The C Word – Part 18
C is for Centipede:
A Healing Journey to Maui
Cancer is such an intensely personal journey. Everyone’s cancer is unique, everyone’s physiology, belief system and day-to-day demands are unique, and therefore, each person’s journey is very different. Which is why I was indecisive about sharing my story. After all, I still don’t truly know how the tale will end, and that’s scary. Especially to someone who likes to control everything. I didn’t want to read others’ experiences because I didn’t want to be influenced. I was afraid that reading others’ accounts of their journeys might plunge me into either deep depression or a false sense of security.
When we found out that my surgery would be scheduled sometime in February and discovered that I would need to have a glorious 6 weeks free from chemo before the surgery (a necessity, to rid my body from all residual chemo prior to surgery), Doug and I decided to just dive in to our savings and book a trip to Maui. It was partly our Christmas gift to each-other and more importantly, an absolutely essential healing sabbatical.
Of course, international air travel during the pandemic, ESPECIALLY as the Omicron variant had just ramped up case numbers, was tricky. But I did all my homework, downloaded all our documentation and printed it out, scheduled our tests, installed and registered on all the apps which were required by Hawaii and Canada, and made sure to bring my final doses of Grastofil with me as well as my mistletoe. Those meds have been keeping my immunity level high and I wasn’t about to stop them to travel!
Our flight arrived on time, but we were told we didn’t have a gate, THEN we didn’t have a bridge. We ended up waiting on the tarmac for over 2 hours while they sorted that out, and I was forced to do my Grastofil injection in my seat on the plane. It’s a medication which requires refrigeration, so I’d been carrying it in a pouch with an ice pack, which had since thawed and my medication was getting tangibly warm. I asked the flight attendant for a bag of ice for my other dose, and administered the first one. I’m not sure if I injected myself too deeply and bruised a muscle, or if the medication had gone bad, but the injection caused a HUGE, very dark, vividly BLUE mark across my belly. It didn’t fade completely until we were about to leave – ten days later! I was worried that the medicine may have had gone bad in transit, so I disposed of the other dose. $200 bucks of medicine, right in the trash. Sigh. But I still had my mistletoe to take, and that would help my immunity. Plus, being off chemo meant that medicine would be gradually leaving my body, so my immunity should naturally increase. I just didn’t want to risk catching ANY virus or infection, CoVid or otherwise!
I felt in my core that I needed to be someplace where it was warm enough to walk on the earth – connect with mother Gaia in my bare feet, and be caressed by her gentle breezes and submerse myself in the embrace of her ocean waters. Flights were very inexpensive, but lodging and car rentals were quite expensive. Car rentals were as well. So, we decided to rent a Jeep with a pop-up tent on top. That way we were paying for our car AND our lodging in one swoop. I actually liked having all our belongings with us all the time. No worry of “Oops, I left it back at the condo!” And I have to say, these Roof-Nest tents are pretty sweet. We’re looking into getting one for our Honda Element. You just unlock and release the hinges, and the whole thing pops up by itself! We stored our valuables up in the collapsed and locked roof tent, so no one could get at them while we were away from the vehicle. They are equipped with a 2.5” foam mattress which was enough for me, but not QUITE enough for Doug’s optimal comfort, but still, we slept well. I meditated on the beauty of our planet and the divine order of the universe as multitudes of stars twinkled far above my head my head while we slept in that cozy roof-top tent.
For most of our stay, we stayed at a gorgeous campground in the remote and pastoral town of Hana. So, we drove the historic, twisty, bendy, mostly single-lane “Road To Hana” and back THREE TIMES. And each time was a religious experience. It’s like driving through a never-ending cathedral of nature’s glories. Bamboo forests that look like giant cannabis buds covering some portions of the mountain face. Multiple waterfalls and gorges, sweeping views of the ocean, canopies of tropical trees and vines which looked as if Tarzan could swing from them, other giant vines that wrap their way up majestic coconut palms, displaying huge leaves large enough to swaddle a child.
The islands had opened back up to tourism, but the campgrounds were all still at 50% capacity, so the folks from our jeep camper rental company helped us out, telling us about Mile Marker 14 where we could park and camp for free, (although it was a bit noisy, right next to the highway) and a referral to a Fruit Stand in Hana where we were told the owners also let people camp on their property. Doug called the number we were given and booked us there for the whole trip, just in case we couldn’t find any other camping spots.
We weren’t expecting anything more than a patch of ground to park upon. So imagine our delight, arriving at our campsite in Hana, being absolutely awestruck by the beauty. A tropical oasis under a huge bamboo tree with a long, sloping green pasture framed by graceful coconut palms culminating in a pristine view of the ocean. There were two immaculate and well-serviced port-a-loo’s, picnic benches and adirondack chairs, an outdoor shower, a hose with potable water, the fruit and souvenir stand (where they’d cut up any fruit for you to eat on the spot) and their own food truck serving local fish and chicken dishes as well as smoothies! I’ve actually become bit obsessed with a local artisan’s tropical scented body butter from their shop and am desperately trying to re-create the recipe! The soft green pasture was filled with Myna birds (always in pairs, as they mate for life) and tons of my favorite aromatic flowering bushes: lantana, attracting a multitude of little yellow and large monarch butterflies! Their land also abutted cattle grazing land, so occasionally a few horses or cattle would come to graze in a shady patch near the fence and I could commune with them. The monarch butterflies were such a rare gift – they were so much a part of my childhood, yet I haven’t seen a single one since moving to Canada. We must be just north of their migratory path. The monarch has always held a special significance. And my Mom sometimes appears to me as a yellow swallowtail butterfly. My Dad appears as a crow to me, and as a bunny to Doug.
Upon checking into our campsite, I gave our hostess a gift of one of my handmade reversible floral canvas bags. She was very taken with it, which pleased me immensely. I mentioned my cancer journey and she said, “Oh I went through cancer. I totally understand”. Again, this C-Word has touched so many of us. I am continually awed by others’ compassion and kindness throughout my healing journey.
Hana is absolutely my idea of Paradise. Fruit trees so laden with ripeness that the giant avocados, coconuts and other impossibly delicious fruits fall and litter the roadway with splotches of juicy color. Coconut palms that whisper softly in the breeze. Bamboo forests and hundred-year-old banyan trees.
The magic of The Venus Pools, the red sands of Koki Beach, the fade of white to black sand across Hana Bay Beach. I dug my hands into the sand at every beach, burying earth so far under my fingernails that it’ll be weeks before it all works its way out, I covered my body with its healing minerals. I played in that sand with beautiful naked local children, bronzed and burnished by the sun, water and earth of their native land.
At Hamoa, there is a sign as you descend the steps to the beach. It indicates that the beach is a sacred space – that the bones of their ancestors lay beneath this beautiful land near the sea. I took note and made sure to honor the land as sacred. As I sat in the sun, I watched a majestic goddess wade into the ocean with her long waves of hair streaked with bright flashes of silver, and her sarong draped about her ample frame. This Pakuna Wahine or grandmother waded slowly into the ocean until she was almost chest-deep in the water. She turned back to face the shore, lifted her face, eyes closed, towards the sun, and extended her arms wide to the sides, palms up, her elbows just grazing the water. She remained in that position in a meditative or almost a trance state for at least a half hour, perhaps more. I was so moved by the power and beauty of this woman, standing with such a sense of strength and belonging in the home of her ancestors. Was she speaking to the spirits? Listening for their wisdom? Blessing the land? Whatever her intention, she made a powerful impact on me which I won’t soon forget.
Our one touristy splurge was a boat day trip to Molokini Crater for whale watching and snuba – which is like scuba diving, but the air tank is on a raft floating on the surface, so you don’t go very deep. The highlight of that day were the WHALES! The night before, we camped on the beach at Mile Marker 14 so we would be in town for our early morning boat departure. That evening just before sunset, we were treated to an amazing amount of whale activity – seen right there from the beach! Breaching, slapping, spouting… and the next day did not disappoint – we were treated to a mother waving her enormous white-faced flipper, slapping the water over and over again, calling her calf to feed. We also witnessed males battling for a female’s attentions – rising up from the water to smack their great, heavy heads down onto the other male whale. It was honestly the most whale activity I’ve ever seen! More Maui Magic.
Of course, any trip has its adventures, and ours was no different. We’d been aligning ourselves with the natural circadian rhythms of the earth: rising and retiring with the sun. Well, ALMOST with the sun.
Sunset was about 6:30 this time of year, so we often made our camp supper after sunset as we waited for the stars to populate the darkness of the night sky, since Doug is an avid stargazer. One day at our campsite in Hana, I was puttering about after dinner, putting things away in the back of the jeep when… YEOWCH! Something poked, bit or stung my ankle. I yelped, and jumped away. At first, I thought it was merely a stick of bamboo which had poked me, but upon further inspection, there were two marks on my ankle that looked like fang marks, both of which were bleeding. The pain was mounting – I was afraid I might have been bitten by a snake or a mongoose or some other nocturnal beast. I squeezed the wounds to make them bleed, thinking I could get rid of any poison that may be in there. I found an old “after bite” towelette and cleansed the wounds with that and an alcohol towelette. We tried getting onto the rare, spotty and patchy Hana internet on our phones to try to distinguish what may have bitten or stung me, but to no avail. And I was a little afraid it may be something fatal. We were in a remote area, no internet, too dark to drive the twisty road back from Hana to get to a hospital, and I was getting scared. So, we texted the owners of the campground, who also live on the property. They told us to come over and they’d have a look.
I limped across the campground with Doug to the owners’ home. They ascertained very quickly that I’d been stung by a centipede. All I can say is, I’m glad I never saw it, as I have never had much fondness for multi-legged insects, and they tell me these can be as much as a foot long! YIKES! The centipede doesn’t “bite” you, per se, rather it scrapes you with it’s two long front antennae, depositing its poison into the wounds. They told us that these stings can be really bad. They said it would most likely swell up like a big ball, that the toxin MAY travel up my leg, causing more pain and problems, and that the next day, in addition to the pain and swelling, it would itch uncontrollably. They said it may take a couple WEEKS to recover from.
Fun Facts about Centipede stings from chegg.com: “The toxin of centipede causes extreme pain after the transmission of venom into the body. The toxin is a poisonous substance released during the cellular metabolic activities of many living organisms which in turn stimulates the synthesis of antitoxins in the body. The venom of centipede is a mixture of toxins that affects the victim’s cardiovascular, respiratory, and neuromuscular systems. The centipede when it “bites” it injects the toxin into the prey. This causes a partial paralytic attack in the body. This type of species is referred to as a giant centipede. This venomous insect bite in humans is not exceptional which can cause acute hypertension, myocardial ischemia, and in atypical cases can lead to death. The severity ratio of pain depends on its size. It can be treated with home remedies if it is not severe. Based on the complexity of the trigger, medication may be given.”
She offered a Benadryl and some tea tree oil, which I gratefully accepted. We hobbled me back to our campsite and climbed back up the ladder into the roof-top tent.
For the next several hours, I was quite literally writhing in agony. I tried elevating my foot, rubbing it, shaking it, changing positions… nothing alleviated the pain and discomfort. It felt as if there were two opposing forces waging a war inside my foot! I was inconsolably crying and moaning. I took two extra-strength Tylenol and after awhile, I took a third. I told Doug, “Well, at least you get to see how bad I was in the hospital”. Honestly, it was that level of pain. The “I don’t want to die” level. After a few hours and the third Tylenol, I thankfully and finally fell asleep. And the next day I woke to find… nothing! No swelling, no itchiness, just the two sting marks, and I was otherwise as good as new!
I have three hypotheses about my rapid recovery:
- The residual chemo in my system battled the toxins and won!
- The Grastofil and Mistletoe helped boost my immune response and I was able to fight off the toxin naturally.
- The centipede toxin changed my molecular biology and cured my cancer! Hey, stranger things have been known to happen, right? I can just imagine droves of people flocking to Maui to TRY to get stung as “The Centipede Cancer Cure”!
One day, away from Hana down near Kahalui, we were looking for a nearby beach, so consulted our map. We found a little neighborhood beach on the map and navigated over there for a little dip. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the beach was literally FULL of giant GREEN SEA TURTLES! We saw a total of thirty turtles on the beach that day. THIRTY TURTLES! They kept climbing up onto the shore to join their friends sunning themselves. We hadn’t really seen any turtles on Maui prior to that day, so it was truly magical!
We’d decided to try to have the famous Huli Huli Chicken at Koki Beach on our last night in Hana. However, we waited too long and they were sold out! So we showed up bright and early the next day to get ours for an early lunch before our long drive back to Kahului, and boy were we glad we did! A HUGE plate of amazing chicken and sides that we both devoured with gusto!
On our last night, we drove up to Haleakala summit to watch the sunset. The park requires reservations for sunrise viewing, but not sunset. We had planned ahead, dressing in our warmest layers, as the summit is quite high and can be quite cold. We climbed up the ridge from the parking lot to find a couple being married right up there on the summit at sunset. We kept a respectful distance, yet observed the ceremony. A young, beautiful, native Hawaiian woman in a full white gown and fresh orchid lei stood facing her intended in his tuxedo and floral lei. Their officiant was dressed in full Hawaiian regalia, complete with palm and flower circlet atop her full, wavy blonde hair. The couple each poured a quantity of different colored sand into a glass jar in layers. The officiant held the jar, shook it gently to settle the layers, and said that just like the sands, their lives were now inextricably mingled. You could never completely separate one colour of sand from the other. It was an absolutely lovely ceremony and we both cried our eyes out, clutching each-other and reaffirming our love and devotion to each-other.
Doug had suggested we leave our wedding rings at home, so we wouldn’t worry about losing them in the ocean. On our previous trip to Hawaii, Doug DID lose his wedding ring while snorkeling. But two days later, we went back to the same beach and he miraculously found it in the ocean, in a rocky shallow near the shore. And my fingers were a lot skinnier from my weight loss, so I agreed it was a good idea. So when we returned home to Canada, we placed the rings back on each-others’ fingers, reflecting on that ceremony with a renewed vow of love and devotion for each-other.
While on Maui, I kept up my morning meditation, did yoga on the beach and on the flat grass of our campground – only in broad daylight, though! My appetite returned and I heartily ate three full meals a day PLUS snacks! I had been tolerating chemo so well with minimal side effects, that I honestly didn’t remember what it felt like to have access to all my energy. Now, I realize how comparatively weak and depleted I’d been during the past eight months. Because I feel truly amazing now. Filled with the energy and stamina I’d been lacking all those months. It’s odd to say, but I’m a better and stronger person than I was before my diagnosis. I’ve grown so much – learned so much about myself, mind, body and spirit. Every single moment on Maui nurtured my body and soul. I’ve returned tanned, a bit more toned and smelling softly of coconut. My hair has not started growing back yet, but it’s stopped falling out, and I no longer have nosebleeds every morning and I think I may even be putting some weight back on my chilly bones. My eyes look slightly less haunted and my heart is more open and filled with an abundant love for our wonderful world, and all those who share it.
I’m not religious, but an old church hymn from childhood keeps repeating in my mind lately:
“Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry step I take let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me.”
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