Friday, September 4, 2009

Eating blueberries, staying calm

Many people quote Thich Nhat Hahn's sage but simple advice for mindful living: "While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes." The author and Buddhist monk goes on to explain in his book, "The Miracle of Mindfulness," that if you are following your breath and are conscious of your actions, "There's no way you can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves."

Focusing on the here and now is hardest for those like me whose minds starts to chatter the minute we wake up. But we can keep reminding ourselves and keep trying during the many opportunities that present themselves. (Many are described in the book.) Our dishwasher broke, and washing the dishes was a good place to practice.

I thought of this today when I was putting fresh local blueberries on my granola. This is the end of blueberry season, marking for me the end of what little summer we had. Most of my favorite farmstands have stopped selling them. The other day my good friend Nancy came for a short but sweet visit from Syracuse, N.Y., arriving mid-afternoon after a four-hour drive. I had an appointment and hadn't finished my shopping, so she came with me to look for the few things on my list, including blueberries. After coming up empty-handed at the farmstands, we drove about 15 minutes to a bigger store, Atkins Farms. They still had blueberries! I bought three boxes.

I had hoped it wouldn't turn into a wild goose chase for Nancy, but she said she was enjoying the drive in the country, and it turned out well because we got the blueberries. So?

When I was putting them on my cereal today, my mind drifted off onto how I needed to go to Atkins to look for some more, and what if they didn't have them, how sad it would be to switch to the smaller less delicious ones that come from Michigan. (Just so you don't think I lack perspective, please understand that I am exaggerating a little here about my level of concern.)

Then I remembered to enjoy the blueberries I have, to taste each one and savor it for what is rather than not even tasting it while ruminating on what may not be. This may sound silly, but it's a way of looking that's difficult to keep up but also very useful for cutting down worry.

Worry is something I'm very good at:

Tomorrow I head back to Cape Cod for two nights. I am going with two of my friends from tennis, Donna and Deb, to attend the wedding of the daughter of another tennis friend, Debbie. (Yes I know they're all D's.) We'll be right on the beach and it should be great. We are even bringing our tennis racquets. But worry is cutting into my anticipation.

When I went to the clinic on Monday, my platelets were 11 and my hematocrit was 24. White count was an excellent 7.2, and everything looked basically fine except for the pokey platelets and rbcs.

I got a bag of platelets and, instead of the usual two bags of blood, my doctor said I could try getting away with one bag and a shot. Yesterday and today I felt a little sluggish. I walked to and from the lake and around it, about one-and-a-half miles, and I wasn't exactly dragging, but I felt more tired than usual. My explanation: I should have gotten the two bags of blood. My crazy mind: Your counts are crashing and something bad is happening.

I called Dana-Farber and talked to one of the nurses in the stem cell transplant program. Trying to extract the soothing comment I was seeking, I told her my theory and said, "I assume that since I was there Monday and everything was fine, it's just the red blood and not a sign of some big crash, right?" I didn't get the big, "I'm sure you're fine!" How could she know, after all? She said probably it's nothing to worry about, but I should get in for a CBC as soon as I could. Between my schedule and theirs, that turns out to be five days from now, which turns out to be the time slot I already have, on Thursday, 10 days instead of the usual week from my last visit. Meanwhile they said of course to call if I start to feel really bad.

Obviously they don't think I'm ready to keel over. Obviously I don't feel that way. But it's so easy to get spooked. The way to handle it: Stop running scenarious. Settle on the logical answer, and then proceed, knowing that the problem will be remedied soon. Enjoy the friends over the weekend. Enjoy another chance to get to the beach, and, of course, the chance to share in the happiness of a beautiful bride.

Take a box of blueberries with me. Savor them one at a time.


Howard said...

I love this post, Ronni. I ought to tattoo the good advice you're giving yourself on the palms of my hands. Good reminder.

Enjoy your blueberries.

Jim said...

Blueberries good. Anxiety bad. I hope your focus stays on tasty fruit and the many Ds you call friends. Have a great trip, RG.


Ann said...

Savor this beautiful life you're living and enjoy the beach.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

A gifted social worker described worries and anxieties like a big beach ball in the pool. If you try to keep them under water (i.e., suppressed), they'll just keep popping up in your face. It's much easier to push them aside, in view but not interfering with your playtime.

I hope that blogging and knowing we care helps you gently push away those "beach ball" anxieties, so you can enjoy your friends and your blueberries.

With hope, Wendy

Nelle said...

Anyone who has gone through what you have would be experiencing these thoughts. I had a tumor in my chest thirty years ago and each time I get a chest x ray now and they act concerned my anxiety rises. I have read many books such as the one you describe and in fact, I think I read that one. I try to think of these thought waves and anxiety as waves in the ocean. When they are coming you cannot avoid them, you can only allow them to wash over you. Then you proceed on....knowing you will be able to ride out the next. I have found that keeping my mind distracted with anything works well. I often put in a favorite dvd and lose myself in a movie. I was often frustrated when doctors didn't give me the reassurances I needed then one day I realized that they have not been through this themselves. I hope you enjoy your blueberries and are able to find more. You have a weekend with friends and a wedding to look forward to...hope it's grand.

Dennis Pyritz, RN said...

Special invitation to leukemia bloggers. This month’s Book Club selection at is by leukemia and transplant survivor, Evan Handler. Handler is a noted Broadway and television actor best known as Charlotte’s boyfriend/husband in Sex and the City. He has also appeared in Lost, The West Wing, and Studio 60. This funny and poignant book covers his diagnosis with AML, his remission, relapse, and treatment with bone marrow transplant at John Hopkins and Memorial Sloan-Kettering. You can order a new or used copy of the book from my site. Discussion began today and will continue for the next three Mondays in September.
Take care, Dennis