|Morning sky over the foothills|
Another birthday came and went this week. I am now 73. With that development, my driver license expired, and I am reminded of how my first reaction to cancer was the determination to keep my independence. But that was not quite to be. I soon discovered that the brain tumor, surgery, and/or radiation have affected my depth perception to the extent that it is now hazardous for me to drive a car. I’m even dangerous with a shopping cart, as I found on a recent trip to Trader Joe’s when I took a corner too short and brought down part of a display of canned goods. (I thought that only happened in the movies.)
I have had to give up the independence that driving has given me since I was 13 or so, when I first took the wheel of a pickup on the farm. I’m now chauffeured to doctors’ appointments by my wife, which is okay for me but adds an additional responsibility for her as an already overworked caregiver. I sometimes ride shotgun on trips to the post office and for groceries, so she can stay behind in the car while I run inside.
But there is still room for adaptation. There was the flash of an idea for a new kind of independence when I received a book for my birthday called The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen. Full of recipes and ideas for meals for a cancer patient, it encouraged me with the prospect of becoming self-sufficient as my own cook.
Being homebound complicates my options for looking after myself in another way. One thing I often hear is that a cancer patient needs a support network. Right now I rely a lot for that on connections with people I know through the Internet, and I have a few cousins ready with the occasional e-mail, letter, or text. These brighten my day.
But it's also increasingly clear that I thrive on contact with people in person. I probably make myself a nuisance with the help at Trader Joe's or the cashiers at Vons because I'll take just about any excuse to chat them up like some garrulous old-timer who lives alone.
More problematic is that with the isolation, my moods darken. One night this week I lay awake for at least an hour feeling something unusual for me, a free-floating anxiety that was attached to nothing I could identify or name—like pain or sadness you can’t trace the source of.
On another night, I dreamed that I was in a large dimly lighted house, unfinished and unfurnished. Alarmed by some sudden uncertainty, I began yelling in my sleep and woke not only myself but everyone else in the house. Is this how I feel all the time, I wondered, and only by the light of day do distractions keep it below the threshold of awareness? If so, I am grateful for my defenses. This is a long-term issue that I’ve obviously got to give more time, research, and planning to.
|Palm Springs Library|
A highlight this week was a trip to the public library in Palm Springs. There I turned over an Ikea bag full of CDs and books for their fund-raising sales. I also found Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark on the new book shelf, plus Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, and A Thomas Merton Reader.
Taylor explores the search for God in darkness rather than the usual well-lighted places, reaching back to St. John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul” for insight. (I did not know that he had been imprisoned for his reformist ideals by fellow monks.) Merton is wonderful to read because he is such a lucid writer. Ceremony is a novel about the spiritual healing of a Native American, which I have long meant to read. And so the writers of books take their place in my support network, and I am grateful for them.
Meanwhile, I have come to a realization about meditation. As an impossible task (like not thinking of a pink elephant), it is an ego deflator. If you are me, you can’t look forward to patting yourself on the back some day for mastering it. After all my dedicated attempts over the months, even the idea of mastery is laughable. Still, I haven’t quite given up, and I have to wonder why I persevere—a belief maybe that nothing succeeds like failure. Failing at meditation reminds me that I am human, the full meaning of which remains elusive, and I may someday learn to accept that.
The aftereffects of the last round of chemo have worn off, and I have more energy again to go for walks with the dog in the morning. I take to desert trails, and if I pay attention as I walk, I don’t have trouble staying on my feet, that being with the help of a walking stick. If I don’t pay attention, I may take a spill and slide into a rain-washed gulley as I did once this week, raising the skin on my shin and forearm. Today I stuck to the streets.
This installment is called “Kinda blue” because my daughter who’s been here for the week has left this morning to fly back East to rejoin her husband. We will both miss her, as the months pass until we can see her again.
A night and day of blustery winds have finally ushered in the new season. We turn off the ceiling fans that have been on nonstop for months, and when I step outside in the darkness before dawn, there’s already a winter sky overhead, Orion sharply sparkling above the Valley.
I’m closing again with a jazz video suggested by a reader. This is a moody one, appropriate for the arrival of a desert autumn, from saxophonist Stan Getz, “The Wind,” from his album, Bossas and Ballads.
Any other readers with jazz favorites of their own, links to them are welcome.
Previously: Chemo sabe
You are discovering selves and facets of self that emerge during crisis and your reflection about it. So am I. I can't drive, either. The state requires six months without more seizures, a requirement that ends on Christmas day. I remember nothing of what happened June 25, or the subsequent five hospital days. People tell me I talked with them, but all that has vanished. I know only that the grand mal broke my collar bone and my arm and they still hurt and the hurt mirrors in my other shoulder and back. I've employed caregivers who treat me well. When my wife died in August, loving friends flooded to my side and have watched over me. I have never felt so loved as I have here in Livingston. I've lost cognitive skills, but hope to write a little. My publisher wants jacket copy for my novel Anything Goes, about an early vaudeville troupe in the mining towns of Montana. I think I can deliver. Soon an MRI will determine whether my brain tumor, which triggered the seizures, has grown, and if so, I face surgery. I will be eighty in March, and am finding wondrous new insights even now. I cherish the photos in your postings that illustrate inner and exterior realities. We both walk, and walking is the great healer of the aged.ReplyDelete
Glad to hear you are getting better, looking forward to your new book, think I have read most, maybe all of your others. Good luck with your health and hope it puts you behind the wheel again.Delete
Richard, we are on similar journeys, and I fully agree with your observation that illness like this sheds a whole new light on just about everything. Wishing you the best as you navigate the wonders of medical science. I am glad to know there are friends a plenty to look after you. And I remain eager to read the latest novel.Delete
Mr. Wheeler, that is tough news. I understand now why your blog sites went quiet a while ago. I wish you strength and hope the MRI brings good news. Looking forward to the new novel. MichaelDelete
I'm so sorry things have been blue lately Ron. I don't know if the time change will make that worse or not. At least you're feeling more energy now. When you and your wife are up to it, an invitation to visit me in Tuolumne County is always open. Of course we're getting into snow season soon, so that might affect your decision.ReplyDelete
I miss snow.I'll expect a full report when it arrives there, and pics.Delete
I am glad that you found Barbara Brown Taylor's book helpful. She is a wonderful writer. You might also find Craig Barnes book, "When God Interrupts"? My thoughts and prayers are with you.ReplyDelete
Thanks, my friend. All thoughts and prayers are welcome--and good for both of us.Delete
Ron, a belated Happy Birthday to you and my best wishes for continued progress in your health. I started meditating for spiritual reasons. Today, I do so in order to reduce stress and feel good, which is spiritual in a way. I also find deep breathing efficacious. This I practice anywhere and especially at my work desk, for a few minutes every hour or two. Mastery of both is beyond me as it means letting go, which I’m unable to, but I find joy in the practice. Thanks for highlighting the works of Barbara Brown Taylor, Leslie Marmon, and Thomas Merton. I have not read any of them.ReplyDelete
I've come to share your attitude about meditation, Prashant. It's the stress reduction that's important. I'm letting spirituality take care of itself.Delete
I tend to have a fair amount of that free floating anxiety. It's certainly unpleasant. I welcome times without stress but that's when the anxiety comes for me. I'm glad you are able to get out and walk more. Lana and I had a nice walk yesterday, saw a couple of deer in the woods less than thirty feet from us. Was very cool.ReplyDelete
My remedy for anxiety: take 10 deep breaths, then 10 more as needed.Delete
Some thoughts which I've probably expressed at an earlier time. Do Not Under Any Circumstances Listen To Anyone. Do exactly as your instinct suggests. Have fun and be creative as you are doing.
I listen to my oncologists, but for the rest, I'm learning to be selective.Delete
I, of course, did not intend anyone to turn away from sound medical counsel, but rather follow your heart without; trying too hard.Delete
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I will pass my driver's license test in 2015 at age 83. My wife keeps asking me "What's wrong with you, can't you keep your foot on the brake anymore?" because of couple of slips but no accidents. My mind wanders more now than it used to.ReplyDelete
I'm a kid, looking at 67 in a few months. Hope I am still behind the wheel in my 80s.Delete
Oscar, wool-gathering is what my wife calls it. Neil, if you've been driving all your life, it matters a great deal.Delete
I've saw Stan Getz twice - I'd almost forgotten. You say everything so well, Ron, there's nothing to add. I read Sometime a Great Notion recently and now my husband is reading it. I don't think you've reviewed it, but I bet you read it at some point. Not quite a western, though the end reminded me the ending in Red River. I really enjoyed it. What did you think?ReplyDelete
I fell in love with SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION when I read it back in about 1970. Bought copies of it for friends before I realized that's not a way to get people to read something you like. Sorry the movie didn't work out better--even with Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.Delete
All birthdays are nice milestones. Glad to here you are out walking again. Although a bad cold has kept me inside the past few days I love the fall for walking. Great post, once again.ReplyDelete
Feel better, Neil, and enjoy fall before the snow flies.Delete
Thank you for your tales, Ron. They are important for those of us who have "recovered", or think we have and important for those faced with it. I hope they are as important for you.ReplyDelete
Keep writing and keep walking.
Thanks for the encouragement.Delete
Ron, happy birthday. I didn't guess you were as old as 73. You're proof of the adage that age is just a number. Glad you have more energy these days.ReplyDelete
Happy birthday Ron, we're all following your journey. MichaelReplyDelete
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