Chemotherapy is not my only approach to healing from metastatic breast cancer. My doctor, a top research oncologist (her first name is Hope - always stick with an oncologist named Hope), says her drugs cannot cure what I have got, only treat it; yet I know that in the ultimate reality, nothing is incurable and all things are possible. Even Dr. Hope says that sometimes tumors just disappear and she doesn't know why. So I use many alternative approaches as a complement to the Western medicines I receive.
Practicing forgiveness is one technique that gives me physical and emotional comfort. Just last week I was meditating on forgiving Charles Krauthammer. Go look him up if you want to know why he needs forgiveness. I imagined him as a crippled man who believes that he is hated, and suffers from physical and emotional pain. I focused on his face in my mind, and sent love and compassion to him as if I were thinking with love of my own brother or cousin; in a moment my liver relaxed. The congestion and hardness in my abdomen eased. I have no idea if this meditation will help Charles Krauthammer, but it sure helped me.
I also work with a professor of holistic medicine who is expert in biofeedback, physiology, and visualization techniques. Cancer patients who visualize their own healing have better outcomes - there is good data to show this, and major cancer hospitals in the USA and Europe now offer visualizing and guided meditation classes to their patients. The classic example is: imagine your white blood cells are sharks devouring the helpless, weakened cancer cells. That sort of thing.
innumerable tiny lesions upon the flesh of my Mother
waiting to explode, maim, destroy
inextricably seeded into the structure of the earth.
Hail falls and cluster bombs explode.
The soil is sprinkled with death.
The earth is my Mother
her body is mine
her streams my bloodstream.
My liver is seeded with innumerable tiny microlesions
cluster bombs of cancer
too many to clear
waiting to explode.
The million cluster bombs Israel dropped upon the soil of South Lebanon in August 2006 continue to detonate, killing Lebanese shepherds, farmers and children. I find it difficult to forgive this. I can let go of the horrors of July-August 2006. The destruction of the war is done, and Lebanese are rebuilding. But the continuing destruction of cluster bombs, the toxicity of so many dropped upon the earth, and the ecological disaster to the land of Lebanon, seem like an unforgivable wound.
The connection between the cluster bomb infestation of Lebanese land and the diffuse metastasis in my liver felt right to me - symbolically right; emotionally right. Exactly one year after my father's death from cancer in September 2006, I was diagnosed with this diffuse metastasis, and I have long believed that the personal loss and the larger anguish and rage of the '06 war contributed to the illness.
If I imagine that my liver is seeded with cluster bombs, that perhaps this honeycomb of lesions might have an emotional connection to my fear, despair and rage at the bombs riddling the land of Lebanon, then what do I do now? I talked with the visualization doctor about it.
You could imagine the UN peacekeeping forces clearing the sites, he said. They have ways of locating the bombs and raking them up.
I need to forgive, I said. I can do that visualization, but I really need to forgive the people who did it, and that is so very hard.
You can think about the good side of these persons, he said. Very few people in the world are totally nasty characters. There are some. But most people have some good in them, somewhere. The evil they commit is situational, part of a larger system that is evil. Think about the good in those people.
Well okay. I knew I could probably do that. I have met Israelis and count a few as friends. I got up from the consultation chair, went out the door where my dear cousin N was waiting for me, and went home.
When we pulled into our driveway and parked, a young man with an Israeli accent called to me. "Could you move the car, because we can't get into the other one." My husband had summoned an emergency locksmith while I was away to replace the ignition on our second car; he had chosen a company at random out of the phone book. I moved the car, got out, and saw this young, handsome guy with dark eyes, pale long face and long nose, brown hair pulled into a ponytail, carrying an electric drill. Next to him was a friend, this one with a smaller face and head and short nose, dark olive skin, cute. The friend looked like an Arab, but the guy with the drill looked like a central casting Jesus, an Orthodox icon of the sixth century, a hippie Jewish guy who might be an Oberlin College student.
"Listen to that lovely accent," I said to cousin N, loud enough so they could hear. "I think we have some cousins visiting us."
"Cousins, are you Jewish?" Long haired locksmith asked. I felt utterly light and happy.
"We are cousins and neighbors but we are not Jewish," I answered, merrily. He ducked into our car and started messing with the ignition. We talked about the ignition, and I teased his friend for wearing body armor. It was this black plastic vest with a long spine like vertebrae down the back, worn over his shirt and under his jacket; the frontispiece actually said "Body Armor."
"Oakland isn't THAT dangerous," I told him. The friend got very earnest and explained he wore it to ride his motorcycle, and that it was only bulletproof in the back.
"She's making a joke," locksmith said to his buddy, who looked at me with concern. These young men and their gear, I thought. Both guys wore earpiece cel phones.
I quit kibbitzing and went inside, but I felt such affection for these two fellows fixing my car. They were shebab, young energetic men running around Oakland practicing their trade. Usually we only refer to Arab young men as shebab, but these Israeli guys were clearly shebab. I told my husband and cousin N that I am just predisposed to like Middle Eastern shebab. They make me happy. I don't know why. I have no idea if they understood that despite my teasing I actually felt affection for them. I felt a similar rush of affection and pleasure last year upon meeting a group of California cousins from my village - they were so energetic and handsome and full of life that I said "you guys make me proud to be Lebanese." But the Israeli locksmiths are no tribesmen of mine, so my good feeling about them is not clan solidarity. I laughed at myself.
My husband said if I could admire shebab in the driveway, he could admire "shebabas", and I informed him that the correct term was sabayah. If he wants to admire sabayah from afar that's fine with me. We all had a big laugh about it.
That night I realized that the Great Mystery had sent me some Israelis to forgive, to like, to appreciate. No cluster bombs came between us. What a coincidence that they appeared an hour after my doctor suggested I think of the good side of the Israelis I resent. Whatever their histories, their tribal affiliation, I got to experience human goodwill for these two guys. None of our history mattered in the California sunshine. They were fixing my ignition, and I was appreciating them for being clever, alive young men. The good in them was absolutely apparent.
I can't stop the horrors in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq. I can't make my president see reason, nor can I change the minds of the many people in the world who suffer from hatred and bigotry. But to save my own life, to relieve the torment in my own liver, I can forgive, I can feel good will, exactly where I am, with whomever shows up.
May the peace I feel ripple out like the circles around a stone dropped into a pond, may it affect somebody else, somewhere.
PS last week when my nurse checked my abdomen, her eyes got wide. "Where is your liver? What have you been doing?" The liver is measurably smaller (by three centimeters) and much softer - just in two weeks' time. I told her I'd begun acupuncture; but I didn't mention all this new meditation and visualizing I've been up to. "Whatever you're doing, keep it up," she said.