Thursday, July 23, 2009





1.of or pertaining to the school of philosophy founded by Zeno, who taught that people should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity.

I'm currently reading Dr. Bernie Siegel's Love, Medicine & Miracles: Lessons Learned About Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients lent to me by a wise woman. It's fascinating and I think everyone should read it whether or not they're battling an illness. His holistic approach to healing makes so much sense.  

In it he talks about predispositions to cancer. Two being stress and suppressed emotions. I never considered myself a stressed-out person. In fact, many people, including my former boss, were always commenting how markedly calm I am under pressure. I work best under pressure and thrive in a fast-paced, deadline-driven environment (I believe that may be a line on my resume ...). 

Maybe responding well to all that pressure isn't always a good thing. Turns out unexpressed emotion can actually suppress the immune system and can manifest itself in disease. I very, very rarely cry. I don't get worked up or easily overwhelmed. I don't think I've ever had a fight with anyone in my life, well besides fights over Ken dolls and crab rangoon with my siblings. I don't yell. I don't get angry. I see lemons as lemonade. I'm even keeled, generally content and happy with whatever I'm confronted with. I've always been able to step back from a situation, formulate a plan and get 'er done. 

Dr. Dailey got it right in one of our first meetings together when I found out I had stage 4b cancer. I asked how that was possible when I wasn't feeling that awful. "Well, you were probably being very stoic about it." Ding! Well look where being stoic got me. 

Since my May 8 diagnosis all has changed. I liken my emotions to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disney. Yesterday, I started crying while listening to a Bach concerto because the notes were just so beautiful. A couple weeks ago someone referred to me as "very ill" in a note and I screamed at the top of my lungs for a good five minutes. Today I was so overwhelmed with love for Sammy that I hugged her and laughed at her tail wagging furiously for about 10 minutes. I'm constantly doting over Craig now and feel like I keep falling in love with him all over again --- I think it creeps him out a bit. I must say, all extremes feel very healing, though it may make me seem a bit crazy.  

One of the questions Dr. Siegel asks his patients is: "What happened to you in the year or two before your illness?" Come to think of it, the past two years were quite eventful. 

In August of 2007 alone, I:  
-finished planning a wedding
-got married
-bought our first home
-delved into our first mortgage 
-moved out of our apartment
-survived a hurricane on our honeymoon
-had a run away car crash into the neighbor's garage on day 2 in the neighborhood

In the past year, I: 
-lost my grandfather
-lost Craig's grandfather 
-lost Craig's uncle very suddenly (in fact, this is the first time I learned of Dr. Bernie Siegel as he actually spoke at Kevin's funeral)
-lost Craig's aunt to brain cancer 
-got a new job 
-made the tough decision to leave an old job 
-got a dog 

If stress and cancer are interrelated, then I guess I can see how it could have developed. 

Siegel then asks his patients: "Did he or she openly grieve, rejoice, and face the challenge, or try to be calm and stoical?" Damn, that stoicism again. At the time, I never felt stressed during any of it, but now I see that maybe I didn't let myself accept that I was. I was always worried about how everyone else felt and trying to be strong for them. Craig is just the same as I am. Together we rolled with the punches, made each other laugh and smile and didn't let the little stresses that got others down get to us. Together we're one positive, smiley, stoic team. Maybe that's not always a good thing. Some of the things we've gone through were very, very difficult, especially losing his father to a long-fought battle with brain cancer just a few years ago. But we came out okay and stronger for it, because we always do. 

The loss of my Peppe two bitter cold Januaries ago hit me particularly hard. We were very close and I credit so much of who I am to him. He, too, loved writing and this blog is dedicated to him. I felt a very deep grief for a long time, still do. It was the first close family member I've ever lost and being a very small family - no aunts, no cousins, just the now 9 of us, it was a big hit. It took every ounce of strength I had to write and read his eulogy, but it was something I needed to do. Of course, I smiled through it, laughed and shared stories and didn't shed a tear in front of anyone at the service. When I was alone, and only when alone, that was another story. 

The last in a series of four questions Dr. Siegel asks his patients is "Why did you need this illness?" This is what I'm exploring now.

Says Siegel: "Sickness gives people 'permission' to do things they would otherwise be inhibited from doing. It can make it easier to say no to unwelcome burdens, duties, jobs or the demands of other people. It can serve as permission to do what one has always wanted but has always been 'too busy' to start. It can allow a person to take time off to reflect, meditate and chart a new course. It can serve as an excuse for failure. It can make it easier to request and accept love, speak your feelings, or otherwise be more honest. Even a cold has a meaning. Often its message is 'You've been working too hard. Go home and nurture yourself.'" 

I by no means blame myself or how I've lived my life thus far for getting me to this place. But I do see the fact that cancer chose me as an opportunity, not a punishment. 

Craig's mom always talks about listening to the little messages. Sometimes you get a tap on your shoulder and just ignore it. Then, another tap. If you keep ignoring it, you may end up with a piano falling on your head. I think this is my piano. I just haven't figured out exactly what that something is that I'm supposed to learn or do yet, but I'll get there. 

Until then, watch out. My emotions are running wild and free into the wilderness that is self-discovery. There's got to be a reason why this is happening to me and I will find it. 


  1. My mother loved that book. Good luck on your adventure, and we are all behind you!

  2. Karin, just look at that list of "What happened to you in the year or two before your illness?"! And that's not to mention all the things that happened to people around you who you supported without thinking twice about it. You are always the rock for so many other people and you don't even realize it. I know everyone is telling you right now that you are strong-becuase you are. But remember that it's okay to let other people be strong for you once in a while, whatever that means.

  3. Yes! Keep going down this path Karin! You may not be able to pinpoint a certain thing or list of reasons, and that's okay. The discoveries you make along your journey are the true gifts. Just think about all you are learning during this tough experience. And all the good that has come out of it too (and will continue to come out of it).

    Sometimes our most valuable lessons are borne from our most difficult challenges. We love you and are here with you. You're doing great.

    Thinking of you always xoxo lisa b.

  4. You are such a fantastic writer Karin! You too are in my thoughts and prayers everyday! Have fun trying all the things that you didn't have time for before!
    Love always - Marisa