Pole Dancing

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Three aha moments. Responses to my Facebook post about ending radiation. A Bollywood epic about 21 Sikhs who held off a Pathan tribe force of 10,000. Kesari. 2015 Alexandria Class of 1965 50th reunion.

In 2015, a month and a half or so after my prostatectomy, I drove to Alexandria, Indiana for the 50th reunion of the class of 1965, my class. In Independence, Missouri I got out of the rental car, went back to get my luggage out of the trunk and promptly peed my pants, soaking a pair of jeans. Embarrassed and chagrined I got in the room holding my luggage in front of me, took those pants off and stuffed them in a wastebasket.

The first event of the reunion, at the Alexandria Historical Society, found me with that experience at front of mind. As a leader in academics and the class, you might not expect me to be nervous, feel vulnerable. I did though. It was partly the Independence (irony) moment, yes; but, it was also the knowledge that I’d traveled a much different road after high school than the vast majority of my classmates.

Many of them went to Vietnam. Dennis Sizelove died there. Richard Lawson, a close friend, died later of wounds from his war time. Mike Thomas and several others at the reunion were Vietnam vets. Only a few of us went onto college, maybe 10% out of our class of 180. I didn’t know anybody in our class with a graduate professional degree and a post-graduate school doctorate.

This was 2015, the year before an electoral Titanic took us all down with it. Somebody asked me to speak during our dinner at Norwood Bowl. It was the only venue in town large enough for our meal.

I’m on the right of the seated row. 2015, Norwood Bowl

We’re here together again. After 50 years. But not just 50 years. Most of us were together for at least 12 years before that. Let’s call it 62 years. Yet we’re here. Why? Because we still care about each other, about our town, about the memories we made.

I know we’re divided in many ways: those that stayed around, those that left. Like me. those that supported the war in Vietnam and those that didn’t. Like me. Those that found George Bush a good President, those that prefer Obama. Like me. Those that like the Colts and those that like the Vikings. Like me. I’m sure there are, too, differences over sexuality, abortion, maybe even race.

But this is what’s important. In this room we share something more important than those divisions. We share a community. We are a community. And communities don’t require everyone to believe the same. In fact, they’d be pretty boring if we did. I care about each of you not because of what you believe, but because of who you are. Even if I don’t know you well, I still care because we share a life built together over time.

I was shaking when I started. I’d chosen to lay bare the vulnerability I felt. Hard. But as I spoke, maybe 3 minutes, the vulnerability went away to be replaced by gratitude that I still knew these people. Was still alive with them.

On facebook I’ve made two posts about cancer. First, letting folks know I had it again and that I would undergo radiation treatment and a second one saying I’d finished. On the list of folks who responded and commented were many who post America love or leave it type messages, pro-Trump, anti-snowflake. They were also folks who can’t wait for the revolution. With some of them I share a love of art. With others college during the late 60’s. With others Congregation Beth Evergreen.

Each one part of a venn diagram of various communities to which I belong or belonged. And, in those communities empathy and concern, love, transcend political and religious differences. Why? Because communities do not expect everyone to share the same beliefs.

Kesari. Amazon Prime Video has many Bollywood movies. I like them. I even like the inevitable contrived dance routines and singing.

Kesari is a retelling of the battle for Saragarhi, a real 1897 encounter between 21 Sikhs who held Ft. Saragarhi and an invading force of Muslim Pathans that numbered around 10,000. It has an Alamo feel; the Sikhs fight only to slow the invaders and all of them die.

The lead character, Havlidar (or, Sgt.) Ishar Singh, rallies the Sikh’s both against the Pathan tribesmen and the occupying British, “…who see us as slaves. We can choose to die as free men.” The story remains in Indian memory because it underscored the bravery of the Sikh soldiers and, by extension, all Sikhs.

Here’s the link for this post. At the very end of the movie all but Ishar Singh and one other are dead. The Pathans have demolished a wall of the fort and will soon invade. Ishar Singh, who has had visions of his wife throughout the movie, has one as he stands alone, sword ready for the coming assault.

“Should I run? Or, should I stay?” he asks her. She smiles, “Make our community proud.”

My folks, each and everyone

Here’s the paradox of community. There are inclusive communities, usually we had no choice in belonging to them, like our families, and communities defined by exclusion, like the Sikh’s, say, or LGBTQ, or Trump supporters, or progressive Democrats. These exclusive communities can inspire us, make us feel safe among our own “kind,” but they also reinforce political divisions and make our larger communities less safe.

Pole dancing. I have no magic formula. No way to be in an exclusive community without its pitfalls. Perhaps though if we took a lesson from exotic dancers and were willing to strip ourselves bare, to see ourselves as individuals and, most important, show ourselves as individuals, to each other. Perhaps. Just perhaps.

First Week No Glow

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Nuclear blast shadow, Hiroshima

First week with no radiation treatments since June 17th. Still seems odd to me that I started radiation for this most male of diseases the day after Father’s Day. And, even odder, that I ended in the week of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s anniversaries. Peaceful or deadly, the use of technology and science matters. A lot.

goal: bell pepper all the time. reality: poblano, jalapeno at times

And in other cancer treatment news. Why did the room get so hot last night? More than once? Not exactly hot flashes, more like hot surges. Still so new to me that I don’t tumble to them immediately. I just wonder why someone turned the heat up in the room. So far they’re in the evening for the most part. None at night and only a couple during the day. I’m taking Black Cohosh and if they get bad I’ll find an acupuncturist.

Yesterday we got a great beef stew, peach and strawberry cobbler, smoothies for breakfast, and salad from Judy Sherman. This is the last week of meals from CBE. Counting on Gilroy’s one week and you’re beginning to feel a lot better.

Parshah

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

definitely not me

Gonna do a bagel table in September. That means I lead a discussion on the Parshah for that week, Ki Teitzei. Parshah are much longer than lectionary selections in Christian churches. Where a Christian lectionary might identify a few verses of one chapter, parshah have multiple chapters in them. Ki Teitzei runs from Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19.

I agreed to this a couple of months ago, planning to focus on it after the radiation was done. Well…

David Jordani, Simchat Torah at CBE

Sorta intimidated. Steve, a CBE member who is also doing some of the bagel tables, reported he’s been studying Torah with Rabbi Zwerin and other Rabbis for over 25 years. I’ve been studying Torah for at most 3 years and not in any dedicated way. (caveat: that statement depends on seeing torah as the first five books of the Tanakh. Rabbi Jamie sees the purpose of torah as learning how to be and how to be in the world. I would say becoming, but that’s for another time. In that sense I’ve been studying torah my whole life.)

What did I imagine I could offer? Any quick study of essays and commentaries will leave me short of knowledge, not least because I don’t know Hebrew. Realized mimicking a Rabbi or an educated lay person was not only not possible, but not a good idea either. Why try to be who I’m not?

Gonna read the essays and the commentaries anyhow, but I’m gonna take a different tact. A couple of different tacts. First, I’m going to own my relative ignorance. Relative in that I have studied the Torah as part of biblical literature in Sem.

What I want to do is draw from those who come how they perceive the torah and how they perceive its use in Jewish congregations and in their personal lives. I’ll talk first about the very different way I would look at it from within a Christian hermeneutic. Then, we’ll discuss their perceptions of torah as a whole, then their perspectives on the particular content of this parshah. I’m going to try to communicate Rabbi Jamie’s idea of torah, too, because it makes a lot of sense to me.

In fact, I may introduce a bit of Emerson to them, that introduction to Nature I’m so fond of.

Yamantaka. Yes.

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

wow. Beano and a Woolly Mammoth!

Still in the weekend. First day with no radiation is tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow. Not fully sunk in yet. Except for putting away the Miralax, the Beano, the Renew Life. Back to regular bowel life in a week or so. Yeah! Spent Friday night and Saturday eating forbidden foods like cucumbers, carrots, ice cream, fried falafel. Bring on the gas.

Kate got up yesterday, wasn’t feeling well. I can tell quickly. She went back to bed. Sometime around noon she realized she’d not taken her morning meds. Oh, she said. Turns out they’re really important. A better afternoon.

It’s been cooler here the last three days. Nice sleeping. Overcast this morning. What my Aunt Roberta would have called a dull, gray day. She often opened letters with that line. A variation, I think, on: it was a dark and stormy night. In this usually sunny state overcast is an oddity.

Sent out notes about the end of radiation. Receiving messages back. The support of such a wide group of folks has given me a safety net for those times when the weight bore down. Thanks to you all. You know who you are. Especially to Kate who has role modeled a phlegmatic response to medical issues. Thanks, sweetheart.

More convinced than ever that resilience is key to the third phase. By definition we’re going to hit tough, scary bumps in the road at our age. How we respond will determine how miserable they make us.

In my case I’m pretty sure it’s acceptance of death that has undergirded me. Got into accepting my own death thanks to the Yamantaka Mandala that hangs in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Himalayan gallery. He is not, as often identified, the Tibetan Buddhist God of Death. He’s the god of conquering your own death. Contemplate yourself as a corpse. Feel what it will be like for your loved ones when you die. Practice being calm in dire physical situations. Whatever makes you really feel your absence from this world.

If death is not scary, then a potentially terminal disease isn’t either. What Yamantaka taught me has allowed me to go through this whole process with little anxiety. It allowed me to be present for conversations about what to do, for the treatments, and for the possibility of failure. It also helped me accept support and not push it away.

Worth considering for all of us in the third phase, I believe. Second phase, too, but definitely now as we live into the last phase of life.

And, done

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Conductors by street car number 35 – Pensacola, Florida.

35 of 35. 350 minutes of photons. All in. Fini.

Patty gave me a high five. Nicky gave me a medium blue Anova pull-over shirt. The Dixieland Jazz for the final ten was inspired. Felt like I was in the Quarter, beignet and chicory coffee in hand, water condensing on the glass at the Cafe du Monde.

In my discharge session I asked Dr. Gilroy again what he thought my chances were for a cure. “Seventy-five to eighty percent. I’d say ninety but you were in a high risk group. Really good odds.”

Also asked him how long he thought I needed to be on the Lupron, “Three to six months.” He repeated that in a note of our meeting. That’s great news for me because it means as soon as 7 months from now I could get a PSA that would prove definitive. Also would mean just one more Lupron injection. Oddly, if I read my Anova bill yesterday, which said we owed $139, the Lupron injections, at $189, are more expensive than the whole series of radiation treatment.

Before insurance coverage, the raw price from Anova for 35 sessions plus setup was $93,300. Yes, sir. The gasp was similar to the one I gave the nice lady at the Jefferson County license plate window. “$585 for your new plates.” What! “Yes,” she said, “this is the worst part of my job. Telling folks the cost.”

Kate asked me how I felt as we drove away. At that moment, not much. I still had to drive home. “Relieved that it’s over. Happy I won’t have to make the drive anymore. Not giddy, definitely not.” We agreed we felt cautiously optimistic.

Over the course of Kate’s long ordeal I got a real peak behind the curtain of medicine. Not that I hadn’t had one before with Kate, but this time I saw in action the high-wire act that medicine is. Doctors go with the best data possible. Sometimes that data’s not very good. Kate’s upper bowel resection had to be done to stop the bleeding, but the imaging studies done before surgery were inconclusive about the actual site of the bleed. Worked. Data and experience.

In my case the radiation treatment involved two scans that showed nothing, no mets. This meant that my rising PSA was most likely the result of a local recurrence, one confined to the prostate fossa, the area where my prostate used to be. Note the most likely. The radiation itself proceeds with care and precision, but in a black box. The radiation goes in, but did it do anything? Can’t know till the Lupron’s not on board anymore.

And then, there was one

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Awake at 3 this morning. Now that’s roughly 7 hours of sleep from my 8 pm bedtime, but still earlier than I’m used to. Same feelings as the last day of finals. Or, the day of a big event like a wedding or graduation. A bit wired, something momentous is about to happen in my world.

Was not expecting to have this much of a feeling response to the end of radiation, or, at least not this kind. Relief, yes. A sense of completion, yes. But, graduation? Which is the closest analogy. No. Why would I have an anticipatory feeling like that? I’ve not accomplished something personally. I got cancer. Took my treatment options and have followed one of them out to the end.

Patty asked me what I was going to do to celebrate? Go to the Black Hat Cattle Company, I said. When I said it, it felt inadequate, but it’s what I’ve got right now. I’ve not had much red meat over the last seven weeks, much less than usual, so I’ve got a hankering for steak. Maybe something else will occur to me.

Yesterday afternoon during my nap I had a hotflash that woke me up out of a sound sleep. It was the most intense so far. I’ve had milder ones, prickly heat on the scalp, face, back of the neck. This one left me tired afterward. Kate said, oh yes, that’s part of it.

As the radiation winds down, it seems that the Lupron is choosing to wind up. Oh, joy.

Two

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

And then there were two. Just two more fractions, that’s all. With July 4th and the Bedbug incidents this is the 8th week since I started radiation on June 17th. 35 fractions in all. 7000 cGy.

Gonna do Renaissance music again today, but I’ll shift to Dixieland for the 35th. Something up beat and celebratory. Due to scheduling changes I’ll do my last fraction at 9:40 am on Friday. After that I’ll have a final meeting with Dr. Gilroy.

Kate’s coming along. We’ll go up to Maria’s and pick up some empanadas. This Maria’s is straight up I-25 from Lone Tree, easy to access. Originally planned to go to PappaDeuxs, a steak house up in the same area, but that was when my treatment was at 1:20 pm. With the shift we’ll head back home after the empanadas.

Black Hat Cattle Company, Kittredge

Tomorrow night we’re going to the Black Hat Cattle Company where I intend to order a big steak, rare. Probably tenderloin. I will be very happy not to have to watch my diet anymore. By that I mean restricting gas producing foods, taking Beano and Renew Life. Taking Miralax every night. Back to Metamucil, a kinder, gentler source of fiber.

I will also be happy to let my bladder announce its own needs, rather than fill it to 100 ml or above each morning at just the right time for my treatment.

The staff at Anova, each one I’ve met and I’ve met them all except the medical physicist and the billing person, have been kind and thoughtful, careful in their work. Glad I chose to use them.

There’s so much to be grateful for. And, I am grateful for all of it: CBE meals, the care at Anova, friends and family who’ve reached out, helped. Whether the radiation succeeds or not, I feel good about having done it.

Beyond Friday I move into a different phase. The Lupron inflected phase. I have begun getting mild hot flashes. Mostly a feeling of heat in my head, a prickly sudden flush that soon recedes.

Kate and I will have to redefine our lives, recalibrate. A CBE friend, Judy, who’s still on chemo for ovarian cancer, said recently, “Cancer uncomplicated my life. I had to focus on healing. Now that I’m doing better I’m trying to figure out how to complicate my life again.”

Made me think. I don’t want to complicate my life again. Without pushing for a redefinition yet I do see some outlines: Kate and I do more together. Kate returns to sewing. I continue to write and market my work. I continue to paint, to workout. That’s continuity. I also want to read a lot more. Hike more. We’ll see.

After a week of rest from the radiation and as my energy returns things will come into clearer focus.

Thirty Two

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Number 32 by Jackson Pollock

32 fractions. 3 left! No music yesterday. Not sure why. But. No bedbugs either. I watched the CyberKnife more this time. Wondered about how it worked. Where’s the linear acclerator? What’s in the head and beak part and what does it do? Amazed at the engineering that gets fine movement from such an odd design. Also stared at the wooden ceiling for a bit. Fast.

Afterward I went to Nothing Bundt Cakes, a franchise using the Nordicware bundt cake pan. Bought a cake and 12 buntdtini’s (yes, that’s the actual term. clerk and I had a laugh over it. Like vente, eh? Exactly. Exactly like that.) for the crew at Anova. Gratitude for their kindness and their care.

Went from there, across Quebec, to an Einstein Bagel’s. Got a dozen plus some shmear and lox. Sesame seed and plain.

Realized after that I’d made a brief return to Minnesotaland. When I was a docent at the MIA, one of the women in my class, Linda Jefferies, was a Nordicware heir. Her father or grandfather invented the bundt cake pan.

She told me a story about folks from the Smithsonian coming with white gloves into her attic. They were looking for objects and documents to use in an exhibit about Nordicware and the bundt pan. The link is to Nordicware company records at the Smithsonian.

Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bagels merged while I was still in Minnesota. I frequented a Caribou Coffee in Andover, buying iced coffee for trips into the MIA.

Less tired yesterday. Not sure why. Maybe nearing the end has energized me. Probably it. Still lacking motivation, still fatigued, but not as much yesterday.

Ken from CBE brought pumpkin/turkey chili. Tasty. A good salad, too. We don’t know Ken. That’s the work of the Mitzvah committee.

And, four to go

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

The Concert, Gerard van Honthorst

Finishing the fractions to renaissance music. It conjures up visions of castles, balls, courtly life. A world far removed from photons and linear accelerators. No CyberKnifes in the late middle ages. Just a lot of great art, city states. Kim, therapist Kim, says it reminds her she wants to go to the Renaissance Festival. That, too.

Thirty-first fraction yesterday, 4 to go. Gut problems reduced. Much less gas. Nicky measured my bladder. Each day I get a small amount of gel rubbed on my tummy, an ultrasound probe goes on the gel. Yesterday. “100.” Nicky said. That’s ml of urine, btw. 100 is the magic number. Anything above it and the treatment can go ahead. Unless gas. The things we do for a cure.

Michelle and David brought fish, salad, rice, vegetables, and lemon cake on Sunday. CBE folks. When SeoAh was here, we ran into Michelle at Walmart. This was January. Her husband, David, had a month old diagnosis of prostate cancer, with metastases. I told her about my experience in 2015.

Later, when my new diagnosis came, I talked to her at mussar. David and I got together for coffee at the Muddy Buck in Evergreen. As it happened, that was the Friday I saw Dr. Gilroy to discuss treatments. David mentioned Lupron to me in the morning; I had it prescribed for me in the afternoon. David, too, had radiation, though 20 sessions rather than 35.

The Muddy Buck, Evergreen

He’s had side effects from the Lupron. Memory loss, hot flashes at night. Since he had mets, they couldn’t do a radical prostatectomy. Too much chance that would spread the cancer rather than eliminate it. In his case they’re trying to suppress all the testosterone, so he’s getting a second medication that takes care of testosterone produced in places you don’t suspect, like the adrenal gland.

It was good to talk with him again. A mini support group. I’ve got lots of support, but David is the only one who also has prostate cancer.

The last week of treatment, one drive down, four to go.

Awe, Gratitude, Acceptance

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Awe and gratitude. Then, acceptance. Awe sees, hears, feels, smells, tastes the Otherworld always with us but so often made invisible by habit of thought, by custom, by hurry, by dullness. Gratitude blossoms on its own when we see the Otherworld of which we are a part. Constant gratitude embeds us in the mystical, sacred world that awe presents to us.

Once we know the Otherworld for what it is, there even if today we are blind and deaf, gratitude becomes our way. We then accept our embeddedness in it. We are not other, rather we are part of this pulsing, dynamic whole. Acceptance and gratitude are not only for the wonderful, the special, the good. Acceptance and gratitude have to include things like cancer, divorce, death, decay for they are part of the sacred world, too.

What? Grateful for cancer? Why not? It’s challenged me to rethink my life, to carve out what’s important from the usual block of cultural granite given at birth and accreted over the years. The experience has reaffirmed cherished views, too. My friends do care. My family does love me. The medical system has many people who care a lot, who know a lot, who can help. (OK. There was bad Amanda and the axumin scan business, but, hey!)

How can I not be awed at the living marvel of cancer. It adapts, changes, strives for immortality. It feeds and grows. Its reach is wide, stretching across many species. It’s no worse an actor than heart disease or old age or stroke. It is the Big C, yes; but, it’s role in the Great Wheel turning of our lives is no different from any agent of decay or decomposition.

Am I ok with its plans for my body right now? No. Not even a little. In order to counter it though I first have to accept it. Not deny it. Not turn in fear or arrogance. Cancer’s reality is awesome, even has that yirah tinge of fear attached. I’m grateful I found it in me, learned about it and have means to halt or stop its progress.

Accepting it gives me power. Strength. When I accept it, I say that it is not the final word for my health, my worth, my life. Even if it proves fatal, it will not have determined my life.