In 1990 our young family weathered an extraordinary crisis. My son Ross—yes, man of sushi fame and current Recess owner, where soup creation magic happens for me—developed a small neck lump that rapidly began to grow. Within a few days we were at Stanford Children’s Hospital, moving with the medical diagnosis machine—bone scan, MRI, bone marrow excision. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and by the morning bright pink chemo was transfusing into his thin little arm, the beginning of a regimen that continued half the year. Words fail me here. What it means to be with your achingly small seven year old, watch him drop weight, lose hair, field questions on fairness. Watch him sit on the Little League bench all suited up and too sick to play. Celebrate his eighth birthday and wonder if there would be a ninth. Do whatever it took to make it through one more day.
In my bedroom, during this first treatment month, a calendar graced the wall opposite my bed. I’d wake each morning to the indelible image of a mama gorilla holding her infant close, deep in the forest. I still have it; it brings all the flavor of that season back home. As the year wore on, sweet hubby obsessed with planning a family trip to the Grand Canyon to honor the one year anniversary of this journey. Six weeks after treatment completed, Ross began to recover. Weight filled out his bones, hair grew in, he played ball. By the time we embarked on this canyon adventure, the whole harrowing episode seemed like a bad dream. Life has a way of moving on, especially with young children at your feet. At this one year mark, medical powers that be called the prognosis good. At ten years, they released us from continued check ups.
That hike to the bottom of Grand Canyon begins at 9,000 feet in elevation. Down the South Kaibab we went, each carrying the requisite one gallon of water. The Colorado River beckoned and we just kept going down down down, finally hitting bottom at 4,000 feet. We swam in Bright Angel Creek, slept at Phantom Ranch, reveled in this accomplishment. The wake up call at 4am is serious on the next day. It’s an eight hour climb out of there and way too hot to indulge in a leisurely morning. The ascent was hard, one winding zig-zag at a time, pauses in any available shade, slow and steady. So elated at the top, so delirious, sweet hubby had us agree to return in five years and complete the same hike. In our euphoric stupor, we all said yes.
And he held us to it. Ross was 13 this time and Sonya was ending her final year of high school. This trip was markedly different. Instead of us caring for the kids, the roles often felt reversed. There were several moments when sweet encouragement from the children was critical. It was amazing to feel this passage, this poignant reversal. The completion of this second journey was completion of a full circle. And the Grand Canyon has ever since called to us. We became intrigued with the beauty (see above photo) at the western end, home to the Havasupai native Americans, reservation land that can only be visited with a guide. It took us time to figure out how and when but we are on our way there right now with Road Scholar, a group that has been taking people onto this sacred land for twenty years. One guide is an historian, the other a geologist.
This journey, this return to our family healing place, was scheduled way before I received the personal news I share here with you. The synchronicity is, of course, not lost on me. I’ve been working through post-menopausal health issues for the last six months. A biopsy last week revealed uterine cancer. The good news: it is early, and though they can’t “stage” it until surgery, there’s a good likelihood that a hysterectomy will be enough. The prognosis is very hopeful.
Needless to say, much is arising for me, in me, around me. I’m incredibly grateful for an organ that produced two beautiful human beings and can understand after seven decades that it might just be ready to go off line. In fits and starts, waves of fear wash over me. Sadness comes calling in many guises. I am also aware I feel as worried about the people I love as I do for myself. Figures. Grateful for every moment of prior practice that is now supporting me in surfing these waves. They always pass and ultimately deliver me to the gift of sparked gratitude and utter appreciation that accompanies human loss. Ironic, isn’t it? How everything is bathed in such beautiful light.
Thanks for listening and here is my very sincere request. I totally appreciate any and all love and support you wish to extend. Thank you, I am already feeling it from the few who know. Here is what I do not need: your feedback, your fixes, the story of your Aunt Ethel, or the sure-fire cure you believe grapefruit extract will provide. The cancer is slow-growing and medical wheels turn oh so slowly. So it will be a month or two before I have surgery. I quietly want to live my life and do my work, see my patients, teach my classes, cook soup. Soak up every dancing moment available. Be on my mat. Listen to music. Be in nature every day. Hug the people I love. Pretty simple. Thank you for just letting me be.
Send any well wishes off to the canyon this week as we make our way to the bottom and then climb our way out again. More good news? The western end is only a 2,000 foot elevation change and we are so ready for healing in the canyon.