Debra-Lynn Hook: My truth
More pictures and words from the syndicated columnist and photographer
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Finding Life in a Fear of Death
I found today during a feared appointment with a new oncologist that, of course, I still have chronic leukemia. But I've got some time to consider options. Along the way, I also found some resources that provided me strength, well-being, even healing.
They are: A doctor who respects me.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Under the Waning Apple Tree
We keep coming back to our experience again and
again. Simply experiencing, experiencing. In time (and it may take years), love
will begin to flow from us, like water from a fountain, and all will be refreshed.
---- Open Mind, Women's Daily Inspiration for Becoming Mindful, Aug. 18
As an adult, I have spent a great deal of time opening into the hidden emotions, especially sadness, I was taught as a child not to feel. Along the way,I worked with a trusted therapist, with poetry, meditation and spiritual teachings to experience this part of my journey as growth. Along the way, I would also feel other things, of course! Joy! Gratitude! Laughter! But always: Is there sadness I am trying not to feel? What childhood experience does this remind me of? What am I longing for that I need to fill? Yesterday, then, sitting in the garden, I started with longing as has been habit. But then, as I recorded the moment as I sometimes do, something shifted. My voice tentative in my recorder, I said to my very self, "Yes, but wait. What else is here?" Not that I will never be sad or longing again. But when we give voice and expression to those things that burn in us and need our attention -- contrary to what we might think -- the burning will eventually stop. This is catharsis. This is true gratitude. And this is the voice recording, transcribed.
I sit on the bench under the waning apple tree
On a day when I can feel a bit of fall in the air.
I look around me at the vegetable garden and surrounding perennials, zapped after so much August.
My mind goes, as habit, to nostalgia and longing.
Summer, soon to leave.
The fading hydrangea I planted for my mother after her horrific death 15 years ago; the peony for the last of my father's seven siblings; the azalea for my cousin/friend who died of cancer in her 50s.
I think of everything that went into this garden that is not here now -- small children helping put seeds in th ground, my husband with me.
A lot has happened during the life of this garden,
So much of it difficult --
My mother, my leukemia, Steve's dementia, children leaving, the demise of the marriage.
But then in the garden, the sun shifted in the sky.
"But oh, hasn’t so much good happened too?" I whispered, my voice quivering, plaintive, into my recorder. "Isn't so much good happening RIGHT NOW?"
What of the turquoise rain barrel a friend made for me, an Impressionist painting with purple and yellow flowers that greets me every day, and now?
What of these crisp new garden beds I enjoy every day that Benjie and and Chris put in for me in the spring?
What of the Tree of Life metal sculpture that brightens the center of the garden
And the wind chimes and the hummingbirds and the bird feeder behind my head?
I look around me and see there's a lot that still needs to be done in the yard
But what about all the wonderful things that have been done -- that ARE done and happening right now?
In my garden, the zinnias grow like caricatures of flowers
Prolific herbs bring me food and flavor every day
The perennials are my unconditional companions and teachers
This lovely deck is my haven
I reach up to wrap my hand around the bough of the apple tree above my head
I swear I feel it pulsing,
Breathing with me, it says "Alive! Alive! Alive!"
Friday, August 14, 2020
Navigating Western Medicine
In the woods while he worked was a young girl with a sketch pad. She was smitten with the forest, these deep ancient Alpine woods with tall, cascading waterfalls and timeworn rock formations. She visited often, studying, watching, believing that the woods had something to teach her.
She discovered the logger at some point and began sketching him.
One day, as the man and his horse Nina were dragging a log home, the log slipped, the man slipped, the log landed on the man’s leg. He went to the ground and lay there, trapped. The little girl happened upon him and freed him. Still, he was badly hurt. The next scene is of the little girl, now being the logger.
I assume the man died. I assume he died as he lived, maybe even looking up at the trees that had given him life. This echoes a longing of my own soul: If only we could die, as we live, in our own way.
Twice in the last year, I’ve been admitted to the hospital for blood transfusions for the chronic leukemia I've had for 11 years.
I believe in these emergency treatments. I am grateful for them and for the people who administer them. The treatments are not invasive. The benefits much outweigh any harm.
Anything beyond this, aka longterm treatment, and the reverse is true: The harm could outweigh the benefits.
To my body.
But also to my soul.
Some day, the transfusions may backfire, as, I'm told, my body will reject them. At that point, doctors say I will have no options, not from their perspective.
The only recourse will be to start — or to have already started — longterm drugs. These are not typical cancer drugs. They are not curative, only stop-gap. They don't increase longevity. They kill the bad stuff, but in the process set off other imbalances. Unlike chemo, these drugs I would stay on for the rest of my life, with serious long-term side effects, some of which have yet to be fully determined.
There are two ways I believe modern medicine is good -- in emergencies and for diagnostics.
Beyond that, when we are talking about curing disease, modern Western medicine is less effective, as it looks at killing off without addressing root causes, as it works at keeping the organism alive at whatever cost to the organism's overall wellbeing.
The doctors fight me on this when we talk about it.
But not the nurses.
The people in the trenches, the nurses in the room with me, the women in the lab who draw my blood, the people who are not as attached to the research, but who listen to us struggle with the side effects of harsh medicines, understand this.
I am part Native American.
Cherokee blood runs through my veins. I resonate with trees, not with strong medicines that will churn my body into chaos, causing it to kill off aberrant cells, but also wreaking havoc, confusing my body, changing the course of my natural river, destroying my body’s ecology, damming up one area, causing other imbalances and unnatural changes in another.
I have often said I wish I could just hold onto a tree and turn into compost when the time came.
I tell this to doctors -- God bless them, by the way, for the good they believe they are doing.
And while I am freed by the thought, they are horrified.
There are many times when I am scared, when I think “Maybe the time has come for drugs.”
I believe that's because drugs is all the system has got.
What if there were to come a time when I was scared, and the next step on the path would be to ask me what I want, what is good with my soul? What if meds were only an option, only part of the discussion with the loving, trusted doctor? What if doctors realized that what they think is best may not be what I think is best? What if they fully respected that even though I may not have the science understanding, I have the self-understanding? What if wisdom stories about beautiful, and inevitable, endings were part of the approach to illness?
I would not be truthful if I didn’t say I get conflicted by this, too.
I get caught up in this, too, the “I want to live, give me the drugs.”
But what if this other, more full-rounded approach was the system we found ourselves meeting when we faced illness? What if the system met the individual where the individual is? What if our bodies relaxed, knowing we were being cared for the way our instincts were calling for us to be cared for? And we healed?
Instead, this is how it goes: On Wednesday, leaving the hospital, I was told that the fatigue I am feeling is what I will always feel, that I will never feel tip-top again. “Is this how you want to live? Does this make your life worth living?”
The doctor asked me these questions and in the next breath, began to push on me to take the drugs.
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Instincts and the good side of healing
There was the shaman with his shirt unbuttoned to his hairy waist who told me I would heal if I had an affair (with him?). There were the practitioners, mainstream and alternative, who tried to shame me into better lifestyle habits. "You know you're carrying excess weight," the macrobiotic counselor snapped at me three times in 45 minutes.
There was the internationally recognized leukemia doctor who used scare tactics to try to talk me into treatment with serious side effects, even though the literature differed as to whether I needed treatment, even though I kept telling him I wanted to stay away from the meds as long as possible, which is why he kept upping the ante, aka scaring the hell out of me. "I certainly wouldn't want to pick up the paper one day and read that Debra-Lynn Hook ... well you know.." (Died?)
This is a complicated disease with controversial approaches. There are no known mainstream cures. The only drugs are so debilitating for this particular disease that even docs say they shouldn't be administered until the person is suffering from the effects of the disease. No suffering? Better not to take the drugs. The problem comes when doc and patient disagree with what is suffering.
Those of us who remember in our primal minds when medicine, healing and recovery were instinctive look to see the whole picture, including patient, doctor and other practitioners who can help address and guide to wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
I’m “lucky.” Mine is a slow-smoldering condition. And so I had time, to live into an understanding that
took me in and out of the offices of both alt and mainstream practitioners -- naturopaths, chiropractors, macrobiotics counselors, shamen, psychotherapists, hypnotherapists, cranial sacral practitioners, acupuncturists, reiki practitioners and a plethora of mainstream doctors. Last winter, I drove myself to Boston in one day to a mainstream doc and a week later, to a macrobiotic counselor in Asheville.
I have learned there is no one-size-fit-all when it comes to individual health and that health is not just a science, but an art. Given the uncertainty, I have learned to start with trusting myself. If it doesn't resonate, I step away.
Maybe some people have voodoo curses on them. But this diagnosis did not resonate with me. I never saw that practitioner again.
On the good side is the reiki/acupressure practitioner who came to my house when I was too overcome to come to her and rubbed my jaw, so tight from stress clenching, until it finally quit hurting. And the hypnotherapist who hugged me with tears in her eyes as I was crying and the psychologist who called me when she heard I was in the hospital and the cranial-sacral therapist who went to JoAnn's Fabrics and got crochet stuff for me when I couldn't walk.
I am not absolutely averse, by the way, to anything at this point. I am not “healed,” not according to Western medicine. I still have leukemia. I am still seeking - and, I must say, surprising docs with how well I’m doing.
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Middle-aged mom itching for her own spring break
When I was the parent of young children, spring break meant family road trips from northeast Ohio where we live, to warmer climes,, to see the Washington Monument or Grandma in Florida.
These days, spring break is me taking my 21-year-old son to the airport after which I go home and consider the muck.
Muck is mountains of wet leaves in the back yard that didn't get raked in the fall, and when I say mountains, I mean 100-year-old oaks molt back there.
My sister said, "Does this generation ever work?"
"They work to travel," I tell her, "and they know how to do it.”
On Sunday, I got to the book store in the big city, Cleveland, a 45-minute drive from the little college town where I live, to see if that will take the edge off. I go to my favorite book store, then my favorite Indie theater where I see the movie, “Gloria Bell” about a divorced woman my age who decides she will not cave to stereotypes.
When I was the parent of young children and living in northeast Ohio, spring break meant family trips to warmer climes with the kids, to see the Washington Monument or Grandma in Florida.
These days, spring break is me taking my 21-year-old son to the airport after which I go home and consider the muck. Muck is what constitutes early spring when you live on the tundra, more literally known as northeast Ohio, which is where I moved with my college-professor husband 22 springs ago, which is so close to Canada that we share geese.
Muck is mountains of wet leaves in the back yard that didn't get raked in the fall, and when I say mountains, I mean 100-year-old oaks molt back there. Muck is gunk in the gutters that will require someone steadier (younger) than me to climb the eight-foot-tall ladder, but it’s still calling my name. Muck is the mess inside the wheelbarrow where I gathered up all the garden decor from around the yard last fall and then forgot to put it away in the shed.
My sister said, "Does this generation ever work?"
"They work to travel," I tell her, "and they know how to do it.”
This past weekend, I went into Cleveland, a 45-minute drive from the little college town where we live, to see if that would take the edge off. I went to my favorite book store, then my favorite Indie theater where I saw the movie, “Gloria Bell” about a woman my age who decides she will dance, no matter who gets in her way, even if she dances alone.
Friday, March 22, 2019
Daring decades later to debunk catechism
I was taught, for example, that babies are born full of so much bad juju that they can't be cleared to breathe until they are purified by a priest.
Original sin, they call it, the gift of Adam and Eve's DNA.
From an early age, I couldn't grasp that a tiny baby, who's been floating around on a liquid pillow inside her mother, is the evil one.
As an adult, after more years in therapy than not, during which I studied the anatomy of not only my soul, but that of my mother, my father, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Mother Teresa, Rumi, Harriet Tubman, Betty Friedan, Carl Jung and the Pope, I dared to come to a different theory: that we are as untainted as we will ever be, before we gasp that first gulp of polluted Earth air.
It's not original sin we are born into. It is, instead, original perfection, which we spend our adult lives trying to return to.
But it’s not the devil or even the heritage of Adam and Eve that piles this on before we take a breath.
It is man-and woman-made failings after we are born that move us into human suffering, or, if you must, “sin,” which in Hebrew simply means “away from God."
Some of these failings are unintentional and relatively benign, beginning with the common mistakes of our parents. Others constitute outright trauma.
But spending one’s life trying to remember and return to that state of being that constituted our real identity, that place of grace and purity when all was right, or at least right-er, with ourselves and the world, is not a bad purpose in life if you ask me.
And that's my truth.
I found today during a feared appointment with a new oncologist that, of course, I still have chronic leukemia. But I've got some time t...
Instincts and the good side of healing The road from diagnosis to recovery is a long and complicated one requiring more than a residen...