Archive for December, 2011

Guano Hit the Fan

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

“Where there is much light, the shadow is deep.”  … - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wherever you go, there you are.”  …Unknown

For the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer our family took a vacation.  We packed our bags, lubed the car and trekked across the desert to Arizona; our first stop, Phoenix to visit the family for the holidays.  After lots of Christmas cookies, old friends, music jam sessions and a visit from Santa, we packed up our gifts, said our goodbyes and headed two hours south to Tucson. Since Riley and Casey are soon to be university bound, we wanted to show them our alma mater, The Universtiy of Arizona, and the place Kevin and I first met 26 years ago. 

We had a blast.  I not only reconnected with my family, I reconnected to the desert and to my core.  Tucson is truly a spiritual place.

We saw two hundred year old giants in Saguaro National Park, met mountain lions and javalina, went horseback riding with a real cowboy, re-lived the shootout at the OK corral, hung out by the pool with fair skinned snowbirds, ate pollo smothered in Mole and went spelunking at Kartchner Caverns, an absolutely stunning limestone cave hidden in the desert.


Formed by 85,000 years of dripping water, the cave is one of the wonders of the world with its incredible calcite formations; stalagmites and stalactites, some reaching from the floor to the ceiling.  It is also home to hundreds of bats.  And where there are bats, there is guano, lots of guano.  That is bat shit in lay men terms.

There is no escaping guano.  Even in the most wondrous of places. 

But, where there is guano, there is life; rich, abundant life.  Fungi and bacteria, along with other life forms like cave crickets and gross little white blind bugs thrive in these caves all because of this organic material.  It is essential for growth, development and expansion; in other words, without guano, no ugly blind bugs, without shit, no life.

We have all experienced our fair share of shit in our lives.  It will come and go like the monsoons of Arizona.  And, just when there is a clearing and all is good, shit happens again.  We are all living proof of this life cycle.

The week before Christmas, guano hit the fan in the Brown household, a full out monsoon.  I had to go in for an emergency mini D and C after days of non-stop bleeding and a biopsy to boot to make sure I did not have uterine cancer (Uterine cancer is one of the side effects of Tomaxifin), all while getting ready to go out of town for Christmas while Kevin was swamped with an 8 million page production.  He slept eight hours in five days.   I think I saw him for four of those hours and he was snoring.   

It was hell week, not unlike the week pledges face at the U of A before achieving full membership in their fraternity or sorority.  But, I did not crawl back into bed.  I did not run off to Mexico with a hot sexy surfer or join some cult where they promised to save my soul.  I did not light up or drown my sorrows in a bottle of vodka.  I admit I thought about it though.  Instead, I faced it head on and persevered.  It wasn’t easy.  I wept and moaned and howled at the moon but I did not give up.     

Many of our addictions and neurosis are our attempts to escape, to run from suffering, to run from ourselves.  But it is in this suffering, this shit that life deals us, this bat guano, that we grow and true meaning comes to light. 

James Hollis, my favorite Jungian psychologist and author writes, “there is no sun-lit meadow, no restful bower of easy sleep; there are rather swamplands of the soul where nature, intends that we live a good part of the journey, and from whence many of the most meaningful moments of our lives will derive.” 

James you are one rad dude, Carl Jung, brilliant.  T.S. Eliot embraced this understanding as well. 

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation

So, don’t run.  Don’t try to escape.  Stay.  Fight.  Howl at the moon if you must.  Do not be afraid to go spelunking into the deep cavernous places of your soul.  It is in these dark places that we meet ourselves.

Deanne meet Deanne.

Welcome Back Girl!

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Friday night, as the sun was setting on the pacific, it was also setting in my heart.  I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  My husband was still at work, happy hour was in full swing somewhere and I was home, alone, with the kids and the weight of this last year on my shoulders.  But, thanks to a little girl, a Jew, and the boy next door, my evening was salvaged and my heart ready to rise with the sun the next day.  My life forever changed by a book, “The Book Thief.” 

It was 1939, Nazi Germany, when a little man with big words and a bad moustache had a horrible idea.  A quirky dark narrator, “Death”, was busy collecting the souls of the dead while a heroic little girl, Liesel, stole books to help her get through a horrendous time in her life.  The characters captivated me as I curled up on the couch with a box of tissues, sipping tea and tears.  Not only did Liesel steal books, she stole my heart as well.  I was absorbed, like a Brawny paper towel sopping up spilled milk.  Slurp!

Why the book hype?  First of all, I will never look at life and “Death” the same way.  Second, it hasn’t been since Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Owen Meany in “A Prayer for Owen Meany” that a character with such a pure spirit has spoken to me like Liesel and her foster pa, Hans Huberman.  Third, it has inspired me to start where I left off a few years ago and attempt to finish reading the top 100 classic books of all time.  Why, because I finally can!

There was a time in my life when a good book, a classic like Anna Karenina, Lolita and Ulysses was as delicious and enticing to me as a piece of chocolate.  I used to devour the classics, one after another, like a box of thin mint girl scout cookies.    

I hit a roadblock a few years ago.  I could not concentrate long enough to get through one chapter.  I was distracted, unfocused and scattered.  Then, I was diagnosed with cancer.  Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov got put into boxes, stored away in my garage, left to a time before mid-life crisis, job loss, and chemo.  James Hollis, Wayne Dyer, Michio Kushi and Kris Carr took over filling the empty spaces on my bookshelves once adorned by classics as I worked to get my life back, re-focus and kick some cancer ass.

Today I unquestionably feel more focused.  It is not easy, a constant battle of wills, my own.  But I am closer and closer to getting my life back.  I definitely kicked cancer’s ass to kingdom come, now I need to kick distraction in the butt and unpack those boxes in the garage and let Tolstoy out.       


The “Book Thief” has given me just the fuel I need.  It has reignited my appetite and I am hungry! 

Seems my hunger for cookies came back with my hunger for a good book.  As I was reading last night, my kiddos baked homemade butterscotch oatmeal cookies.  I could not resist.  I must have eaten at least five cookies (I lost count), hot and gooey straight out of the oven.  They were delicious.

Honestly, I must admit, I was a bit worried that I would waste away on green leafy vegetables never enjoying a cookie hot out of the oven without thinking of it as feeding my cancer.  I also worried that I would starve, not just from lack of yummy gooey goodness, but from never being able to finish a good piece of fiction again, always distracted and unfocused. 

All that worry for naught!  I know better not to worry but I just can’t help myself sometimes.  I found this quote by Glenn Turner.  I think he sums it up well. 

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere. 

Ain’t that the truth?  I learned this lesson in more ways than one this weekend.  Not only is my hunger back.  My period is back!  After 9 months of chemo induced menopause, 9 months of wondering, is this it, menopause at age 45.  I got my answer.  I have never been more excited to go to the store and buy a box of tampons.  My body and mind seem to be screaming out, loud and clear, “No, not yet girl.  Do not throw in the towel.  You are still young, vibrant and tough.  Your appetite and enthusiasm for cookies, books and life is as strong as ever.  You have many periods ahead of you!”    

Bring it, I say, the cramps, the pimples, the sugar cravings, and the hormonal angst.  And move over James Hollis.  It’s time to unpack those boxes.  There is enough room for all of you on my bookshelves.  And while I am at it, show me the cookies! 

Welcome back Aunt Flow!  Welcome back Leo Tolstoy and James Joyce!  Welcome back butterscotch oatmeal cookies.  Welcome back girl!