Sunday, June 22, 2014


Morning coffee in my cowboy cup
This week saw a five-day course of chemo again which passed with no particular ill effects, and an increased dosage of anti-seizure meds. I’ve continued to get something called focal seizuresan ants-under-the-skin sensation in the left side of my face, which can develop into a throbbing in my neck and arm. 

One evening on another drug, to be taken in the event of a stronger seizure, I was knocked out so totally that I woke from the effects hours later with no memory of how I happened to be in bed, where my wife found me to remind me to take my chemo meds. I still have no memory. It was not a faint, but a complete blackout. Yikes.

Otherwise, the week saw me out walking in the mornings for 30 to 40 minutes, once with just the dog for company, and I stopped using the walker, relying on a walking stick for support. While my wife also reminds me that it is rattlesnake season, I ventured a ways into the desert, where I found another dog-walking friend from the neighborhood, and we were able to catch up on a lot of news.

Morning moon
My weight continues to jump under the effects of the steroids I’m taking to counter the swelling in my brain from radiation. At under 160 pounds when I left the hospital four months ago, I tipped the scales this week at 181.6, an increase of well over 20 pounds, and this despite the fact that food for me has basically no taste.

I saw the Cancer Center psychologist again this week, for an hour. She put me onto Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is an articulate advocate of mindfulness meditation, with numerous videos at YouTube. Yesterday I spent an hour with his talk to a room full of Google employees, taking them through a guided meditation that made the practice more accessible and less confusing for me.

His notion of “mind” as incorporating brain, emotions and body helps clarify a process I have little understanding of and dismisses the handy mechanistic notions I bring to expectations about cause-and-effect treatment of illness. There is science supporting some of its claims, but the claims themselves exist on a plane where reason and faith converge—not familiar territory for me. Here is the talk, well worth the time it takes to listen and let it soak in.

Kabat-Zinn encourages me to begin with 20 to 30 minutes of meditation every day to “tune up” like a symphony orchestra about to play Beethoven. Even the finest musicians will produce cacophony without it, he points out and, extending the metaphor, our days will be no different.

Meanwhile, heat and wind return to the desert this week, and the one thing to be thankful for is that Saturday was the first day of summer. The days will be shortening in small increments until they eventually add up to winter solstice, and if we’re lucky we will be complaining about the “cold.”

The week was also marked by my effort to clear off a shelf in a closet, with two plastic bags mostly full of stuff that got taken away by the trash truck on Friday—old VHS tapes, old ball caps, etc. (I'm a pack rat.) Not much, but a start on minimalizing, as my wife has begun calling it.

I’m behind reviewing books for my blog and spend more time just enjoying reading though the teacher in me is still wanting to share what I’m learning—so I know they’ll eventually get written up and posted. I’m too much like Chaucer’s scholar, who would gladly learn and gladly teach.

Sunset and clouds
I have stopped watching western movies and have begun listening to the radio series of Gunsmoke, which ran during most of the 1950s, when I was a boy. Its 400+ weekly episodes are available at Internet Archive. I am taken by the artistry of these productions, which I totally took for granted back then—the excellent writing and storytelling and the creative way they were staged by actors and sound effects for the theater of the listener’s imagination.

Listening to them now triggers some nostalgia, and connects me again to a time and place on the Nebraska plains decades ago, a starting point on this journey, if I care to see it so. However, mindfulness would have me be here now, and so the past reminds me that it was once now, too. I’ll probably puzzle over that for a while until it finally yields to the question, “Who am I?” For which the mindfulness answer is “Don’t know.” (Listen to Kabat-Zinn above if the convergence of that question and answer intrigues you.)

Previoiusly: Bump in the road


  1. My wife's current chemo requires steroids, and she's really hating the weight gain. She's been off and on (mostly on) chemo for seven years now, and food has very little taste. Some has a bit more, some has none, and nothing tastes "normal." Enjoyment of food is meaningless to her, yet she's gaining weight. She really hates that.

  2. Ron, thank you for writing about Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. I did not know about him. I was advised to meditate five to 10 minutes each in the morning and evening, to begin with, and then gradually increase it to half an hour or whatever suited me till my mind and body got used to it. I've stuck with 10 minutes. The question "Who am I?" is a conundrum. While seers insist that the solution to all our life's posers lies in our finding the answer to that one question, they don't exactly tell us how to get there. Good luck, Ron.

  3. I really liked the show Gunsmoke so I should give a listen to some of those radio shows.

  4. I remember the radio show Gunsmoke - Mom's favorite. She imagined the actor very handsome, which he was not. So, when the TV show Gunsmoke began with James Arness in the lead, he satisfied her imagined hero, and it became her favorite TV show for the entirety of its run - which was pretty long. Sorry about your weight gain - but you will lose it when you stop the steroids. Just think, if you were lifting weights, you'd bulk up like Arnold.

  5. I can't even begin to imagine blacking out for hours with no recall as to what happened.

  6. Once again, thanks everybody for dropping by and leaving a word before you go. Means the world.

  7. Sorry to be late checking in this week but Megan was here. And I am in a bit of a funk about my book deal being cancelled. It puts me back in the situation of knowing i should try harder but not wanting to. I have tried to meditate from time to time but like my problems with sleep I lack being able to shut off my brain.