"Embracing Life": Caridad's 23 Rules for living with cancer

Cancer with Style. Caridad was able to live with breast cancer, which behaved like an aggressive “triple negative cancer”, for 8 good years. She accomplished this by “embracing life”, which, in her own words, meant “dancing with cancer, rather than fighting with it”. Right after her diagnosis in July 2009, I bought a full case of her favorite champagne, Veuve Clicquot, which didn’t last very long. This led to the motto:

When we get bad news: we celebrate. When we get good news: we celebrate, which is at the heart of Cancer with Style system.

Caridad wrote about cancer blessings (“23 cancer blessings“), which I summarize here for you. These are largely Caridad’s words, which I have edited and re-organized.

Best wishes,

Hartmuth Kolb

Caridad and Hartmuth Kolb

Cancer Blessings? How dare Frau Kolb suggest that the cancer might mean an end to your precious life is a blessing? Well, Frau Kolb is an expert on getting a kick out of whatever life throws up in the way of enjoying life.  I am NOT, however a doctor, what you read here is my personal proposal, an invitation, if you will, to join me in celebrating the good and bad news, as good and bad news will bloom in your life like flowers in the spring time.

Many will find themselves alone and without means to cope with the huge costs of cancer.  They must now tap into a source, a reserve, of strength and clarity within themselves.  That still point, deep within the garden of being, which holds keys to enjoying your life no matter what strikes you, allowing space for life to remain precious when you face life-threatening cancer treatment. In order to be effective the treatment is rough, it can kill you. So… you better get ready.  This is a time to re-new your contract and decide IF living suits you well enough to cling to all lively, joyous, and creative pursuits.  For those who have lost their path, or never had a clear route toward fulfillment, cancer maybe a chance to save their own lives by using the opportunity to connect with others and thereby forming a “Cancer Circle,” of which they are the center.  It could be that this is the chance to meet new people with whom to relate, commune, and move forward.

My husband, Dr. Hartmuth C. Kolb came up with the motto “when we get bad news: we celebrate/when we get good news: we celebrate”, which is at the heart of this Cancer with Style system.“

New Year’s Eve 2016/17 – Caviar and “champagne”

The original  “Cancer Blessing,” was discovered by my talented medical oncologist, Dr. Lawrence Piro upon the discovery that my chemo-therapy treatment had to be interrupted to perform an open-heart-surgery… but that is another story.

Caridad, the weekend after the diagnosis in July 2009

I write with the intention of providing you with a chuckle or, at least, 23 good reasons to laugh in the face of death, a useful fresh perspectives, and empowerment in these times of turmoil.

Please take care and know that I am thinking of all the people out there; losing their hair, having breasts amputated, or otherwise facing profound changes; in order to continue to embrace the bliss of breathing.

Love,

Frau Kolb”

Happy Birthday!

This list of 23 Cancer Blessings is based on my experience dancing with rather than fighting against cancer.  Because of my BRCA2 mutation, there was little I could have done to avoid having cancer (cf., however, my Angelina Jolie article), yet there is much I’ve done to enjoy life while undergoing treatment.  All in all, my life has expanded and become more fulfilling during my dancing time.

I’ve traveled more.  I made time and space in my life for creativity in a way that keeps me connected and vital. Talkinggrid is one of the out comes of my stretching wingspan into areas that were my dream territories: publishing and professional writing, being every reading girl’s ultimate dream.  I invite you to join me on this worthy voyage, the art of making peace with yourself and enjoying every second of your life as it is.  Yes, you are going to get treatment.  This advice is NOT about PRAYING CANCER AWAY

Hawaii 2016, after nearly dying a few months earlier

1.) Cancer means you must stop, take a deep breath and LOOK at yourself.  This is the ultimate opportunity to take stock of your life.  This is the part of the movie of YOU where you find out what really matters and who really cares.  Do not be surprised if some of the people you thought would be present for you are not.  Let them go.  Be OPEN to the new LOVE that can and will support you.

Contemplating life with cancer

2.) YOU have zero time to waste.  You must focus your depleted energy wisely in order to make it from one day to the next.  Cancer is a serious condition and minimizing it, is a strategy I employ.  Yet, I’ve never backed down or stepped away from treatment.  I’ve EMBRACED LIFE, thus finding strength that isn’t mine, borrowing it from my husband, my friends, and the world… remembering that my drama is but a drop in the galactic sea of mystery.  Enjoying the ups and down, of the eternal “red-wine sea…”

3.) Address the issues: this is time to educate yourself, apply the SEVEN BOOK RULE, which is Frau Kolb’s favorite success tool: read seven books about your type of cancer.  Why seven? Because then you will have an informed perspective and know what to ask your doctors. YOU better learn the basics of what others have endured or in order to find the treasure buried in the middle of this surreal landscape.

4.) Find an advocate who deeply cares about you when dealing with doctors, getting tests done and making decisions. Make sure you and your advocate take notes during your meetings with doctors, and be ready for them with lists of questions.

Infusions at home by my husband

5.) Become very friendly with your doctors.  Share the jokes you read, hear, and love with them and they will LOVE seeing YOU and YOU will get better care.  Bring them a copy of a great book you just read.  LOVE them and they will care about YOU, more. Moreover: being the favorite patient of a great doctor has many social benefits. Be super NICE to medical staff, after all, they have your life in their hands.  Don’t forget your “please and thank you, for the bed pan,”  Because if you are given treatment that is fair and kind you are blessed.  Be grateful. Don’t forget that flirting with your medical staff is one healthy way of keeping everyone’s spirits UP!

With Dr. Piro at his John Wayne special service award celebration

6.) IF you did not put together the perfect care team for yourself, remember that as long as you live you can always make changes. Always. All you have to do is use your words, ask nice, play fair, and be sweet on change to get it.

7.) Don’t just cut the cancer out, radiate it, take the chemo: do what you must. Do it fast. Do not hesitate because everyday counts. Cancers are not full of pity. They will eat you! Embrace the rigors of radical treatment as long as you can and IF your condition is beyond bad… well take your meds, Champagne, and let Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker get the table ready for you when you hit the perpetual dinner party in the sky, do it with panache. Every time you make a decision that prolongs your life and helps you enjoy being here you are blessed.  So enjoy making choices with your team of friends and family headed by an advocate, which ideally is someone educated and good at record keeping, someone BOLD and deeply INVESTED in your success.

Ready for Chemotherapy

8.) Soon, you will have access to heavy duty pain medications. Take it slow! Follow directions. But, we gotta be grateful that they exist. They work better than a mallet to knock you OUT for a restful night of much needed sleep. When it really hurts, thank goodness, for Vicodin! Do not abuse your medications. Yet, use them to help you leap across the parts too far from ease to be healthy. In other words, don’t suck up the pain, take a prescribed pill when you require it. If you live where it is legally available, Medical Marijuana works for nausea and other “chronic,” conditions. It may also help with mood swings and depression, just request the right strains. There are strains, “Indicas,” that put you right “heavy,” state for sleep and other strains, “Sativas,” that help stamina, creativity, and giggles. You no longer have to smoke, the aroma(s) offends, because they have a wide variety of edible: tea, honey, candies, bagel chips, and lemonades infused with THC and immune boosting CBD. Try it only if you feel comfortable with the idea. I LOVE it because it makes me feel like a naughty teen to take a bong hit in my boudoir. Anyway… you might find you like the staff at the dispensaries.

9.) This is your chance to cash in all favors and make all the outrageous requests you desire.  Go for it!  No one will fault you. Finally!  Freedom to be a cancer DIVA is a blessing. Use this chance to say the important things to the important people.  BE REAL.  Stop being so nice IF it hurts you.  BE GENEROUS with the praise and gratitude for every little courtesy or good vibe others will show you.  Listen to each person that comes to you as though they were an angel delivering messages from god.  LISTEN.

10.) FORGIVE!  Forgive everybody for everything.  Now is time to LOVE and feel one with every nurse, every waiter, every human that comes and that may care for you if you OPEN your heart to loving everybody.  Yet, this doesn’t mean that you forget that some people are toxic.  Let those people go and embrace the ones that love you NOW. Did you do something BAD, hurtful to someone, long ago… maybe?  Write the victim of your misdeed, a letter, ASK for FORGIVENESS, mail it to yourself, and IF and only IF after reading it yourself and feeling it would make the person receiving it feel GOOD, then mail it to the injured party.  Rest assured that accepting responsibility for the fact that we all hurt others, either on purpose or by “accident,” is a good thing for it allows us to shed the weight of unpaid energetic debts, of love and caring that was absent, when it is the mandate of life that we love, in order to be loved.

Love and prayers – with Caridad’s niece, Emily Prince-Ralby

11.) When you have CANCER your time is officially YOURS!  Now: you must focus and use your energy like a laser to create GOOD in your world. This is a time to pray, IF that works for YOU, to sing, to turn inward, and rejoice because YOU are ALIVE. Take time to watch leaves fall in slow motion from autumn trees or the snow melt and freeze.  It is time for reading novels in bed, to go on Long sunset walks, and to spend more time with your friends, family and your pets.

12.) Have a daily belly laugh.  Yes, this is time for comedy.  This is time for laughing until others in the chemo-center give you funny looks.  Make a practice of laughing.  Call your funniest friends. Watch humorous movies.

Laughing is healthy!

13.) This is a time when tradition comes in handy.  Tap into who you are and what your people do at times of crisis, then select what works, discard the fist fighting and drunken orgies, do adopt the customs of other cultures that might fit your mood and help you enjoy life more.

Tradition: Halloween 2016

14.) The leaner, fitter, stronger you are the more likely to recover from your sometimes grueling cancer treatment and the long periods of testing/uncertainty. So, WALK!  Better yet, RUN! EAT BETTER.  More fresh—organic is best—Food! Cook more or rather invite friends over, they can help you cook/clean because now that you are the dancing with the cancer blessing you are now in the position to graciously accept help, love, and support.  Self care is central to success in coping with any major crisis. This is really the time to pamper yourself. So… ramp-up your bath routine. Bath oils, salts, candles, lotions, scrub-brushes, and abrasive bathing gloves. None of it is “expensive,” really but when you really get going you can make a very nice day of being in the tub, especially as you undergo treatment.

Fitness

15.) When your looks are gone, erased, you must learn to paint on a happy face or… be a blank slate.  Pick.  Do.  Make-up is said to boast the immune system.  Don’t neglect your basic hygiene.  Taking time to brush your teeth and put on a pretty scarf or a big macho cow-boy hat which will make others laugh and question your identity… GOOD MOVE!

Happiness, deep inside

16.)  Learn something totally unrelated to your new condition. Focus on learning Italian, for example. You always wanted to learn French. This is the moment to go to the public library and take out the Farsi tapes or the Swahili. What would you like to learn? Investing yourself in picking up NEW skills will give you strength to face this new reality.

I have a enough reading to last me a few weeks! Hah!

17.) Plan a no-expense spared trip around the world for yourself. Of course, you won’t go. Yet, you will really think about the trip. How you would travel… Where you would visit… The schedules of luxury cruise ships are available on-line; image yourself in the Penthouse Suite, if this appeals to you. If not… are you backpacking in the Andes? Tell me, where will you go? Read guide books and learn about what to expect when you arrive. The trip should be long and lavish. This is so much more pleasant to focusing on the HORROR, the HORROR of treatment.

Caridad in Paris

18.) Ever wanted to meet someone famous… well, if you are terminal… you might consider addressing a request to their press/public relations representatives and respectfully request a visit from… you are very likely to get what YOU want, now… Brad Pitt… David Bowie… or… Adele.  Watch out!  Because, you really have the power to pull powerful people IN by being beautiful despite the medical drama.  Use it.

19.) Visit churches, landmarks, and museums.  Enjoy the public spaces of your cities.  The grand architecture or natural wonders of the world deserve your attention even if they are only around the corner.  Shake it UP!  You don’t have to be the version of yourself you have been thus far.  Part of you will be forever changed by treatment and the new you is yours to chisel into the you, you are now. Allow the cancer to be a reason why you step into being your true self in public.  It empowered Frau Kolb by forcing her to make time for creativity, art, and other sources of profound delight. Cancer can be a license to finally focus attention on loving yourself in order to make ease-rich (the opposite of dis-ease) choices.

Caridad and Abraham Lincoln

20.) In other words, make the cancer work for you.  Yes, there are resources assigned and available to people undergoing cancer treatment.  Just telling someone, that you have cancer, can make them cut you some slack.  This is not a card I advise using frequently but when you must, whip it out with flourish and revel in the fact that there are many CANCER BENEFITS for you to enjoy.

21.) If you believe in heaven: make a list of all the people you look forward to feasting with in the afterlife.  In heaven, I’m convinced that, you can have dinner with Augustus, the ancient Roman Emperor, Ben Franklin, and Anna Nicole Smith, all together, at their prime, forever available, because in heaven YOU can be two places at once, I’m certain of it… IF you like!  If you don’t believe, well make a list of who you would like to see if heaven were real and you will tickle (I swear) your grandmother’s spirit when you list her.  Go for it and feel the good vibes of every human you list, no matter how “long-gone,” kissing you and loving you no matter how vicious the pain or ugly the bruising… you have the long line of human fortitude to tap into.  Revel in the fact that you come from tough people and that tough people bite the dust, too.

22.)  Give some money, a dollar or two counts, to cancer research.   Hardworking scientists give up their youths, studying, and learning so that they can create effective cancer medications for us.  Don’t believe that cancer medications are anything less than miracles and every time you drink a pill down, bless the water.

23.)  Threshold states are FUN!  What could be more exciting than being near death?  You don’t know when its coming but rest assured it will.  If you can learn to enjoy this state you might just live forever.  Hah!

Less than a month post brain surgery