Archives for posts with tag: letting go

As I mentioned in my last post, I let my home office turn into black-hole during my cancer treatment, and it stayed that way until I cleaned it a couple of weeks ago. I found that is was a bit of an archeological site. Everything my former cat, Ollie, had knocked off of the desk onto the floor and then batted way underneath, were still there. Ollie died shortly after I began cancer treatment, coincidentally from metastatic cancer. I thought of the fact that he’d touched the pen caps, binder clips, Post-it notes, and push pins. I thought fondly of him, but I didn’t have trouble getting rid of the pieces that were garbage and putting the rest of it away.

At the bottom of a pile on my desk, I found the folder in which I kept my cancer paperwork, labelled, “Cancer 2012”.



I opened the cover and saw a set of post-surgical instructions. I also saw Explanation of Benefits forms from my insurance. A year ago I many have put it back on the top of my desk thinking I might “need” it some day. That day, however, I threw it into the recycle bin and made a plan to write about it, as I am doing right now.

Another thing I found was the tote bag I was given by the Swedish Cancer Institute with their name and logo on the side. For the first several months of treatment, I carried a binder, also provided by Swedish, containing all of my pathology and blood work reports separated with tab folders, “Initial diagnosis”, “Lumpectomy #1”, “Lumpectomy #2”, “Mastectomy”, “Oncology reports”, etc. I called it, “my big bag of cancer.”  Eventually, I stopped using the bag but continued to use the binder, which was extremely helpful in keeping my treatment organized and making some kind of sense. It was actually a very handy reference guide to take with me to my appointments.

I looked at the bag and considered getting rid of it. I have a ridiculous number of tote bags due my past as an academic researcher. I did a lot of conference travel and typically, the conference catalog and registration materials are put in a tote bag. Some of them are very nice, very sturdy, and have, as a result, never worn out. Clearly, I did not need my cancer bag in order to lug stuff around. Honestly, I don’t need most of them. They just sit around, “just in case” I need them in the future.

However, one of the first thoughts to come to mind when I saw it was a visual memory of my wonderful breast surgeon, Dr. Beatty, carrying a tote bag just like mine, holding the things he needed for that day. He was the first of my many physicians with whom I developed a doctor-patient relationship. He and his staff were wonderful. I felt so taken care of when I went to his office.

The image of being held, not as an embrace, but as being supported and cared for came to mind. I decided that “my big bag of cancer” is a holder of good things. For now, I am keeping it. Next year, who knows?

I am amazed at the significance that objects have taken on through their association with my cancer treatment. Some of the associations are comforting. Some of them are painful. All of them are part of the truth of my experience, an experience that continues to evolve over time. Experience changes; at times, it changes a lot. But the past, the future, and the present all hold their truths and are all part of me. In my mind, this is the string that holds my life together and gives me great comfort.


I was a young mother of a toddler and it was my birthday. My husband handed me an envelope. It was a gift certificate for Fauntleroy Massage.

I had never gotten a full body massage before. I didn’t even know what the types of massage were. I talked to some friends at work. I remember that Wendy ran down the modalities for me, Swedish, deep tissue, Shiatsu, and the last, Lomi Lomi, which she described as “good but kind of woo woo because it’s spiritual rather than just therapeutic.”

I was not very “woo woo” at the time. I was a scientist.

I called Fauntleroy Massage and was greeted, “Aloha, this is Jann.” I spoke with Jann, who was and still is a practitioner of Lomi Lomi. Yes, I was a scientist but I was also feeling the need to get my life more in balance and expose myself to different beliefs. So I made an appointment.

“You lie there and let me do all of the work. I will take care of you,” said Jann at the beginning of that first massage and many that were to come, at least a couple of hundred of them with Jann over the past 13 years.

I remember having to concentrate on not doing work.

Not doing work is a lot of work. I wanted to bend my leg instead of letting her bend it for me, for example. It took some time to get used to but once I did, it opened up opportunities for different kinds of work, the work of timing my breathing with the tense and release of massage strokes to help unclench muscles. In this way, massage is both meditative and mechanical.

Massage can also be like a dance. Jann is extremely intuitive and strong. She massages with her eyes closed. It is a meditative practice for her, as well. She massages with her whole body. She is conscious of the way she stands, uses her legs, and when her hands aren’t strong enough, she uses her elbows to massage. And I only know this because she’s told me. Jann coordinates her breathing with her exertion and when I am really in tune with her, I do, too. It is a very special experience, which also contributes to a better massage.

All of my messages have been relaxing and they knocked out the chronic pain issues I had for 12 years prior to having my first massage. But not all of my massages are great. The great ones are when I surrender to the massage.

As I mentioned, I have had an increase in energy and stamina. I am extremely happy about this. I have also done a lot of entertaining and taking care of other people. I have not let go of my self care and I have also let my husband take care of me. But I felt guilty about it. His work has been particularly stressful and further, during the summer, he drives Zoe everywhere.

Today I woke up in a fog. I have been tired for a number of days. I took today off for the holidays. I didn’t have to do anything. So I did nothing.

Sometimes doing nothing is nice. But sometimes doing nothing doesn’t do anything to fill me up. Because the nothing is really mindless stuff rather than mindful stillness.

This afternoon, I drug my tired butt to a massage. I was thinking, “I am too tired to go to a massage.” Really. That’s how brain dead I was feeling. I was having to summon the motivation to drive a half mile to Jann’s office and get a MASSAGE.

It happened about half way through the massage. I surrendered. And it filled me up.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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