Journal Entry #17
Wow. Where do I even begin? So much has happened in the 6 weeks since I last wrote an update; therefore, this will probably end up being a bit on the very long-ish side (…like almost 2,800 words on the long-ish side). The weeks I spent at Hufeland Klinik in Germany were just as magical as they were last year. Before I left I thought, “Am I hyping this place up too much? Am I going to be disappointed?” Not.In.The.Least!
I flew back to Philadelphia on Tuesday, June 22, 2016 and Josh flew from Denver to meet me there. We spent the next 5 days on a road trip in Maine (more about this at the end of the post). Then we flew back to Denver on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. The comment I get over and over from many different people is that I’m glowing. (Perhaps it's the new Calendula Face Oil I started using everyday from Beautycounter?!?) I absolutely FEEL like I’m glowing, but it’s kinda crazy for people to SEE the glowing and say something about it. Josh even commented at the airport that my eyes were dazzling. Yay!!!
Jet Lag in Germany
I arrived in Frankfurt on Sunday, May 22, 2016. I took a train to Bacharach on the Rhine River and spent 2 nights there recovering from jet lag. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Pension Winzerhaus and even used one of their bikes on a 16 mile trip along the Rhine River to Oberwesel and St. Goar. This was a lovely time getting into the rhythm of just BEING instead of always DOING. I ate twice at my favorite place in Germany… Stüber’s Restaurant.
Then on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 I took the train back to Frankfurt to meet the taxi driver that would take me to Hufeland. Can you believe that when I got in the car one of my MOST FAVORITE disco songs was playing?!? And right at the chorus… “I will survive. Oooh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.” Shut.The.Front.Door. I took this as a very wonderful and lovely sign that I was exactly where I’m supposed to be. Martina, who works at the front desk at Hufeland, welcomed me with a very warm greeting. Yay, they remembered me! I met with one of the doctors that afternoon and it was decided that they very next day I would do my first fever push… yikes! I'm so glad I came a few days early to recuperate from the long flight!
Treatment in Germany
The 3 fever pushes I did once a week while I was at Hufeland went well. A “fever push” or “fever therapy” is when I receive an IV of dead bacteria and viruses (probably very similar to Coley’s Toxins used by Dr. Josef Issels https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coley%27s_toxins) that causes my immune system to respond with a high fever (around 102-104` F), body aches, headache, and other symptoms. The first one wasn’t too painful, the second one wasn’t painful at all, and the third one was incredibly painful in my entire body (fingers, arms, thighs, back, head, everywhere) and caused me to vomit. By the end of each of those days, my White Blood Cell Count went from around 5,000 to 16,860, 20,680, and 24,530 respectively. The fever push does 3 things…1) it jumpstarts and trains the immune system by saying, “Hey! This is how you should respond to unhealthy cells!” 2) it causes a high temperature in the body which cancer cells do not survive well in and 3) it floods the body with lots of white blood cells to destroy any wandering cancer cells.
Because I was feeling very fatigued and nauseous after the 3rd fever push, the doctors and I decided that I would do 2 whole-body hyperthermias during the last week instead of a 4th fever push. The doctors explained that when someone is strong and has no tumors, fever push is better because it is an active form of fever. Whole-body hyperthermia is better when someone is not very strong and/or has tumors; it is a passive form of fever. The full-body hyperthermia is simply a large box with insulated walls and 4 heat lamps that I lay down inside of. My head is not inside of the area with the heat lamps. I lay inside for about 2 hours, then it is turned off, and the insulated walls are unzipped and put on top of me for 30 minutes. My internal temperature reached 102.4` F both times. Afterwards, I am taken to my room in a wheelchair and lay in bed with 2 hot water bottles for another hour. To say that I sweat buckets during this treatment is a gross understatement (pun intended!).
Many have asked if I prefer fever push or whole-body hyperthermia. I like them each for different reasons… I think hyperthermia is physically easier because there isn’t any pain with it. It’s not “easy,” but I think because I do infrared saunas 2-3 times each week, I enjoy being very hot and sweating out all those toxins. During both treatments I talk with my body about what is happening, how the treatment works, and invite healing to happen. I did this with the IVs I get 3 times each week as well… I would hold the IV tube and pray that the exact frequency of healing would enter the fluid and be exactly what my body needs. Treatments again included IV Ozone Blood Therapy twice a week; daily injections (shots) of vitamins, homeopathics, and immune system stimulants; physical therapy modalities; painting therapy; clay field therapy; music therapy; Hatha yoga; laughing yoga; meditation; Laying on of Hands; and more.
Friends in Germany
Before I left for this trip, I set the intention and put the thought in my mind that I was going on a 28-day retreat… maybe even being silent for a few of those days. My friend Julianne had finally twisted my arm enough and I read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert before I went and then again while I was there. I was craving solitude and time to be alone with the Divine. That happened quite a bit, but more than that, I made some very good friends.
Last year the majority of the patients at Hufeland were from Germany, and this year the majority were International (English-speaking) patients. Therefore, I couldn’t stay in my little “I don’t know the language” bubble as much. The first week I was there I went to the Solymar Therme with 2 lovely Canadian sisters and my favorite Latvian-American friend, E. That weekend E wanted me to go to visit castles with her but I was determined not to travel these 4 weeks so that I could be alone and relax deeply. I used one of the bicycles they offer at Hufeland and spent each afternoon doing “color therapy” by absorbing the vibrant green fields into my heart and settling back into the quaint towns (14.5 miles to Balbach and Lauda-Königshofen on Saturday and 13 miles to Weikersheim Castle & Garden on Sunday).
The connection between E and I grew; she and I spent much time talking and hiking and relaxing together. I think it’s sometimes hard for adults to make new friends. Ira Glass talks about this in “The Perils of Intimacy” (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/587/transcript) during the April 22, 2016 episode of This American Life, “OK, fellow adults, here's a question. When did you last make a friend? Like, I mean an actual friend who you see regularly, you talk about actual, personal things. It's hard, right? To make a new one? To get to that point? To get through the awkward ‘hey, you want to hang out sometime’ phase?” I couldn’t just ignore this amazing person in front of me and the chemistry between us, so I decided that after she left, I could spend the 2 remaining weeks doing more things alone.
On June 1, 2016 I celebrated my one-year “cancer-versary”…the day one year ago I was given the diagnosis of cancer. I wanted to celebrate with a Pizza Party and Alkoholfrei beer. (Yes, I eat homemade pizza or pizza in Europe!) I had planned to go alone, but decided that it would be wonderful to celebrate this day with my new friend E. I know that other people might view the day they were given a diagnosis of cancer differently, but I’ve done my best to walk this journey to find out what cancer can reveal to me and I’ve soaked up this year filled with new revelations and wanted to celebrate that and my health.
During my time at Hufeland, I also met the wonderful Carsten from Denmark, the beautifully sweet E from Canada, the lively L and J from California, and 5 Germans that I enjoyed spending time with talking even through the language barrier. I spent quite a bit of time with Nadine (who gave me permission to use her name, photo, and story) because we sat at the same table in the dining room for 4 weeks. We spent time on 3 different weekends painting together. And when the low-dose chemo caused her hair to start falling out (a very rare side-effect), I was honored to go with her to town when she got the rest of her hair shaved.
And then a French-American woman named Nadege, gave me perhaps the most meaningful gift I could receive at this time. Five years ago when she was 39, she was given the diagnosis of breast cancer and followed her doctor’s recommended protocol even though she said every fiber in her being did not want to do it. She now has bone metastases in her pelvis that have caused the bone to break. We spent quiet times talking and she said to me, 4 years ahead of me on this journey, “I think you are making the right choice. I wish I had done what you are doing right now [following your intuition.]” Of course my eyes spilled over with tears… out of all of the doctors I’ve met and the books I’ve read and the studies I’ve reviewed… none of them could tell me this… but she could… she was in my shoes 4 years ago and from where she is now, she 100%, whole-heartedly, without reservation agrees with the treatment decisions I’ve made. Thank you, Nadege. Thank you. A million times, thank you.
Epiphanies in Germany
Most mornings I woke up and headed to the Group Therapy room or chapel to sing, practice Kundalini yoga, or meditate by myself. I loved this quiet time (save for the ever-spirited, rise-and-shine song birds) and saying “Guten Morgen” to the early morning housekeepers and night nurse. The book that was my companion during these weeks was Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine by Sue Monk Kidd. The soundtrack that played in my head for these 28-days was “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. I wrote down his 4 verses, Jeff Buckley’s 3 verses, and sang it at least once a day.
My time there felt very holy, sacred, and set apart. It’s been hard to find the words to explain this experience. I also read this quote most days when I was there:
“I think midlife is when the Universe gently places Her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.
“Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”
The day before I left Germany was the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year!) and the Strawberry Full Moon. Amazing! And then on the plane ride home I ordered a glass a red wine (I limit my alcohol consumption to about 1 drink a month). As I sat there looking at it with the “Hallelujah” song on repeat in my head…seriously… I heard this song one zillion times while I was there… I remembered that I had some bread in my carry-on. So I sat there in my economy plane seat next to a Polish grandmother who spoke no English and had communion to seal the holy time that I had spent with the Divine during the last month.
As many of you know, my coming back to the US last Fall after being in Germany was a really hard time. Much of it had to do with reverse culture shock and the basically daily shootings that occur here in the US (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/03/us/how-often-do-mass-shootings-occur-on-average-every-day-records-...). Josh and I decided that having a few days of non-home reality life might help, so we planned a road trip to Maine. It’s a state neither of us has been to in all of our many travels! Before I left Germany, we talked about how this trip and even the car we used would be a sort of decompression/compression chamber for the two of us. A decompression chamber for him after having stayed at home with the regular deep-sea pressures of life and a compression chamber for me after having descended from this very high, spiritual, mountaintop experience. It worked wonderfully as we drove the many hours looking at beautiful scenery; different memories and experiences would bubble up and we would share them with each other.
We ate delicious food in Boothbay Harbor, walked through the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, enjoyed a sunset sailboat ride in Bar Harbor, hiked in Acadia National Park, saw the Bare Naked Ladies concert in Portland to celebrate my 1-year cancer-free anniversary (June 24, 2015 is when I had my mastectomy), saw a lighthouse (of course!), visited a good friend’s growing family, and even visited a Farmer’s Market at a rest stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike! The icing on the cake was getting to see my family and spend 2 whole days with my fabulous niece, Gracie Goose!
Before I left Germany, many kept asking me if I was looking forward to going home. It was probably 2 days before I left when I finally got to the point where I wasn’t going to be really sad to leave Hufeland, so most of the time I just said, “I’m looking forward to seeing Josh, and my family, and my friends, but I’m really happy to be here.” Then when I was on the East Coast for a week, many asked if I was excited to get home and again I replied, “I’m actually really happy wherever I am.” And now that I’ve been in Colorado for several days, many have asked, “Are you happy to be home?” and answering this question has just felt really confusing. Then on this past Saturday, July 2, 2016 I read one of the quotes I discovered in Germany and it finally hit me… I have gone inside of myself and have found home… that’s why this question is hard to answer for me.
“I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry the accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias. We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”
- Maya Angelou
I appreciated all of the cards you sent to me in Germany; I hung all of them up on my wall to keep me company and I read through the picture book that many of you contributed to last year. And I had the same colorful prayer flags that I hung in my room last year (thank you Anna & Bianca http://www.lovefreemovement.com/). Of course, more than anything, I’m so thankful for your prayers and lifting my whole being up so that whatever changes need to take place will continue happening. This past month of retreat was about Balancing, Blossoming, and the Divine.
Colleen Flowers was given the diagnosis of aggressive Stage 2 breast cancer on June 1, 2015 at the age of 35. She's trained as a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner and does her best to walk the talk. Please explore this site for resources, information, and ideas you may not have been presented with before now. If you like what you see, then subscribe to her newsletter and consider talking with her. Want to stop making decisions based on running away from fear and death, and base them on walking toward love and life? Book a Consult and Buy a Package for individualized coaching support.