Monday, July 8, 2019

Healing in Hawaii

Last night we were sitting on a lanai with more than a dozen other people who were singing and playing guitars, a bass, keyboards, harmonica, percussion, a banjo and the humble ukulele (me). It was a gentle, rainy Hawaii evening. Dave and I gave each other that look--you know, the one that says "wow, this is a great moment."

This moment is pretty special, too. I'm writing in the living room. Dave is reading a book, and the dog, Snickers, is snoozing. Out the window I see bright green lawn, trees shimmying in the breeze, and a gray-blue sea rimmed by a line of white foam.

View from our home for 4 months.
Each moment matters. I'm especially feeling that these days, having come out of a dark place in my mind. When I was told I don't have cancer--after having been told I did--I was ecstatic, of course. But dealing with the after-effects of thyroid surgery was rough. For weeks, it felt like someone was strangling me and rocks were lodged in my throat. I couldn't project my voice or sing. Strange numb and tingly sensations erupted in my feet and thighs.

I didn't know if my body was merely healing and adjusting to synthetic hormone replacement or if something was going wrong. My mind kept weaving stories: Your voice will never return. You might have to have another surgery if your scar is affixing. Your throat will never feel normal again.

I was also struggling with the idea that I'd have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. But soon I realized it was my ego that was pissed off. It didn't want to identify as a person reliant on a pharmaceutical. My identity as independent and free and not a pawn to Big Pharma was threatened.

I had to laugh. Okay, universe, another lesson about not freaking out about change, I get it. And that lesson was hammered home when we arrived in Hawaii for our four-month houessit. The homeowner, the woman who picked us up at the airport (and along with her husband, draped fragrant leis around our necks) had the telltale throat scar. So small she had to point it out. Her cancerous thyroid had been removed years ago. She is one among several people I know who've taken this tiny pill for decades.

The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly...
a friend gave me this gorgeous scarf before my surgery.
Also, I was able to connect with a number of women who've undergone this surgery and learned that my physical sensations were pretty normal. These conversations helped put things in perspective. I was lucky to avoid cancer treatments that sometimes resulted in an array of troubling side-effects.

My ego had let go of the pill thing but was now clinging to the idea that I was supposed to be a fast healer. When I really listened to my body, it was telling me to take long baths and naps, massage the scar lightly, breathe deeply, stretch a little, take gentle walks, read good books, and watch funny videos. And now two months out from surgery, my throat is slowly improving.

Our bodies teach us a lot.

In the past year or two, my body has been telling me--shouting at me--to nourish it well. I wasn't listening. After finding a golf-ball sized mass on my thyroid, my doctor told me to stop eating dairy. I have always loved all things milky and cheesy--but the minute he said it, something clicked in me. My intuition told me he was right. When I got home, I pulled the half-and-half and cheese from the fridge and gave it to a neighbor.

Three months later, I have done a lot of research (like this book and this book and this book and this film and this film and this website).

It's fun to cook again! 
There is ample evidence that eating primarily plant-based whole food bolsters immunity--and helps us avoid (and sometimes cure) many chronic illnesses. And damn, it sure makes me feel great! In just a few months of eating this way (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, no oil, few processed foods) Dave and I have noticed some incredible things going on with our bodies:

* More cardiovascular endurance
* Weight loss
* Waking up feeling alert and well-rested
* Bowel regularity (and then some!)
* Significant reduction in heartburn/acid reflux 
* Fewer aches and pains/less joint stiffness
* Clearer skin
* Less plaque build-up on our teeth and better breath
* More evenness/emotional balance--less likely to be "hangry"
* Fewer food cravings
* Sharper sense of smell and taste
* Dave's sinuses are clearer, and his persistent toe fungus is healing

We had thought that getting weaker and gaining a few pounds was an inevitable part of growing older, and while that may be true to some degree, clearly nutrition is significant. We both breathe more easily while exercising--and on our recent walks we have been jogging a bit. I used to love running but assumed I just couldn't do it anymore in my fifties. I am already dreaming about doing 5Ks and 10Ks again. Even though I am still recovering from surgery, I feel stronger than I have in years.

blueberry torte: no oil, flour, processed sugar...pure delish
Another benefit is that I am enjoying cooking! At times it used to feel like a chore. I was stuck in a food rut, bored with my eating habits. Now we are enjoying more tasty variety. When I'm cooking I feel I'm channeling my inner curandera who heals through food, herbs, and spices. Food is supposed to make you feel good. And it's nice when the process of making it does, too.

Bananas galore
Just as we are focusing on eating primarily whole fresh fruits and vegetables, we are plopped into this housesit on a property where we can pick papayas, mangoes, pineapples and bananas and pull veggies from a thriving garden.

salad days
We are also exploring. While we've spent time on the big island of Hawaii in the past, we'd not seen much of this southern area. It's beautiful, peaceful, and isolated.

Volcano National Park

At the southernmost tip of the U.S. with Snickers, our roomie.

King Kamehameha festivities in Hilo

green sea turtle at the black sand beach
We are just one month into this four-month houessit. It's sweet to settle into the domestic rhythms of cooking, gardening and animal care--and to enjoy the musical neighbors. I'm grateful to have the time to focus on healing and writing. To soak in each moment I am given. Life has given me a lot of material. It's time to weave a book.