Sunday, October 19, 2014

View from the plateau

Desert walk with clouds
A year ago at this time I had cancer and was three months away from knowing it. This week we saw my oncologist, who had looked at my latest MRI and greeted us with “Good news!” The tumor on the right side of my brain has remained stable, and though it’s hard to tell, what’s still visible in the pictures may be no more than dead cells left from radiation while a cloud of swelling still lingers. While my blood count is good enough to allow another five-day round of chemo, the steroid I’ve been taking will be reduced again by half with the eventual goal of reducing it to zero. Meanwhile, monthly MRIs will happen only once every two months.

I expect post chemo will usher in several days of utter fatigue as before, but for the moment I am able to take the dog for morning walks of 45-50 minutes in the desert, with some hill climbing now, as I used to do, and would have been doing a year ago. I feel strength and stamina returning in small welcome increments. Almost 9 months since the diagnosis and a surgeon’s post-op prediction that I had 1-2 years left, I am encouraged by two oncologists to expect more and better, hopefully far more and far better.

Foothills and sky
Anyone following these weekly posts will have noticed my thrashing about to achieve some perspective on this whole development, searching for some stability in the face of mortality. Lately I seem to have reached a plateau where I can look back at a meandering path taken. I have read several books, taken up meditation, looked for poetry, listened to videos of talk and music, made several discoveries, and tried on several ideas. I’d like to consolidate all that into a belief system, but it’s too diffuse yet to start connecting dots. I just know that the finality of one’s days has a way of injecting “disruptive innovation” into the day’s passing moments.

I will admit to feeling some sadness, which I have not allowed myself to feel until now, but I’m convinced it’s healthy sadness, not depression. Cancer has taught me that emotions come and go. You can will change, or let it take its own time. (Letting go, you might say, is half the fun.)

Evening sky
I had a bad day this week, stepping outside to yell “shut up!” at a yapping dog in a neighbor’s backyard. I felt a kind of relief as I bellowed that might well have had more to do with my pent-up anger at being sick. Later in the day I had an encounter with a shredder as piles of paper spread around me on the floor, out of control. This time anger was less satisfying. Both times I knew afterward that rage was not conducive to health for anyone in my condition, and I needed to find a better way to deal with impatience, irritability and frustrations.

Next day, however, I felt myself slip away from that dark mood and willingly grant the world of barking dogs and uncooperative inanimate objects a measure of tolerance if not forgiveness. Then, getting more personal, I considered the grudge I have held against my left arm and hand, for their awkward numbness that makes what used to be simple tasks clumsy and difficult.

And I could make a long list starting with how the fingers on my left hand pick up more than what I intend to, or let go of things I want to hang onto. Then there’s their irritating habit of tapping the caps-lock key on my laptop, which I don’t discover until after I HAVE FINISHED A SENTENCE. Back when I could touch type up a storm, I never had to take my eyes from the screen and could instantly see mistakes like this. Not anymore as I’m hunting and pecking.

More foothills and sky
But I’m beginning to find an ability I’ve never thought of using, to forgive my hand for not being what it used to be—no different from granting someone in a wheelchair the time to negotiate a curb or doorway. I don’t have to think of myself as disabled, but I need to stop resenting the part of me that can no longer nimbly perform simple tasks, punishing myself for not being whole-bodied.

I look at my left hand now as it numbly grips the corner of the pad I am writing this on (before reading aloud for the dictation app on my laptop), and I feel relaxing in me the need for it to be whole again, allowing it to be just what it is, no more, an intention I hope eventually to realize for my whole self.

While focusing on all these conflicting thoughts, I gravitate again to jazz music, where so much confusion seems to resolve for me in the free-flowing meeting of creative minds at play. A reader here suggested a Bob James song, and I’m taking the liberty to substitute one that has long been a favorite and harks back to less complicated times, when “Taxi” was on TV, and there was time and world enough for everything.



Any other readers with jazz favorites of their own, links to them are welcome.

Previously: Angle of repose


12 comments:

  1. My God, the things we share, and I don't have cancer. Thank you for this.

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  2. Ron, I'm happy to hear the positive news on the health front. May it keep coming your way. India is three days away from celebrating Diwali—the festival of lights—now observed universally. On this joyous occasion, I wish you and your wife a "Happy Diwali" and a life filled with good health, peace, happiness, and prosperity.

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    1. I know a little about Diwali, and it sounds wonderful. I hope yours this year fills the months to come with light and enjoyment.

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  3. I won't forget this sentence: "I just know that the finality of one’s days has a way of injecting “disruptive innovation” into the day’s passing moments." As for jazz I continue to listen to a lot of Thelonious Monk. Here's my current favorite this week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zriS77PCaTk

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  4. We are having our own health issues right now. So all of this seems both scary and soothing if that makes sense. Michigan is not a happy place to be from now until May. I am glad you are in a more rewarding spot.

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  5. Do be aware that chemo and radiation therapy may cause some bone weakening. At least it did in Lana's case.

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    1. Yes, cancer treatment is like taking one poison to counter the effect of another poison.

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  6. I don't know what happened to my comment I just posted; if you get duplicate posts from me that's why. Just good news on the results of the latest tests. Your writing is so melodic that I didn't need to listen to the music. Patti, I hope your health issues resolve soon.

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  7. I'm so happy for you. I don't recall your saying that you're on anti-depressants and if you're not, I congratulate your mind for being able to deal with all of this. I've cut mine by 50 percent, but when a shock comes my way, like the coyote getting a favorite cat, it's 100 percent again until the pain is softer. I hope your pain is softer now, Ron.

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    1. So far, I get by without anti-depressants. But losing pets to the coyotes (a real risk here) would be truly hard on me.

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