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.

Being Seen

Summer and the Radiation Moon

25th fraction today. Ten more to go. No longer sure when I finish since we lost two days more this week. Probably the 9th of August, barring other infestations.

Kate’s promoting a new superhero: Bedbugman/woman. It starts in a cancer treatment center where a mild-mannered physician, who looks like Dr. Gilroy, gets bitten by a bedbug irradiated by the CyberKnife. There’s more to figure out, like powers and villains and such, but this could be a rival to Marvel, doncha think?

Wednesday and Thursday were what we prostate cancer patients like to call Bedbug days. Hopefully the heat treatment got the little bastards. But. Will bedbug guy return with a new creepy crawly and start this cycle over again? Not counting on August 9th.

Kate and I went to mussar yesterday. Since my treatments are midday, except for Bedbug days, I’ve been unable to go since I started the radiation. We got there once or twice prior to my treatment, but doctor appointments and general fatigue kept at home most of the time.

The conversation was again about awe, Marilyn presiding. I’m going to do some more research here, but from a slightly different angle. As we talked, I became convinced that awe and mysticism have a distinct correlation. That’s one part of the research. I’m also intrigued with the connection between Rudolf Otto’s work, The Idea of the Holy, and awe. It may be that awe is an element I’ve been looking for in reimagining/reconstructing the idea of faith. Perhaps a crucial one. More later.

CBE and the Thursday mussar group in particular have been part of our lives since we discovered them in 2016. It was nurturing to be seen, to be able to recount some of my journey to friends. To be, again, part of a group I care about and that cares about me. And, Leslie brought us a meal in a blue plastic cooler. Mindy said she’d be bringing food by on Tuesday. Feeling loved. Gratitude.

22

Summer and the Radiation Moon

22 fractions absorbed. 13 to go. Bed bug means I won’t be ending on August 6th. August 7th. Two weeks plus three days and I’ll have the full 7000 cGy of photons.

This week’s been difficult. I’ve tried various strategies for managing my ouchy gut. Anti-nausea meds. Zofran. Miralax. Immodium. Results mixed. A general sense of gut not feeling right has pervaded my days and nights. Add to that fatigue from the radiation itself and the couple of hours in traffic. Result: low energy, unsettled, spotty eating. Glad I’m over halfway done.

Could have been worse. Could get worse. Seems like a fair price to pay for the possibility of a cure.

The fans up here are cooling the loft. A breeze is coming down from Black Mountain. The sun is up. The sky is blue. Another beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountain day.

2014

Kate went to mussar on Thursday while I was in Lone Tree. Yesterday she went to a memorial service for Vanessa, a long time member of the Thursday afternoon mussar group. I mentioned her a while ago. She had a degenerative disease that slowly shut down her organs.

Vanessa’s mind remained strong, supple but eating, chewing, swallowing was very difficult. Over the last week or so she had had trouble breathing. Her spirit remained good.

We had a neighbor in Minnesota, Greg, who developed MLS. He also deteriorated over time, but his spirit turned sour. Why him? Why this disease? Why didn’t people treat him better? He died last year.

We’re not promised a smooth ride. And, most of us don’t get one. Gratitude is one antidote. Vanessa remained grateful for life, for friends, for family, for her faith. She lived fully even as her body betrayed her. Greg was not grateful. He lived miserably, then died.

Kate and I have plenty of opportunity to express our gratitude. From distant friends who stay in touch to family, grandkids, CBE folk. Lots of help, encouragement and love. Thank you all, again. Still.

Awe

Summer and the Radiation Moon

An orange disc slipped up between two cumulus clouds, darkening one and throwing rusty beams on the other, the Radiation Moon. We drove home from MVP. Up Brook Forest Drive.

At the curve before Upper Maxwell Creek the moon rise showed itself in the cleft of Shadow Mountain. These vignettes, available and free for those who choose to see, give us a glimpse into the wonder, the beauty, the power, the mystery of our universe. Those who knew it as caterpillar may not recognize the butterfly.

The middot of that night’s meeting was awe. Yirah. Often translated, especially in Christian translations of the “old testament” (doesn’t feel old when it’s ever present in the life of CBE) as fear. Fear of the Lord is a common phrase, usually meaning faith.

Marc Chagall

“We are to love God. Can we love that which we fear? Stockholm Syndrome. Can we love that which is distant? What is love? Are we in some way held in relationship by fear? What does that say about our relationship with God?” Susan offered several provocative ideas for discussion. We left-my stomach made me do it-before the conversation got to this set of questions.

Sent this note to Susan about them: “Awe is the main driver of my (small r) religious life. I experience awe looking up at Black Mountain, down at the Columbine, when I eat, the true transubstantiation, when I see others, knowing their inner life is as rich as mine, but hidden. Awe begets gratitude. Gratitude begets simplicity. Enough for me.”

And so it is.

All is Well

Summer (at 33 degrees and a prediction of snow?) and the Recovery Moon

King Ramkamhaeng stele at Sukkothai

“There is fruit in the forest, there is rice in the field, there are fish in the river. All is well.” King Ramkamhaeng, of Thailand. Brother Mark sent this quote from a 13th century king of Thailand. When we discussed simplicity at the Mussar Vaad Practice group, we noticed that abundance does not contradict simplicity. And, that complexity doesn’t either. Chaos and ingratitude contradict simplicity.

In the book Simple Abundance, there is a line that Rabbi Jamie quoted: “First comes Gratitude which leads to Simplicity that gives us Order that brings us Harmony that shows us the Beauty which opens us up to Joy – and we live happily ever after.” I just ordered the book so I can’t say where she goes with this, but I like the thought.

It’s tough in ‘Murica to take in this thought. He who dies with the most toys wins. Winning, you’re gonna get tired of so much winning. Success is achievement is money is power is life. What else is there?

Only the important stuff. Like love, justice, compassion. The definition of leadership ginned up by the rebel Leadership Minneapolis class Paul Strickland, Sarah Strickland, and Lonnie Helgeson were a part of. The whole volunteer board got fired after trying to integrate this idea of leadership back into the organization. Back in the 1980’s.

A friend who’s just coming out of her cancer journey observed that being sick had forced her to pare away commitments because she couldn’t rely on herself to keep them. I made the same decision when I resigned from teaching at CBE in February though the decision related more to Kate’s illness than mine at the time. She went on to say that now that she had begun to recover she could choose how to complicate her life.

Illness, serious illness, can have the unintended, but salutary consequence of driving us toward simplicity. I’m taking in this lesson right now. Kate and I had one life before Sjogren’s, before the bleed, before cancer. We’re still in it, that paring away of commitments and even domestic responsibilities. It’s an opportunity. What kind of life do we want post-illness? (if we are fortunate enough to recover, and I believe we will.)

Joe and SeoAh

We’re both grateful for the way friends and family have shown up for us. SeoAh’s coming to stay. CBE dinners and constant offerings of help. Tom and Mark coming out in January. Then, joining Paul and Bill in our monthly meetings on Zoom. Jon and Joe have picked up tasks around the house. Jon was just out to try and unclog a stubborn sink drain.

We’ve had to consider which household tasks are necessary and which can be set aside for a time. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, doing the bills, buying groceries, key maintenance tasks, yes. All the rest can wait.

By September, lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, Kate may be over a hundred pounds and back to sewing. Probable. I’ll finish radiation on August 6th and Dr. Gilroy said it usually takes about a month to get back to feeling normal. September might be the time for us to reemerge, out of this illness chrysalis.

The Lupron is a wild card. I get my second injection of September 24th. Not sure what I’ll be like, but I’m hopeful I’ll feel well enough to get back to those aspects of life Kate and I choose to emphasize. September 28th, four days after my second Lupron injection, will be the anniversary of Kate’s bleed. 9 months ago this week.

But, even now, to paraphrase the King, “There’s meat in the freezer, vegetables in the fridge, and bread in the bread box. All is well.”

Green

Summer Solstice and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Black Mountain has a wispy cloud draping over its peak, moving slowly toward the northwest. The greens this summer, with so much water, are intense, Hawaiian. The lodgepoles are a deep dark green, the aspen groves a yellow green spotlighted by the sun. The grasses are lush, the dandelions abundant, cheery dots of yellow.

The white cloud dances with the blue sky, revealing it now, obscuring it. It’s another cool morning, 43. Perfect for sleep. The mountain streams continue to flow fast, white where they hit the rocks, still not full with the snow melt proceeding slowly. On the way to CBE yesterday Kate saw a cardboard sign, hand lettered, Slow: Fawns.

And, snow is in the forecast for this weekend. Yes, on the day of the summer solstice, weather5280 predicts snow that might hit us. Snow. The fire hazard signs are still on low, have been since March. Never this far into the summer. I’m grateful for the wet, for the dampening of wildfire probabilities. One less thing.

Patsy Cline

Day 5, fraction 5, of the 7000 cGy prescription. After today’s isotopic rain, only 30 to go. The weekends are off. Time for the body to rest, they say, though I imagine not running a seven day a week practice has something to do with it, too. Pandora so far: The Band, Baroque, Coltrane, Patsy Cline. Haven’t decided about today. Maybe Izzy.

No side effects so far. Early days for both the radiation and the Lupron. Feels like I have a job. Get in the car at a certain time each day, navigate four lane highways to Lone Tree. Same exit, same turns. Same office. But in this case I don’t have a job, I am the job.

The Beano seems to work, suppressing the gas which screws up the Cyber Knife’s navigation of the volume created by Dr. Gilroy. The Miralax helps as well. The calcium/d3 pills are horse pills, almost as long as a finger joint.

Mussar Vaad Practice group, MVP, last night. Rich Levine led a wonderful session on simplicity. Kate and I went for the second time in a row. Still wears us out. Finished at 9:30 pm, way past both our bed times. Here’s an interesting statistic, of the 10 of us in the MVP group, two of us have active cancer right now and one is in remission from breast cancer. 30%.

Simmer Down, Now

Most of the time, I’m here

Cindy called shortly after I wrote the post below. Cindy was the young woman I talked to at the New West Physician’s medical authorization department. That was on the telephone day, Wednesday.

Your CT’s were approved. She was pleased, I could tell. She had helped me. I felt cheated, though. Have they been scheduled, she asked. Yes, I said, my teeth together, they were scheduled for today. And felt bad. Thanks, Cindy, I appreciate your help. You’re welcome, have a great rest of your day.

It’s a fine line between aggression and assertiveness, a line I cross often, too often. Here’s a paragraph from Pema Chodron that’s given me a new tool for helping stay on my side of the line:

Staying in the Middle
As a way of working with our aggressive tendencies, Dzigar Kongtrül teaches the nonviolent practice of simmering. He says that rather than “boil in our aggression like a piece of meat cooking in a soup,” we simmer in it. We allow ourselves to wait, to sit patiently with the urge to act or speak in our usual ways and feel the full force of that urge without turning away or giving in. Neither repressing nor rejecting, we stay in the middle between the two extremes, in the middle between yes and no, right and wrong, true and false. This is the journey of developing a kindhearted and courageous tolerance for our pain. Simmering is a way of gaining inner strength. It helps us develop trust in ourselves—trust that we can experience the edginess, the groundlessness, the fundamental uncertainty of life and work with our mind, without acting in ways that are harmful to ourselves or others. Pema Chodron.

A Difference Maker for My Heart

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

20190420_173752Back to mussar yesterday. First time in quite a while. It was a gift, as was the minyan for Debra Copes’ mother’s memorial the night before.

Odd though, in both instances. I find myself an insider and an outsider. There is no question that Beth Evergreen accepts both Kate and me. I’m of the community, not a Gentile pagan interloper. Yet when the prayers are said and the knee bending and bowing begins, I feel like an outsider. I don’t know the words, nor do I fully understand why we’re bending and bowing. I try to follow the person next to me, but I feel awkward and a bit inauthentic. Also, I don’t wear the kippah during services. Again, it doesn’t seem authentic for me since I’m not of the tribe.

When Alan Rubin and I went to lunch on Wednesday, for example, I ordered a reuben, a pannini. When Alan ordered a salad, I said, “Oh, on your diet, eh?” “Well, yes, but also we can’t eat bread during Passover.” Oh? Oops. Passover, it turns out, is 8 days and eating leavened anything during this time is out. Yet they trust me enough to teach in the religious school.

high holy daysBeing away for a while makes me more aware of these moments. Yet Debra wanted me at her mother’s minyan. She did a universal worship service which consists of lighting candles for Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and a general candle for other witnesses to the divine. Rabbi Jamie said, at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, “This ex-Presbyterian understands Reconstruction better than anybody else around this table.” Around the table were key leaders of the synagogue.

Yesterday I offered what was for me a mussar interpretation of a table of virtues set out by Renee Brown, a favorite author of many in the congregation. Yes, to generosity. But, also, yes to retaining sufficient resources for yourself and your family. Yes, to freedom, but also yes to submission, to recognizing those times when serving others is more important. Yes, to accountability, but also yes to breaking the rules, to recognizing that not all instances of being held to account (even by ourselves) are equal or worthy.

20180316_191858The Jewish approach to death, too. Sitting shiva with someone after a death. Having those in mourning stand and be acknowledged during the mourner’s kaddish at every worship service. Celebrating each year the yahrzeit, the year anniversary of a loved ones death. Calling together a minyan as Debra did for honoring her mother. Those who knew it, repeated the mourner’s kaddish from memory. A vital and key part of maintaining community, acknowledging that the dead live on, not gone, just absent.

When I told Alan about my new reality with the axumin scan and oncologists, he said, “You know you’ve got the whole congregation behind you?” He meant it. Wow. Makes me feel like crying. Because I’ve always chosen an outsiders role, I’ve rarely known complete acceptance in a group; but, I feel it at CBE like I felt it in the Woollies. Profound. A difference maker for my heart.

 

 

 

Sprinting Through

Spring                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

Slept fine. Had this soothing scene as the evening faded into night.

Learned that the Progoff workshop is on. I need it even more now. The Colorado years have been tough in health and Jon related matters. I need to pull back and look at my life, learn from it, make some decisions about directions. The cancer reemergence makes gaining this sort of perspective critical.

As with most things medical beyond primary care, an axumin scan requires prior approval by insurance. That can take as much as a week. That could put it in the Progoff week. I probably won’t schedule it for that week unless my docs feel this is super urgent. I’m going to need as much psychic balance as I can muster over the next few months. Kate’s still sick, after all. And still needs my care.

Took Kate to her year follow up for her shoulder replacement. A bit of good news. The shoulder looked good in x-ray and she’s got good range of motion. Her left shoulder has begun to show symptoms. Fixing that one is down the list of medical matters needing attention for her.

We’re planning to get back to mussar this week. I need the community at Beth Evergreen and so does Kate.

Lots of diverse things running, no, sprinting through my mind. As you might expect. Is this the beginning of the end? How bad is the reemergence? Has the cancer spread? What kind of treatment will I need? What will it do to me? How will all of this effect my ability to care for Kate? How will Joe, Jon, Ruth, and Gabe take this news? What’s my prognosis? None of these are happy thoughts. Each carries its own frisson of emotion.

So much unknown right now. It’s impossible not to wonder about the future, but I’m making no big leaps. Information gathering. Decision making. That’s now. And I have Kate to help with that. A big advantage.

Making corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight.

The Days of Our Ancientrails

Winter                                                                       Waxing Moon

Chez Kate and Charlie under snow

Chez Kate and Charlie under snow, yesterday

Never thought of it this way before, but Ancientrails is a soap opera of sorts. Or, ugh, a reality show. We have recurring characters: Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, SeoAh, Murdoch, Murdoch’s dad, Jen (boo), Rabbi Jamie, Mark, Mary, Tom, Bill, Paul, Mark O., Alan, Rich, Tara, Marilyn, Sally, Areil, Anshel, CBE, the religious school. Differing locales: Shadow Mountain, Evergreen, down the hill, Minnesota, Maine (through the magic of zoom), Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Korea, Georgia. Various story lines: Mark and his ESL adventures in Saudi, Mary and her jet setting life, Kate’s illness, the bees at CBE, wildfire danger, Tom’s business, Ode’s art, the dogs and their escapades (comic relief), the Rocky Mountains, the occasional bout of world travel, SeoAh and Murdoch, my meandering through various thought worlds and aesthetic ones, the nature of my soul. What will happen next?! Don’t change that dial. Or, better, don’t touch your remote. Something new, something unexpected is coming up.

Went to mussar yesterday. Only Ariel and Sally showed up. Three former Midwesterners braved a modest snowfall. I find myself saying often up here, “If we didn’t go out in weather like this in Minnesota, we’d never go anywhere in the winter.” Coloradans are weather wimps, especially when it comes to cold, icy conditions. It’s like the meme I reposted yesterday on facebook from a Florida weather station: Limit your children’s outdoor time. Dress warm. Temperature of 53 tomorrow.

camelsBrother Mark, whose grasp of Saudi culture has become nuanced, reported a couple of days ago on a visit to a new camel herd cared for by Bedu. (Bedouins, I think, in local parlance) In his own words: “There was a stud white bull camel, many brown and white female camels,, and gamboling young camels. Gamboling, stretching their young legs out. One poor fellow had lost the lower part of his left front foreleg, but, was getting by on three legs. I met this Bedu fellow. I said I was from America. He said, “Donald Trump.” He then sort of urged me to see the camels. I went forward a bit, but stopped, as I did not want to invade the camel’s space. The Bedu said the stud bull was Saddam Hussein.  The camel with the shortened foreleg was Trump.” Humor is cross cultural and international.

Bought this at last year's show

Bought this at last year’s show

Jon and his fellow art teachers in the Aurora school system have a gallery show once a year. He’s had new work, his prints of found metal objects, in it last year and this one. He figured out a new method for using Intaglio inks that allows him a lot of the same opportunities for color, color blending afforded by oils. He’s a true artist, committed to his vision, a vision that is unique as is his method. Jon finds crushed metal objects along the roadside, takes them home, cleans them up, inks them up, then runs the roller of his press over them with a sheet of print making paper between the roller and the object. Like the best art the result is surprising and beautiful.

Kate got to work on a jigsaw puzzle yesterday, folded laundry, watered the plants. She’s also talking about getting out more. This is taking arms against a sea of troubles. May she, by opposing them, end them.

Tomorrow’s post: a visit to H-mart without SeoAh.