In our September e-newsletter, I recommended a new book by Wendy Shanker called Are You My Guru? How Medicine, Meditation and Madonna Saved My Life. At the time I made my recommendation, I had read the first couple of chapters, skimmed the rest, read her website, and thought I knew enough to be able to say this is a good book for people with chronic illnesses. It's certainly funny and smart and insightful. It didn't take reading every word to know that.
But now I've read every word and WOW. WOW. That's an understatement. WOW.
Wendy has Wegener's granulomatosis, an autoimmune disease that has cost her dearly in many ways, and that can become life-threatening, as it has for her a couple of times. And like any autoimmune disease, it comes with lots of secondary complications. Although my autoimmune disease is Crohn's disease, and Wendy has far less to say about shit (would you like it better if I called it feces? number two?) than I would, I surely did identify with her when she recounted her experience with a liver biopsy (which does hurt as much as she says it does), and with doctors who don't get her, and with the struggle to be the master of one's own fate when one's fate is in the hands of ... well, one's own immune system.
Wendy's search for answers took her to many of the same places my search has taken me, although she is far braver than I. I have read all the books, but I've never actually tried a colonic, and as someone who lives in dread of the next time she has to prepare for a colonoscopy, I'm pretty sure I never will. But I've read Pema Chodron and dabbled in Buddhism (Wendy, try Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh) and gone to Omega conferences and tried and tried and tried to meditate. Madonna's not my thing, but James Taylor and Bruce Springsteen and Advocacy for Patients' lifeline, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, are major forces in my life. I've not lost my hair, thank goodness -- I don't know how to cope with that and I'm not sure what I'd do if I were faced with the need for a treatment that would have that effect, although the chemo drugs I'm on surely change the texture and appearance of my hair (not to mention my skin, nails, etc.). But I've had my own versions of hell; indeed, you don't know true living hell until you've been fecally incontinent in your sleep, as far as I'm concerned.
In short, after reading this book, I feel that Wendy and I are soul sisters.
Her book is funny; at least the first half of it is. But at some point, I got kicked in the gut by the familiarity of it all and, although Wendy's use of language is very funny and smart, I lost my sense of humor about the whole thing and just started to cry. I'm still crying. Like Wendy, there are moments in the coping "journey" (I hate that "journey" word -- it's way too picturesque and pleasant) when the waterworks get turned on and they just won't shut off. Reading the last quarter of Wendy's book while alternating between email and phone calls with patients who need my help was quite a challenge!!! Even now, the tears are here.
I wondered how the book was going to end. When Wendy stopped taking her meds and actually got better, I thought AHA! She's found the answer! I was ready to run downstairs and throw all my meds into the trash and follow Wendy off the deep end. But alas, there is no victory here, no end of the road. Wendy could have kept writing, I suspect, and probably will. Because this story doesn't end as long as we are alive, and in my experience, every answer is either transitory and/or yet another step along the way -- to what, I don't know, but we keep going.
I want to publicly thank Wendy for writing such a courageous book full of life lessons and sisterhood. And most of all, I really want to thank her for sending me a copy. Because I have piles and piles of books here to read. This one went to the top of the pile because I had to review it by its in-store date of September 7. It came at a perfect time for me, as I am going through my own personal upheaval (yet again), trying to figure out how better to live this half-life I've been given, how to take better care of myself.
How to be my own Guru.
Wendy, what that woman said to you about being a healer? You are. Thank you.
And for the rest of you, whether or not you are sick, if you do not go out and buy a copy of this book TODAY, you are missing out on a great pleasure, a great treasure, and a great set of life lessons. You will laugh. You may cry. You definitely will learn. And most of all, you will wish for Wendy's abundance of courage and grace. With gratitude, Jennifer