The Mountains Called Me

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

After I wrote about the one-antlered elk, another buck jumped our fence. He had two antlers, both velveted, as you can see. These two large animals are the Rocky Mountain subspecies of Cervus elaphus, one of six in the U.S., and the subspecies with the largest racks. In the 700 pound range. They’re big.

These guys stayed all night, lying down from time to time, then getting up to continue snacking on grass, dandelions, our backyard aspen, a Colorado Blue Spruce. When I woke up yesterday morning, they were dining right outside our bedroom window.

The dogs have to go out in the morning and when they did, they chased the elk to the corner of our property. One-antlered guy jumped the fence while I watched. He walked over to it and jumped. Right over. Our fence is five feet high. Dr. Gilroy, who’s from Wyoming, said to keep elk out there, they have to put ten foot fences. I believe it after seeing this one clear ours with grace and ease.

The two-antlered buck stayed a while, but he eventually left, too.

Another instance of synchronicity. I mentioned the three mule deer bucks I saw on Samhain when I came for the closing on our property in 2014. In the intervening four and a half years we’ve had neither mule deer nor elk in the back, fenced in portion of our property. In the front, yes, but not in the back.

We say this to prostate cancer

These two spirits of the mountain came the day I started my radiation treatment. And they stayed the night. No wonder our ancient ancestors painted these creatures in soot and ochre on cave walls. No wonder cultures around the world find spirit animals to guide them. When big animals show up in your life voluntarily, your life shifts. You have to consider their presence.

Some have said that Colorado has not been kind to us. I get it, too. Prostate cancer diagnosed four months after we got here. A new knee. Jon’s divorce. Kate’s shoulder, Sjogren’s, bleed, lung disease. All since we got here.

It’s not Colorado though. AA has a saying, wherever you go, there you are. This comes from the notion of the geographic escape. If I just leave this town where all my trouble started, I’ll start over fresh. Nope. Wherever you go, there you, the alcoholic, are.

We brought aging with us. My PSA was 4.0 the last physical I had in Minnesota. I’m 72, Kate’s 75 this August. Stuff begins to catch up with us at these ages. Genetics plays a large role as do dietary choices, exercise. Even with those all good, it’s still: eat right, exercise, die anyway. Not blaming Colorado. The contrary.

I have what I consider solid evidence that we not only belong here, but that we are welcome. Congregation Beth Evergreen. The frequent visits with Jon and the grandkids. The everchanging, but always wonderful beauty of the mountains.

And, for me, the grace note of these animals. Yes, Charlie, we know this is a difficult time. We know too that you are, like us, an animal. You can worry and fret or you can stop, eat the dandelions, the grass. Lie down among the lodgepole pines and the aspen. Jump the fence into another world. You did just that when you and Kate moved to Shadow Mountain and we’re glad you came. Amen. Blessed be.

Day 2

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Left early for Lone Tree, around 8 am. Had to find my Lupron. Met Shelley, the four-month transplant from Georgia. She’s a nurse practitioner who came here from a 45-doctor group. I’ll be your prostate cancer guru.

We talked. Nobody likes these side effects, Shelley said. She especially underlined hot flashes. Black Cohosh was her top recommendation. A plant based product you pick up in the herbal supplement segment of a drugstore or grocery store. Some have mild hot flashes, some not so mild, some extreme. We have a medicine we can give you if they get really bad. Didn’t find that reassuring.

She also told me to get a calcium-vitamin d3 combo. Lupron makes your bones soft, Shelley said in her distinct Southern drawl. If you fall, it’s easier to cause a break. She also gave me a copy of the Man Plan. Geez. It’s an exercise program for those getting dosed by Lupron.

I have to go back to see Shelley in September. Apparently Lupron alone can suppress the PSA all the way down to zero. That’s why you put up with the side effects. It doesn’t cure cancer, but it can slow it down. I don’t understand why blocking the cancer’s main energy source doesn’t cure it. A question I’ll have to ask.

So. Put a negative sign in front of each of these.

She gave me two pamphlets, a folder with helpful hints, and, a shot of Lupron in the left hip. Didn’t hurt much though it can. They asked me about it later at Anova. Had a couple of hours until my radiation, so I hit breakfast spots near me on my phone. Found the Three Griddles a couple of miles away.

It was, synchronistically, a Southern breakfast joint. Shelley would like it. I had corned pork on cheese grits with two eggs over easy. No coffee though. Two glasses of water. While enjoying this taste of Savannah, I read about Lupron.

Later at Anova my second session got delayed by an emergency for some guy who looked gray, sick, unhappy. Then it got further delayed by gas. I’ve been following the recommendations. I want to be a good patient, help them align the Cancer Predator, so I felt a little ashamed.

Baroque music this time. A poor choice, it turned out. The piece that played longest was downright funereal. Not the mood I was looking for while a red laser beam bisected my torso and the Cyber Knife did its robot dance around me.

Not this

Afterward I got a note from Dr. Gilroy to get Beano and Miralax. I drove through Deer Creek Canyon. Stopped at King Sooper. Bought the Black Cohosh, the calcium plus vitamin d3, Beano, and a big bottle of Miralax. Fun times.

Here’s the takeaway on this, the third day of treatment. The Lupron is racing around right now suppressing the manly hormone. The radiation has begun its job of killing cancer cells. I don’t know what the side effects of either of these are going to be.

Is the loggy feeling I have this morning normal or the Lupron? Will the hot flashes start? What about that achy knee? A strange sensation, waiting, not for Godot, but for the first sign of a foreign agent’s impact on my body.

Told Kate last night that I’m used to taking pyschoactive drugs. There’s a period between when you take them and when they begin to alter your mind. But, I said, in that instance I’m expecting something pleasurable, significant, interesting. In this one the primary purpose, killing cancer cells and suppressing testosterone, is silent, while the knock on effects of the treatment is neither pleasant or significant or interesting.

Inner Glow

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Oh, gosh. Today.

Driving Kate to Lisa’s office for her annual physical, then heading on to Lone Tree, another 20 minutes. Dressed in blue sweats and my radiation hazard t-shirt from Los Alamos. This first day I’m going to choose The Band for my Pandora station. Tomorrow baroque.

I had a light supper last night, as suggested. Egg drop soup and a cookie. I’m on my second glass of water this morning. Hydration is important. I want Patty to tell me again that my bladder’s a perfect size.

Woke up at 3:30, not ruminating, but uneasy. Went back to sleep for an hour. Up at my usual 5:00. Fed the dogs, got the paper. Came up here to the loft.

The next seven weeks are about healing, staying with the protocols, adjusting to the unknown. Not daunting, but not easy either. Tomorrow is the Lupron injection.

Black Mountain this morning

Leaving the mountain top, going down the hill. From cool (44 right now) to hot. 75 at noon in Lone Tree. Well, that’s hot to us. Will get hotter as the weeks roll by.

Tom and the Woollies are going boating on Lake Minnetonka today. A floating meeting. Tom will motor over from Shorewood to a Wayzata dock to pick up the guys. A better parking lot, a bit easier access from the Cities. Had my druthers, I’d be there instead of staring at the Cyber Knife listening to When They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Resilience

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Late April

Kate’s stamina has improved so much. Thursday. Mussar in the afternoon and a board meeting in the evening. Last night we went to the Gospel Shabbat. The Beth Evergreen singers, supplemented by members of the Evergreen Chorale, were led by Val, a committed choir director with a lot of energy, plus a fine pianist added to the CBE band.

It was high, good energy and Kate stayed the whole time, including for a bit of the oneg. (oneg is snacks and goodies provided after a service.) Her hip bothered her a bit, but she walked and stood, clapped and sang. A real simcha.

Rabbi Jamie came by yesterday around lunch time to see how I was doing. We fed him chicken pot pie (mine) and watermelon, then he and I retired to my loft. He’s a good guy. A dog person. His first dog was a wolf hybrid, 105 pounds, that lived an astonishing 18 years.

He lost a dog recently to a porcupine. Awful way to die. But natural. We agreed it was a good death, both animals doing what evolution had taught them.

Tomorrow, for father’s day, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Kate and I are going, at my request, to Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. No less a foody than Anthony Bourdain recommended Biker Jim’s. Apparently he soaks his onions in Coca-Cola. After Biker Jim’s hot dogs will become a special occasion treat for me, no longer in my diet. Other processed meats, too. Gonna miss’em.

Some modest change

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Each day now I’m privileging exercise over other activities. I usually get in at least two, aiming for three resistance sessions a week. Three now for sure. On the other days I do cardio, planning to start back on my interval training tomorrow. I want to get out and hike, but somehow haven’t. Just the press of things, I think.

Also, beginning Monday we’re going to focus on more healthy eating. Our diet’s not bad, but it could be better. Less red meat, more chicken, fish, pork. More vegetables and fruit. Importantly for the radiation, too, avoiding foods that cause gas. Why? Because of bubbles in the rectum. Geez, how silly that sounds. But it screws up the location of things in my gut. Bad for aiming the beam.

Atomic Love

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Next week Monday is my first radiation treatment. On Tuesday the first Lupron injection. The radiation continues every weekday until August 6th, which is both the Hiroshima anniversary and Raeone’s birthday. (Raeone is my ex) Not sure what to make of that. Also, Sunday is Father’s Day. I told Kate I wanted a Geiger counter. Hope she knows that was a joke.

Gonna try to have a little fun with this. Don’t want things grim, mordant. I found a gift shop in Los Alamos and bought a couple of t-shirts. Only found an image I could reproduce for one. I intend to wear both of them, off and on, for my treatments. As soon as they get here.

Been reading a book about Androgen Deprivation Therapy. Helpful. It may not be as bad as it sounds, at least for me. The longest I’ll be on Lupron is two years, probably less. The intense side effects seem to emerge over longer periods of time. Hope so.

October 9th, 2018

In a twist not unlike prostate cancer treatment the day after Father’s Day and ending on the Hiroshima anniversary Kate continues to improve markedly as my journey heads into a difficult period. Her affect is almost bubbly. Sort of. Not sure Norwegians do bubbly, but she’s feeling good.

Her weight is at 99.4! Wow. 76 was the nadir back in February, I think. The j-tube feedings, with some minor exceptions, go well and she’s able to eat more, too. We had shrimp scampi, rice, and Brussels sprouts last night and she ate a full plate.

Showing off her new crowns on May 13, 2019

Our relationship has had the sort of strains that you might infer from a long, long bout of medically related bad news. Eight and a half months now since her bleed and she was not well before then. But open communication kept us out of any deep potholes.

Our partnership, this marriage that got started in the seats of the Ordway Theatre, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts, is stronger than ever. I wrote much earlier that adversity unveils gratitude. So many people show so much caring. Well, I would add to that today that adversity deepens love.

Rabbited

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Zoomed. Friends as zeroes and ones. Pixelated. Paul near Robbinston, Maine. Way up there near New Brunswick. Bill, Tom, and Mark in the Twin Cities metro.

They said, “If no one else can drive you to radiation, one or some of us will come out and do it.” Had to pause for a minute. Tears just at the edge. Friends.

Beth Evergreen. Community, or, better, as Bill suggested on the zoom, belonging. Made real.

Velveteen Rabbited. Our cracks filled with gold, our selves more valuable. Seeing and being seen.

And of course Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Joe and SeoAh. Mark and Mary and Diane. Friends and family. When life gets hard, who we turn to. Thanks. And, I love you all.

Uncertainties

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Important note. Whether or not I get a cure from this combination of radiation and hormone therapy, together they will slow down the cancer. That means I’ll live longer than I would with no treatment. If a cure doesn’t happen, I may live into another period of advances in treatment.

Still absorbing. I’ve passed the shock of omg I’ve got cancer again! I’ve passed through struggles over imaging. Now, I have data. Two negative imaging studies and a PSA of high velocity, 3.01 in the last test. I prefer knowing what’s going on.

I’m in a different location now. A treatment plan in place. (see post below) Within that decision was a secondary but important choice. To go after the cancer aggressively. The addition of the lupron reflects that choice.

Sometime next week I’ll get calls from a nurse practitioner who administers and manages the lupron injections. She’ll give me more information about what to expect, what to do. In my instance I’ll get injections every three months for up to two years.

Also next week I’ll get a call from the radiation therapy folks at Littleton Adventist. We’ll set up a schedule for my 35 sessions. They call this fractionation. My prescription is 70 Gy’s (a measure of radiation) spread out over 35 10-minute doses, fractions.

When you get into cancer treatment, the brutality of it, a therapeutic necessity for much of what’s on offer, presents its own set of problems. What doesn’t kill you may cure you, but not without a price. How high a price is different for each individual and unknown at this point for me as a result.

I’m stage III

That does make the upcoming weeks and months more fraught. In addition to the question of how therapeutic the radiation and the Lupron are there is question of how severe their side effects will be. There’s a deep irony in this reality. What’s curing is hurting.

Am I concerned about all this? Yes. It gives the time ahead two different sorts of uncertainty. Wish it were as clean as my initial decision to get my prostate out of my body. That was straightforward. Surgery. Recovery. Done.

Not these treatments. Some side effects of the radiation may not manifest for years. Side effects of the Lupron will be more immediate.

Radiation and Lupron

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

So. Cancer treatment plan. After negative findings for bone lesions and metastases in the thorax-most excellent news-we’re left with the rising PSA as evidence of a cancer return. Since my PSA jumped from 1.3 to 3.01 in two months, this is a more aggressive bugger, but likely confined still to the prosate fossa (bed) where my prostate isn’t.

In my situation Gilroy has recommended 70 Gy’s of radiation over 35 sessions, 5 days a week for 7 weeks. This is a usual plan. He also recommended, due to the PSA jump, the addition of Lupron, a testosterone suppressing drug. Both can have significant side effects, but I’ll deal with those if and as they come.

I chose Littleton hospital as the site for my radiation because it’s a bit easier to access than Gilroy’s shop. Kate has had several imaging studies there and my bone scan and ct were there. I’ve been impressed with their professionalism and kindness.

Gonna get some books on cd. 35 round trips will get me through at least one or two.

No one knows what the future holds. Except for that one certainty. All this is an attempt to push the date of that certainty further away than doing nothing. I’m hopeful, cautiously optimistic.

J-Tube at Work

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Kate’s still sleeping, taking in nutrients. The j-tube has some similarities to the tpn. It has a pump and a set of tubing to connect the pump to the j-tube port. No more bags though. No more syringes. No more batteries. No more heparin or saline flushes. No more pic line. The nutrient solution is called Jevity. I couldn’t figure it out, but Kate said, “Longevity.” Oh. I see.

The really big difference though is that the j-tube puts the nutrients into the digestive tract. This is safer, no more direct line to Kate’s heart for possible wee beasties, and also more sustainable over the long haul. With Sjogren’s dry mouth the j-tube might be permanent. Thanks, Dr. Ed.

April, 2018. Happy Camper

In other local technology news the Rav4 has reached an inflection point in our lives. The AC either has a leak under the dashboard or a faulty evaporator. $900 to remove the dashboard and diagnosis it. If, as they suspect, it’s the evaporator, another $1,900 for the part. With labor somewhere in the three thousand dollar range. It’s a 2011, eight years old next month. As a rough trade-in it’s worth about $5,800. Too much to spend.

So. A new, or newer, car. We’ll keep the Rav4 since it’s in good mechanical shape. With the exception of the AC obvi. Worth more to us than it is as a trade-in. I didn’t get the y-chromosome negotiating gene. I hate it. Buying a new/er car is, grrrr.

Meeting with a friend’s husband this morning in Evergreen at the Muddy Buck. He has prostate cancer, too. A mini-support group, I guess. Then, at 1 pm I’ll get diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. All prostate cancer, all day.