In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pray for Malaya

Please pray for Malaya, a nun at KMC New Mexico in Albuquerque, who is close to dying from ovarian cancer. (You may know her as "Nan," which was her lay name until she ordained a couple of years ago.) She was the long-time caregiver for her elderly mother, who died last week. Please also pray for Malaya's sister.
Malaya was diagnosed a month after me, which made me feel even closer to her. I was looking forward to going on this cancer journey together and was hoping I'd be able to help in some small way. When Jody told me this news this morning, it hit me pretty hard. I should know better - because samsara is so harsh - but I wasn't expecting Malaya to go so fast.
I'm off to Wishfulfilling Jewel - where we'll dedicate for Malaya, her mother and her sister - so I have to run, but I wanted to get this request out before I went.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Shadows on the Outside - Funny & Inspiring

Came across this old piece called "Sincere meditations" by Anne Lamott yesterday and thought you'd enjoy it. It's about a man with severe facial deformities. which he calls "shadows on the outside."
Here's how it begins:
"A friend said mournfully the other day that he'd lived his life like the professor on 'Gilligan's Island.' While he found time to fashion generators out of palm fronds, vaccines out of algae, he never got down to fixing that huge hole in the boat so he could go home. How many people actually do? Sometimes, if you are lucky and brave, you can watch someone who's met with serious illness or loss do this kind of restoration, this work that you may suspect we are here on earth to do. Or if you've ever seen David Roche, the monologist and pastor of the Church of 80 Percent Sincerity, you may have already witnessed this process."

If you keep reading you get to this:
" 'We in the Church of 80 Percent Sincerity do not believe in miracles,' he said. 'But we do believe that you have to stay alert, because good things happen. When God opens the door, you've got to put your foot in it.'
God, it's such subversive material, so contrary to everything society leads us to believe -- that if you look good, you'll be happy, and have it all together, and then you'll be successful and nothing will go wrong and you won't have to die, and the rot can't get in."

Of course I don't agree with all of it - for example, I believe in 100% sincerity and 100% compassion - I hope that goes without saying.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Life as a Dog

Sleeping, resting, eating, napping, going for walks, snoozing, snacking, dozing, crashing, sacking out, eating - this has been my life the last couple of weeks - just like a dog's, but without the barking. Except for the walks, you could say it was a cat's life. I probably seem as aloof as a cat, because when I'm this tired I don't have the energy to talk on the phone or respond to emails - but I appreciate your calls and emails all the same.

On a typical day I sleep in, then get up and move to the couch. When the weather's nice, I'll spend some time lying on a Thermarest mattress on the deck; when it starts to cool off, I'm back to the couch.
I have a bit more energy today and should keep improving this week, until my next treatment July 2.
Mostly it's the Cisplatin chemo I get in the hospital that wipes me out. I can illustrate it with numbers: The day before treatment, my ANC (a key measure of my white cells) was 3.8; after treatment, it was 0.5. Normally the ANC has to be 1.0 to get part 2 of the treatment, but again my doctor said to go ahead, because I also got a shot of Neulasta, which he knows will bring my counts back up in a few days. I was sorry to miss Saturday's fundraiser, but with my counts so low I'm vulnerable to infection.

It's a good thing I've always believed in the power of thought. When I was in college, I can remember debating with friends about how they defined their lives: They insisted that what really counted was doing, not thinking or being, and to them doing meant actions that other people could see. I wasn't very good at arguing, but I believed deep down in what Buddhism calls "mental actions." So even though all I can do some days is lie on the couch, I can still recite mantras and practice taking and giving. I'm grateful that our tradition offers a wide range of practices, from the ones that fit under a fingernail to the ones as vast as space, so that whatever your capacities or affinities, there is always something you can do.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Break's Over - on to Round 3

Hello all. I enjoyed my week off, sitting on the deck reading, taking the dog for walks and resting. It felt just like being on vacation, especially since the weather has been so pleasant - not that the sun is a true cause of happiness, as Gen-la Dekyong reminded us at the Post Spring Festival Retreat here in Seattle : )

Earlier this morning I had bloodwork done and met with a physician's assistant, Erin Shade, who examined me and asked lots of questions about how I've been feeling (in short, very good).
The chemo's working: my tumor marker CA-125 dropped again. That's very good news.
Now I'm in the hospital - back in room 1111 ! - getting chemo: 24 hours of IV Taxol, then a few hours of IP Cisplatin. You're welcome to come visit me in the hospital if you like: I'm at Swedish on "Pill Hill," in the SW wing. I should be here until tomorrow evening; if you need to ask for me, use my "real" name, "Meredith.
Next Fri I'll get a few hours of IP Taxol at the doctor's office. That will mark the halfway point for chemo, as I'm scheduled for 6 rounds in all.

I've been working my way through some cancer and nutrition books, including The Journey Through Cancer: Healing and Transforming the Whole Person, which was recommended by Sangha. It outlines 7 stages of healing, ranging from medical to emotional to spiritual, and strikes a reasonable balance balance between standard and complementary alternative treatments (the author is an MD who's studied Eastern healing practices, including Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine). Unlike some of the books and websites I've been reading, it's presented in a way that's easy to digest - I read it in a day. I'd recommend it for anyone with cancer, especially those who could benefit from chemo and/or radiation but would prefer a more "natural" approach or who are scared that chemo sounds too toxic. If you'd like to get a sense of the book, go to the author's website, which has overviews, sample chapters, author interviews, etc.
One exercise he recommends is listing your goals for the coming year, so I'm going to spend some time thinking about that, especially details about how I can make some spiritual progress.

I can also recommend to everyone - not just cancer patients - The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, which was "prescribed" by my naturopath. You might want to start with the later chapters, which give his nutritional recommendations and are easier to get through. The first chapters give the scientific basis for his recommendations and establish his credentials. There's more info at the book's website and a sample chapter in PDF form at

On my break I also had a burst of energy where I did some organizing and filing. As you can imagine, when you're fatigued, when you're spending a lot of time going to doctor appointments, and when you're trying to understand more about your disease and improve your health, less important things pile up - like the mail and other papers. I took some time to go through it and got a lot of it into folders. Still some more work to do there ... and on other fronts : )

As always, I want to sincerely thank you for your support and prayers.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Want to Talk Back?

How to Add a Comment: A couple of you have told me you'd like to add a comment to one of the items here. I think I adjusted the settings so that you no longer need a Gmail/Google account.
Try this:
1. Click the word "COMMENTS" below an entry.
2. Type your comment in the box.
3. In the Comment as box, click Anonymous.
4. Click Post Comment.

Please send me email at if it doesn't work.

Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times

Karen sent me a link to this piece in the NY Times called "Reprieve" - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Of course as Buddhists we know that you can be happy all the time if you practice, and that you don't need to have your life threatened to appreciate What Matters.
"Fourteen years ago I was stabbed in the throat. ... The point is that after my unsuccessful murder I wasn’t unhappy for an entire year.
I’m not claiming I was continuously euphoric the whole time; it’s just that, during that grace period, nothing much could bother me or get me down. The sort of horrible thing that I’d always dreaded was going to happen to me had finally happened. I figured I was off the hook for a while. In a parallel universe only two millimeters away from this one (the distance between the stiletto and my carotid), I had been flown home in the cargo hold instead of in coach. Everything in this one, as far as I was concerned, was gravy.
I wish I could recommend this experience to everyone. It’s a cliché that this is why people enjoy thrill-seeking pastimes ranging from harmless adrenaline fixes like roller coasters to suicide attempts with safety nets, like bungee jumping. The catch is that to get the full effect you have to be genuinely uncertain that you’re going to survive. The best approximation would be to hire an incompetent hit man to assassinate you.
It’s one of the maddening perversities of human psychology that we only notice we’re alive when we’re reminded we’re going to die, sort of the same way some of us only appreciate our girlfriends after they’re exes. ... "

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bone Ache = Good

Backtracking to tell you about last week.
When I noticed some aching in my hips on a walk last week, my first thought was , "Uh oh - maybe the cancer's moved into my bones." I had a bit of concern, which faded away and I forgot about it until I was at the doctor's office the next day and the nurse asked if I had any bone pain. "Yes," I said, "how'd you know?" She explained that was a good sign: It mean the Neupogen was helping my bone marrow produce more white blood cells.

It reminded me that we don't always recognize good conditions. We tend to think pain is always to be avoided. Unless we're Lojong practitioners, we think suffering has nothing but bad qualities. And we think cancer is a bad thing.
When I was first diagnosed, I had some level of acceptance - that this was my karma ripening, and if I kept a happy mind that negative karma would be purified. But I didn't welcome it wholeheartedly, and I didn't give up "the idea that things should be other than what they are." Even intellectually I wondered how it could be better to have cancer. Now more and more I can see the benefits. To name just one: it's a "real-life" death meditation that gives my practice a kick in the pants. (There'd be even more benefit if you used my cancer to put some "oomph" into your own meditation on death and impermanence - come visit my mountain : )

As it says on the Kadampa webpage about Dorje Shugden, "If we rely sincerely upon Dorje Shugden, he will arrange the conditions that are most conducive for our Dharma practice, but these will not necessarily be the ones that we ourself would have chosen! Dorje Shugden will bless our minds to help us transform difficult situations into the spiritual path ..."
I try to see every situation in my life as manifested by my Spiritual Guide for my training. I try to think, "What is this teaching me? How can I make use of this?" Over time I'll write more about what I'm getting out of this experience.

You may still be a bit skeptical about all this "cancer is good" talk, so I'm going to include some other voices. When I was looking for more information about the IP chemo, the best info I found was an online discussion/support group for women with ovarian cancer. Recently there was a discussion where several people talked about how cancer had improved their lives and made them better people.
A few excerpts:
"As much as I hate cancer and would strangle it senseless if it were something I could wrap my mitts around, I have to say... I wouldn't change my experience for anything. It made me who I am today and I do believe it's for the better."
"I know I have much more compassion for people who are suffering than I did before ..."
"I'm so glad that if someone had to get cancer, it was me instead of someone I love......I know this may sound odd but..........I think cancer made me a better person."
"Ladies, I have to admit that 5 1/2 years ago when I was diagnosed with [ovarian cancer] --if I heard of anyone saying Cancer has changed my life for the better I really wanted to punch them or say "what kind of life did you have?" But over the years I can say I agree with all comments--cancer brings your life into perspective of what is really important ..."