Sunday, May 4, 2014

Time marches on

First morning light
To the end of her life in her 90s, my aunt and godmother had a favorite phrase for anything that was news, welcome or otherwise: “Time marches on.” Usually said with a tone of bright if not grudging acceptance of life’s developments, it was an admission that time would always tell, and there was no predicting what it would have to say for itself.

Three months have passed since surgery, and with cancer, that’s a lot of water under the bridge. Still a month behind, I include below more excerpts from the journal I’ve been keeping since leaving the hospital.

3/25/14. Yesterday was a lesson too late for the learning. I am taking an antibiotic that comes with a warning: “Stay out of the sun unless you put on heavy-duty sun block. You’ll get a bad sunburn if you don’t.” Did I pay attention to that? Not nearly enough. On a day of bright sunshine, we went to a doctor’s appointment, and riding in the car, I may as well have been basking on the beach. In a few hours, I was turning beet red, and after some frantic calls for advice from someone at the Cancer Center, I was taking Benadryl and starting to reassume my usual color.

3/26/14. Relief was temporary. By midnight I had a new wave of symptoms: headache and a vague malaise that felt like the onset of nausea I’d been led to expect from the chemo. I slept after tea and graham crackers and continued sleeping the following day. The rest, however, did not prepare me for the outbreak of anxiety when I discovered a prescription refill of totally unfamiliar small, round pills, which took assistance from my wife to get straight. For at least the third time in 24 hours, I was reminded how I would be lost without her help.

Entryway plants
Meanwhile, there is relief from the emotional ups and downs in attention paid to other life forms that share this dot of space in the universe. At dawn one morning as I switch off the light by the side garage door, I find moths of various sizes and wing patterns hugging the stucco and worshipfully facing the light bulb that has burned all night. Stalks of yucca blooms nod outside a window in the morning breeze. Flower buds sprout on our big, rambling prickly pear. The acacia tree in the front yard fills out day to day with the seasons’ new willowy leaves, while overhead a cloud drifts in the ocean of air. Late afternoons bring a display of light and dancing shadows on the bedroom walls from the palms in the backyard.

3/28/14. I had hoped to get back some normalcy once radiation was done, but I’m having to let go of some expectations. After days of mostly sleeping, various meds for headache and nausea, and meals of graham crackers, soup, and herb tea, I’m physically weakening and unsteady on my feet. My wife observes that walking in the house, I have begun to “creep around.” The oncologist’s nurse says I should go back to using a walker at home to reduce the risk of falls. The walker, alas, is a cumbersome and uncooperative object. It snags on furniture and door frames, causing more aggravation than it’s worth.

4/2/14. A CT scan reveals yesterday that swelling in my brain is causing my slow rebound. So upping steroid intake will counter the weakness, fatigue, and general malaise. This doesn’t prevent a last bout of nausea, as I upchuck a bowl of chicken soup along with the meds I’d just taken. One of the doctors at the Cancer Center advises us on how to retake the meds followed by sips of water at 10-minute intervals. And my wife and I lie in bed together in the evening light, waiting for my stomach to calm, while hers, she says, is going into knots, as we both dread the alternative—going to the ER for an IV. Blessed sleep comes instead, and by the next day my energy is returning.

Afternoon shadows
4/3/14. My wife tells me how alarmed she was by the nosedive I took over the last days before upping the steroids. I was like a ghost of my usual self, my energy level at zero with no interest in anything, unable to be roused from lethargy. Today, she said, I’d been almost manic, talking like a chatterbox, practically wearing her out. I sat up late with her watching a movie about Nelson Mandela, a return to normal that also surprised her. I’m still tipsy on my feet, but if I’m careful and use the walker, I have fewer moments of losing balance.

Yesterday at the Cancer Center, I sat in the waiting room across from a (probably) young man, just skin and bones and in obvious discomfort, his face drawn often in agony. I wanted to speak a word to him but realized that his body language seemed to be saying, “Please leave me alone.”

Meanwhile, a fat and healthy jerk was holding forth on his own political agenda to whoever would listen. It was hard for me to hold a notion of humankind that includes both men. If we can believe the movie portrayal of Mandela, the man had an uncommon faith in a doctrine of forgiveness as the only route to peace between people who fear each other. And I admit my inability to do that for those like this guy, tearing us apart with their divisive prejudices and paranoia.

4/5/14. Up early today after lying almost sleepless most of the night, waking while feeling both cold and hot at the same time. Our dog Zoe is an early riser as well, her own version of reveille starting by 5 a.m. So there I am in the kitchen at 4:45 with a first cup of coffee, intercepting her before she can wake my wife. While I am getting her breakfast, she is squeaking and jumping, a Terpsichore of canine energy, and by 5:30 she is happily under the covers again with a full stomach. And I have the morning quiet to myself as I sit down to write this.

Previously: Lost and found


  1. How I sag and soar with your ups and downs, Ron. You are very brave to share this with us. I hope it offers catharsis.

  2. Thanks for this update, Ron. We are all with you.

  3. Beautifully written, Ron, with light and shadow, as is this life we grasp to us. Brave souls, the pair of you.

  4. Ron, thank you for sharing your journal with us. I learn much from your beautiful prose and your positive thoughts. Best wishes.

  5. Ron -- regarding the walker's helpfulness. There are a variety of them. My opinion the best design is collapsible, has a seat and a tray or basket for small belongings. Extremely useful and you will not like it should a fall ensue. Don't resist this kind of help.

    1. This is the kind I have, with wheels. And you're right about the risk of a fall; not worth taking the chance.

    2. Good thinking. My wife used one of these for the better part of four years without mishap, her sister, resisted. As a consequence, she harmed herself. Life is tough enough.

  6. Lana also spoke in the aftermath of radiation about feeling things happening with her body that she couldn't quite identify. Like the hot and cold thing. We are both thinking of you.

  7. I don't know how I would handle this same situation. Your wife is a godsend.

  8. Spring and summer will bring many great days. Getting outside is always great - without the sunburn I hope. Keep using that walker, then when the day comes to get rid of it you will feel great tossing it into the corner of the garage.

  9. Ron, bless you, you taught me the word Terpsichore. I had to look it up - why in all of my years of reading, am I unfamiliar with it? And used so wonderfully, too. Very visual. Well, your entire blog was very visual. You really have to get us up to date - this is like an uncomfortable mystery story.

  10. So many ups and downs. My thoughts are continually with you amigo and my hopes are there are more up days ahead.

  11. All sympathies...I certainly know the delights of the body (or at very least the throat and upper GI) saying Enough with the meds...I've had to consciously slow down my previously (rather irritated) casual throwing them back to the better result. Glad things are Mostly better...

  12. Your aunts brought Vonnegut to mind: "And so it goes," but more, made me think of my Czech great aunts (Rose and Adelle) who my grandpa called his Lovely Tantas. Keep going, my freind.