The Mountains Are Calling

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Yamabushi monk

Not sure exactly what’s going on here. They mention Shugendo. It’s a fourteen hundred year old tradition that has esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto roots. They refer to themselves as Yamabushi, those who prostrate themselves on the mountain.

Master Hashino

It seems like they’re dedicated to reducing the distance between humans and mother earth. Or, perhaps better, creating awareness of that already existing intimacy, now obfuscated by so much.

Fellow travelers with me, I think.

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%.

The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion.

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.

Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.

As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.

In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.

My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.

In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.

Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.

It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.

What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.

Hug. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Plant. Harvest. Compost. Be grateful. That’s enough.

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.

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.

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.

New (to us)

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

4. Altitude. The height into the atmosphere, away from sea level (0 m) Temperature decreases 3F every 1000 ft (333 m) in elevation.

Air conditioning is important in our house. Kate and I both prefer cool weather to warm, cold weather a lot more than hot weather. Explains our maybe incomprehensible to some commitment to living on top of Shadow Mountain. 8,800 provides natural air conditioning.

When the a/c in the 2011 Rav4 began to sputter three years ago, I began a series of missions to get it fixed. Cost me basically zero. I’d take it in, they’d put die (oops. dye. what’s on my mind?) in it, charge it up and not give me a bill. They never found a leak. This year I decided, time to solve this. But. As I wrote below, we’d end up with a $3,200 or so bill and no assurance that it was fixed.

I’m more tolerant of heat than Kate though not by a lot. It was time to do something. Buying a car (like buying a house) gives me the heeby-jeebies, I don’t like the sense of manipulation. I don’t want to get a bad deal. Yet, we need transportation and shelter.

Kate came out to Colorado, worked with a real estate agent and found our home here on Black Mountain Drive. I would have dithered. I asked Kate to head up the car situation. She did. We have a new car.

2018 Rav4

Kate, “Medical school trained the dithers out of me.” How? “Code red.” Oh. A philosophy major and a theology degree trained me in the fine art of dithering, the paralysis of analysis. Good thing I’m married to Kate. In so many ways.

Part of the urgency was anticipation of 70 hour long trips to and from Lone Tree for visits to the Cyber Knife. All in late June, July, and early August. Heat. Don’t need exasperation from an a/c-less car to go with radiation and Lupron. Bad combo.

Not an easy decision in a financial sense since it draws down the corpus of our IRA, but the now to be known as the white car was no longer adequate. Also, Kate and I have been musing over these last medical months that we don’t need to have our money last into our 90’s since we probably won’t.

Getting that inner glow

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

On the way over for my planning ct I thought about cancer from a Great Wheel perspective. Winter is coming for us all. We know that and the Great Wheel reminds us that the cycle is the same for all humans. On NPR long ago I heard a doctor say, “Everyone forgets that the death rate for each generation is 100%.” Oh. Right.

Cancer is one of the many guarantors of our personal winter. A friend of mine decided to see cancer not as an aggressor, but as a visitor, a guest in her body. All right, if that’s the way you see it.

I look at it differently. I do not see cancer as a visitor or a guest, certainly not as a friend. I don’t see it as an enemy either. Rather, thinking again in a Great Wheel way, I view cancer as a weed. One definition of a weed is a plant out of place. Not sure if cancer has a place in the same that way a dandelion or a Canadian thistle does, but the idea is very similar.

2013, Andover

Cancer, like a weed, wants to thrive, needs to thrive, at the expense of the garden in which it grows, my body. It’s not evil; it has no intention beyond survival, but its survival and mine are incompatible. So I want to get down on my hands and knees, take out my favorite Japanese gardening knife and cut the little bastard out.

Since I don’t have, like Archimedes wanted, a place to stand to do this task, I’ve chosen the folks at Anova Cancer Care and their Japanese gardening knife equivalent, the Cyber Knife. Just like in a garden, it’s important to remove the weed and not damage the tomato plant or the carrot or the bean plant growing next to it. Care must be taken.

Today the inner landscapers of Anova looked at my pelvic area under a ct. Their goal was to establish firmly the boundaries of my garden, the weedless part of my body. They do this by locating my pelvic bones, my bladder, my rectum, then drawing a cyber-volume of space in the prostate fossa. That space comes up to the edge of the rectum, “kisses the bladder” as Dr. Gilroy said, and has wide enough margins to include as much of that volume as possible without doing damage.

2013, the healthy garden, Andover

Inside that volume is the weed. The cancer. Each day, five days a week, from June 17th to August 6th (no glowing on the 4th and 5th of July, God bless America) the cyber knife will beam 200 cGys of radiation into that small plot, a now empty and weedy bed. Over the 35 treatments I’ll get a full 7000 cGys of radiation, hopefully enough to weed this troublesome patch of my garden.

On Tuesday, June 18th, I go to Anova for my first Lupron shot. This is the second gardening tool. It focuses on what feeds the weed, testosterone. And removes it. It’s a blunt instrument though, unlike the cyber knife. It goes into the whole body and shuts down the testicles and the adrenal glands as far as testosterone production goes. It is, in effect, chemical castration. Oh, goody.

I’ve said, not in jest, that I knew I was a gardener when I began to side with Farmer McGregor in the Tale of Peter Rabbit. Now I’m on the side of brother radiation and sister Lupron. Weed out those wee bastards. Just go for it.

What Lupron will achieve for me

Here is a list of the common side effects from Lupron. Other than these it makes you feel great.

  • redness/burning/stinging/pain/bruising at the injection site,
  • hot flashes (flushing),
  • increased sweating,
  • night sweats,
  • tiredness,
  • headache,
  • upset stomach,
  • nausea,
  • diarrhea,
  • constipation,
  • stomach pain,
  • breast swelling or tenderness,
  • acne,
  • joint/muscle aches or pain,
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia),
  • reduced sexual interest,
  • vaginal discomfort/dryness/itching/discharge,
  • vaginal bleeding,
  • swelling of the ankles/feet,
  • increased urination at night,
  • dizziness,
  • breakthrough bleeding in a female child during the first 2 months of leuprolide treatment,
  • weakness,
  • chills,
  • clammy skin,
  • skin redness,
  • itching or scaling,
  • testicle pain,
  • impotence,
  • depression,
  • increased growth of facial hair, or
  • memory problems.

A Skeptical Realist

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

32 degrees this morning on Shadow Mountain, raining. Fog grays out Black Mountain. So far our usual summertime foe, wildfire, looks less formidable. At least for this year.

Office, Edward Hopper, American realist

And, yes, if you, reader of Ancientrails, are tired of the medical overcast here, so am I. However.

As Kate and I talked yesterday, I told her about my new friend David, who has a prostate cancer situation more dire than mine. His has metastasized. He said, “I’m good at compartmentalization.” I’m not. Don’t want to be.

I’m a realist. Neither optimist nor pessimist. I want to know what is. There’s good evidence in psychological studies of depression that realists end up depressed more than optimists. That optimists are happier than realists or pessimists. May be. Still can’t look away.

That’s what you’re reading here. My attempt to see. Inside and out. And, even though I learned from Cosmos and Psyche that skepticism is a tool, not a lifeway, surprise; it’s a tool I’ve used so long that I can’t put it back in the toolbox, hang it on its little outline on the pegboard of my mind. Skepticism and realism have never made me the life of the party. Debbie Downer might be more apt.

Yet some deep commitment to honesty, learned I’m not sure where, keeps me realist and skeptic. I don’t like being manipulated, by others, by institutions, by myself. So I long ago chose to deal with the psychological fall out of the examined life, a fair exchange in my world. Not always pleasant, but cleaner. Candid.