Love

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Dennis’s flight took off from Shanghai about twenty minutes after the earthquake hit Japan, just as he was flying over, looking down at the shaking land mass and thinking to himself that it was strange that he was leaning to see the land below, to study the outline and form of Japan, as he’s normally not a window-looker-outer. He didn’t see the country moving. It was my first question, too.

Then he flew home, only slightly ahead of the tsunamis. With a one hundred mph tailwind, he landed one hour ahead of schedule, just as the first waves were hitting Hawaii and just as Little J crawled into my bed and asked, “When is Daddy getting home?”

I was bleary-eyed, having woken up with a start at 5:30 a.m., which is when the tsunami alarms had begun to blare in San Francisco. Unable to go back to sleep and sure that there was something wrong somewhere, I checked CNN, then lay in bed with a breaking heart knowing that the initial death toll of 52 would begin to swell as fast as the waves heading toward the Pacific coast line.

Several hours later, with Dennis safely landed, with Little J and Virgil cuddled up with me, and with my mom on hand with tea and sympathy, we began to thank our lucky stars and send extra love and strength across the ocean.

When Dennis arrived home, I could see in his weary eyes that, while he and his body had arrived, his spirit and energy were still winging their way toward home.

We regaled him with stories of the fun we had while he was away: the long-awaited trip to Chuck E. Cheese, the new shoes and toys, the snuggling and reading with Grandma.

Now that he was back, we would have a weekend of extra cuddling, of sending our thoughts of peace and fortitude to the brave people facing the rising waters and leaking radiation. If smiles and love could help them, Little J would be his own Red Cross.



Hugs,
Jennifer

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Taken at a very hip coffee shop near Carolyn and Tommy's house in Portland.

One of the things I adore about my new iPhone is that I can post to Fourseeds from just about anywhere. So today I’m doing something I’ve never done before: blogging from the chemo chair.

I should point out that my friends, family, and I have begun to refer to chemo as “getting juiced” since every Monday is now chemo day, or Juiceday.

This Juiceday, I’m thinking about a phrase Byron Katie uses a lot: Love what is. (By the way, I love “Byron” as a first name, and did you notice the Oscar winner last night who gave a shout-out to his daughter “Bronte”? Awesome.)

Byron Katie’s an inspiring writer and speaker whom my friend Jill told me about over lattes recently. Katie uses the Socratic method (asking questions) to awaken people to the concrete things they love about who they are and what life has handed them, no matter how dire their situation seems.

She doesn’t talk people into being happy in spite of the difficulty in their lives. Rather, she leads them to discover what they love about the life that pain and difficulty has brought them.

I think embracing Katie’s notion of “loving what is” requires a belief in a bigger picture, a broad plan that we all somehow fit into, a context where natural disasters, disease, and mean people make sense.

I personally agree that we’re all part of a bigger plan that we can’t quite grasp. Believing this gives me some relief, and it supports my conviction that my role is to love: to love my son and husband, to love my family, to treat my friendships with reverence, to take the best care of myself that I can, and to live with the biggest heart possible. I can say that my role in this life felt much more complicated before November of 2008 (when I was diagnosed), and that I lived with a lot more stress, many more feelings of lack, and wanting always just a little more of everything, and from everyone.

I do love what is. And if it takes weekly Juicedays to experience that love, so be it.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Branches from Heather's quince tree, clipped and soaked in warm water to get early blooms.

Many winters ago, my friend Joanne and I took lunch-time walks around a little lake near the office where I worked in the East Bay. We chatted and marveled at the early blooms and sunny days in January, a phenomenon she and I dubbed California’s “Early Fake Spring.”

During those walks, unbeknownst to her, Jo taught me the art of making a new friend.

She’s Australian and was living in the East Bay at the time. Our husbands worked together. She had to make new friends every time she and her husband moved, and clearly she had developed her own sweet process of it. Up to then, I’d made friends by simply meeting people I liked at work, college or whatever, then became friends with them. Happenstance is what brings friends together, but there’s something more conscious that allows a true friendship to grow.

I took notice of Jo’s thoughtful approach to making a new gal-pal: setting up coffee dates, suggesting  walks, then evenings out with the husbands, eventually trips out of town to Tahoe or Yosemite. But she also remembered certain things about me, took an interest in things I was interested in. And I followed suit, taking interest in her nieces and nephews back home, the books she was reading, cooking. We gradually shared personal stories and struggles, trusting they would be kept between us. I don’t know how to describe it really, and maybe it’s a given to most of you, but I realized for the first time that the path toward a new friendship is sacred and beautiful in and of itself.

Since then, I’ve approached the process of making new friends consciously, moving slowly, building trust, holding secrets with care, like a tender beating heart. I’m not perfect at it, if there is such a thing. But I don’t take it lightly, that’s for sure.

Since those January walks, I also learned to look at my existing friendships as precious living things, to be cared for, kept in the sunlight, and nurtured. That way, inevitable absences or unavoidable misunderstandings are nothing a cup of tea and a hug can’t fix.

Luckily, before I moved to Sugartown, I’d learned from Jo that making new friends is something you could enjoy more if you do it consciously. When we first arrived, I was lucky to meet some lovely friends right away, but after that, I got sick and didn’t have a chance to meet new people. But over the years, even during treatment, I’ve been able to meet pretty remarkable women: a couple through the chemo room, one at soccer practice, one at gymnastics, another at a mother’s club meeting, and now that little J is in Kindergarten, a few more through school. Thanks to Jo and what I’ve gleaned from her artful friend-making, I’m enjoying making new friends in this town. And I’m content to take each friendship slowly. Letting it flower.

Eight years on from those January walks with Jo, we are currently experiencing another California “Early Fake Spring.” A few days ago, I clipped some branches from Heather’s quince tree and from the next door neighbor’s apple tree. I smashed the roots and put them in a pot of warm water. I’ve never tried to “force blooms” as it’s called, but was inspired this year to do it. And now I’m off to prune the roses, cut them back to stalks and clear away anything that’s choking those roots. It’s sunny today, but “Fake Spring” will end, and we’ll be back in the clutches of winter and its too-cold fingers soon enough. I’ll have blooms indoors and roses that are ready for the next wave of cold.

Write down the names of your dear friends today, and draw a heart around each one. Think of something sweet about them. They will feel it, I swear.

In fact, I have to tell you, Joanne contacted me from Australia, just as I was writing this post this morning and said, “Can we have a Skype call?” I kid you not. And we have not been in touch for a while.

The love we feel for our friends is alchemical. We can change them and ourselves with our sweet thoughts. We can bring blooms in winter, create a fake spring any time of year.  Here’s thinking of you.

By Leigh

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Christina Green 2001-2010

I was going to post about my intention to be more compassionate this year. More tolerant, to be specific. I have a tendency to react to things in a way that causes me pain. I react inwardly, stuffing down feelings which never really dissipate. And before you know it, I’m surrounded by black swans. My own shadow side, projected outwardly. I think we all do this, a little bit. Right?

So is the answer to be more compassionate? More tolerant? And if  so, what does that mean?

A world-renowned specialist in Chinese medicine and cancer treatment, a guy whom people travel the world to see in his tiny office in San Anselmo put his pen down and looked me in the eyes after we’d talked for about a half hour, after he’d had a chance to gather a sense of me.

“You know there are some who believe there is a cancer personality.”

“Really.”

“Yes. There’s a belief that our cellular activity mimics our mental/emotional activity. If we are the types to accommodate abuse and other transgressions, no matter how large or small, then our healthy cells will do the same. They’re suppose to attack the offensive, rogue cells. But the healthy cells look the other way. They accommodate the dangerous cells. Then the cancer grows and takes over.”

“That’s fascinating,” I said. Accommodating. Emotionally looking the other way.

I don’t know if I believe the theory, but I find it intriguing, a sort of quantum relationship between cellular behavior and emotional behavior. I certainly haven’t forgotten it. I wrote down what he said, word-for-word.

“So, if we have this cancer personality type, what should we do?” I asked.

“We should get really, really angry.”

Interesting. Allowing ourselves to rant and get pissed off, we teach our cells not to put up with it so that our healthy cells turn on the cancer, stick up for themselves.

But what about compassion? Tolerance? Isn’t that what Jesus and the Buddha would have us practice instead? Do we respond to hateful political rhetoric, for instance, with tolerance and compassion? Do we look the other way? Won’t the cells then do the same and allow the cancer to grow? Incite the shooter, like the one in Arizona, to take people down?

I just don’t know.

I was mulling over this question over my morning tea while little J played out a furious battle between his Hero Factory characters. Then I read Tim Booth’s blog post in which he asks a similar question. He wonders what would happen if we let our inner F*you a little free range. Would we be living from a space of truth? And would this mean we are not compassionate?

Some people think that every word or action is an expression of love or a desperate cry for love. I was going to post today that my fourth intention for 2011 was to live from a space that sees things this way. My intention was going to be to have compassion and tolerance for every word or action, knowing that it is either from a space of love of lack thereof.

But I just don’t know.

Instead, my fourth seed, one for love, is the intention to try to balance compassion and tolerance with my inner F* you who won’t tolerate bad behavior, hate-inciting language on the part of our “leaders” or the people in my community, even. I don’t know how to balance that, but I intend to try to this year. To show my cells (and my son for that matter) that we deserve better.

Hugs,

Jennifer

ps: Please share with me how you balance compassion and tolerance with “not putting up with it.” I know I have some peeps out there who are especially good at it.

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Hello! Today marks the first anniversary of Four Seeds. Readers have popped up like wildflowers around the world over the last twelve months, and here we are together, celebrating the arrival of 2011.

Instead of making resolutions this year, I’ve decided to plant seeds of intention. Four seeds, to be exact.

The first seed is the intention to focus on those who inspire me.

Who inspires me?

First there’s Dennis and Lil’ J:

How can a girl not be inspired by these guys?

Then there are the women in my life: my mother, my friends and family, and the other survivors I know. They are my mentors every day and in ways they don’t even realize.

Now I want you to meet three more remarkable women who inspire me to live like I mean it in 2011.

Kris Carr

Kris, a cancer survivor and wellness warrior, is a film-maker, juicing advocate, and a dang good writer to boot. Anyone who has cancer, or knows someone with the c, should check out her books and film. And her website is chock full of resources for tapping into your own inner magic through healthful practices.

And speaking of magic:

Meet Kate Shela.

The Spanish have a special word to describe people like Kate: duende. It refers to that certain mysterious something that some people exude and transmit to others just by being. Take a look for yourself.

A healer, shaman, and dance teacher, Kate clearly follows her life’s calling without fear or reservations. She emanates loving energy, and to be near her is to be transformed by the openness of her heart. Kate teaches seminars and dance throughout the US and the UK. Check out her schedule as she may be coming to a town near you!

And finally, meet Laura Shawver.

Laura is a cancer researcher, surfer, and ovarian cancer survivor. She founded The Clearity Foundation with the intention to provide individualized treatment for women with ovarian cancer. She’s helped hundreds of women with the oc and has raised awareness about the kind of tailored treatment that will lead to our eventual cure.

What unites these three amazing women is that they live from the heart and improve the lives of those around them simply by pursuing their passions. That inspires me.

Who inspires you?

Hugs,

Jennifer

ps: Forthcoming seeds of intention are (you guessed it!) renewal, beauty, and love. Stay tuned.


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By Don Voss. ravencirclecreations

Hello, Bright Stars!

Happiest new year to you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m dreaming big for 2011. And speaking of dreaming, please enjoy the following gorgeousness. It’s from a book my brother gave me for Christmas.

A Toltec is an artist of Love,

an artist of the Spirit,

someone who is creating every moment,

every second, the most beautiful art–

the Art of Dreaming.

Life is nothing but a dream,

and if we are artists,

then we can create our own life with Love,

and our dream becomes

a masterpiece of art.

~Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Mari

It’s early October. The ER doctor asks,

“After your husband, who do you want to make the big decisions for you, if something goes wrong?”

“Her,” I answer, nodding toward Mari.

She doesn’t flinch. But after fifteen years of knowing Mari, I can read her stillness the way a sailor reads the moon. She’s thinking, “Um, for reals? Are you sure?”

In the last couple of years, Mari and I have spent more time together in hospitals than outside of them, which is why I was so happy to be out in The City last night, under a gorgeously full moon, celebrating her “twice-the-legal-drinking-age” birthday.

Just outside the window of the restaurant where we sat nestled in a corner table, chilly dark SF streets slanted up away from us. Phantoms of the two of us from years ago still traipse up and down those North Beach hills, I’m sure. They laugh about a waiter known only as, “The Pahck-ahhjj.” They sit for hours in the North End Caffe. They eat at Cafe Trieste and drink at Specs. They re-tell stories, glorifying and embellishing. Okay, that’s mostly me.

“Yes, it was at Tosca’s. We were there and we saw John Stewart, drunk, leaning on his girlfriend…” I brag.

“No it wasn’t,” Mari remembers more honestly, ” it was Rob Schneider at the Steps of Rome Cafe.”

“Oh yeah,” I admit. But I still like to blow the stories out of proportion. There’s no other way to capture the feeling of those now-illusory events.

Last night, we huddled around Mari, bonfire of joie de vivre that she is, and feted her as she deserved to be. As always, I felt it wasn’t enough, could never be enough.

It’s early 2009.

“How do they look?” Mari asks me. She’s modeling hospital-issue pajamas, sneaked to her by the charge nurse who, within moments of meeting Mari, fell in love with her.

“They look big,” I say. I’m laughing, even though this hospital visit is a tough one. Dennis had finally agreed to go home and be with Little J, only because Mari could be there with me.

“They’re huge!” Mari laughs, pulling the hospital pj’s up to her chest. I’m laughing so hard I can’t breathe because  she’s now Ed Grimly with the over-sized pants.

Last night, after the birthday dinner, we all stood shivering on the edge of Washington Square Park. I kissed Mari goodbye on the cheek. I could see she’d had a good birthday, and I wished I could have given her more: a year of birthdays strung together like pearls, an apartment in Paris above a creperie, mauve roses and  stacks of the best books she has not yet read, days and days to write and laugh and travel with friends. James Franco.

All of this would still not be enough. And not just because she’s been there for me through the happiest and unhappiest days and nights of my life. And not just because she helped me manage my dress in the powder room on my wedding day. But because she shows me how to laugh and to live with joy, to see the world for how ridiculously funny it is, especially when it is trying so hard not to be. For reals.

Forkab, Wamster P. Vinigh

Love you, Mari

Jennifer

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Have you ever seen the film, The Double Life of Veronique? It’s by Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, who’s probably best known for his amazing trilogy, Three Colors: Red, White, and Blue.

Veronique tells a fantastical story of two women: Veronique, who lives in Paris, and Weronika, who lives in Poland. Physically identical, the two women live parallel lives but haven’t met. It’s a great film that uses magical realism in a way that pushes an uncanny story through a sieve of supernatural believability. Supernatural believability? Wha?

Get this.

I have a friend whose name sounds like Maria. We are close in age and live in parallel cities. We aren’t identical, but if you fused our features, we’d look a little like Irene Jacob above (mostly because of Maria’s Eastern European beauty).

Dennis and I walked into my gynecologist’s (let’s call him “The Prince”) office on November 17, 2008. We left in tears over the news that I had a late-stage version of ovarian cancer and needed surgery and chemo asap. Four days later, Maria and her husband walked into the same office. The Prince gave them the same news.

On November 24th, a cracker-jack surgeon from UCSF and The Prince spent five hours removing the cancer and many parts from my body. Two days later, the same two doctors did the same for Maria. She was put in the hospital room two doors down from mine. I remember walking past her room with Dennis and his brother Mike when I was just barely ambulatory. I heard Maria’s husband talking in a hushed tone on the phone while Maria slept.  “It is at least stage III,” he said in a Russian accent. “They said they usually never catch it earlier than that.” I knew what he was talking about.

Two weeks later, I went to see The Prince. I told him that malignant fluid had moved into my lungs and that my cancer was now Stage IV. But I wasn’t worried. The chemo was going to work. I knew even then. He gasped  in amazement. The Prince said the exact same thing had just happened to Maria. Fluid had gone into her lungs, too.

Six months later, I finished my treatment, and as many of you know, enjoyed a year-long remission, cancer free. In May of 2010, I was back at the Cancer Center, getting chemo for my recurrence, through my fancy port. The woman next to me was looking at me like she knew me.

“Are you Jennifer?” she asked.

“Are you Maria?” I answered.

Her cancer had returned around the same time mine had.

We stayed in touch and became friends during our synchronized treatment cycles. Halfway through treatment, I called her and said, “Listen, my hair got too thin from the Gemzar, so I shaved it off on Friday. I wanted you to know before I see you at chemo on Thursday.”

“I did, too,” she said.”On Friday.”

Of course.

We both responded very well to the chemo, a combination of Gemzar and platinum, our disease retreating as quickly as it came. We are both feeling stronger day by day in our second remission. And we are both starting another parallel journey together, a vaccine maintenance  trial at UCSF.

Here’s how the trial will work. Fifty percent of all patients will get a general immune-stimulating agent made from some kind of Chilean tree bark. Fifty percent of patients will get the bark agent plus a vaccine designed to keep ovarian cancer from returning.

“I had to take my cat to the vet,” Maria said to me recently.

“I did, too! Last week!”

“Of course.”

“I hope we both get the vaccine.”

“Me, too!”

Hugs, and Go Giants!!

Jennifer

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Little J and I were bright awake at 6 a.m. (still on Sugartown time, which means we actually slept-in two hours!). Letting Dennis have a few more well-deserved hours of rest, the Little one and I slipped out in our bare feet, and headed down to Brennecke’s Beach. We arrived just in time for sunrise.

Little J, in his too-tight goggles, his skinny, long limbs, and volcanic energy, charged into the waves like some kind of crazed fish who’d just seen the ocean after a long while of trying to live on land. His little fists pump the air with excitement, and his cries are born of something between delight and pent up frustration.

I fly in after him, flinging my hat, sunglasses and towel away from me.

Together we dive and splash and gasp and laugh. Every wave, though totally expected, knocks us down like some wild news that we were the last to hear. We’ve gotten good at this, as a family, I realized. We don’t try to take a wave until it’s right upon us, crashing down. Then we dig in our feet and brace. If it is too strong and drags us under, so be it.

In the space between the waves, we laugh hysterically, pointing at each other like new-found friends. Exhilarated.

This goes on for at least an hour, and I’m totally spent. It’s more energy than I’ve exerted in a long time. The only way I can get Little J to rest is to bury him in the sand up to his neck. This works for a short while since he’s laughing so hard, the sand is falling away faster than I can pile it. He can’t resist the urge to unearth himself and races back into the water.

I follow suit, but now we’re floating. Not bashing against the waves. The golden light of the early sun plays on the water, our skin. It flickers and mingles with what I can sense as healing energy that rises up from deeper water to just below the surface, where we’re suspended gravity-free, at last. It is somehow a perfect baptism by the alchemy of saltwater and surrender.

I think of Chris and Bob, Monica’s parents. Kind enough to share their Hawaiian home with us, they’ve made this retreat of renewal possible. Little J and I shout a loud, “Thank you!!” that we hope will fly across the two oceans that separate us and fill their hearts with the spirit of Mahalo Nui Loa during this difficult time they’re facing. We send them (and you) love and energy to crash through unexpected waves and to float when you can.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest - John Lyes

Dennis’s friend from childhood, Ryan, is a special one. He speaks slowly, his heart shining through every word. His eyes twinkle even. He’s a writer and an encyclopedia of literature. And he once handed me a book of poetry that helped me through the worst of my journey.

Dennis and Ryan got to spend the entire day together on Sunday, digging out the front yard and replanting. Ryan is a landscape designer, and we were lucky enough to host his first installation right in front of our house.

The spot has been covered in hard, compact soil and rocks, and beneath that, a tarp. It’s no wonder that everything we’ve planted there has struggled to survive. We’d done our best to beautify the area, but the things we planted had nowhere to send their roots, no way to breathe in soil choked up for so long.

So Ryan and Dennis dug up a good portion of the area, pulling out the tarp, clearing the rocks, letting sun and air in for the first time in God knows how long. Then they filled it in with light, fluffy soil, first by setting piles, then spreading them out. You should have seen Ryan’s face brighten before the spreading began. “This is my favorite part,” he said again and again. As the energy surrounding the plot lightened and swirled, I could see why. He brought life and beauty to the doorstep of our daily lives, spreading the fresh dirt with his bare hands like a shaman pulling life energy from the ground.

The project is not complete yet, but believe me when I tell you that we can feel the difference their work has made. So much stagnant, pushed down weight has been lifted. Now roots can spread and life can go on, renewed and refreshed. Ahh.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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