Sunday, January 18, 2015

Uneasy alliance

Another day
So now I am officially lending my body to medical science. Last week we made a trek to the neurooncology department at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, and I signed onto a drug trial, which may or may not halt the progress of the tumors in my brain, but there isn’t much in the way of an alternative. The oncologist was not in favor of more radiation.

It’s an uneasy alliance between me and Big Pharma. It will require trips to LA every 2 weeks for long infusions, and the list of possible side effects is daunting, ranging from nausea to death itself. But there’s a chance we will both profit in some way from this gamble. Whatever the outcome, there will be something to be learned for others in the future. Because it’s important for me to feel useful, this is one way to be doing that.

Half moon and morning clouds
A good friend from the neighborhood drove us and our dog into the city, 3-4 hours each way (my backside is still complaining) because we got stuck in the crawl of both morning and evening commuters, even while we were able to take advantage of car pool lanes. Could be just me and my unreliable memory, but LA traffic seems worse than ever. We also have ourselves partly to blame, having stopped for a leisurely lunch of fish and chips at The King’s Head in Santa Monica before heading home.

And so I (we) pass through yet another portal on this other journey. Cancer is a bum deal. There’s no question of that. And you feel yourself in a secret fellowship with anyone else in the same boat. Your heart goes out to them and those who love them. And you hate yourself for the envy you feel when people proudly announce that they are cancer survivors.

In the midst of all my uncertainties, it’s not the uncertainties themselves that produce the occasional dark cloud on the horizon. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s nothing certain about them. Even my oncologist has held out the remote possibility (and a very unscientific one at that) of a “miracle.” I can let myself rejoice in the recovery of others with the awareness that I may one day join their grateful ranks. A long shot at this point, but who am I to say?

Backyard brims with sunshine at mid-day
The quality of the time that remains to me, even as I write this, has little to do with certainty or uncertainty. If I have a prayer each morning as I recognize my surprised face in the bathroom mirror (besides “thanks for another day”), I ask only for the help to make it the best one possible. I don’t mean winning the lottery, but that I don’t blow the opportunity to just be alive to the glorious present.

I write paragraphs like the one above with no small degree of temerity. Speaking like I do, I know that all this can be taken much too seriously. I don’t have an inside track on the Truth of Anything. After being taught at an impressionable age that what there is to be known of Truth is Absolute, I’ve come around to believing that Truth is not such a stern Taskmaster.  It’s not exactly relative either, but more like a Lover, luring us with whatever image of itself is most seductive. That’s next to heresy, I know, and maybe the less said along those lines the better.

Still, cancer has this way of entertaining heresies. It has some even believing in miracles. One of them is without doubt the miracle of friendship. The offers of friends to help out with driving, pet care, and overnight stays, and the emails full of thoughtful and warmly generous good wishes strike a surge of gratitude in me that is as good as any medicine, pharmaceuticals notwithstanding, though I won’t downplay the contribution of a low dose daily of Zoloft.

Zoe joins me for nap time 
Meanwhile, my days include meditation, walks in the desert, some cooking (most recently, a big pot of chicken vegetable soup; a co-production with my wife), blogging, answering email, reading (currently But Beautiful, a book about jazz; next up, Saul Bellow’s Augie March, for another good friend who asked me to review it), amusing the dog, napping, watching crime dramas on Netflix (currently The Fall), and finishing the draft of another book, A to Izzard: a glossary of frontier fiction.

My wife, I must add, is gradually recovering after a fall that broke her left arm in December. She can drive around town again, and I ride shotgun, going into the post office and the shops, while she waits in the parking lot.

And so life goes on.

I’m closing again with a video. This a sweet one by guitarist Earl Klugh called “This Time.”

Previously: Bump in the Road


  1. These sad beautiful Sunday missives have the resonance of church. If only a minister had ever had your eloquence I might be in that hard pew still. Last year, I had no oar in the water. Now I do.

  2. Ron, you have such a beautiful outlook desipte the sadness and uncertainity. You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. My hope is that one day you'll collect these posts in a single volume. But more, I hope you'll sign my copy and report on your journeys in remission.

  4. "...Be alive to the glorious present," is sound advice for all of us to live by. Ron, your journey is filled with uncertainties and struggle but your sharing lends a map for others seeking their way. Thank you.

  5. Beautifully written with an air of sadness - true literature. I agree with Richard that your blogs should be published. I think they would help others who despair, reading that you have been there and may be again, but that you haven't buried your head under your pillow - well, not very often, I warrant. We'll follow with curiosity this new aspect of your treatment.

  6. Beautiful words, Ron. And good on your for being part of a drug trial.

  7. I hope the new treatments will be helpful

  8. I was in a prostate cancer trial. In fact, I'm still in it as they watch my progress. We are hoping this will be beneficial in your struggle for a cure. We can see that Zoe is very interested.

  9. Beautifully written once again. We all need to enjoy and be thankful for every day.

  10. Ron, I'll repeat what others have said. This is, indeed, beautiful writing. Your Sunday journal is inspiring me to look at life anew. I hope and pray that your new treatment benefits you and with very minimum side effects. Good bless, Ron.

  11. I like Rich's thoughts above, Ron. I think you know a publisher that would be interested.

  12. LA traffic IS worse than ever - I was there over New Years. And the King's Head is one of my old haunts, and I used to go to the shop next door just to get my copy of COUNTRY LIFE. I agree with David and Rich. It might sound counter intuitive, but I find inspiration from your words. Like Patti said.