Think of a place you want to be, more than any other place in the world.
Donít think too hard. What is the first place that comes to your mind? For me, the choice is easy. The beach. A beach. Any beach with white sand, black sand, seaweed-strewn shores, frigid whiteĖcapped waves, or warm ripples of water. Preferably the ocean, but in a pinch a lakeshore will do. This is where I need to be.
We are on South Padre Island, just off the gulf coast of Texas, a place infamous for its wild and crazy Spring Breaks. Today, itís just me, some Winter Texans who are settling into their seasonal condos and an occasional family. We all know the beauty of a beach town off-season and have come down to the water this afternoon to enjoy it together. Michael is in the motel room, choosing college football on TV over sandy hair and soggy clothes. The beach isnít for everyone. Actually, I think he knows how much it is for me and has decided to let me savor it alone.
I canít explain the magic the seashore holds for me. I can tell you that when all else failed, conjuring the sights and sounds of the ocean relieved the sickness that no traditional medicine could.
Like most people receiving chemotherapy, I suffered from nausea and vomiting that would take me out of commission for days after a session. The day of my first treatment, we found out the hard way that I was allergic to the anti-nausea drug usually administered to kids. In subsequent treatments, my parents and doctors tried using other meds, wristbands touted to prevent motion sickness, special teas - you name it. I was a guinea pig and I didnít mind. Anything to stop the sickness.
When it seemed as if we had tried everything, my Child Life Specialist Trudy suggested self-hypnosis. Fine. Whatever it takes. I went into the experiment willing, but not too convinced.
We found an unused room at the clinic, dimmed the lights and then Trudy said to me:
ďThink of a place you want to be, more than any other place in the world.Ē
So I did. I closed my eyes and let her quietly talk to me. I wasnít really in Hershey, PA. I was on my raft, not far from shore, letting the waves pick me up and set me down, the sun making my eyelids warm and the water making my skin sticky. Before I knew it, the nurse was taking out my IV and mom was going to get the car. What?! Not only did I not get sick during treatment, but I made it the entire car ride home, well almost, before the first wave of sickness broke through.
Now this is where it gets cool. The next week, we tried something a little different. Before we found a quiet place, I was connected to a biofeedback device. This little machine measured my heart rate and body temperature. We had used it before with the other (failed) anti-nausea experiments. With the wristbands, my mom and nurse actually knew when I would get sick before I did by watching the readings on the monitor. Novel, I suppose. This time, we would see how well the self-hypnosis worked.
Like a charm. This time, I could see for myself that I had power over my bodily functions. I was in control, not the chemo. A little bit of empowerment goes a long way. I made it home that week and if I remember correctly, I think I even went to school the next day.
According to a research article on the American Cancer Society website, Self-hypnosis can be especially successful with children and adolescents. Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and guided imagery can help patients of all ages .Of course, I didnít know that at the time. I was just thankful it helped me.
So today, Iím walking alone in my happy place, smiling and having conversations with myself. Every sense confirms my affection. The heat making my day pack cling to my back; the sight of gulls, terns and pelicans swooping and gliding through the haze; the scent of salt mixed with sunscreen and my own sweat; the constant yet arrhythmic crash of waves and the feel of the tiny shells, each with a pinpoint hole in them, that Iíve been collecting as I rub them between my fingers. This place is real and wonderful and for as many things as I have seen and done, I never feel as alive as I do at the beach.
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