Forget Disneyland – Sedona Is The Happiest Place On Earth

Sedona, Arizona. A sweet little 7 hour drive from Los Angeles, or a quick flight from LAX and puddle jumper from Phoenix. I’d heard about the healing powers of this magical destination but I didn’t know much beyond a Google search.

To celebrate my birthday and commemorate the end of my cancer journey, I booked a trip to Sedona for 3 nights and started researching different vortex excursions. What’s a vortex? Glad you asked. According to VisitSedona.com, it’s “Believed to be a special spot on the earth where energy is either entering into the earth or projecting out of the earth’s plane. Vortexes (or vortices) are found at sacred sites throughout the world – the Great Pyramid in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Bali, Stonehenge, etc. It is believed that the vortex energy moves in a spiral, moving up or down.”

There are several types of excursions you can check out – jeep tours, yoga sessions, guided mediations, balloon rides, ATV rentals, and much more. I sank into a digital wormhole of reviews, photos, and explanations about the endless options, and found a company called Sedona Red Rock Tours. Their Reiki On The Rocks and Chakra Tour hikes sounded enticing so I reserved a couple spots and bought some cute yoga pants because I wanted to look cute for my 12 Instagram followers.

Yes, I’m having a spiritual epiphany, but more importantly, do you like my outfit?

The drive from L.A. was tolerable, especially with ample snacks and Starbucks pit stops. As you approach Sedona, the scenery morphs from boring freeway stretches into shapely cacti and stunning rock formations. You can practically feel the energy shift and the monotony from your car ride transforms into giddiness.

The Enchantment Resort was true to its name. The winding driveway gave me a sense of seclusion, but an adorable group of deer by the check-in area reminded me that you’re never truly alone in nature. A strapping young Enchantment employee escorted me to my “casita” in a golf cart and my shrieks of excitement startled a few of the resident fawns. 

My casita came fully furnished with fabulousness. The kitchen had a fridge, microwave, and stove. The cabinets were stocked with plates, silverware, and glassware. I’d love to host a dinner party here, but I doubt my friends would drive 7 hours to watch me burn our dinner and accidentally set the place on fire.

The table and chairs stood under a chandelier with crystals hanging from each arm. The kitchen opened up to a huge living room with a fireplace, couch, queen-sized bed, and balcony that boasted the most picturesque view I’ve ever seen.

I could’ve easily taken 1,000 photos and Instagrammed the night away, but I needed some nosh. I bellied up to the bar at Tii Gavo, Enchantment’s resident “gathering place.” The Prickly Pear Margarita was so tasty and tart, I had to restrain myself from immediately ordering 6 more. Their Yavapai Salad (avocado, piquillo peppers, corn queso panella, and green chile ranch dressing) delighted my taste buds and gave a new definition to the word “yum.”

With a full belly and glass of wine, I tucked into bed with Netflix. I soon nodded off, comfy and content in my casita. A few hours later, I woke up to a weird sound. Um, was that a ghost? An animal on the roof? I was too scared to get out of bed so I stared at the ceiling for awhile and tried not to freak out. Once the sun came up, I walked over to Mii Amo (sister property to Enchantment) and scarfed down the best egg white omelette of my life. I washed it down with the best almond milk latte of my life, and 2 funky ginger turmeric shots.

Woo, shots during breakfast! (Relax, Mom, these are alcohol-free.)

After breakfast, I discovered a rad little room off the Mii Amo lobby. A crystal grotto. A small, quiet space to set your intentions for the day and release any tensions or anxieties. Perfect! I sat in there for awhile and I noticed an interesting tingle in my feet. Too much caffeine? Or maybe the positive energy coursing through my body? I’d like to think it was the vortex, working its magic.

 

 

 

 

 

My first excursion was Reiki On The Rocks. Chris from Red Rock Tours picked me up and we chatted about why I was in Sedona, and what I hoped to get out of today’s adventure. He brought me to a nearby vortex, Airport Mesa, and we hiked uphill for about 10 minutes. I kept stopping to take in the beauty surrounding us and I felt a child-like sense of awe. We sat down toward the edge and did some breathing exercises. He started spritzing me with homemade smudge spray, a blend of essential oils like eucalyptus, cedar leaf and juniper berry (which smelled so good that I later purchased a bottle). We meditated for several minutes and I tried to concentrate on the sights, sounds, and smells around us, while letting go of the noisy chatter running through my brain.

Chris then drove us to a nearby picnic area and we had our reiki session. Again I tried to be present in the moment but all I could think was, “Am I breathing too loud? Too fast? Too slow?” Eventually I relaxed and quieted my mind. Chris suggested we watch the sunset and I couldn’t recall the last time I felt this chill.

The next day, I was scheduled for the Sedona Red Rock Chakra Tour. I knocked back 2 scrumptious cups of coffee on my beautiful balcony and met Jared, my tour guide, in the lobby. I gave him the same spiel that I gave Chris yesterday (“I have anxiety and I can’t sleep and I’m worried about the state of our country and cancer was scary and I forgot to run the dishwasher before I left…”) and we drove toward the vortex, an amused look on Jared’s face.

He brought us to Bell Rock and we started with some gentle yoga. Even though the poses were super easy, I kept toppling over and my thighs shook during every stretch. Jared was polite and didn’t laugh at my lack of skill. We then proceeded with a guided meditation and this is when I experienced a very cool revelation.

Jared had me lie down and close my eyes and said to envision myself on a beach, with ocean waves softly lapping over my legs. As I listened to his voice and focused on the sounds of birds chirping, the sensation of the gentle breeze, and the warmth of the sun on my face, I suddenly realized, “OH…this is what it means to live in the moment. To be present and appreciate everything around you.” I shared this with Jared, and he said that I have the ability to feel this way all the time. Woh. I’ll have to keep this in mind next time I have Level 10 Road Rage in Los Angeles, which will probably happen during the drive back home.

After my rad epiphany, we trekked over to Rachel’s Knoll, a striking property that overlooks a golf course. Jared was an encyclopedia of knowledge, pointing out the names of every bush and tree that we passed. He gave me a nontoxic berry to eat and although it was pretty, it was very bitter (which is what people probably say about me). As we walked, we delved into the mental and emotional stresses that I’m working through, and Jared helped me understand that all my doubts, uncertainties, and insecurities have one thing in common – they’re all rooted in fear. So instead of stressing about 100 different things, I need to adjust my outlook so that I don’t live in a constant state of anxiety. Jared is smart.

If I face away from the camera, you can’t tell that I’m deathly afraid of heights.

I got back to my casita and wanted to revel in my newfound fulfillment. I meandered over to Tii Gavo again and scanned their selection of top-shelf whiskeys. My eyes landed on a seductive bottle, one that I’ve seldom seen in bars but has caught my attention online. Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year. 85 bucks a glass. I figured that I deserved a reward for all my spiritual growth, so I ignored a pang of guilt about spending that much on one drink and thoroughly enjoyed my overpriced elixir.

I got a solid night’s sleep, and decided to make the most of my final morning in this mountainside paradise. I squeezed in a quick hike up Boynton Canyon, right outside of Enchantment. Without a tour guide, I went at a much slower pace and sat down several times to stare at the cool twisted trees. The terrain got a little dicey toward the top, but I scurried up as far as I could go. My feet got really tingly and I meditated for about 10 minutes. With a great mellow vibe, I trotted back down the canyon and grabbed a smoothie at Mii Amo. It was time to pack and bid adieu to my casita.

And right behind this rock…nirvana.

I reluctantly left Enchantment and grabbed brunch at a cute little spot called The Secret Garden. My patio table overlooked a garden (duh) and each table had a blanket to keep customers warm and snuggly during their meal. I ordered a Bloody Mary, a cappuccino, and a water so I could cover all my basic beverage groups. My server told me that she’d visited Sedona in 2007, then she  later came back for a few days, then for a week…then she moved here for good.

Part of my complete breakfast.

Wanting to delay my departure as long as possible, I then popped into a local bookstore. I bought some candles, books, keychains, and a necklace with a small bottle of red rock sand (this way I could bring a teeny part of the magic home with me). As I paid for everything and struck up a conversation with the cashier, a woman overheard us and came over to tell me that my story really resonated with her. She said she could feel my positive energy and asked for a hug. We embraced for a moment and I left Sedona with a huge smile on my face, and in my soul.

During the drive home, as the mountains and cacti faded into the background, I reflected on the mysticism of my weekend. I felt happier, healthier, and better equipped to deal with life’s obstacles and hurdles. And as I gripped my sweet new necklace, turning the small bottle of sand over and over in my hand, I realized that maybe, just maybe, the magic is inside me.

Chemo Supremo: 10 Truths I Discovered During Chemotherapy

“We’re going to start chemo next Friday.”

Those words still haunt me. I was sick with fear, sitting in a little room at Cedars Sinai with my family and my rock star oncologist. I had just gotten the worst news of my life (more on that here), and now I was told that we’d begin chemo treatments in just 7 days. 7 days?! That wouldn’t be nearly enough time to digest this horrendous news! I wanted at least a few weeks to wallow in self-pity (and stress-eat a hundred boxes of Girl Scout cookies).

But one week from that day, I would begin pumping poison into my body to attack the nasty little tumors that had taken up residence throughout my belly. One week from that day, I’d have to watch my hair fall out, watch my teeth disintegrate, watch my nails fall off, and watch my body slowly deteriorate. Or so I thought.

Everything I knew about chemo I’d learned from movies, the Hallmark Channel, and Sex & The City. I figured that the chemo ward would consist of one big open room, where the patients sit next to each other, crying, vomiting, and meeting eyes with that, “Can you believe this sh**?” expression.

My perception was way off.

I was shaking and terrified going into my first chemo sesh. I had brought 2 sets of comfy clothes, books, an iPad, snacks, lunch, water, my laptop, and a pillow. The nurses were amused by how much I’d overpacked. A couple hours into that initial appointment, I began to relax and saw that chemo wouldn’t be as bad as I had anticipated.

18 sessions later, here’s what I discovered…

1) It’s more uneventful than you think.
You know those days when you stay home from work with the flu? The ones where you make a fresh dent in the couch from binge-watching Netflix? Chemo is kinda like that, except you’re in a soft chair (or bed) and hooked up to a loud beepy machine. It’s sorta relaxing, sorta boring, and very uneventful. My iPad got lots of use as I plowed through Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Silicon Valley, Ray Donovan, then Silicon Valley again.

2) It doesn’t hurt.
In fact, you don’t really feel anything. Except maybe sleepiness. At the beginning of each treatment, you’re given a small cocktail of drugs (usually a steroid, an anti-nausea medication, and something to help you mellow out – for me it was Benadryl or Ativan). But I never experienced any pain or discomfort.

3) Your nurses are heroes.
Not all heroes wear capes, but they do wear scrubs. I quickly became infatuated with the guys and gals that took care of me during those dreary days. We cracked jokes. We laughed. We talked about my cats. They showed me iPhone pics of their dogs. Without their constant cheeriness, my ordeal would have been a whole lot darker.

4) Costumes make it fun.
Well, maybe not fun, but certainly less scary. I mean, can you really be scared of something while you’re wearing a coconut bra? Or rocking a tiara? Or a vampire cape? Other patients would come to my bay and tell me they loved my outfits. Costumes made me smile, and they lightened the mood for everyone. 

5) It’s not nearly as depressing as it’s depicted on TV.
Before this whole adventure, I envisioned the chemo ward as a sad space filled with feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and bad snacks. Thankfully, it was the opposite of that. The snacks were good. And the ward was full of kindness, empathy, and positivity. Everyone there is doing everything in their power to help you heal. Oh, and did I mention therapy dogs!?

6) Everyone reacts differently to the side effects.
There are a lot of variables that determine how your body will handle chemo. Your age, your health, your cancer type, your chemo type, and so on. I’d been worried that my nails would fall off, my teeth would fall out, and I’d morph into a frail fragile little mess (note to self: stay away from the blogosphere). But thankfully, other than some nausea, hair loss, and strange pains, nothing too bizarre took place.

7) The worst thing to fear is fear itself.
When I got my diagnosis, I had 3 major fears: shaving my head, having surgery, and enduring my first chemo session. But when it was time to bid adieu to my hair, my stylist blasted some girl power tunes and we made it fun. When it was time for surgery, I rocked a rainbow wig and took some hilarious selfies. And when it was time for my initial chemo appointment, I befriended all the nurses and giggled my way through the day. I realized that all my fears were unfounded and there was really nothing to be afraid of.

8) It affects you mentally.
I was totally prepared for the physical side effects of chemo, but I wasn’t prepared for the mental ones. I woke up one morning and the world seemed bleak and gray and I wondered if I’d ever feel happiness or fulfillment again. All I could focus on was the dullness and negativity soaring through my mind. After many boxes of tissues and phone calls with my mom, the rain clouds disintegrated and my sunny demeanor peeked through once again. 

9) It’ll be over before you know it.
Back in April, I thought this would be the longest year of my life. That the days would tick by painfully slowly. And sometimes they did. But soon a week went by, then 2 weeks, then a month, then a few months. I tried to pack in as much fun as I could, like movies, a new pair of shoes, dinners with friends, and afternoon walks. And then BOOM – you’re in the home stretch.  

10) When you’re finally finished, it’s the best feeling in the world…and also one of the weirdest.
During treatment, you feel a sense of safety. You have doctors and nurses and hospital staff surrounding you all the time. Then once you complete your final chemo session, you start to wonder, “Now what? Do I just sit back and hope that cancer never comes back?” It’s a strange transition. You go from feeling sheltered to feeling exposed. Some days are riddled with anxiety and some are riddled with Thin Mints cookies. But all of them are days worth living.