Speculating further after my post on Wild, Wildness, Wilderness. Wilderness is a place where humans rarely go, a place where the ebb and flow of life depends on plants and animals, not the artifice of roads and streets, buildings and houses, stores and parking lots. (I’m bracketing the climate change influence for the moment.)
Thought about cancer. Realized that the interior of a human body, even, perhaps especially, your own body, is a wilderness, too. Rarely visited by humans, very, very rarely by yourself-colonscopies, imaging work, sonagrams, echocardiograms being exceptions, of course, but in those cases the boundary of the wilderness is not opened. It’s penetrated by beams and rays and sounds.
As my old internist Charlie used to say, “We’re all a bit of a black box inside.” The inner world is not all that’s hidden from others; the inner world of the body is hidden, too.
We carry wildness and wilderness with us wherever we go.
The wind blew up last night as the sun set. With it came the yellow cloud, lodgepole pine pollen. The yellowness, which looked like smoke, refracted the deep reds of the evening sky. Coulda been fire. The fine yellow powder settles on everything. We’ve been lucky so far because the rain has knocked down a lot of the pollen. Not now.
It’s a wild sexual orgy, a sign of midsummer, as the lodgepoles go through their ancient reproductive strategy. Here’s an evocative sentence from Walking Mountains: “With their strobili unabashedly protruding and their ovules wide open, the young gametophytes stand ready to receive the blasts of pollen from trees near and far.” 50 shades of green.
When I was in Lone Tree yesterday, the truckometer read 100. I drove the older Rav4 since Kate volunteered to take Mary all the way to the airport. Stifling.
Two weeks out of seven over, 10 fractions beamed into my prostate fossa. The weekends are off. I’m finding I really like the break. To reward myself for a solid two weeks of radiation therapy I followed Ruth’s recommendation and found Sushi Rama. So-so. But fun. The conveyor belt idea works very well, I imagine, when the customer base is large and consistent throughout the day. Variability in a burb makes some sushi get that old and tired look.
Jimmy Johnson. Woolly, artist, designer, wayfinder, South Dakotan. He emphasizes an old men’s movement idea, the wild man. Find your inner wildness. Keep it alive. Present. That way our vitality remains.
OK. But. Cancer. Is wild. Exhibits a form of wildness that has no care for its environment. Only about replication at the expense of whatever can feed it. Sorta like capitalism. Especially fossil fuel companies.
A certain form of inner wildness has found me and I don’t like it. It’s the opposite of the wild man’s inner wildness. Instead of bringing vitality it feeds on life until it is no more. Again, like capitalism, especially fossil fuel companies.
In another sense though cancer’s wildness is no different from any wildness. It’s red in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest it’s prime directive. This vast forest, the Arapaho National Forest, in which we live is like that. Wherever there are deer and elk, there are mountain lions. A Rocky Mountain truism.
The mountain lion feeds from its environment, is ruthless and opportunistic. As an apex predator, the mountain lion may have no enemies here, but after the mountain lion dies, the forest will absorb their essence, put it back into the plant world. Which feeds the deer and the elk. The circle of life.
Cancer is part of this. It’s an element of the natural world just like decomposition, photosynthesis, a mountain lion attacking a mule deer. This wildness within me lives by the laws of natural selection. It doesn’t care who I am anymore than the mountain lion cares which mule deer they can catch. Cancer is predator and I’m its prey.
Luckily I have a means of fighting back. Even so, cancer is wily, persistent. It’s an open question whether this prey can take out so formidable an adversary. TBD
Kate’s recovery continues to go well. She drove the half hour to PetSmart and picked up Kep yesterday. I took him in on my way to the Cyber Knife. She’ll also drive Mary to the Federal Center RTD stop. Mary tried to find a shuttle or taxi and experienced the mountain way. Either not possible or folks didn’t answer the phone. Wish I could take her, but the Cyber Knife beckons.
Mary’s working on school libraries in Singapore. They’re surprised when I tell them I have Masters Degree in Library Science. Libraries are under a lot of pressure these days and are rethinking how they fit into colleges, universities, communities. Mary has helped the nation with her knowledge of how students actually use libraries. She’s so successful that she’s working well past the usual retirement age. Unusual. Kudos to Mary and her internationally acclaimed work.
Brother Mark likes to comment on the Vietnamese currency, the dong. He says it’s drooping right now. What kind of stimulus might make it rise, he wonders. LOL. He’s on vacation, plenty of time to consider the world around him.
With nine treatments my inner glow has increased. I may be a beacon on Shadow Mountain for aircraft trying to orient themselves. Listened to the Cream yesterday. Nicky was not familiar with them, but she knew Eric Clapton. The Cream was one of the first super groups: Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. I saw them in a weed smoke filled theatre in Chicago’s old stockyard district, maybe 1968. Got stoned just sitting there.
No side effects so far. But. Every ache, like the hip ouching me as I fed the dogs, or some shortness of breath, or general weariness makes me wonder. Is this it? Are the side effects commencing? No. No. No.
Well, at least I think no on that last one. It’s hard to separate the fatigue from driving back and forth, the treatments, pushing myself to get all my exercise in, and any that might be the result of either the radiation or the Lupron.
A strange place to be. Waiting. Not wanting to invite trouble. The runup to both treatments had a lot of focus on the side effects. Cancer care is like that. Here, take this. It’ll help kill your cancer. And, oh, by the way, your hair and teeth will fall out. But that’s only temporary. Oh. Good.
Most important of all: remember why radiation, why lupron. Kill cancer. Go for a cure.
Been focusing on simplicity of the heart as I drive back and forth, reminding myself to stay in the moment, to not let other drivers, current circumstances drag me out of my inner calm. Tough for me, but really good practice. I failed yesterday when a peloton rode up narrow, no shoulder Shadow Mountain Drive. “Ride single file!” I yelled out the window.
Simplicity is about navigating the churn, the “blooming, buzzing confusion” that is our mind, as William James put it. I’ve taken to using advice for people experiencing panic attacks. Find five things you can see. Five things you can hear. Five things you can feel. I like this because it echoes techniques I learned long ago from the existential psychologists like Carl Rogers. Grounding. It helps.
The glacier is gone. I looked out the window and where, yesterday, there had been a small glacier, the hillside was clear. My heart sank. Later, I would tell friends it was gone. And cry. The depth of my grief about it startled me.
It’s family week on Shadow Mountain. Mary is here, arriving Tuesday night from Minneapolis, heading out tomorrow for Minneapolis to see her friend Debbie in Eau Claire. After a brief stop in Indiana, she heads back to London, on to Cornwall, Devon, for a memorial service. Greece for a conference. Back to England, Cambridge, for a conference with Japanese colleagues from her time in Kobe last year.
Meanwhile Mark sends missives about Bangkok. He’s been in Chinatown, Yaowarat Road, the old main street of Bangkok. I stayed there when I was in Bangkok in 2004. A fascinating place with traditional Chinese apothecaries, lots of street food on weekend nights, small, crowded lanes packed with shops selling diverse wares.
Guru, Mary’s s.o., is back in K.L., Malaysia, defending a couple of drug traffickers facing the death penalty. They’re tough on drug dealers.
The Kep, shredder extraordinaire, goes into PetSmart today for furmination. If, that is, I can find his rabies certificate. No, I know where it is. He still doesn’t like to be left. He is joyous when we return. You remembered me!
Yesterday I listened to Creedence while the Cancer Predator bobbed and weaved around my body-as Mark observed. Keith, who’s taking the radiation cure for just diagnosed prostate cancer, said, Half done! I’ll get to half some day, but not soon. Another guy, older than me, gave me a bemused smile, all radiated! We’re all on death row, hoping to commute the sentence with clean living and radioactive photons.
Kate saw Gupta. He’s going to see her again in a month. No diagnosis. She’s doing so well that getting a lung biopsy done, the only way to make a definitive diagnosis, might interfere with her recovery. It’s a surgical procedure, requiring anesthesia. If she continues to improve, and I think she will, then any lung disease is not bad enough to justify the trauma of the biopsy.
The weather here has veered back toward seasonal norms and will continue warm to hot. Hard to say when the next snowfall might be.
Gabe found the antler. A very excited 11 year old. He went for a walk with Ruth and found another bone. A knife blade, too. He’s a bone collector. Jon says he wants a metal detector. Oh, boy.
Ruth varnished the owl house. It will get up in a tree soon. It has book jackets on it. She made it in wood arts class and gave it to me for my birthday. I told her the book jackets would assure I’d get the wisest owls. “I didn’t think of that metaphor!”
Drove down the hill last night at 9 pm to the Federal Center RTD stop. Picked up Mary at 10. The lights of Denver twinkle coming down 285, the air was warm, the sky clear. Perfect summer night. Good for a drive.
She’s going from here to Wisconsin, thence to Indianapolis, and, after that, back to London. She came through London to Indy.
Kate had a not so good day yesterday. Some random not feel good stuff. Another grocery delivery. What a mind saver.
Pattie told me my bladder was perfect yesterday. So nice to hear. Took the last of my radiation to Riders in the Storm. I did ask Nicky what was the most popular musical choice. Hmm. Let me give you the top four: classic rock, blues (pretty appropriate), classical, and new country. Interesting.
Got to thinking about why classic rock. Listening to the Doors I replayed college. Hmmm. At 72 I choose to transport myself back to when I was young and foolish. Made me wonder what musical choices are made in hospices these days? Anybody leaving this world to “I’m So Glad” by the Cream?
Prostate cancer tends to produce patients of a certain age. Like me. When we pass each other, we smile. A bit grimly. Yeah. You, too? The guy with the Titelist ball cap on Monday looked serious today waiting his turn on the gurney.
I’ve wondered, once or twice, what the attitude is like in breast cancer treatment centers. I imagine it as a bit more warm and fuzzy.
Week two began with the Grateful Dead. Sugar Magnolia, then Fire on the Mountain. Today, the Doors. Gonna ask Nicky today what’s most requested. My bet is country.
Finding my rhythm with the bladder. Came in around 280 ml yesterday. Goal is 100, but anything above 100 is ok. Cool, clear water. A western thing, now a radiation thing. Tumbler of water in the cup holder, I drink it on the drive. The Water Flow Way, I suppose.
Haven’t yet figured out the trick with audio books and my phone. Gonna go to the library on Wednesday after breakfast with Alan. I’m sure they can tell me.
Ruth stayed up Sunday night. She’s still here and now Gabe is, too. Gabe wants to hunt for antlers and I’m going to salt the backyard with an antler I bought in South Dakota years ago. I think he’ll enjoy finding one.
Jon picks them up around 4:30. Mary, sister Mary, flies into Denver around 7: 20 pm. Pick her up at the RTD stop at the Federal Center in Lakewood around 10. She’s on a visit back, hitting Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Indiana. My peripatetic sibs. Mark’s in Bangkok. Me? You can see my glow at night if you fly over the Front Range from DIA.
Kate cooked the meal last night. ! Her stamina is so much improved. We did drive all the way into Swedish Hospital for yet another imaging study yesterday. Not approved by Medicare. Drive back. Not sure what’s going on here. Kate sees Gupta tomorrow while I’m under the photon beam. He ordered the test.
Move to Colorado. Visit many different hospitals, medical clinics, specialists, imaging locations. It’ll be fun!
And, summer. A warm week ahead. Of course. Mountain weather. Great sleeping.
My first weekend respite from the radiation is over. It’s off to Lone Tree and Anova around 11:10 or so. Have to get gas. Burn through a lot of the fossil fuel with an hour commute. But, it is in a nice car. Back on the Beano, only drinking tap water. No seltzer. Bubbles.
Sunday is my rest day from working out. I read. An essay on charity and justice in the Torah parshah for Kate and mine’s bagel table on September 14th. These suckers are long. In this instance Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. It contains the most laws of any parshah in the Torah. The charity and justice essay is a reflection on the laws concerning gleaning.
Then, some art criticism in a book Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light. Peter Schjeldahl. This guy is a genius. Wonderful, short essays on contemporary artists and their work.
Finally, a couple of articles on what conservatives are up to intellectually right now. It seems Trump has unveiled cracks in a conservative consensus begun around the time of William Buckley: a corporate oriented focus on the economy, a robust military with a kickass foreign policy, and conservative social values. Simpler times, man. Simpler times.
A CBE friend brought over a blueberry lemon pound cake and a large plastic container of serious vanilla ice cream. She’s in cancer treatment right now, too. We talked for an hour or so until Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up to take another run at the serious clog in our bathroom sink.
He knows a lot about houses and their inner workings. I don’t. With Ruth and Gabe’s help the three of them spent a lot of time in our crawl space first with a snake, then with Drano, then with the snake again. It was a stubborn clog, mostly hair, I think. They persevered and got it. Yeah!
I made mashed potatoes with cut up steak from yesterday’s left overs. Broccoli florets. Ice cream, as you might imagine, for dessert.
Getting a plumber up here to come by for such a small task is difficult. Only a few good ones up here and they spend most of their time on remodels and new construction. They work in small jobs when they can. Good thing Jon could help.
Ruth decided to stay all night so she can help us today. I hope she and Kate can get back to sewing.
Summer (at 33 degrees and a prediction of snow?) and the Recovery Moon
“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.)
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.”