As my energy returns, I can feel how much the radiation and the trips to Lone Tree wore me down. A lot. Cancer treatment is often like that. It beats up on the cancer, yes, but it also beats up on the rest of you.
The hope is a u-turn. Goes like this. Diagnosis. The stroke down. Treatment, the curve at the bottom of the letter. Recovery and cure. The stroke up.
Got a call about my DEXA scan on Tuesday. No osteoporosis. Some osteopenia in my left femoral ball. Soft bone there. Good news. Taking calcium and vitamin D together in one pill large enough to choke a horse. Might need something to help. Danger is a fall, a minor fall, that results in a broken femoral ball. Ouch.
Making a visit to Bailey today, the Happy Camper. Last night an 8 year old boy in Bailey got attacked by a mountain lion. He’s in the hospital. Not common though a mountain lion attacked a hunter in northwest Colorado a couple of weeks ago and another attacked a runner earlier in the summer.
Got a passport photo taken yesterday. Sending mine in for renewal. Want to be ready once Joe and SeoAh move to Singapore. Gonna hit Taipei, too. The National Museum.
Starting to tick things off a list I made a few days ago. Two months worth of errands. Need to mow today. Landscaping fabric and stakes came yesterday. Five foot no ignition zone all around the house. River rock on top of it. When that’s done, clearing trees in the thirty foot fire drop down zone. Chainsaw work.
Got a card yesterday from the Black Forest, Das Schwarzwald. A get well card purchased at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts by my buddies in the Woolly Mammoths. They had gone together to see a show of Native American women artists, one of the more powerful exhibits in recent years my docent friends have told me.
Each man wrote a personal message on the card. I read them all, smiling, seeing this gray head, that gray beard. The old smiles. Hearing the laughter. Knowing the Black Forest, probably outside at a round metal table, traffic whizzing by on 26th Street. Frank ordered a sausage, if memory serves. Maybe some spatzle, weinerschnitzel, lentil soup. St. Pauli Girl drafts.
And, felt sad. Wistful. I love these guys and know them. Well. In the way only 30 + years of being together could allow. It was a sweet sadness, one that told me these relationships still live within me, not extinguished, not weakened by almost 5 years in Colorado.
Regrets? No. An affirmation of life, of the power of friendship, of its durability. The sadness is real, as is my gladness at driving up Brook Forest Drive to our home on top of Shadow Mountain.
Both Minnesota and Colorado have wildness and wilderness at their hearts. The Northwoods, the Boreal forest, the lakes, Lake Superior. Wolves, deer, lynx. Muskie and walleye. Mt. Evans, Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan Wilderness. Black bears, moose, elk, mountain lions, fox. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Colorado has Congregation Beth Evergreen. A quirky synagogue with a collection of folks who call themselves mountain Jews. It’s where I’m seen and where I see others. Deep moments of human connection, like the Woollies. Glad for both.
Orion has returned. He’s visible just above the south-eastern horizon around 5 am. A friend since my time as a security guard for a cookware factory. On the midnight shift I worked alone and during the fall and winter months we became acquainted. He signals the season of inner work.
As the growing season yields its bounty, the plant world gets ready for the fallow season that will start on October 31st, Samain. The nights grow longer and cooler. On September 29th Michaelmas, the springtime of the soul. Perennials send food down to their corms, tubers, bulbs. Their leaves turn brown and die back to the ground. Annual flowers finish their summer long journey by spreading seed for the next year.
This is the Great Wheel and it repeats each year, spiraling out along earth’s orbit. Lived too, in lifetimes of birth, youth, maturity, and senescence. It is the way of the earth. For living things, the most ancientrail of all.
This is the lens through which I see my life, the one I use for comfort in difficult times, celebration, understanding.
Saw a movie yesterday, Midsommar. Its opening scene shows winter, spring, summer, and fall in a tableau. You may be aware of the naked dancing the Swedes (and others, too) enjoy at their midsommar bonfires. Well, this isn’t about that. It shows the dark side of a pagan worldview, how it can devolve into traditions every bit as dogmatic and frightening as any inquisitor. I loved this movie. Kate hated it.
Fans of Wicker Man will see Midsommar as an instant classic in the same vein. Kate said, “It made me glad I’m not Swedish.” Spoiler alert: the character named Christian does not fare well.
A not so good day yesterday. Not sure why, felt achy, tired. Might be expecting a full recovery from the radiation a bit too soon. Pushing myself to recalibrate, rejigger my/our life. Too soon, too. I need to lean into the Lupron, the radiation as cancer treatments, not just inconveniences.
There’s a paradox here. The radiation burned into my prostate fossa ten minutes a day for 35 days. Lupron heats me up, makes me foggy, gives me mood swings. Not fun. Although. If I focus on the trips to Lone Tree, the fatigue, the bowel upsets, the cancer itself disappears behind the Cyberknife. When I’m having a hot flush or suddenly feel despondent or angry or sad, the cancer disappears again, hidden by the physical and psychological effects of testosterone suppression.
But the cancer remains. Or, maybe does not. Could be gone now. Supposed to be. A terminal diagnosis unless the treatments work. Serious matter. How to handle the ultimate nature of this threat? I don’t want to deny it, but I am ok with slipping away from its presence, letting the dire nature of its aim recede into the background of life.
Kate’s 75th today. Three quarters of a century. We went to a movie last night, The Kitchen. Irish mob ladies take over Hell’s Kitchen. Not gonna be up for an Oscar. Entertaining though.
Going out together. Been a rare thing over the last 11 months. This was special and we may do it again today to see Midsommar. Whoa.
We’ll have our own party today. The grandkids and Jon will come up next weekend for a second party. Wish I’d been feeling less distracted by cancer and radiation. This is a big birthday. Not only has she turned seventy-five; she also lived to see it. In question at certain points last year.
My no glow first week is over. I feel better, gut behaving like old times. More energy. I’ve put together a list, checked one off. This list will take me well into the fall. It includes more fire mitigation based on Ben Yellin’s report back to us. He visited last Tuesday.
Example. Going to put down landscape cloth five feet out from the house. Then, river rock on top of that. This is the no ignition zone. Ben also marked many trees, adding his thoughts about strings of trees that lead from tree to tree to house. He explained the thirty foot out and hundred foot out zones clearly.
The idea is to get the fire to drop down from the trees to the ground, then run up to a no ignition zone around the house. This will, he said, give our house a good shot at surviving even a crown fire.
He also said, “Risk rating agencies around the country say the Evegreen/Conifer area is the most at risk for a big, damaging fire.” Oh, that was good to hear. A spur to more action though.
The photos above come from the Deer Creek Canyon Fire, now 100% out. This is along a route I use to get to my docs, so I know it well. Not that far from us as the fire crowns.
Continuing to do my three workouts a week, cardio plus resistance. Working hard to counteract the sarcopenia caused by the Lupron.
Did you turn the heat up in this room has become a favorite question. Kate still has hot flashes, too. The family that flashes together, sweats together. Carrying this togetherness thing to its absurd conclusion.
Doc said I’ll gradually return to pre-radiation mode in about a month, so three weeks from now.
At 5:20 am this morning the full moon of the First Harvest illuminated Black Mountain from just above its peak. (I was a bit premature on Tuesday, only 92% full.) A few faint stars were visible, but its soft brilliance dominated the bluing sky. The moon and its constancy phasing wax and then wane full in the middle buttresses our lives like the earth on which we stand and its orbit around Sol, our true god.
Do we consider these phenomenal presences in our lives, pay true attention to them? Usually not. They’re too common, too literally mundane. They are like the flaws in our homes, the ones we’ve seen so long that they no longer register. That slight crack in the ceiling. The water dripping slowly in the sink. That step with a slight cant. Or our bodies. How well do you know the back of your hand? Really?
Yes, we see them. Here comes the sun. The moon is up. Mother earth. But do we see them as we want to be seen? In full. With love. With forgiveness. With hope. With careful observation. Often not.
Anthropocentrism. Not difficult to understand. A specialized form of speciesism. We’ve learned as millennia have passed that our original assumptions were not true. Earth is neither the center of the universe nor even the center of the solar system. Third rock from the sun. We’re not the only intelligent species: dolphins, elephants, whales, corvids, the primates, for example. Some of whom may be more intelligent than we are.
We have confused our rise to apex predator as equivalent to being an apex species. No. There is no apex species. It’s not possible to have one in our interdependent world. We need predators, but we also need one-celled organisms. We need plants. We need insects and lichen and ferrets and bats. We need the whole blooming buzzing confusion (apologies to William James) that is our world.
Think of it. Strip the earth bare save for humanity. Like say a nuclear winter might or a great volcanic eruption like Krakatoa. How long could we last? Weeks. Months. If we resort to cannibalism.
Humans live embedded in a world made no less for them than for the mosquito or the meadowlark. We need a place on which to stand. A source of food. Energy. We need mystery in our lives, but we don’t have to invent it. The moon rises like an occult lantern shuttered, then unveiled by an unseen hand, only to be rehidden at the end of each lunar month.
The moon of the first harvest. Full now, lighting the night for those who want to work the fields a bit longer. This one this moon this full moon, the same as last month’s full moon save only for its position in our mutual orbit around Sol, punctuates our need for her. Sol has shared the energy created in the nuclear fusion reactor of her heart the whole growing season, especially since Beltane.
The plants have gathered it in, taken the nutrients from the top six inches of the soil, and in perpetuating their own species, provided food for ours. In the same way fish eat algae, or eat other fish who eat algae. Cows eat grass. We eat the fish and the cow. The chicken eats plants, but also insects, worms. We eat the chicken.
All of them need the water that cycles through soil, through the lakes and streams and rivers, through the oceans. That cycles up into the clouds and returns fresh and potable to the earth. But consider this. The earth makes no water. Our water either came from the original formation of the solar system or from asteroids crashing into our planet later, perhaps some of both. In either case the water we take so much for granted is ancient, beyond ancient, primal. All of it. It goes up and comes down. It flows. It rests for a while in lakes and ponds and in our bodies.
Earth. Water. Fire. Air. The middle ages did not err in seeing these four as constitutive elements of our world. And by our I mean those of us who live, who move, who grow, who die.
The full Moon of the First Harvest floated above the mountain tops as Kate and I drove home last night from Beth Evergreen. I love these night drives through the Arapaho National Forest, wild animals sleeping, hunting, drinking from the mountain streams, a full moon casting its light down among the lodgepole pines and aspen.
The Mussar Vaad Practice Group met. We checked in on our awe practices for the last month. Instead of cultivating this middah, as we do with patience or joy or enthusiasm, the consensus was that we open ourselves to awe. As I’ve written here a few posts ago, considering awe this month led to an insight for me, one I’ve been seeking for years.
Opening ourselves to awe is, I believe, the act of opening ourselves to revelation, to seeing the Otherworld, the one that lies close to us, even within us, but which habit, culture, language, fear, denial, inattention blocks from view. When we open ourselves to awe, we find the cracks in those all too human barriers. At first we may glance behind the curtain only briefly, but this openness we can cultivate.
There was the Moon of the First Harvest yellow gold, round, luminous. It slipped behind this peak, this grove of trees, then reappeared as we drove up Brook Forest Drive and on to Black Mountain Drive. You could say, oh, that’s the moon. Nice. Or, you could open yourself a bit and see, maybe first, our rocky satellite come round again. Keeping the aperture open a bit longer you might feel the beauty of its loneliness in the night sky. The wonder of its soft light. Imagine what it means to sleeping deer, elk. To prowling mountain lions or foraging bears.
You might find yourself lost in the legends of moon phases or practices like moon watching parties in Japan. Or, you could open yourself to this particular full moon as the skies memory for those first nights of harvesting wheat. Smell the bread. See the corn dollies and the shocks of cut grain. This full moon is not just another full moon but one embedded in a natural context, a cultural context, a personal context. Each of these available if we only pause, push away the occulting screens of routine and the need to hurry home.
The MVP group is precious to me. It’s a chance to be honest, to think clearly, to learn from the inner work of others. I love these people: Susan, Judy, Marilyn, Ron, Rich, Kate, Jamie, and Tara. And that love is part of the experience of awe. We met as strangers not many years ago and now we see each other, really see each other.
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 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.
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.