from, and paddle the water with his paws. I guess he adores the splashing. It must have been so annoying for the people at the daycare, because the same place would have puppy play on Sundays that we used to take him to, and I could never keep that bucket full because he'd play with the water until it was completely splashed out.

In fact, once he was playing with some other dogs that were clearly alpha over him. Someone put a bowl of water out for the dogs to drink, and Mac put one paw on either side of the bowl and put his head over the water so the other dogs couldn't share the water with him. It was pretty hilarious. Water is really important to him.

Now, when he's in the water, and we stop to let him enjoy himself, he finds rocks at the bottom and tries to dig them out. He'll dig and dig and dig for easily 20-30 minutes. Last year I realized that if I let him dig for any more than 20 minutes he will wear his nails down to the nubs and bleed, so I try not to let him dig for a long time now.

A family with two little kids stopped to enjoy watching him. He's such a character.

I'm still struggling with, my favorite subject, hot flashes! I'm getting so tired of either being freezing cold or sweating. Sometimes in the mornings I'll find myself shivering uncontrollably, because I'm so cold. I'll snuggle up to John to get warm, and then get a hot flash from it. My body's inability to deal with temperature properly is a very strange thing.

On Monday I'll be seeing my plastic surgeon. I still have tissue expanders in my chest. The radiation on my left side has caused the tissues to be rock hard. Sometimes I feel like just telling the plastic surgeon to take everything out so I can live without feeling like I'm stuffed with foreign objects (I still have my port, too). On the other hand, I really do love having fake breasts. They make clothes look nicer on me without my having to wear a bra. And they are so rock hard they don't bounce at all when I'm running. So I guess I'll just live with what I have for a while longer. I might be able to successfully replace the tissue expanders with breast implants if I can wait for another 7 months. I still feel itchy where I was irradiated, so I know the tissues are still healing. I've read that it sometimes takes as much as 12 months before the healing from radiation is complete. In the meantime, the tissue can get really hard from underlying scarring. If I can wait it out, the plastic surgeon can cut out the scarring and try to soften it up. It'll be the ultimate pisser if I get sick and/or die before I get these tissue expanders and this port out, though!!!

I made a somewhat significant move today. It was donation day with the post office, and we were supposed to leave food to donate by the mailbox. I went through all of the comfort foods I'd collected last year and donated them -- all of my pasta, vienna sausage, spam, macaroni and cheese, and canned soups. John and I have followed a diet called the Zone diet for the past several years. The Zone diet isn't really a lose-weight diet. It's more like an eat-healthy kind of diet. The philosophy behind it is that you can be healthier if you have a diet that keeps your insulin under control. That means low-glycemic foods (Those are foods whose sugars absorb slowly in your body. High glycemic foods, like candy, or even oranges, juice, or carrots are absorbed so quickly that your insulin soars when you eat them. Coffee and caffeine do the same thing. That's why coffee is not a good thing to drink.) Most of your carbohydrates should come from vegetables (yes, vegetables ARE carbohydrates) instead of breads, rice, potatoes, or pasta. But to get your daily portion of carbs that means you have to eat A LOT of vegetables. My lunch now is an entire bag of vegetables, and apple, and a can of sardines.

Anyway, all this is to say that I've decided I shouldn't be eating my comfort foods any more. I'm going to try to at least try to stay somewhat zonish. I'm not "in the zone" yet. "In the zone" means that your insulin is completely level throughout the day. I can't quite completely get there because my hot flashes make me crave fruits. I try to eat them with a little cheese. Another thing about the Zone diet is that all of your meals and snacks should have a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, because a meal without proper proportions also can make the insulin rise. A typical Zone snack is a slice of cheese and a small fruit. It's a great diet, but takes about a month or two of really intensive attention to what you're eating and reading books before you can get comfortable with it.

The trees are utterly beautiful right now!! In fact, where I work, there is a pond, and trees all around the pond. A couple of weeks ago, the trees bloomed, and they were a brilliant white. With the brilliant white trees over the pond, and rhododendrons in full bloom it was so breathtaking I had to bring my camera to work and photograph everything. Turns out those white blooms only lasted a week before falling off. Everywhere there are things blooming now, though. It never ceases to amaze me at how New England winters are so desolate and colorless and how spring comes with such vigor. I don't know if I've ever seen such a beautiful spring here this year, though. Is it me or is it abnormally beautiful this year? I don't know

Morbidity warning

Friday, May 3rd, 2002

It's been a long week, but productive. Thankfully, my hot flashes are reducing in intensity and frequency. I only get 2 a night, whether I take an effexor or not that day, and they're really not too bad. I'll stick with my current regimen for another week or two, just to be sure, before stopping it altogether.

I've been trying to write an article about my social worker at the hospital. I spent the evening the other night transcribing the interview tape. It's left me in a melancholy mood. Today I did a search on the Internet on Stage III breast cancer, and reminded myself that I'll probably succumb to this disease. For a brief instant, I panic'd. I remembered what it was like last year to think about dying, to wonder what it was like to die, to wonder how my death would be, to wonder if I would make a mark in this world, wondering whether I could find my spiritual peace....

I see myself as another person, distant from myself. I feel that person inside myself struggling to survive in a world where most people wake up every morning, go to bed and night, and think nothing of the possibility that this may be their last day, last night, last year, last glimpse at the sunset, last doggie kiss. I think about the people in my past that I may never see again, and feel a sort of mourning for that. I don't feel that it would be appropriate to go to people and say "I'm dying, so I wanted to see you." I wish for an instant that this person inside myself could have that old life back again, that total innocence. I see her thinking "I don't want to die". But I know that that life is a shadow, a distant memory. It's become a picture in a scrapbook. I can see it and vaguely remember what it was like, but I can't identify with it enough to ever be able to touch it. The memory is too ephemeral.

This body. It's weaker, my chest, feet, and hands are numb from operations and chemotherapy effects. My fingernails, although mostly normal now, are still deformed at the ends where the tamoxifen tried to kill them. I worry about lumps I find. Is this THE lump? Is IT back now? I worry about rashes and carrying things. Did I overdo it this time, and is this swelling the onset of lymphedema?

I know that it's samsaric (Buddhist term for suffering, which is caused by clinging to things which are impermanent, like our bodies). I know I shouldn't think these thoughts. But right now, right at this very instant, I am.

Oh well, I'll be all right as soon as I go home and see my darling hubby and puppy. Been thinking too much today, I think.

More on my favorite subject (hot flashes), and last week's tsok

Monday, April 29th, 2002

Another night of hot flashes. One barely ends, and another starts. A good reason to be totally off of the Effexor. I think my body is so addicted to that stuff, it's having a hissy-fit. Things have been a lot worse since I started going on the pill-every-other-day regimen. I'll stick to this until the hot flashes stabilize. Meanwhile, I'm up most of every night, and I'm getting a heat rash on my back where I find myself waking up in my sweat at night.

I got my hair cut on Saturday. At first I didn't like it. Today I like it a little better. I think it looks much better trimmed than longer and ragged-looking. Instead of being an inch long it's now about 1/2".

The tsok (Buddhist pot luck) last week was really nice. About 9 people poured into our house and brought lots of love and positive karma. They streamed into the kitchen and arranged the food onto plates in a lovely manner. Then we had our ceremony, which is sort of a Buddhist version of a washing away of sins. There's a lot of praying and chanting and singing. After the ceremony, we ate the food. Mac the lab, who was locked in the bedroom for the ceremony (and barked through much of it unfortunately. he's not used to being locked up, especially when guests are over) was freed towards the ends of dinner. He was so happy to be with the group, he went from one person to another wagging his happy tail. The dog lovers loved him. I think he was a little bit too intense for the non-dog-lovers. But they tolerated him, which was nice.

After eating, everyone left but the person who's sort of the tsok-master. He's the expert, and arranges the tsoks and brings and sets up the shrine. He gave us instructions for the offering food. That's a special bowl that's prepared for the "buddhas". That food is taken outside and left under a bush for the creatures to eat. It is placed under a bush so people or animals don't walk on it. It is sacred food. The next day Mac the lab found it and had a huge feast. I'm surprised he didn't get sick.

The house feels so blessed after the tsok. It really does feel like a special place. I'm so grateful to be part of this beautiful group of people

First haircut -- Signs that you're having a hot flash

Friday, April 26th, 2002

Tomorrow I get my first haircut!!! I wonder how I'm going to look afterwards. I don't have a ton of hair to begin with. Well, here goes. I feel like a little kid, going for their first haircut.

Signs that you're having a hot flash:

1. When you complain about how stuffy it is everyone stops and stares at you
2. You turn the car air conditioner on when it's 30 degrees outside
3. Flashing in public is no longer an unreasonable thing to do
4. You're repulsed when the dog tries to cuddle up to you in bed
5. You find yourself thinking "I must be getting the flu"
6. People start telling you you've had too much to drink
7. Someone touches you and you see them look disgustedly at you as they wipe their hand on their jeans
8. All of a sudden the turtleneck which seemed so warm and cozy this morning when you put it on becomes a hothouse torture chamber
9. Instead of eating just one apple at a time you eat 5 and then scour the kitchen for more fruit to eat

Freezing my ass off!!

Monday, April 22nd, 2002

I've been freezing my ass off!!! I have to sleep topless. If I wear a top or a cap to bed, the heat that they generate triggers hot flashes all night long. I can reduce the number of hot flashes by not wearing a top or cap, opening the windows, and turning the fan on. That gives me a prayer of being able to dissipate the drenching sweat I get when a flash comes on.

When I get a hot flash I'm up for the next 20 minutes. Even if I'm totally and completely exhausted, I'm forced awake. Lately I've gotten down on my meditation cushion and meditated until the sweat starts to evaporate and my body starts to chill. Then I crawl under the covers and meditate in bed until the hot flash is over.

This whole process happens 2 or 3 times a night every single night. Other activities that will add to the number of hot flashes are 1) going to the bathroom and 2) letting the dog out in the middle of the night. Basically anything that gets me out of bed will trigger a hot flash, don't ask me why. I'm guaranteed if I get up in the middle of the night to pee that I'll be up for the next half-hour.

I think the hot flashes are being made worse by my weaning myself off of the Effexor. I'm now down to one Effexor every-other-day. I used to be taking 2 a day. I want to stop taking it, even though there's no obvious harm done by taking it, but it means instead of popping 3 pills a day I can go down to just popping one (tamoxifen), which just feels like it might be a little bit healthier. Now that I'm writing this, though, it sounds crazy. Here I'm worried about taking pills when all the poisons I had injected and radiated to me last year probably are a gazillion times the amount of Effexor I'd take in hundreds of lifetimes I'm sure.

Should I go back on the Effexor? Should I quit it? ACK! Too many decisions!

I've been feeling like a cancer patient lately. I did an interview with my social worker last Friday. I thought I'd write an article about her. I'm not sure if that's a factor, but since then I've felt a little melancholy about my plight. Last night I dreamt that I lived in a breast cancer dormitory. Every morning we'd each go off to our day buildings, where we each had our own counsellors. The woman in the bed next to me in the dorm was a newly diagnosed woman with long blonde hair. She refused to go see her counsellor in the mornings. Eventually her counsellor came to her. She was very resistent to talking to her counsellor -- like she was in denial about her cancer. But she liked me a lot and was very warm to me. One day I saw her with a beautiful scarf on that she was showing off. She was smiling. I knew that her hair had fallen out, and she had come to terms with her cancer.

My hair is a little weird. It's starting to grow down over my ears, and the bangs that are coming in are ratty-looking. I conditioned it for the very first time last night. It was a weird feeling conditioning my hair. Like I don't really see myself as a being with hair yet. The other day I decided to do something funky, and I combed it back after washing it. All day long people were calling me "sir". I got so annoyed I turned around and called someone "ma'am" in return. I need to go to a stylist. It really is ratty-looking.

Tonight we're hosting a tsok. That's a buddhist potluck, and it happens every 15 days. I'm looking forward to having everyone over to my house. We spent the weekend cleaning up, and hanging up pictures. It's the first time we've hung pictures, and the house looks really REALLY nice with pictures on the walls!!! I washed Mac the lab. I hope he's not too much of a pain. I know he'll enjoy the people.

Hello, long time no see!

Wednesday, April 17th, 2002

ok, I'm finally updating my journal! Things have been so busy! I feel like my days have gotten 12 hours shorter, life has become so so short, no time to accomplish everything I want to do.

My article was accepted by the ham radio magazine, QST. They're not going to put it in their magazine, though, they're going to put it on their web site, www.arrl.org. No problem. I'm happy to have it published in any form. There will be a picture of me in it, if anyone wants to see what I look like (don't expect anything beautiful!)

I think about DuniModi. I'm glad his journal is back. I put him on the prayer list that my Buddhist sangha has. I totally believe in prayer now. So, DuniModi, if you read this, there are at least 50 positive vibes that go your way every Tuesday night, and every night there's one that goes your way from my bedside.

Other sad things lately include John getting laid off from his job. His father had a stroke while we were in Italy, and my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I put these three on our prayer list too. John was upset with me at first for including him, but later thanked me. He didn't want to attract attention to his problem, and I understand that. I also just really care and decided I'd rather suffer his wrath than to not put him on the list.

The Buddhist group has been a really strong force in my life. I finally bought myself a meditation cushion and meditate every day before I go to sleep. I also try to work it in during the day whenever I can (and think of it). It's been great at helping me be able to deal with all of the problems, and potention what-if's without going crazy. The latest thing we've been studying in our class is called the 4 causes of renunciation:
1. The preciousness of being a human being
2. The impermanence of this world and everything in it
3. The unavoidability of cause and effect (karma)
4. The suffering (samsara) caused by clinging to "things" -- wealth, homes, friends, comforts.

These are the reasons we seek the spiritual life. In Buddhism, it's called the "dharma".

Last Monday John and I volunteered to work at the Boston Marathon. It was quite an experience. I'm looking forward to doing more volunteer work as a ham. It's a wonderful way to provide a very useful public service and in doing so support various events. It was a LOT of work preparing for it, though. I spent the last week making 104 pages of maps, a special antenna for my ham radio, and other notes in preparation for a potential emergency situation. Luckily everything went very smoothly, except for the weather being really chilly (good for the runners, lousy for the volunteers).

I've been struggling with my weight lately. I've been feeling so good, that I still haven't been eating very healthy food. I told John I want to start running with him every morning, so every morning he's going to try to get me up when he takes Mac the Lab out for a walk, and I'll jog along with them. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be able to run the Boston Maraton. Wouldn't that be fantastic.

A couple of people sent me e-mail because I've been so quiet. The LiveJournal community really is an amazing place. It's a virtual society of friends. I'm very grateful to have this place to come to where people gather to share parts of their lives, and I'm grateful to have the caring that people here have for each other. Maybe someday soon I'll write an article about this wonderous place.... hm......

More on my favorite subject, hot flashes, some thoughts about people

Wednesday, March 27th, 2002

John and I are finally getting our bodies back to normal after a week of total turmoil with the time difference from our trip to Italy. It's been rough adjusting to the time difference. John was sick over the weekend, and then I got sick. Just head colds, but more like a wearing down of our bodies. I'm really happy to be past that now and on the road to recovery.

I'm now officially weaning myself off of the Effexor. I used to take 2 pills a day. Since coming back from Italy I'm taking one. The night sweats are pretty bad now. After a couple of nights of wandering the house munching on food and watching TV all night, we finally decided to try opening all of the windows in the bedroom. The temperature here is about in the high 40's or maybe 50's, and the cool breeze through the windows has really helped me feel much better. Now at least I have a way to evaporate the sweat. If I can't get it evaporated I lie in it and break out in heat rashes on my neck. Ugh. I love being able to have the windows open now. Also, I was worried that reducing the Effexor would have some kind of negative effect on my emotions, since it is an antidepressant. Luckily, it hasn't affected me one bit emotionally. I'm VERY happy about that!

I decided to try an experiment. I noticed that every time I said "How are you today?" or "Good Morning!" or "Good Evening!" to someone in Italian in Italy, they would always smile and say something really friendly back. The other day in the grocery store I saw a store clerk that I've seen a million times but never talked to. I decided to say "How are you today?" She started gabbing and gabbing up a storm about her husband being retired, and how he cleans the house and he used to be an engineer, etc. etc. It was wonderful getting positive feedback for my attempt to reach out. If you're not an outgoing person, reaching out is somewhat daunting, because it's hard to imagine someone accepting the gesture.

Then, after I made my grocery purchase, the bag boy wheeled my bags to my car. They always do this at this store. No one EVER talks to them. EVER. I guess it's beneath people. I followed suit. I've never talked to them. This time, however, I decided to chat with him. "Is it cold enough for you?" I asked. We were in the middle of a pretty bad snow storm. He started going on and on about how much he adored snow, and chatted all the way to my car.

It's a wonderful feeling seeing people that we normal label as non-people turn into real flesh and blood people with feelings. In doing that I brought these people into my "family", which is a nice feeling.

My hair is about an inch long now. Last night I put my arms on my head and just rubbed them back and forth, cherishing the feeling of hair on my head. I haven't had this much hair for a year. Even though it wouldn't be the end of the world for me if I lost my hair again, having hair is definitely a nice present.

I had lunch with a work friend today, and he asked me all about last year and what I went through and how I was feeling. It's the first time anyone at work has really asked a lot of questions about my experience. It was a lot of fun having someone talk to me about it, and really nice to be able to share it with someone. I remember before my diagnosis, I would really feel uncomfortable talking about someone's cancer with them. Maybe there are people who would prefer not to talk about it. I really enjoy talking about it, and am grateful when people ask about it, because it gives me the chance to let others know that cancer is not some secretive disease to be ashamed of. Even the subject of dying is not something that I have a problem talking about. These things are just a fact of life. Being secretive about my experiences makes people think that it was something daunting. It wasn't. When you're diagnosed with cancer, you survive it, even though you don't think you will. That's the message I want people to take away from conversations with me. It ain't fun, that's for damned sure, but there are much worse things in life.

The other day I saw a boy in Sam's who had a deformed arm. I felt so terribly sorry for him. I thought it must be like never being able to have my hair back again. Not that having a bald head is disabling. What I mean is more that there's a physical representation of a disability that's public. You can't hide it. I thought about how courageous this young boy must be to walk around and not feel that he has to hide his arm in a prosthetic. I thought about how people must shun him out of fear of not knowing how to deal with his deformity. Then, after all of that thinking, I started wondering what he would think of me. Would he say "Poor lady who's been diagnosed with cancer. At least I'm not her." I had to chuckle to myself when I imagined him thinking that.

Back from Italy -- I think my article will get published!!

Friday, March 22nd, 2002

We got back a couple of days ago from a 13-day vacation in Italy. Wow, what a trip. We walked our legs off every day. I was so exhausted and missed home and my doggie so much that there were times that I was really miserable. But being in a different country with people who speak a different language was also really fun. We bought Pimsleur language CD's before we left and learned at little bit of Italian.

Italian is a very beautiful language. It's fairly easy to learn, and the way the Italians speak is very musical. It was a blast speaking to them, and they were so friendly and utterly charming, that we had some very funny, and lots of fun conversations. The nice thing was that 99% of the population speaks English too, so when we were in a pinch we'd blurt out our request in English.

We went to Rome, Florence, Siena and the Tuscany area, and Venice. It was such a romantic vacation. We wanted to go to Italy on our honeymoon and for some reason didn't do it. This was very much like a honeymoon. I ate gelato and drank hot chocolate milk every day. The hot chocolate is incredible. They don't throw a bag of instant chocolate in a glass of warm water, which is what you typically get here -- they take REAL milk, whip it, and add REAL chocolate!! OMG, it was so wonderful. Sometimes it was so thick, it would coat the spoon like hot pudding. Lucky for the walking that I only gained a pound the entire vacation.

It was also a spiritual journey for me. All of the cathedrals and churches in the country stay open to the public, so we went in every one that we passed and meditated. I lit candles. I really felt a kinship between my spirituality and being there in the cathedrals, even though "Buddhism" as a religion (I put it in quotes, because Buddhism really isn't a religion, it's more like a way of viewing the world and yourself.) is NOTHING like Catholicism. But the religious paintings and statues, and even the dead, preserved body parts of the past saints (yes, you read it right. They preserve the dead bodies of past saints and leave them in the cathedrals. In one cathedral there was the head of the saint at the altar, and her little finger in a display case by the pews) seemed so sacred, much like a representation of the Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. Bodhisattvas are people who choose to dedicate their lives to benefitting all beings. Jesus is a Bodhisattva, even though a really hard-core Christian would probably have a problem with that term.

The scooters were a real pain. Everywhere you went there were scooters all over the damned place! They went up on sidewalks, and zipped all around you. They were hellishly suicidal.

When I got back, I had an e-mail from the managing editor from QST, a ham radio magazine. They want pictures for an article I submitted to them. A friend of mine believes my article will get published! YAY!!!! The article is based upon my LiveJournal entry of 04 Feb 02. Imagine an article that combines breast cancer and ham radio (about the most touchy-feely subject in the world, and the least touchy-feely subject in the world). It'll definitely be a hoot if it gets published. I already have ideas on other articles I want to write, whether this one gets published or not.

Snow, PSK31, and our buddha natures

Thursday, February 28th, 2002

Yesterday it snowed here. I went to the window at work and looked out, and was filled
with overwhelming emotion at the awesomeness of the beauty of the snow falling.
The flakes were billowy-looking, and the trees and bushes had white icing. I could have
stood at the window for hours, just watching the snow falling. It occurred to me that this
could be the last snowfall I ever see. It probably won't be, but the feeling that it could
makes me want to soak up the experience, wrap it up, and never lose it from my memory.

When I got home and let out Mac the Lab, he put his nose down and shovelled his muzzle
through the snow and then rolled around in it with utter joy. Then he jumped up and down
like a rabbit. He does this when he's really in a playful mood. We took him to our spiritual retreat a couple of weekends ago, and he did this shovelling-with-his-nose thing in the sand at the beach. He must have thought sand was snow, because after pushing his muzzle 6 inches deep in sand for a couple of feet he shook his head in suprise, trying to get the sand out of his nose and eyes. It was a riot! He had gathered a small crowd of spectators with his antics, and everyone had a laugh.

I spent hours last night playing with a ham radio mode called PSK31. It's a digital mode where
I connect my computer to the radio and send and receive audio tones. Software on the
computer provides Digital Signal Processing (DSP) on the tones to convert them to/from
letter and numbers. With my broken antenna I managed to have a QSO (conversation)
with someone in Missouri. It was exciting. At the end he said the "band was going away".
That meant the frequency band, not the music band. I don't know how he knew the frequency
band was going away. I guess I'll have to learn that stuff as I do this more. I spent all day
Sunday making a transmit cable for this from a simple circuit diagram. Simple, but not very
for someone like me who doesn't know anything about circuit diagrams. It took all day, two
melted connectors (from the soldering iron), two telephones to my friend Bob, and 3 trips to
Radio Shack before I had something that I thought might work.

I haven't mentioned my Buddhist classes lately, but they're going very well. I went on a
spiritual care retreat a couple of weekends ago, and it was really intense. I talked to people
about my feeling about death following me around, now that I'm well again and back in the
"real" world. I realized that some of my fear was coming from not being dedicated enough
to the practice (meditating - not only meditating, but doing it with a devotion towards
benefitting all beings). It was really really a cleansing experience to be able to spend a
weekend talking about death and dying. It wasn't morbid. Which brings me to, how it is
most people see these topics as taboo because they think of them as morbid.
Death is a part of what each of us will experience eventually. It's really a natural
event in our lives. But our fear of dying is what makes it a morbid topic for us. If we
were to overcome this fear, then it would be a natural thing to talk about. One thing I
really like about my Buddhist classes is that, because they're centered around the
book "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche, the people who go
are people who are accepting of the fact of dying. Most of them have had past critical
illnesses or very close friends or family with serious illnesses, or work in nursing homes
or hospices. It's these experiences that force us to face our mortality head-on. The
result is not depression, like you would think, but joy. It's a joyful, friendly group, but
also a group of people who are extremely devoted towards each other and the
Buddhist philosophy of learning to love and accept yourself through meditation, and
by doing that, accepting the interconnectedness of all sentient beings everywhere. I like
that. It makes sense. It's where the fundamentalist religions profess to be before they
get lost in their own theology.

One of the amazing things that we talked about at last weeks Buddhist lesson was the
story of Adam and Eve and the apple. There's so much correlation between the
teachings of other religions and the Buddhist view of the world. In the Christian story,
Adam ate the apple and thereby revealed the original sin. An interpretation
by my teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, is that Adam and Eve were originally pure of heart --
they had "buddha nature". When Adam ate the apple, he began to experience
the confusion that comes with grasping. His buddha nature got lost in the confusion of
wanting, needing, being afraid of, etc. etc. These are all things associated with our ego.
His buddha nature still was there, it was just buried. This is where the Christian saying
"God made man in his likeness" comes in. We all have "God" within us, because we
are all Buddha's. The difference between the enlightened people and the "unenlightened"
is that the unenlightened have too much noise in their heads to be able to see the
underlying pure being. If you doubt this, take every feeling that you experience and
analyze it. Try to see how differently you'd feel if you had a different upbringing -- if
your parents had been perfect and loving, if you had been closer to your sibling,
if you'd been a girl and not a boy, etc. etc. That shows you how much of what you
feel and how you react to the world is based upon past experiences. If you clear
all of this away, what are you left with? You're left with the basic nature of the person
underneath all of that. That's the buddha within you, and that's why we meditate.
Getting to know that person is critical to accepting yourself and learning to love
and have compassion for others.