Here is installment 7 of 11 from An Unexpected Journey. This was originally posted as a Facebook update on May 30, 2015 to keep friends and family up-to-date and entertained. At the encouragement of many, I’m re-posting so people I am not connected to on Facebook can read the journal entries as well.
It’s a rainy Saturday in Chicago just a few days before my 5th of 6 five-day in-patient chemo treatments. We are now less than one month from what promises to be my final treatment. Autocorrect must be picking up on my positive energy because it just changed “treatment” to “treats”. That’s way overstating the case, but I must say the 4th and highest dose treatment could have been a lot worse.
Treatments & Side Effects
What I find fascinating is that every time I feel like I know what to expect, my body responds differently. Based on the first three treatments, I anticipated leaving the hospital on Sunday, May 17 feeling exhausted. Instead, I felt great—so great that I made it to the gym less than two hours later.
Aside from the psychological discomfort caused by 18 pounds of (mostly) drug-induced weight gain since the beginning of this adventure, I felt pretty close to normal. I’m honestly not sure why I felt so much better this time, but it may have been the weekly acupuncture I recently added to the mix.
For the three days immediately following the treatment, my endurance wasn’t anywhere near where it should have been thanks to low blood counts. Despite that, my workouts were somewhat decent. Under the circumstances, any day I feel well enough to make it to the gym is a great day in my world.
Then Thursday happened.
I’m not clear why it takes four or five days for side effects to kick in, but the time lag has been fairly consistent. This time, I didn’t experience much in the way of bloating, but the cramps and intestinal pain lasted almost a full week. In my weakest moments, which happened hourly for about three days, I questioned my ability to make it through the next two treatments. Seven days and 75 Pedialyte Freezer Pops later, I regained my strength and resolve.
Experiencing prolonged “chemo brain” for the first time made this round of side effects interesting for all the wrong reasons. It is a weird, disconcerting feeling to read the same paragraph three times and wonder why it doesn’t make sense. With my productivity at an all time low, I spent the weekend of May 23 and 24 watching movie after movie on the sofa.
So, what have I learned from all of this?
The scariest word of the journey isn’t cancer, chemo, tumor, or treatment. Nor is it the name of one of the barely pronounceable chemicals that have been injected in my chest port. The scariest word is cumulative–as in cumulative side effects.
Chemo intentionally weakens the immune system thereby making side effects more pronounced with each treatment. Even though the treatment dose won’t increase again, the side effects will continue to be cumulative.
How long will the intestinal issues last over the final two treatments? How much more fatigued will I feel? To what degree will the antibiotics that are about to be added to the post-treatment regimen make a difference? These are the unknowns. In the meantime, I am doing my best to stay present and handle whatever happens when it happens. But I must admit that would be easier without the word “cumulative” ringing ominously in my head.
The Spiritual Side of Things
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of friends who expressed an interest in hearing more about the spiritual side of this journey. As promised, this provides a little more detail.
Fair Warning: Some of what follows may challenge your beliefs or perhaps just your beliefs about my sanity. Remember, two things: 1.) There’s nothing in it for me to put this out there; and 2.) No one is forcing you to read this. I honestly don’t care if people believe me or not. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. That said, you have my encouragement to skip to Random Observations if the unexplainable doesn’t particularly interest you.
Synchronicities and signs from the Universe come in different forms for different people. For many people, myself included, signs often come in the form of repeating numbers that show up far more often than can be attributed to coincidence. The belief in a divine, mystical relationship between numbers and coinciding events is known as numerology. Having had a few experiences in which numbers have played a role, I am somewhat familiar with the interpretations connected with various repeating numbers.
Six months or so before I discovered the first tumor in my neck, I began to notice the number 555. Over the next few months, 555 appeared with greater frequency. Before long, I saw 555 multiple times a day—on license plates, addresses, receipts, clocks, everywhere. I continue to see 555 a few times a week, but not as much as I did in the days leading up to the diagnosis.
Why is this significant? According to numerologists, 555 means “major life change is upon you.”
Accepting the first full-time position in 15 years and getting diagnosed with lymphoma certainly qualifies as a major life change. But to be honest, it wasn’t exactly what I envisioned nine months ago when I thought the angels were alerting me to upcoming life changes. Falling passionately in love with the woman of my dreams or winning the lottery would have been a bit closer to my ideal.
When Cindy Dempsey, a friend from high school, heard about the tumors, she told me about Chef Dave and his passion for helping people going through treatment. Knowing how important nutrition would be during chemo, I reached out to Chef Dave to learn more about his plant-based meals. Intrigued by his philosophy and the results he had achieved, I wanted to sign up for his program. However, I hadn’t started my new job and found myself without income for a few weeks longer than I expected. Despite my sincere interest, I put the idea on hold.
A few days after my conversation with Dave, I was in the hospital for my first treatment. A good friend and client surprised me by dropping off a check, the timing and amount of which came as a complete shock. When I asked her about it, she explained that she had recently refinanced her house and was inspired during meditation to write the check for the amount she did. Thanks to her generosity, I used the money to finance a good percentage of Chef Dave’s meals and bridge the gap until my next paycheck.
In the last update, I mentioned neck-related fears—specifically, my fear of vomiting. Well, there’s a bit more to that story.
I first became aware of my neck issues when I was 10 years old and joined the Ogden School band as a trombone player. I always looked forward to our concerts, but I seriously disliked the fact that we had to wear dark blue turtlenecks as part of the uniform. Besides the fact that I’ve never been a turtleneck kind of guy, I can’t stand having things touch my neck. In grade school, I felt like I spent the entire concert clawing at my collar. Up until a few months back when I used to get my haircut, I had the same experience with the cape. Even though it was more like a t-shirt collar than a turtleneck, I still had to remind Aaron, the guy who cut my hair, to leave it loose.
The minute anything gets close to the front of my neck, my whole body tenses up as if expecting to suffocate instantly. The feeling happened as recently as this week at Dr. Becker’s office when he checked the lymph nodes in my neck. I did my best not to react when he put his fingers on my neck, but I’ve never been much of a poker player.
Given this bizarre sensitivity, it isn’t a surprise that my neck-related fears aren’t limited to touch or vomiting. They also include drowning, choking, or anything that might cause me to stop breathing. That’s why the experience of having my throat close the afternoon of the neck biopsy was especially scary.
For all these reasons, I wasn’t particularly surprised the tumors first showed up in my neck where they put noticeable pressure on my throat. Before the treatment started, there were a few days in which swallowing was a challenge. Although I did experience some shortness of breath courtesy of the large tumor in my chest, I was fortunate that the pressure exerted by the tumors in my neck never caused me to feel like I was suffocating. For that I am especially grateful.
So what does all this mean?
For the most part, I didn’t give too much thought to the origin of the neck-related fears because I didn’t expect to find a possible explanation. That changed in September 2004 when my friend, Jackie Hart, encouraged me to schedule a session with Stacey Gorman. Stacey is an Arizona-based trance medium who channels an evolved group of souls that refers to itself as Jacob. To avoid giving Stacey any information ahead of time, I mailed a money order so she wouldn’t have my last name or address. However, considering her relatively modest hourly fee, it would hardly have been worth her time to do any research.
Unlike a psychic who translates the images and communications they receive, a channel communicates the message directly because they are somehow able to allow the spirit to bypass their conscious mind. In addition, there are two key differences between the session I had with Stacey and a session with a typical psychic. First, after the opening prayer, Stacey’s voice changed completely as she allowed Jacob to come through. The transformation was amazing because Stacey literally went from sounding like a typical middle-aged Caucasian woman to a somewhat heavily-accented, elderly Asian woman for whom English seemed to be a second language. The accent and sing-songy quality of her voice reminded me very much of Glenda, the good witch, from the Wizard of Oz. Although Jacob is a male name, there was nothing male about the voice. Actually, the voice was noticeably higher than Stacey’s.
The second difference is even more striking because unlike psychics who may share an impression or two before they start asking questions, Jacob doesn’t ask any questions at all for the first 45 minutes. Instead, Jacob starts talking and spends almost the entire session sharing insights and observations specific to the soul who is receiving the reading.
Within moments of the start of my session, Jacob began answering all the questions I might have asked, but never verbalized. Jacob got my attention immediately talking about the many lifetimes I had spent as a speaker and writer. Before getting to the purpose of my current lifetime, Jacob shared details of a lifetime in the late 16th and early 17th Century in which I was a Dutch freedom fighter. As it turns out, that lifetime was significant because it ended with my beheading.
As neck issues go, that’s fairly serious.
Among people who study past lives, there is often a connection between birthmarks and the cause of death in other lifetimes. Thankfully, I don’t have a guillotine-inspired birthmark on my neck. Nevertheless, with each detail Jacob offered, I had a clear impression that this Dutch lifetime was the source of my current neck issues.
It’s ok to be skeptical. I didn’t always believe in past lives. But I do now–not because of this, but because of a number of other experiences. Why am I sharing this? In a way, Jacob addressed this along with a few insights that also explain why I don’t particularly care if people believe me:
(Aside from some of the detail I left out, this excerpt, spoken in sometimes halting English, is exactly as Jacob shared it.)
“Where does this come from—your ability to write? We will tell you now….
“So you are one who helps others to expand the way they see something. It does not mean they are going to see it your way. It does not always mean they are going to see it the way you would prefer. But you help them to walk away saying, ‘What does this mean to me? Does it make me see a little bit more my own truth?’ And if it does, you have served them well.
“So even if they go home and say, ‘I didn’t like that at all. I don’t like that painting that one showed me. I don’t like what he showed me. I don’t like what he say.’ It still make them go away asking what do they like. And that is part of your purpose. Though sometimes others will disagree with you vehemently, but it is just for you to speak it anyway. If it is an opinion and your truth, it is meant to be said.”
- Without question, the biggest highlight of the past week was Memorial Day weekend. Physically speaking, it was a tough weekend because of side effects. Emotionally it was challenging because I was missing the annual Underwater Safaris’ scuba trip to Cozumel that I’ve attended on more than a few occasions. For these reasons, I was a bit low-energy on Sunday night. That changed when Michele McMahon tagged me in a picture the dive group took on the boat holding up a sign that said, “We ‘Heart’ Rob”. That is seriously one of the nicest things anyone has ever done. It is an awe-inspiring gift to be surrounded by such caring, wonderful people.
- When I think about the medical issues I’ve faced in my life, I am incredibly grateful to live in the 21st Century. Had I been born a hundred years earlier, I would not have had access to the seven or so operations that corrected my clubfeet and enabled me to walk. Nor would I be in a position to survive these tumors. Life is good.
- I love the fact that my brother, Bill, is now referring to the 15th floor of Prentice as MedClub.
- Losing so much body hair over the past few months has caused me to think a lot more about hair. With the exception of our eyeballs, our lips and mouth, the palms of our hands, the bottoms of our feet, and our nails, every square centimeter of our bodies is covered with some type of hair. Depending on the location, I either took hair for granted or viewed it as a nuisance. My basic philosophy was, “Just because it grows doesn’t mean you have to let it.” To some degree, that’s still true—with one important exception. I now have a slightly different view on nose hair. To be clear, I am referring to the kind that grows on the inside. (I remain mystified by the hair that sometimes grows on the outside.) Thanks to the tumors and allergy season, I can now attest to at least one important function of nose hair: it keeps your nose from running in a manner unexpected, uncontrollable, and unwelcome. In other words, it keeps you from looking like you are nine months old and completely unaware of what is happening on your face.
This is one of the nicest, most touching things anyone has ever done for me. Many thanks to Marianne, Michele, Craig, Chris, and the wonderful people at Underwater Safaris. Looking forward to catching up with all of you on a scuba trip soon. — in Cozumel, Mexico.
© Rob Sullivan Productions, Inc.