Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Defy Gravity with Stephen Hawking

We learned about gravity and Sir Isaac Newton back when we were in school.  The lessons demonstrated why our feet stay firmly planted on the ground instead of having us float through the air like Casper the friendly ghost.  Gravity is an amazing thing and without it we’d be big trouble.

However, the pressure exerted on us from gravity is enormous.  The pounds per square inch of pressure puts a strain on the body; one we’re not even aware of unless you’re carrying around a lot of extra weight…then you feel it.  So why talk about gravity when I should be talking about healing from a chronic or life-threatening illness?

I believe that there is physical gravity and then there are other types of gravity.  The other types of gravity try to keep us grounded but often only serve to keep us trapped in the status quo.  During Diane Sawyer’s interview with the noted physicist Stephen Hawking, the video showed Hawking floating in space on a zero gravity flight.  Can you imagine what that must have meant to man who has spent most of his life in a wheelchair using machines to help him communicate?  Can you imagine for a moment the feeling of freedom he experienced in the zero gravity chamber?

Most of us can’t because we’re not trapped in our bodies, or better yet locked in our bodies, the way Hawking has been for years.  Following the diagnosis of an illness many do become trapped in their emotional or spiritual bodies and that is a difficult journey.  Feeling trapped in despair, depression, lack of faith, or feeling abandoned by God could leave you bound and held against your will.

The goal is to find those gravity free zones where you can express yourself authentically.  These gravity free zones give you the opportunity to explore new avenues of health and healing.  They offer you options to despair.  They provide you with the feeling of possibility.  Hopefully after seeing someone like Stephen Hawking float in the air you too will believe that you can overcome the restraints that are placed on your or have been self-imposed.

Give yourself the oasis of a gravity free zone and expand your horizons.  It will boost your immune system and that’s great incentive.

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Stephen Hawking and Wonder

Last night I was watching ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer.  She had an interview with the famous scientist and philosopher Stephen Hawking.  Because of Hawking’s health issues, he uses a computer device to type out words at the rate of 1-2 words per minutes, they gave him the questions ahead of time so he could respond during the interview.  The interview was engaging and once again Hawking’s story is amazing.

At the age of 21 Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  He wasn’t expected to live more than a year or so, but he has outlived his prognosis by 43 years…that’s amazing.  He went on to become a professor at Cambridge and one of the world’s most famous voices about physics. 

One of the things that was impressive was that his daughter seems to be a partner in his life.  He married twice, has children and grandchildren, and obviously his determination, perseverance, and wonder has mesmerized his family just as he has mesmerized the world.

Watching the interview I starting asking myself, “what makes and made Hawking different from others with the same diagnosis?”  When I asked myself this question what came to mind was the idea of wonder.  He has lived his life in a place of wonder.   He’s always asking the next question, coming up with a new theory, and always in hot pursuit of an answer to the big questions.  Does wonder prolong life?  Does engagement in something, anything so intensely motivate the immune system to go full throttle at all times aiding in health and healing?

I know that many wouldn’t want to live their life trapped in their body, only able to communicate mechanically, and need constant caring for one’s personal needs.  Hawking is obviously surrounded by a caring family and lots of love.  It doesn’t hurt that he has admirers around the world and it has been that way for forty years.

I was most taken with his response to Diane Sawyer’s question about advice to his kids and grandchildren.  His response was: 

“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it,” he said. “Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

Amazing words from an amazing man.  I have two questions for you.  “What do you wonder about so intently that it could fortify your physical, emotional, and spiritual life?”  Last but not least, “What advice (like Hawking did in the interview) would you give family or friends that will stick with them long after you’re gone?”

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

A shining example

I haven’t watched ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition all season, but tonight I decided to watch the season’s final episode.  The Williams family is amazing.  The father, a football coach, is dealing with a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and the son has spina bifida. 

Watching the show I was taken with Jeremy Williams attitude about his illness.  ALS, one of the most devastating diseases on the planet, ravages the body while the mind stays alert.  In this case, Jeremy Williams has a mission deep in his soul that I believe helps him maintain as much of his physical capacity as possible.  

He coaches a football team that last season was undefeated.  He shows his team what can be accomplished against incredible odds by simply choosing to get out of bed and be the leader of this amazing team of young men.  He is committed not only to his family, and his own health, but to the young people he mentors.  Even if they never personally have to fight a health challenge, the lessons they learn from Jeremy Williams will make them successful in each and every endeavor.

He’s clear that the future is uncertain.  He doesn’t know if he’ll be alive a year or two from now, but he’s determined to live each day giving and receiving love.  I thought his wife was eloquent and should be doing commercials for the national caregivers association.  She spoke to the point that others feel that she is shouldering a huge burden having both a husband and a child with challenges.  Her response is that being involved in her husband’s and son’s life in such a caring and loving was is a privilege.  It has allowed her to evolve as a person.

We all need shining examples in our lives, especially when we’re facing the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness.  We need to know that others are willing and able to share their nuggets of wisdom about living in the moment.  It’s important to have a go-to person who can show you how to follow the ancient Chinese proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight”. 

I hold healing energy for the Williams family and hope that every day they spend together is blessed and filled with love!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Mind Control

Did you see the show “60 Minutes” last night on CBS?  The story is about how humans are using their minds to what will someday allow them to control their bodies.  The story started with a neuroscientist, Scott Mackler, who at age 40 was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  As a result he suffers from “locked in syndrome”.  His brain is completely alert but he can’t move any part of his body except his eyes.

Through an invention called “Brain Computer Interface” (BCI), Scott can communicate through a computer.  He wears a skull cap with electrodes that captures his thoughts.  The information is then sent to a computer.  He communicates by thinking of letters that make words and then the computer serves as Scott’s voice. 

Next they showed a woman who had a stroke and also suffers from “locked in syndrome”.  The researchers implanted a computer chip/receptor in her brain and then she’s hooked up to a computer via a plug on her head.  By thinking thoughts she can move a mouse on a computer allowing her to communicate, play music, and answer e-mail.

The hope is that in the future this technology will allow paralysis patients, stroke patients, ALS patients, MS patients and any who lose function in their body to recapture some of what they lost.  The biggest part of this process for Scott Mackler according to his wife is that it gave him some independence.  Being able to communicate with others has allowed him to return to work where he can work on further advancements of this type of technology.  Being able to communicate with loved ones is vital to quality of life.  There’s no more guessing because the person using the device is truly thinking the thoughts.

I know we all get a bit freaked out by technology,  but the truth is as we age and there are more toxins in the environment illness will continue.  Inventions like the “Brain Computer Interface” won’t reverse the disease but works to thwart the immensely limiting impact on the patient’s existence.  It may only be a glimmer of hope today, but fire was started by a spark and this is a huge spark!

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Google Surprises!

When reminiscing about days gone by do you ever Google people from your past to see what they’re doing?  Every so often whether I’m just feeling nostalgic or looking to reconnect, I Google people I’ve known to see where they are and what they’re doing.  I have to say that I’ve had two huge surprises this year that have been weighing on my mind as I did my year in review.

Over the summer I began searching for Barbara Keith-Smith.  Barbara was a psychotherapist and I shared my first private practice office with her.  I found it odd that in the past there were no listings for her but this summer I tried once more and there she was, a listing.  Unfortunately the listing was a public notice talking about her estate.  When I read that I wasn’t sure if it was the same person until I read who the executor of the estate was; it was her daughter.  I felt a deep sense of sadness.  She was a young woman with a loving family who had many trials and tribulations in her life.

The second search was for people I’d worked with at nonprofit agencies in the 1990’s.  I was the program manager for an HIV/AIDS program and we had a wonderful psychiatrist, Dr. Timothy Brower, who volunteered his time to do evaluations for our clients.  Many of these clients were either underinsured or uninsured so it was a tremendous service for him to provide.  His first career was as an architect who designed hospitals.  Then he decided to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist.  After I left California, he rented an office in the same office building where I’d had my private practice office.  I was last there about 3-1/2 years ago and his name was on the door.  The recent Google search only showed two listings; a  phone directory listing and much to my surprise an obituary.  Dr. Timothy Brower died in December of 2007 of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  This has been a complete shock and it has been weighing heavily on my mind over the past week.  He was gifted, gracious with a heart as good as gold.

I’m a little Google shy at the moment, especially for people I haven’t been in touch with over the past 5-10 years.  I’m sure I’ll get right back in the saddle, but for now I just want to hold a sacred space for these two people who had such an impact on my professional and personal life.  They are two people who made the world a safe place for those facing challenges.  They were both contributors to their communities and great role models in the professional arena.

I guess what this brings home in a big way is that life is impermanent.  As those of you facing an illness know there is no good time to be sick.  There is no way of knowing when or why or how certain illnesses will strike.  The only control we have in our lives is how we live each day.

As we begin 2009 I’m honored to share these moments with you.  I look forward to 2009 as we deepen our journey to health and healing.  As your Sherpa I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve.

Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Having a Voice, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Open Yourself to New Opportunities

I’m amazed at the transformation we’re all capable of achieving.  We all have talents that are often hidden at it takes some dynamic force to unearth those talents and let the light shine on them.  I recently experienced this from a dynamic individual I met at my most recent educational endeavor.  My retreat roommate, Jake McArthur (www.cairncrest.com), is a poet extraordinaire.  One evening he read a number of his poems and then began to tell about how his love of poetry influenced and I hope enriched the lives of others.

Jake is a hospice volunteer.  He was asked to visit a hospice patient who is living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Jake would go and visit this woman reading to her countless books.  One day he asked if she would like to hear some poetry.  He would read poetry from some of our great poets, occasionally slipping in some of his own work.  One day he asked her if she had ever written poetry or would consider writing poetry.  (Sidenote: This woman’s ALS is greatly advanced.  She has no motor skills.  Communication is made through technology that follows a beam to a keyboard and slowly words are created).

Despite the challenges of writing, the client began writing poetry.  At first the poetry was generic.  Eventually Jake asked if she would like to write about something more personal…her ALS.  I had the privlege to witness the reading of this woman’s poetry.  The work is strong, emotional, genuine, inspiring and moving–an irony since no part of her body moves physically.

Through Jake’s example, she has reignited her voice.  The words bring a strength that many facing any life-threatening illness would believe had been long gone.  She is an example of how the creative forces can provide the path to perseverance.  She’s willing to grab any micron of joyful experience through her poetry.

I’m honored to have been witness to her story.  I’m in awe of Jake’s commitment to volunteerism and to sharing his passion with us.  His example of creative passion is contagious.  Creativity is a healing force, don’t let it slip past you.