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Every cell in our beautiful and amazing bodies contains the whirling wisdom of the universe. This is the journey of one witch remembering that, and celebrating the sacred and divine in beings of all genders and manifestations.

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Pretty Purple Flowers and My Brain on Cancer

It is hard to concentrate. That may be a bit of an understatement.  Aren’t the purple flowers pretty. It is impossible to concentrate, to craft words and sentences together in any semblance of way I did a year ago, even a month ago.  So I will stop trying.  Not sure if it’s the cancer itself or the immunotherapy for treating it or the morphine for pain management but the organ I had formally known as my brain is now in a constant shift of consciousness - which is kinda funny since one of the definitions of a witch in my Reclaiming Tradition is “one who can shift consciousness at will” not sure whose will it is but there definitely is a lot of consciousness shifting going on.


So this column, like the previous few, is being written on my cancer brain -  a couple years from when it started growing unbeknownst to me, six months since the diagnosis, five months since the treatment began - this is what words do on the page with my current cancer brain which may be different from someone else’s.


…I am grateful for the purple flowers sitting in a vase on my dining room table as I write.  My first step-father who has stayed in my life even as others came and went, has made it a practice to send me flowers every two weeks, they arrive the day I return from getting an infusion in San Francisco.  He is my brother’s father and was my legal step-dad from the time I was eight until I was sixteen.  The flowers remind me of how grateful I am that in my family divorce doesn’t always mean the severing of relationship with beloveds.  Having said that I am also grateful that in my family divorce does mean we no longer have to deal with other folk who weren’t so beloved.


…I am grateful for the dog and the cat that have been my companions through this journey - Dash is a twelve year old Norwich Terrier (and indeed God does love a Terrier…which also makes me grateful for the brilliant minds that gave us “Best in Show” among other things)…Dash is getting cataracts and losing his hearing and sleeps a lot, but then so do I, sleep a lot, so we’re a good match…the cat is newer to our household - she came right before the diagnosis so in a way our relationship mirrors my relationship with this experience - as the months and weeks have rolled by both relationships have gotten more familiar (she may even be on her way to becoming my familiar).  Both the dog and the cat came into my life through another beloved who I see daily, another being for whom I am grateful.  The cat has taken quite a shine to my mother and the beloved with whom I live (different from the beloved who brought me the fur beings).  Like the cat, I too have found myself more and more in love with these two humans as they rise to the task of caring for me.  My beloved with whom I live is good at the little things - do I have clean drinking glasses since all my food is drunk,  is there a fire in the living room to keep me warm since I have lost all the fat I’d gained since I was a teenager and have no extra layers to do that important winter task. 


Our cat Layla has taken to rubbing her face in the back of my mother’s head any time she can get behind her on the couch - it is fascinating to ponder what it is about my mother’s hair/head is Layla catnip.  This whole cancer thing has been harder on my mother than me perhaps - she is seventeen years older than I and for most of our lives we have operated as siblings but this thing happening to me has shifted that and in many ways she is now able to take care of me in a way she wasn’t capable of as an adolescent.


I am grateful for my friend/sister Pam.  Pam lives with her own chronic illness and knows more about navigating the medical system than most people on the planet.  She is the reason I am doing immunotherapy which is so much gentler on my body than a ten hour surgery followed up by chemo and radiation would have been.  She not only knew everything one outside the medical field could know about it, but has gone with me to most appointments asking questions I wouldn’t have even dreamed of knowing to ask.  And then there is the fact that she sings to me via the poop emoji on my iPhone, and for that I am stunningly grateful.


I am grateful for my friend/sister Luanne who is always up for a trip to the beach or a little retail therapy or to sip soup together.  But mostly to talk about stuff…political stuff…theological stuff…family stuff…cancer stuff…silly stuff…deepest corner of the emotional closet stuff, all of which is made more difficult by the fact of tumors still holding my jaw shut but easier by the long history of doing this kind of talking for decades now.  And she loves the purple flowers too.


I am grateful for “the original Jeff”.  We have been BFFs since seminary, I the Grace to his Will he the Will to my Grace.  Somewhere as the years progressed we realized we were partners for life which makes it confusing since one of my other partners also is named Jeff - but now that I have cancer I’m really really grateful for having multiple partners!  The original Jeff has also been there at the hospital, at the appointments, at the melt downs, he is particularly good with the times I am beyond out of it.


I am grateful for the witches who have come to lend their magic to my healing or a place to stay in the city or containers of soup, I am grateful to my Trivia sisters who drive me and walk me and laugh with me.  I am grateful to my clergy sisters who come and lend their magic to my healing - it should come as no surprise that most clergy women in progressive christian denominations are also witches - shhh.  I am grateful for the little old ladies who knit prayer shawls and send them to people with cancer - one of those has been my “binkey” from the beginning of this.  I am grateful for people who I have mentored over the years visiting me and lending their love and strength.  I am grateful for old friends, for neighbors, for kind people on the UCSF shuttle, I am grateful…mostly I am grateful.  It seems my brain on cancer is mostly grateful.


Did I tell you about the pretty purple flowers?

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Lizann Bassham was both an active Reclaiming Witch and an Ordained Christian Minister in the United Church of Christ. She served as Campus Pastor at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley working with a multi-faith student community. She was a columnist for SageWoman magazine, a novelist, playwright, and musician. Once, quite by accident, she won a salsa dance contest in East L.A. Lizann died on May 27, 2018.


  • Elizabeth Creely
    Elizabeth Creely Thursday, 01 March 2018

    Those are indeed stunningly beautiful purple flowers.
    How i love you, my lizann: this is my brain on gratitude, profound respect, deepest love, and inviolable admiration.

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Thursday, 08 March 2018

    thank you so much Elizabeth

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