Monday, October 29, 2007

Pink is for Healthy

I've started, and deleted, this post half a dozen times -- and there's just no easy way to begin.

My cousin Pam has been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. Although she has complained of extreme fatigue and upset stomach for some months, her doctor attributed those symptoms to general stress. She's a busy woman, what with her landscaping work and helping to manage a grandchild while her daughter finishes her degree, and the doctor didn't bother to look any further than "stress," which angers me to no end -- if I were a doctor, and had a middle-aged patient complaining of exhaustion, coughing, and constant stomach ailments, and if I also knew that patient was a smoker, I certainly would have done a routine chest X-ray months ago. There is no such thing as "just stress."

Two weeks ago, she went to the emergency room, feeling terrible with a sudden infection, and after only a few tests they diagnosed extensive lung cancer, which has already metastasized into the surrounding bone and into the liver. I'm not an oncologist, but I simply don't see how it advanced so fast when she's been to the doctor several times in the past few years.

Anyway, they started chemo immediately, and after four doses, she's gone home until the next round. She has chemo scheduled every couple of weeks until Christmas. She is sick, she is in pain, she is weak, and her beautiful cedar-colored hair will fall out.

I am beside myself, proundly sad and profoundly angry at once. Partly angry at her doctor for failing to use basic diagnostic tools ... partly angry at cancer in general ... very, very angry at cigarettes in particular ... and angry at the government for continuing to coddle the tobacco industry. I'm also, perhaps irrationally, angry at my cousin. Why didn't she quit smoking? I quit, twice. I was hard, but I did it, and now I am a non-smoker. She's often talked about quitting, but said she didn't think she could ever find the willpower. But that particular anger visits infrequently, and leaves quickly. I can't stay angry at her for not quitting. I have to be angry at the cancer instead.

I find myself far more angry at the cigarette culture we both grew up in, the cigarette culture that started sucking us in as small children -- otherwise why would I still remember a TV announcer intoning "This is Marlboro Country" forty years after the commercial aired? Why do I clearly remember men who would "walk a mile for a Camel" or who would "rather fight than quit?" Those commercials aired during Batman and Lassie and during westerns like Bonanza and Gunsmoke -- shows watched by millions of American kids. And while the cigarette companies always argue that their TV ads were not aimed at little kids, little kids internalized them nonetheless, and then when we hit the rebellious teen years, we already knew what brand we wanted to try. Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should! You've come a long way, baby! Taste me, taste me ... come on and taste me!

But although being angry is a normal stage in the grieving process, anger doesn't help, and it sure as hell doesn't cure cancer. I need to feel this anger, experience it, and let it pass out of my system, but anger won't cure the cancer, and feeling angry while knitting a chemo cap defnitely does not infuse it with love and healing energy.

So I called up Ray at Knitivity and chose the cherry colored Down Home Cotton Fleece, both because Pam will look as vibrant as possible in that color and also because I am envisioning clean, healthy, pink lungs with each stitch I knit. I also have some Koigu for a second hat.

I think it's important to set a proper mood when knitting things intended for loved ones recovering from an illness or a rough time in life. I like to set aside special time when I can be uninterrupted, so I can concentrate on the person for whom the gift is intended. Lighting a candle helps. I knit, focus my thoughts, and meditate on clear mental images of that person healing, smiling, dancing, running and enjoying stellar health. If there is a particular body part in question, I like to envision that body part as clean, healthy and strong. I hold those images firmly in my mind as I work on the item, and when I stop knitting, I blow out the candle and set the knitting aside.

If I have the luxury of a little additional time and fine weather, I carry the knitting with me to sit beside a lake or stream, to be around vibrant green and growing things, flowing water, flowers and other symbols of the life force.

I keep some lavender in the bag with these projects, for calming and restfulness for the recipient, and, if possible, a picture of the person for whom I'm knitting the item.

The chemo hat I am making for Pam will be a beret with a deep, soft headband. I will choose some traditional gansey textured patterns for the crown, patterns symbolic of life and abundance. And I'll take the cap out on a bright October day when a cool breeze is blowing, symbolic of clean, fresh air going into healthy lungs. I have also set aside a tote bag just for this project -- everything I can do to focus positive energy specifically on Pam.

I can't cure the cancer, but I can knit a hat, and offer moral support. I want to suggest that she shave her own head before the hair starts falling out in clumps. Deciding when and where to become bald is one of the few acts of control that a chemo patient has. "Don't let the cancer take your hair away," I will say. "Take it off yourself, all at once, under your own terms, and save it in a special place."

It seems like a small thing, but I have seen how empowering this single act has been to other cancer patients.

This will be a new chemo hat pattern, and I will share it as I work on the design. If you have someone in your own life for whom you need to make a chemo hat, perhaps, together, we can make this a knit-along project.



At 9:05 PM, Blogger Barbara-Kay said...

I'm sending positive thoughts your way. Your knitting tradition honors the Old Ones of both cultures of your ancestors. You're a class act, Dez!

At 1:53 AM, Blogger Sheridan said...

No idea what to say, but NEEDED to send you hugs, Dez. Totally agree with you, how WRONG it is that tobacco is still a legal drug. Your hat sounds absolutely wonderful. I've not had to knit one (not a pink one anyway, and unfortunately the notion didn't occur to me when my father-in-law-to-be was ill) .. but your thoughts/prayers as you knit each stitch is a very wonderful thing.
Warm wishes, ~Sheridan in Sydney

At 5:26 AM, Anonymous Rachel H said...

Such beautiful energy you're infusing this project with, it cannot help but give strength and comfort to your cousin.

At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, Dez, I am going through a similar situation. My favorite cousin (my mother raised her) is in the last stages of cancer. Unlike your own cousin, she never smoked and was a health food consumer. She delayed going to the doctor, though. To my everlasting regret, I angrily snapped at my cousin and told her to get to a doctor and stop whining. You can imagine my pain and shame when the results came back.

You are a very generous soul. Thank you for the offer of a knitalong.

At 7:18 AM, Blogger Redheadskydiver said...

Hugs and positive thoughts coming your way!

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Suna said...

Much empathy from here. I am knitting a Shedir (knitty) chemo cap for a colleague from a breastfeeding organization--who has breast cancer, and my mentor from the same place died from that, too. We do all we can to protect ourselves, but it strikes so many of us.

I watched my mother, the heavy smoker, go through years of lung cancer treatment, never able to quit smoking. She had a very addictive personality, sigh--guess that's why I never started. I have a lot of trouble dealing with the tobacco industry, too--it's killing so many people (glad to learn many tobacco farmers are switching to growing grapes for wine...woops, that has its own set of issues).

Good for you in your conscious effort to put the right vibes into the hat. That's exactly what I am doing, which makes the hat go more slowly, but keeps me confident it has good energy in it.

And don't get me started about doctors who pat you on the hand and say "it's JUST stress."

At 9:57 AM, Anonymous gratefulknits said...

Dez, you will be in my thoughts for peace, and Pam will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers for perfect health. Bless you both.

At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boyohboy! Did this ever come at the right time! I just got back from the LYS, having bought some DB cashmerino (four colors!) for a hat for my friend in MD. She had a complete mastectomy in July and is going through chemo now. No telling what the future will hold for her.
I've got one pattern in hand that looks good: Pi Topper from the Elann site. But I would definitely be interested in knowing more about your pattern as it develops. And thank you for the suggestions about "mood" knitting. I will try to take this a little more seriously. (I have a tendency to rush things.)
I will be sending strong thoughts for Pam. And you.
Thanks again,
Marina, in Eugene, OR

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Redblur63 said...

Oh Mambocat, I'm so sorry. My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer the week Katrina hit New Orleans. This fall, while another hurricane was threatening the gulf, we found out she had mets to the brain. She is 73 years old, and is doing pretty well...for now. Anyway...I will be thinking about you and your sister, even though I only know you through your blog. NOLA is a second home to me (my sister lives there) and lung cancer is a very real presence in my life. contact for ways you can help raise research money and general awareness about the disease. Good luck and godspeed.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

You are doing exactly the right things, Dez, and so powerfully. Working positive power into every stitch is so good - and I always light candles when I need extra help around.

I very much like the idea of shaving your own hair off before chemo tries to take it. It's like jumping joyfully before you're pushed, isn't it? Socrates would have approved.

Staying with you and yours, sweetheart.

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous oneken said...

wishing your cousin pam the best and sending thoughts of big wellness power her way



Post a Comment

<< Home

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: