Sunday, June 15, 2014

Monkey Mind

Have you ever tried really hard to relax?  How about concentrating on reaching a meditative state?  It's impossible by definition.  I've tried sending everything to my mental trash folder, and it never seems to work for me.  I have terrible Monkey Mind. 
Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, Buddha said, with dozens of monkeys all clamoring for attention. Fear is an especially loud monkey, sounding the alarm incessantly, pointing out all the things we should be wary of and everything that could go wrong.    (Huffington Post Blog, BJ Gallagher)
If only there was a drug for this affliction; I'd be the first in line.  I went to Hopkins on June 2nd for a Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) to an upper left lung tumor.  The procedure went great.  Easy peasy.  Dr. Hong was all smiles afterward and once my chest x-rays showed that all was well, I left with Karen the same day.  I drove home the next day and worked from home the day after. 

I did notice that I had two little red marks at the site on my upper back, and thought, "Hmmm, one tumor, two needle marks?  Oh, well."  When I called for a copy of the operative report later that week, I was stunned at a something I read.  It described the prep for the surgery, and then this:  "At this time a 25% pneumothorax was identified on the left side," followed by a chest tube placement.  Whaaa?  I had a collapsed lung before the RFA even started?  How long have I been walking around with that?  The monkeys were going crazy.  As I speed dialed Dr. Hong, I thought, "Um.  Dr. Hong?  Excuse me, but WTF?  Did I walk in with this?  Did you forget to mention something?"  Of course I had to leave a message and wait with the monkeys till he called me back.  "Oh no," he said.  "If you had a 25% collapse, you would have known it."  He then proceeded to advise me not to read the reports.  To this I replied, "Dr. Hong, have you met me?"  We both just laughed as my blood pressure receded.  Yes, I had a small pneumothorax from having my lung pierced by the needle, but it resolved itself before I woke up so I never even knew about it.  It was such a non-event, he never thought to mention it.  Hence the two little marks -- one from the needle, the other from the tiny chest tube.

In Cancer World, it's very hard to shake off Monkey Mind.  We assume that every new symptom of anything is a sign of more cancer.  A headache must be a brain tumor.  A new age spot must be skin cancer.  A chest cold means that lung metastasis has taken over.  It's exhausting.  The monkeys take up residence and refuse to leave. 

In mid May, during the busiest, most stressful time of my entire year at work, I got a call from my urologist.  The stent that was placed between my bladder and kidney last year, part of a cryoablation procedure to kill a large tumor in my kidney, left lingering symptoms.  My doctor called to tell me that he ran a FISH test and it came back positive.  A FISH test is a marker for cancer.  He wanted me to have an immediate procedure to see what was going on.  The subtext of the call was, "You probably have bladder cancer." 

There were three possibilities:  1.  The FISH test was a false positive and I'm fine.  Yeah, right.  2.  Metastasis has spread to my bladder.  3.  I have a new bladder cancer, caused by the tons of chemotherapy drugs and other toxic medicines I've poisoned my body with over the last 14 years.  It was a very long two weeks and the monkeys were relentless.  The answer was behind Door Number 1:  The test was a false positive.  No sign of cancer.  Relief  and surprise don't come close to describing how happy I was, or the beat down I gave those monkeys.

The problem is, Monkey Mind is a constant state of being unless we actively work to control it and keep it at bay.  I'm having a hard time healing from the carpel tunnel release that was done when I fractured my wrist in February.  This injury was pretty traumatic for my new immune system and it's working overtime to heal me.  Unfortunately, it's also fighting me again, causing all kinds of pain issues to resurface.  Is it any wonder that I self induced a sinus cold last week?  Damn monkeys!

I know that deep breathing exercises and meditation would make a huge difference, so I've started doing both.  I hope to get back to doing gentle yoga again soon, which was something I enjoyed before I fell. Thankfully, I won't have to spend my summer making trips to Hopkins.  There are two more ablations on the horizon.  I'll go in early September for a cryoablation to kill two more tumors in my left lung, and after that we'll schedule another one to kill a right lung tumor.  Next month I'm going to Sonoma Valley in California for a meeting with other ACC patients, and I'll spend a couple of days visiting San Francisco.  Meeting other survivors is enormously helpful when fighting a rare disease that no one has ever heard of.  Having the meeting at a winery is even better!

The first step to conquering Monkey Mind is to recognize the reason the monkeys are screeching.  It's usually fear.  Then we can use the tools we know we should be using -- meditation, prayer, etc. -- to escort them out the door.  Monkeys are fascinating animals.  They just don't belong in our heads. 

Happy Father's Day to all fathers everywhere!