Don’t you hate it when you obey all the rules, do everything right, and things still don’t go your way? I mean, what’s the point in trying anymore? I put all this work and effort into this and it still didn’t work.
That’s how I felt in the fall of 2019 when I heard that my cancer was back and I had a choice to make. Do I want to go through chemotherapy and another surgery again, or do I want to die? That was my choice.
After my first surgery, which was about 12 hours long with teams of doctors and specialists, a seizure, being nauseous and weak and peeing myself every time I stood upright I said to Glenn “I’m never going through this again. If this comes back again I need you to remind me of how I’m feeling right now, because I’ll forget.”
I was in a lot of distress because my options for treatment were limited to chemotherapy and surgery, and they weren’t even sure if that would work. It felt like my options were die now, or die later. Which one do I choose when I don’t want either?
Then one day I heard about psychedelics - psilocybin, or magic mushrooms - and how they were helping people like me. People who were in the same place as me, seeing the end of their lives coming closer and closer like a fast moving train, and they were able to find help . It seemed as though they were able to face what was coming and live the rest of their days full of joy and peace and surrounded by the love of the universe.
How did they do that? Is it even possible? I want that. I NEED that.
Thankfully, I knew someone. My good friend Dave is a therapist and was starting to study psychedelics as part of therapy. One night when we were all together for dinner we watched “A New Understanding”, a documentary put out by Johns Hopkins about the effects of psilocybin therapy on terminal patients and their end-of-life anxiety. It was obvious that it had been a profound experience for all of them, so why not me?
That last paragraph doesn’t come close to describing what actually happened that night. Our friends entered into this journey with us in a way that they couldn’t before. I so desperately needed to be able to talk about everything I was feeling and going through, and my friends were brave enough to allow me to. They became comfortable with talking about dying, we were able to talk about loss and pain and laugh and cry together. They were brave enough to enter into the mess with us, and because of that our love, understanding and appreciation for each other grew exponentially (at least that's how I felt). A gift, brought about by cancer.
Glenn and I decided that before I do anything, either mushroom trip or chemotherapy, we needed to get away with our family. We had intended to take our kids and their significant others to Maui for two weeks over Christmas to celebrate me being cancer-free for a year, but obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Miraculously, though, we were able to cancel all of our reservations for Christmas and move our trip up to September, 2019. Anyone who has grown children knows that organizing any family get-together is like planning a major military maneuver, but somehow we managed to plan and book a trip for the nine of us to Maui in two days, leave less than a week later, and everyone was able to get time off of work without any problems (The ‘cancer card’ is a powerful tool!).
We had a great time with our kids, but it was also really hard. We were all scared and grieving, but having time away to just enjoy being with each other was what we needed. Our first week we stayed at a resort right on the beach in Kaanapali and we were able to relax and enjoy the pools, the sand and surf, and walks along the beach. Lots of laughter and tears, and kids telling stories of everything they had done as teenagers and never got caught. Not mentioning any names, but it turns out we raised a jailbird, a runaway, a car thief (just my car, for middle of the night joy rides), and one who had sticky fingers. Hmmm. Sometimes maybe you're better off not knowing?
While it was emotionally difficult two weeks for everyone it also gave me a chance to see our kids and their partners together, to just sit back and observe. It was a gift to watch how they were with each other and to see that they were going to be okay. Cole proposed to Iris at the end of our first week and we had fun running around, making plans for the big night, and then celebrating with them.
While we were there I also began to think about my intentions for my psilocybin trip. What questions do I have about the universe, what do I want to learn or see? What do I need? Set and setting are all important in psilocybin therapy. Finally, towards the end of our vacation, I took a day to myself to work out my intentions, and many tears and mountains of Kleenex later, I had my list.
Once we were back home I had to have my port re-inserted under the skin on my chest (ugh), and then I had a window of time to recover before starting chemo, so I scheduled my mushroom trip with Dave for the Thursday before treatment started.
The Sunday before my trip Glenn’s brother and sister-in-law came for a quick visit and to lead us in a Transformational Breathwork session, something they were practicing themselves and had learned how to teach to others. They had offered to teach me before, during my first go-round but it sounded a little too out there for me, so I politely refused. I was about to find out that it wasn’t just nonsense, that it actually works!
Before we started I could barely move my left arm - I had pushed all of the trauma and emotion of the previous year deep down inside, and my shoulder muscles were so knotted up that I just couldn’t move it. After an hour of breath work, which included a lot of big, heavy sobs from me, I was able to move my arm a bit. My sister-in-law Helen showed me a diagram showing where we hold different energy in our bodies and when I saw what it said above the left shoulder (guilt, anger, lack of self-compassion) - I decided that maybe I should pay attention. I was carrying a lot of guilt because I was causing my family so much pain and suffering. I felt anger at my situation - a lot of slamming cupboard doors and stomping around was happening at the time, and I felt the weight of grief and loss. I was never going to see my kids get married or see grandkids. It felt like my life had been ripped from me and I had absolutely no control over anything, and I was stuck between pain and grief and just being totally pissed off!
What a beautiful moment of connection I had with my sister-in-law. We sat cross-legged on the floor afterward and I grabbed her hands and asked her if she would be in this with me. I desperately needed someone to talk to about my impending death so I asked if she would be comfortable with that, understanding if she wasn’t, but she accepted and has been with me through it all. I feel like that’s the day we became sisters and friends, not just sisters-in-law. Another gift.
My breath work session allowed me to see that there was something to all of this, and that I needed to be more open. The mantra I repeated over and over to myself was trust, be open, and let go. By the time Thursday rolled around I felt like I was ready. Nervous, but ready.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived for my mushroom trip, other than what I had heard from other people, because I had never done any kind of psychedelics before. So I arrived for my session feeling a little nervous, but also expecting it to be something amazing and profound. I was in such a state of mental and emotional distress that I barely knew which way was up.
When I arrived we had a little ceremony, giving thanks for the mushroom and smudging ourselves with sage and taking time to acknowledge and give thanks for the land we were standing on - it is the unsceded territory of the Sto:lo peoples (Do other countries do this? It's become a common practice in Canada in the last few years, and I like the reminder.). Then I ground up the mushrooms in a bowl, mixed them with some honey, and down the hatch they went. I was warned that it may be an hour or so before I started to feel anything, and so I opened a book about Monet and started to page through, enjoying his paintings. Ten minutes later I started to feel a little weird, and the shapes on the page were starting to shift.
Once I put the eye shades and headphones on I was off, holding on to my friend Adele's hand. She was there to hold space for me, and thank God she was, because it felt like her hand was the only thing anchoring me there, and if I let go I might just float away like a balloon and never come back. I saw a few of the people or things that I had been thinking about that morning fly away, like my brain was sweeping out that space to make room for what was coming.
At first I saw a lot of kaleidoscope colours and images, and it felt like I was seeing a bunch of those inflatable guys that you see in front of car dealerships or washes - the ones that dance around as they fill with air and then empty again. After a few minutes I started to feel a little annoyed and impatient - I just wanted to get on with it so let's get this show on the road.
Suddenly I was back down on earth, feeling cold, scared and alone as I walked through the darkness, trying to figure out where I was. It was pitch black and I couldn't see anything around me or where I was going. I sensed that I was in the middle of the forrest, and could feel eyes looking at me from behind the trees. I remember saying out loud how cold I was and pulling the blanket up and around me. I thought "Is this what it's like to die? "...
I've waited four years to find out where this story ends, so you can wait another week. In the meantime, please like, subscribe and share, especially if you know anyone who you think could be helped by my story.©