Dear Beloved Friends,
Although it drives me a little crazy to send a group letter rather than to write individual notes or phone each of you, time and energy in our crazy, hectic world seems to often be in short supply. Also, some of you have heard various parts of this note already and I apologize for boring you twice. But frankly, I didn't get holiday notes out this year between holiday business demands and the loss of four friends between Thanksgiving and the second week of February, so I'm writing a "one size fits all" note. So, Happy New Year, Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day Easter, Passover, Mother's Day, Memorial Day and Father's Day. :-) Hopefully I can pick upo again by the Fourth of July.
Getting through the holidays was difficult as I spent many days in hospitals and at memorial services. There were some wonderful special moments with Theo and Zane, especially Christmas morning when they walked into the living room and couldn't believe that Santa had not only come but that he knew they would like a big boy bicycle and tricked-out tricycle even before they knew they wanted them. The looks of amazement and joy were a huge antidote to the difficult hours of helping friends through their transition from life to death. By January I was pretty burned out.
Blessedly, I had a magnificent trip to look forward to, one that I had initially booked through the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. However, due to my contacts throughout the world, the next thing I knew was that I was having a two-in-one journey to China! The first part was the tour, and the second was eight days with a research scientist on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. As often happens when I travel, nothing was firm about the second part of the trip until days before I left, but it all came together into one remarkable adventure.
February 24 roughly 100 of us from Santa Cruz took off for China. The trip was $1499 all inclusive. When I first learned about it I could hardly believe it but I knew it was something I couldn't pass up, even if it meant beans and rice for six months! Not only was it all inclusive, we stayed in first class hotels, had three meals a day and were divided into three groups of 25 - 30 people on small buses, though we often all dined at the same time at the same restaurants.
We first flew to Beijing, arriving the evening of the 25th. While in the north we toured the Great Wall in Badoling, which was as incredible as you can imagine, as much because we have all heard so much about it. We also saw the structures where the Olympics will be held in August, went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, the Harvest Palace, Ming's Tomb, pearl, jade and cloisonne factories (this was a Chamber tour after all), the oldest pharmacy and Traditional Chinese medicine colleges in China, and much more. I should mention here that we were up each morning around 6:00 and often didn't get back until 9:00 -10:00. Not a restful journey but jam-packed with fascinating sites.
We then flew to Shanghai and immediately got on buses to go to Suzhou, China's Venice. The city is filled with beautiful canals with old homes and businesses built alongside and picturesque bridges over them. We visited a silk factory, exquisite gardens (though only a few blossoms were out as the South experienced the coldest winter in 130 years), took a canal trip and went to the National Embroidery Institute. We then headed for Hangzhou, known as the most beautiful city in China. We took a boat across West Lake then traveled to the tea estates where Long jing (Dragon Well) tea is grown. This is the national tea of China and very good. It was also Buddha's birthday celebration the day we were in Hangzhou so we celebrated with the locals.
We returned to Shanghai for two evenings and one full day. Shanghai is a fascinating city, one I'd like to spend more time exploring. We went to the Bund where, on one side of us, were the old British bank buildings and the British stronghold at the beginning of the 20th century. On the other side was Pudang, an area where the tallest building in the world is under construction (well, until/unless Dubai passes them up with a taller one), along with other remarkable and futuristic architecture. They had just passed an environmental law forbidding the fabulously garish neon that normally embellishes all the buildings come evening, though we saw photos of it. These two contrasting glimpses of the financial capital of China are divided by the mighty Yangtze River, which converges with the Huangpu River on its way to the East China Sea.
The last morning we took the Mag Lev train to the airport. This is one of two magnetic trains in the world. It hovers 18 inches about ground while in motion and goes 289 miles an hour! It feels as if you are in an airplane about to take off. We went what takes 40 minutes by highway in eight minutes! It was very cool! So this gives you the basics of our tour of mainland China. There was so much more, and hopefully I'll get it into a blog which you can peruse at your leisure if you are so inclined.
At the airport I began the second half of my adventure. I met up with a young man, Bill Wang (the younger generations like having an American first name, which they say is easier to pronounce than their Chinese names, but I personally think they do it because it's Western and therefore cool), who was to be my translator during my time with Chen Dexin. We flew to Haikou and were met by TV reporters, video cameras, an enormous bouquet of flowers and a fairly large gathering of people! On the tour we were told to bring only casual clothing; after a week of living out of my suitcase I'm afraid I didn't present the glamorous image of a Vanilla Queen. But the show went on and we were whisked off to visit a vanilla plantation on our way to Qionhai City in central Hainan and from there to a banquet in my honor.
Hainan is just at the base of Southeastern China, not far from Hong Kong, and just a bit smaller than Taiwan. It is known as the Hawaii of China as it is the only tropical region in China. Nevertheless, it is relatively cool in the winter and was in the 60s and breezy while we were there. A large variety of tropical fruits are grown there, many of which I've never seen before and they didn't have Western names for them. I had fun sampling them though I didn't get to try the durian. I smelled it, however, and it didn't repulse me as it does many Westerners.
My host is a traditional Chinese doctor, Western medical doctor, tea specialist, research scientist growing vanilla for the Chinese government, and raconteur. He was so many things in one and great fun. I only regret that we had to talk through an interpreter as Bill was a very serious young man and, well, you know just how serious I am. ;-)
Chen had offered to host me if I could pay my airfare to Hainan. I was not prepared, however, for the level of care I received; I have never been waited on as I was on Hainan! In fact, it was a little creepy and I got a sense of what it must feel like to be a celebrity as you are always "on camer." However, it was also fascinating as I was the only white person I saw for eight days save one man I saw with a Chinese wife who looked as if he had jumped a boat from 'Nam in the late 60s, gotten to Hainan and never looked back. So for eight days I was immersed in Chinese life and it was amazing!
Chen needed some research data on vanilla, which I helped him with both there and upon my return. We drove through the countryside to farms, were invited into a farmers' village where everyone turned out to greet us and show us their homes except for a group who were in the middle of gambling, an afternoon pastime just about everywhere we went. We went to Wanning, a beautiful small town, then to Boao where the Southeast Asia Forums are held and where two rivers converge to the sea, creating massive tidal shifts. We visited hot springs and had hour-long foot massages, went to the acupuncture college, visited the university, spent time with a woman who has researched the ethnic Li people and is assisting them to save their culture. We rode a boat through a bayou and ate duck eggs and local papaya then went to an organic farm to gather our produce for the evening which they then cooked for us on-site. We even toured a food factory that was as clean and modern as any I've seen in the States.
Chen made certain that nearly every meal was from a different province or of a different cooking style. Most of the food was exceptional, but having the skin, fat and bones on the various forms of fish and meats we were served, was a little challenging to eat with chopsticks. I also had to negotiate chicken's feet, pig's tails and donkey but no puppies or snake's blood toast. Amazing what you can stash under the rice in your bowl.
The craziest thing that happened was that Chen decided that I shouldn't have grey hair. Needless to say, since the Chinese don't turn grey until they are in their 80s, my hair was an anomoly. When we returned to Haikou City I was taken to -- you won't believe this -- Flower Fairy Beauty Hairdresser! Tall, handsome men were the head hairdressers and then young women wearing aprons that said "Flower Fairy" on them, executed their plans.
I explained that I wasn't certain that I wanted all dark hair, that maybe we could do a reverse weave, in the same way that hair is highlighted. This isn't done in China, though the head hair dresser grasped the concept. They used a plastic bag that they tightened with rubber bands, but the flower fairy felt that more was better, so my hair came out dark, streaked and peculiar. Oh, and did I mention they decided to perm my hair as well?? All I can say is that very few people that I know have had their hair permed and colored in China so it was worth the three hours and then having my picture taken against a wall of Victorian flower fairies frolicking about in a garden! Serena's comment when she met me at the airport: "My god, you look like an old Chinese lady!" Our children can be so complimentary. ;-) Fortunately, it has faded considerably.
Chen gave me many, many gifts, but the greatest gifts were his friendship and a huge bag of wild Lingzhi, known in the West as Reishi mushrooms. Lingzhi is actually a tree fungus and is very specific for healing the liver and strengthening the immune system. Chen felt that my liver yin was too low. This was the diagnosis at the acupuncture college as well: fire in my liver. However, I was told that overall my body was in good shape and that Lingzhi would be very helpful.
Again, there are many stories and sub-stories within this basic outline, but my time in Hainan was so very wonderful. I had tears in my eyes when I left. And I sure do miss the rice noodles and dim sum!!
My last night in China I went out to dinner with yet another man I know via the Internet, Frangky Tegoeh. Frank was born in Indonesia, went to college in the US and is now running the family business in Shanghai. His wife is expecting their first child but wasn't back from the clinic so sent yet another beautiful bouquet (see why I like being the Vanilla Queen?) was sent from her with Frank when he met us at the airport. Bill went home and Frank and I had a delightful dinner in a swank vegetarian buffet restaurant that was yet another experience on its own before driving through the city at night.
It was difficult to say goodbye to this remarkable country which is now increasingly prosperous, growing economically at a phenomenal rate, faces serious environmental and ecological growing pains, and has a complicated governmental structure that is very repressive and yet the people were welcoming, fascinated by Westerners and wanting to know more about us. I recommend that you pick up the May issue of National Geographic for an in-depth glimpse of China today. And, if/when I have time, I will write my China trip in detail. I'm so glad that I went for many reasons, but now that China is in the news daily regarding the Olympics, the issues surrounding Tibet and the far Northwest, the problems with tainted foods and pharmaceuticals, I have a better grasp of China's geography, demographics, political structure and how naive the people there actually are about what is going on in their country. This trip will sustain me for quite a while.
Which is a good thing as my news post-return is not quite so up and celebratory.
I was due for a PET scan but put it off until I returned as I saw no reason to tarnish an otherwise really exciting adventure if the news was not what I wanted to hear. And, as you suspect, the PET scan confirmed the fire in my liver. The tumor is larger than it was when I was diagnosed in September of 2005. However, there was no cancer anywhere else in my body that could be seen in the test.
Unfortunately, breast cancer, unlike many of the other solid cancers, has a tendency to migrate throughout the body as the disease progresses. It is rare that it would just go to one organ, such as the liver. However, none of my experience with cancer has been typical, nor am I, for that matter, so I guess the cancer decided to be unique as well. And this may prove to be good news.
The oncologist can only offer chemo again. Once you've been through chemo, it becomes increasingly difficult to go into remission. The fact that I've gone into remission twice is, in itself, quite unusual. So, I wasn't real excited about the prospects of filling my body with toxic drugs until they either killed me (which actually is what often happens) or until I called it quits. And, because I had met with Robert Warren, the department chair and chief thoracic oncological surgeon at UCSF in 2006 and knew there might be another option, I decided to talk with him.
After an MRI and other tests, I met with Dr. Warren the 23rd of April. In the five weeks since the PET scan, it appears that the tumor had grown by an inch. While this was alarming, I later spoke with my German medical doctor, Karl Maret, who has been treating me using German technology and complementary and alternative treatments. After I was rediagnosed he started me on a detox program as well as mistletoe injections. (Yes, you read that correctly. It is a very strong immune system builder. I have had visions of dancing naked through oak forests with diaphanous scarves and satyrs playing flutes, but so far have contained myself.) Last week, about the same time that I saw Dr. Warren, I began to have a strong reaction to the mistletoe, which it turns out, is the immune system going into high-gear. Dr. Maret feels that the tumor is reacting to the macrophages triggered by the jump-start to the immune system and may now start shrinking.
So, while the tumor is growing (or not), I am actually an excellent candidate for liver resection surgery. I only have a window of opportunity, however, so things are moving very fast. So fast, at times, that I feel as if I'm a time traveler or on a strange psychedelic drug. Both Dr. Warren and Dr. Maret feel my body is strong and healthy enough except for the cancer, that I can pull through the surgery. I am scheduled for surgery Tuesday, May 13th.
When they say "resection" what they really mean is that they will remove the entire left lobe of my liver. I will be cut open vertically and horizontally, from above my belly button to my sternum and around both sides of my ribcage. They will do an ultrasound to make certain there is no cancer in the right lobe of my liver that was too small to be seen by the MRI. If there isn't, then they will proceed. If there is, then they sew me back up. I invite you to join me in envisioning no additional cancer!
I will be in the hospital at least a week. Liver function should begin after four or five days and the liver will start to regenerate! Pretty remarkable, isn't it? After all my vitals are working I can leave. However, they want me in SF for two more weeks in case of complications and for post-op visits. I will be staying at a friend's "pied-a-terre" with the help of my nurse - and other - friends who will make sure that I am as comfortable as possible. Then I will return home for another nine weeks or so of recuperation.
While this surgery is pretty heavy-duty and carries a certain amount of risk, it is the only chance that I have for a cure. And, it is only a chance as the cancer could show up somewhere else in the future. However, Dr. Maret and I are going to work together to keep that from happening as I have a lot of work still to do for our Mother Earth and her inhabitants and two grandsons to adore. That and my love for all of you.
As my time is limited pre-surgery, I invite you to send notes but please don't expect me to respond for the time being. I'm conserving energy and taking care of business and personal affairs and preparing for three more weeks away from home on yet another remarkable adventure. Who would have thought I'd have two adventures so close together?!
If you would like to be involved in some way through this journey or have questions, please feel free to call Gina Tassone on my business line Monday - Wednesday: 831.476.9111. You may also leave a message on my personal line at 831.476.1474. Again, I will respond as I can. In the meantime, I invite you to send healing prayer, meditations and love my direction if you so choose, and to celebrate every moment of your own lives, feeling well and being fully engaged in life. And...eat some chocolate and think of me!! When I can, I will post updates on my site at www.patriciarain.com which has been sitting idle for the last 18 months. Let's hope we can move it to the idle position again by the end of summer!
Love and Blessings,
• • • • • • • • • • •
As I said a few days ago, I ran into her at the downtown farmers market, and she showed me her scar. She looked really good, and her constant smile is real. What a treasure.
I'll have some more news about some farm projects soon, including some great news about the Friends of the UCSC Farm and Garden, and the apprentices in the CASFS program. I just didn't want to bury it at the end of a long post.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Laughter is the sensation of feeling good all over and showing it principally in one place." — Josh Billings
Thanks for visiting.