Dana Pounds wedding day
Cancer Survivor

The Bend in the River

By on June 21, 2017

So, I think it is safe to say that we all know I have been struggling with my mobility. And I mean more than just a little bit, and certainly more than a just a little while. I have had periods of bright light, and tastes of long walks, and 5Ks over the past several years, but nothing has been pain free. This is what keeps me coming back to Florida again and again.

I have my share of challenges – a large tumor in my hip and pelvis that acts as a shim, a smaller tumor that is squishing my sciatic nerve, and, oh yeah, and I am missing my leg above the knee all together.

Forever the optimist, I reunited with my original prosthetic team this past fall. With them, I embarked upon a new approach, which offered a new socket style and a target to return my musculoskeletal frame to a more balanced, symmetrical position – or at least as close as the tumors will allow us. I have traveled back and forth to Florida many times over the past nine months, and spent two out of the past three there doggedly pursuing the ability to be anatomical and walk without pain.

The Mighty River - Yellowstone National Park, WY

Going with the flow. Yellowstone River, Wyoming.

Clearly, we have hit a stumbling block. No matter what prosthetic we build – or how we do it, or what I do with physical therapy to compliment what we are doing – my pain continues. Actually, it’s getting worse. But I keep pushing, telling myself if I can just GET UP and walking again that I can take the pressure off of my lower back, get the blood flowing again and just feel better. But the harder I push, the more it hurts.

As I neared the end of my most recent FL visit, it was obvious I could not leave as originally planned. I was in no less discomfort than when I had arrived and literally didn’t have a leg to stand on. At least not one I was willing to return to Oregon in as I could barely wear it. On this particular day, I had taken delivery of the fourth or fifth iteration of a leg for this visit, and the feeling of desperation was tangible. I had already extended my departure – twice – and could not bear to think of doing it again. I left the clinic in great discomfort, but because I had an important meeting for Nature’s Academy that I couldn’t miss, I literally just put the pain out of my mind and made it through the next few hours.

Thankfully, the nerve that was being pinched eventually went numb, so I didn’t feel much until I returned back to my rental condo later that afternoon. Once I removed the leg and, subsequently, the pressure, my sensation returned. Well, that’s an afternoon I hope I don’t have repeat again anytime in the near future.

The pain was so excruciating, I threw up. Fully exhausted, I rolled over onto the cool tile of the bathroom floor and succumbed to the thought of delaying my departure again. There was no way I was ever going to put that particular leg back on again, ever. I wondered why this was happening; I was alone, on crutches and in unbearable pain. I had to wonder, what the hell was the Universe trying to tell me? What lesson have I been missing all of this time that I could not get a working leg?

I remembered from my retreat that using meditation to assist with pain management can be highly effective, so I crawled – literally – from the bathroom to the bedroom to retrieve my phone and access my favorite meditation app. I tried to just let go of focusing on my body, the pain, and what I was not able to achieve. I started to focus on becoming more aware so that I could hear the lesson I had been missing.

While meditating, I had a very strong vision of a river in the forest – similar to the ones we have in Oregon. It was beautiful and serene. There were portions of the river that were full of rocks, where some water rushed up and over the stones and some meandered more slowly around the stones. Further downstream, there was a bend in the river, where I noticed a bank had formed and the water slowed considerably as it rounded the inside turn of the river.

Babbling River - Olympic National Park, WA

The Meditation River, Olympic National Park, Washington.

In my vision, I sat down on the sandy, wide bank and simply rested. I listened to the birds and the babbling sounds of water flowing past, and thought about the ultimate destiny of the water downstream. I reflected upon the many ways that water can travel and, depending upon its velocity and track, the things it can either pick up or leave behind.

As water approaches a turn, physics dictates that the outside edge of the water flows much faster; it contains more energy and it can carry more of a load. On the other side, the inside of the turn, the water travels at a much slower velocity, has less energy, and literally deposits its load, forming a bank like the one where I pictured myself seated. The slower moving water also mingles with its environment longer; it seeps into more places, allowing it to absorb micronutrients and even develop new waterways. But at either speed, the ultimate destiny of the water is the same – it all travels downstream and it would all get there one way or another.

Sandy, Peaceful Bank - Beartooth Mountains, MT

A peaceful bank in the Beartooth Mountains, Montana.

Lying on the floor, the lesson came to me in a raw moment, as I tried to meditate my way through a very difficult and excruciatingly painful experience. I was so sure about it that the words just spilled out of my mouth audibly. “I need to become the bend in the river.”

Perhaps THIS was the lesson all of these unsatisfactory leg-making trips had been trying to tell me. Stop trying to gather all of your energy and push yourself over the stone. Stop trying to walk all over your tumors, your pain, and your perceived obstacle. Stop traveling so quickly that your energy is haphazard and undirected; you inevitably gather things you don’t need because you are unaware of your presence. Stop being so focused on what is downriver and become present and aware of the load you are carrying currently, in this portion of the river, as you push and rush around the outside bend.

Slow down. Reduce your energy demands. Meander. Drop off your load. Interact with your surroundings longer. Develop new waterways, new paths. Become more aware and present so that, like the water, you can absorb what you need and discard what you don’t need. And as for the micronutrients, well, in real life, those are memories born from experiences. Real, bona fide, experiences where you take the time to interact, engage, and develop a meaningful memory doing something you love with people.

Memories are the true micronutrients of life. I feed off of them regularly and clearly I need to reboot my stock with some more. I have been so hyper-focused on my mobility, achieving success in walking, and, ultimately, running a marathon, that I have fully depleted myself of micronutrients. I have forgotten that, regardless of the path we choose, we are all headed downriver. We will certainly all arrive at our final destination at some point in time. But unlike the water, we have a choice about the direction and velocity of our path.

Sunset River - Manzanita, OR

Final destination: Sunset river into the sea, Manzanita, Oregon.

It has taken years of pain and perceived failures to bring me to this cathartic and wildly successful moment.

In that afternoon, all by myself, lying on the floor and ready to surrender, I finally understood the lesson life had been trying to teach me for so many years: Become the bend in your river of life, Dana. And so, I am.