In through the out door
Finding the right mindset to write this little piece of peace has been a challenge until I found myself with a loose end. Be warned, the next few paragraphs might be filled with more bad jokes and a rare teaspoon of crass. Oh, and you will need to pass me a swear jar.
You see, just a week ago I received a letter from the Australian Government announcing rather rudely in black and white that the result of the 50th birthday present they gave me – a Bowel Cancer Home Test Kit – is positive. Now, if you know me you’ll know that I am usually very laid back, yoga teacher calm, take most things in my stride, and that I am well versed in digestive health. However this trifold of A4 had me shaking in my Havaianas all the way to Wategos where I sat and watched the sunset pondering the afternoon of my life.
I could not get my clinical head around what is clearly a test that looks for blood but not for bowel cancer itself. The fear of cancer had paralysed me so much that I could barely move. I have lost both parents and my maternal grandmother to cancer so the concept of genetic predisposition haunts me.
However there are often catalysts for cancer. For example, at the peak of my father’s smoking career – a prolific puffer who stashed cartons of Peter Stuyvesant’s passport to international smoking pleasure like war rations – the man would chain smoke over a hundred cigarettes a day, lighting one after the other as quickly as he extinguished another in a mammoth marble ashtray. As kids we grew up engulfed in this Stuyvesant slipstream, long before medical authorities warned that smoking was a health hazard. He died too soon at 62. I wrote this book in his memory.
Then I began the stock-take. OK, what do I eat most of the time? Well Der! Read the contents of the recipes posted on this website and you’ll get a good idea. Maybe I should move more. I thought about the gruelling sessions of Bikram yoga sometimes up to 10 hours a week, the Byron lighthouse treks, the ocean swimming and the surf. I gave up smoking in my late 20s, so that’s out.
Whatabout rosé I hear you ask? Yes please! Ok, so maybe I drink too much French rosé. Yes that’s it, that’s what’ll get me. Great, noted. Oh For Fuck’s Sake! I cry out loud, the rosé we drink is relatively light and has fewer preservatives. Nope, not buying into that.
Am I happy? Hell yeah, most of the time, and I am very fine with that, and I believe we are not wired to be happy all the time and that happiness is a multi-faceted emotion that gets far too much airplay to be the one size fits all. How can we tell if we are happy if we have nothing to compare it to? To put this into food, how do you benefit from the great buffet of life if you do not have a choice? I learnt this from Esther Hicks’ book The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent.
Out of the blue, turning 50 had a much greater impact on me than I had expected. I began to compare aspects of my life to others. Focusing on the lack and not my extraordinary life experience, two exceptional careers to date, a well documented love of the good life, a great love, fabulous friendships, and a dinky-di, she’ll be right mate attitude for which I am truly grateful. But ageing comes with a few dings. I thought about my car, a 1994 Mercedes named Lotus Merkedes that has done more than 380,000 km. She shows no signs of giving in except for a bit of rust from living by the ocean and carrying a surfboard on her head, and just needs a bit of a touch up each year.
So what’s with the fear? Well as I write on this sunny morning of the colonoscopy – let’s call it GladAss Tuesday – the procedure honestly does not faze me as I have had life-saving surgery when I was younger. It’s the unknown and the outcome that worries me. Overnight I have purged a bounty of unresolved grief and a tablespoon or two of resentment I never really acknowledged thanks to the prescribed pre-op cocktail of sodium picosulfate, magnesium oxide, citric acid, aspartame, sodium chloride, potassium chloride and sodium sulfate. After years of writing about the gut it still amazes me how much emotion we store in our internal spaghetti that we do not pay attention to.
Ultimately fear lives in the kidneys where the emotion, according to Chinese medicine, sits snugly next to anxiety. If the digestion is depleted the liver energy will often draw on the kidneys to keep the gut ticking along. There are a few other organs that rely on the yang, the expansive energy, that comes floating up from the kidneys. One is called the spleen in Chinese medicine. If the spleen is not getting enough warmth from the kidneys it isn’t warm enough to do its job and that may lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
It’s all about the gut in our wellness world (just ask any Hipster pedalling sauerkraut!) and you can read my take on the Second Brain and intuition here. So my gut’s been out of whack for sometime with IBS, the general umbrella of symptoms that includes bloating, pain, constipation and dysbiosis.
For me, I have a sneaking suspicion there’s a rather pesky parasite driving my bleeding bits. Perhaps a Mexican bug hijacked its way to Australia with me last year, or could it be of the Maldivian water-loving variety? The truth is out there, or in there in my case. So as I lie here healing my fears through my own words – a marvellous technique that I encourage you all to pursue – I know that whatever comes my way I will demystify, digest and discern.
After a few days of the most appalling, pre-op, low residual diet that recommends refined cereal, rice bubbles, corn flakes, white bread, vanilla milkshakes, ice cream and custard, coupled with aforementioned mineral brew, there’s not much left inside me, except my generous spirit and the need to thrive.
Overnight I dreamt of the reconciliation and release of old relationships that didn’t take – ‘like a skin graft’ my father once scoffed in an interview. The yogic philosophy I have been lucky to adopt supports the process of compassionate detachment. And if that fails, I’ll just use the wisdom of the owl below.
See you on the other side!
P.S. The good news is that the search and destroy expedition I just endured has resulted in the removal of an ass-terroid, also known as the garden variety haemorrhoid.
P.P.S. Told you there’d be bad jokes.
P.P.P.S. I am overwhelmingly grateful for my birthday present from the government, my closest friends who reassured me every day over the past week, and to the fun, supportive and deeply compassionate staff at John Flynn Hospital, Gold Coast.
Incidentally, when I woke up in recovery I thought I was in a restaurant. Go figure!