The Dancing Bear

There are days I say to myself, “I sure don’t want to die doing this! Please don’t take me now.” The last few days have given me plenty of opportunities to mumble this sentiment. Today will be no different, unless I am able to expel my terror by writing this blog. For today is a big, fat, Dancing Bear kind of day.

The Dancing Bear. What is the Dancing Bear? And what shall explain it to you? (Format of these lines are courtesy of the Qur’an, which I’m studying this semester.) If you have Dancing Bear Syndrome, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but I’ll explain to those of you who don’t. It is something to which I will no doubt refer throughout my blog, as I believe it holds the key to why I got the tumors I did.

Dancing Bears entertain; we try to make people feel better; we are people-pleasers and co-dependents extraordinaire. We can dance around issues. We dance around reality. We smile and dance while the rest of those in our world think, “Wow, is she happy! I wish I could be like that. Not a care in the world.”

Dancing Bears, however, are an endangered species, a dying breed. Here are some little known facts about Dancing Bears, chilling facts that may disturb you (they sure disturb me). First, they tend to talk and think in the third person (ummm…I seem to be doing it herein). Another feature is that they only dance in front of others: alone, they huddle in corners and weep, or stare blankly at the wall, or eat themselves sick. They learn dancing at home, practicing on family first, perfecting their steps, before venturing out to amuse and entertain the general public. Soon they’re dancing at the first sign of discord; with their highly developed senses, they detect whiffs of trouble before others. Deftly, they divert everyone’s attention — so well, in fact, that others in the immediate vicinity will swear there was never anything wrong in the first place. This delights the Dancing Bear, who wants everyone to be happy. Unfortunately, she alters reality for others at the expense of her own. Thus begins the descent into disease, one that cannot be cured until the Bear sees what she’s doing. Depending on at what point the Bear can no longer dance, or muster the strength to do the steps, healing may or may not occur.

I know the Dancing Bear very well, for I am one of the species. Starting with a toy guitar at age two, singing “In a White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” I began the steps of the inexorable Dance. Those who only know the DBJ (Dancing Bear Jen) think I’m outgoing, love parties, and thrive on things like sales, acting, and performing. They think I thrive on it, and well they might believe it, based on my actions. I did stand-up comedy in San Diego, for Heaven’s sake! (I had diarrhea for three days before every performance, though, and even this Bear couldn’t bear that.)

What appears “natural” to most people — the garrulous caretaker of others, the one at ease in front of crowds — is not natural at all, it is habitual. I have learned my steps well, my friend. That does not mean I want to continue that dance. I made steps in the right direction after my diagnosis with ovarian cancer in 2006: I started a master’s program in English. I wrote and published a book last year. My happiest times are when I am buried in a book, or writing (like I am now), or sitting with a small group of my most intimate friends. They know The Real Jen, who is basically shy and nerdy and terrified of visitors to the zoo.

The Real Jen started the PhD (a chance to lock myself away and study, study, study), but DBJ took the grad assist job that has me in terror today. In a few minutes, I begin the dance that will last all day. I’m exhausted just thinking about it, for I know now how much it takes out of me. I’m not willing to have it take that much from me anymore, yet I’m compelled.

Shh! I hear something…ah, the music has started. I must go now.

“Charlie bit me (and that really hurt)”

Despite its unparalleled popularity, I had never seen the “Charlie bit me” YouTube vid until my daughter Leah showed me when she visited recently. If you haven’t seen it, I’ve included the links on the sidebar — I recommend you watch the original first; it makes the auto-tuned version so much funnier. The clip shows a toddler talking about how his infant brother bit him. He thought this quite funny. So funny, in fact, that despite the pain, he puts his finger in his brother’s mouth yet again, and gets (surprise, surprise!) heartily bitten. Not so funny to Charlie the second time, but even more hysterical for those of us watching. The “Charlie bit me” clip has received something like 200 million views, even being mentioned in Fortune magazine. Why?

What makes Charlie so funny, I think, is that he sticks his finger in his brother’s mouth again, despite the pain that was caused the first time. Did he expect a different result? Or was it because he saw his laughing parents, close by and aiming that camera at him, and he wanted to make them laugh again? Even at his tender age, he suspected his actions made his parents smile. What we won’t do to make people smile, or not hurt us… kid stuff, right?

Maybe not. There are a lot of things that hurt: bitten fingers may be the least of them. Labor, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell anemia, Hep C, fibromyalgia, certain kinds of cancer: they may be the greatest of them. Or are they? What about the death of a parent? Your child? What if it was suicide? What if you gave a child up for adoption, to make those parents love you again? What if you come home to find your lover in bed with another? What if that person is someone you thought was a friend? What about when you walk into the boss’ office, thinking you’re getting a raise, and you get fired? Or if you come home one evening to find all your belongings packed and sitting in the garage, and you’re suddenly homeless? If choosing an illness would rectify those situations, bring a loved one back, wouldn’t you do it?

Perhaps, unconsciously, that is exactly what we do, develop an illness to rectify situations that cannot, in fact, be changed. Think about it: if we fall and break something; if we have an operation; if we’re beaten, bruised, or slashed, evidence of those events show on our body. Broken bones show up on x-rays; blood spurts from where we’re cut; we produce bruises where too much pressure has been applied. I believe that emotional damage has its evidence, too — in fact, there is an abundance of scientific proof showing that every single emotion we feel produces a specific chemical. [I highly recommend the movies, What the Bleep Do We Know and The Secret for more on this, in an accessible, non-scientific format.] Our bodies need to rid themselves of the excess toxins caused by emotional trauma, or we get tumors, RA, asthma, and a whole host of other ailments, depending on the source of the emotional pain. It could very well be that tumors are formed around these killer toxins to protect us. A scar forms over a physical trauma; why would our bodies not have a way of dealing with an emotional one?

The treatment I’m getting is based on this theory, and controlled release (through cognitive and other therapies) of the toxins built up over the years is being achieved. It’s not always painless, and it’s not always successful. Apparently I’ve done the emotional equivalent of allowing my finger to be bitten, over and over and over again. I’ve pretended so well and buried my hurts so successfully that I often cannot recall the original events. (Scorpios are great at this.) And I don’t think I’m the only one who has done so: witness the incredible increase of cancers, RA, asthma, and the like. Diabetes: oh my, I’ll have to write a whole ‘nother blog on that one. The things we do to ourselves! Thinking that maybe, just maybe, the ending will change, even though we’re repeating the same actions.

That might be okay for little Charlie — sure, he’s only a toddler. He doesn’t know any better. Chances are he’ll soon learn that, even to get his parents’ approval, it’s not worth sticking his finger in his brother’s mouth. A 30-year-old Charlie in that video would never have received 200 million viewers; one can only watch “stupid” so many times, right?


tumor-o, and tumor-o, and tumor-o. . .

Welcome to my blog, one I subtitle “Musings from a Part-time Mystic.” Since “coming out” about my cancer, I’ve realized how many of you wish me well, in the deepest sense. I have been remiss in letting you  know how I’m doing, and I hope in small measure to let you know now, using this blog space. I cannot guarantee “sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, everywhere,” for there are cloudy days with nary a sweet to eat, and no rainbows on the horizon. While I will not spare you my dark thoughts, I shall not spare the bright ones, either.

Which brings me to why I titled this blog “broccoli for breakfast.” The healing process for this strange and wonderful condition called “cancer” (I use a small “c”) has led to my having ridiculous cravings for meals, not unlike those I got when I was preggers. Having broccoli for breakfast — steamed slightly to reduce (or is it enhance?) something someone told me wasn’t (or is?) good for me if I ate it raw; I get a lot of advice from a lot of people, and if it’s someone I trust, I try to do it (thank you Adrienne, Kat, Leah, and Kevin especially) — is one of the things I eat for breakfast I never would have before. People often think that those diagnosed with a Scary Disease, especially One That Ends In Certain Death! (or that they believe does so), are immediately going to (a) drink alcohol non-stop; (b) smoke pot non-stop; (c) sleep with as many people as they can, non-stop, of course; or (d) Give In To Some Other Terrible Habit, such as cigarette smoking. This has not been the case with me, I assure you.

Last week, for example, one of my dreams came true, something I wanted to see before I died: all my children came to visit me in DeKalb, Illinois, where I’m living now. Katrisa, J.R., and Leah came together for the first time in ten years. J.R. and Leah were able to bring their “spice,” Adrienne and Than, respectively (we missed you Kev!). I wish my granddaughter, Cassidy, could have been there, too, but she was staying in Denver with her biological daddy. (Miss you, Cassers!) I can’t describe what a joy it was to have them all in the Bird Cage, which is what I call my apartment. (It’s at the tippy-top of a three-story house circa 1870 or so.) I had joked with people I work with that “there’s nothing like a terminal illness to get the family together,” but I’m afraid my gallows humor wasn’t appreciated.

That’s another thing, the American way of dealing with death or unpleasant Scary Diseases. The Irish are so much more pragmatic about it. Instead of crossing the street to get away from me, like the Americans did after my mother passed away, the Irish crossed toward me, to offer a “Sorry for your troubles,” or to see if I needed anything. They understand that death is merely the other side of the coin we’ve named Life. We’re all going to face it; I feel lucky to have the heads up on the deal. As it is, I suspect I have more of that Norwegian toughness in me and will probably outlive “healthier” people — out of sheer stubbornness. My  refusal to acknowledge my own dire circumstances (or, when acknowledged, to write about them), I attribute to my bardic, dreamy Irish nature.

And write about this adventure I shall. I realized, as a dribble of butter escaped the floret I munched on this morning, that I may not ever get to the book I’ve worked on sporadically since, oh, 2000, I think, whose working title is “Musings of a Part-Time Mystic.” With this blog, I can throw in the poetry and pithy observations and blurbs and characterizations written in haste on the backs of envelopes and deposit slips, items I know I will find as I prepare to move back to Portland, Oregon. I can read your suggestions and recipes and jokes, and we can share cool pictures. I would like to keep this PG-rated, too, folks — I want my daughter Leah and her hubby Than to be able to participate, so no “F-bombs” or objectionable stuff. You can do that on my Facebook page, should you feel the desire to do so.

Just so everybody’s clear: It’s too late for conventional treatments (which I oppose, at any rate), so I’m going for Miracle Cure, okay? Can the Power of Love keep me alive? I believe it can — along with eating well, thinking well, and moving well. I love being a vegetarian-near-vegan. I want to learn yoga. I think Gillian McKeith rocks, as does Health Resources, where I’m getting my alternative treatments. I believe in the healing power of photographs, like those of my friend Lise, and my daughter, Leah, and even my own. I subscribe to the Healing Power of Squidges (more on that in another blog). My son’s music heals my soul. I love exchanging recipes and talking food and crocheting with Kat. I love nerding out on literature and life with my new friend, Jules. The memory of the conspiratorial chuckles of my Irish friend (miss you, Teresa!) never fail to bring a smile to my face, as do the memories of my other, still-live Irish friends, so witty and wise.

I am blessed with friends, old and new. I cannot even list them all, but I would wager they will show up in this blog. Why? Because it is of friends and family that my life’s tapestry has been woven; its rich colors and texture could never have occurred without them — without you.

Bless you all.