We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

“I won’t optimize the length of my life.”

Written By: Charles - May• 03•19

Beltane                                                                                Rushing Waters Moon

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

The Rushing Waters Moon is down to a thin crescent. 2% of the lunar surface illuminated. Maxwell, Cub, Blue, Shadow, Brook, and Bear Creek are still pulsing, but they will begin to slow as we move deeper into Beltane. Alan Watt’s little book, The Water Course Way, comes to mind when I write about these patient devourers of mountains. Soft wins over hard.

Cool today. 29 when I got up. Snow all gone for now. The prediction is for a wetter and cooler May, something both of these former Minnesotans can enjoy. Good sleeping. Too, coming after a wet winter, this sort of May will further reduce fire dangers. Told Kate yesterday it could be cool and wet right up to the monsoons, late August. A summer without fire worries would be nice.

Got an e-mail yesterday from Dave, of Deb and Dave, who own On the Move Fitness and have been my personal trainers for two years. He sent it to all those who use their small fitness center. Dave has brain cancer, up until this last week in remission. Not now. Resonates for me. I wrote him back. “Cancer’s a bitch.” Both he and Deb responded. Deb said, “I agree, cancer’s a bitch.”

cocoMichelle is a mussar friend. Her husband has prostate cancer, too. Already metastasized. Leslie, also a mussar friend, has had her breast cancer reemerge twice. I mention these because it underlines that cancer is probably in your circles as well. Yes, treatments have improved life expectancy and some prevention efforts have helped, but cancer itself, in its multiple manifestations, continues to be an agent of Azrael, the angel of death.

In itself, as I’ve written before, I consider whatever ultimately kills me as a friend. Life is not forever. We cherish our mothers who bring us into this life. (Well, we cherish some mothers.) Why not cherish what completes our cycle? No, I’m not rooting for prostate cancer to be that friend. And, yes, I’ll wait as long as I can to meet my friend, yes.

In “Free Solo”, the documentary about his free climb of El Capitan, Alex Honnold says to his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, “No, I’m not going to optimize the length of my life.” The comment hit me a couple of ways. First, it’s so contra-normative for this health obsessed age in which this diet or that exercise regimen or those supplements will ensure you’re not only healthy, but will live long. (and, maybe prosper) No keto diet or paleo diet or spinning class or hot yoga or ginseng will extend your life beyond a human’s natural limits. And the death angst that causes folks to fantasize that maybe this intervention will do just that is fantasy. Denial. Fear. I like Honnold’s up front recognition of death as a part of life.

free soloSecond, he’s not giving up his central purpose, to push climbing as far as he can, because it might kill him. Neither should we put any part of our life on hold because we’re going to die. Yes, cancer puts that right up in your face, like climbing free solo, but it does not control your response. If you’re brave enough to say with Alex, “No, I’m not going to optimize the length of my life,” then you’ve found a platform firm enough to withstand whatever existential threat comes along.

This is what Yamantaka wants to teach us. Our death is sure. Our fear is unnecessary and interferes with our ability to live. Life is precious, rare, and finite. It is a gift bestowed upon us without condition, ours to use, to enjoy, to contemplate, to share, to embrace. Don’t let anything get in your way.

A few photos

Written By: Charles - May• 02•19

Beltane                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

Rustic Station, Bailey

Rustic Station, Bailey

20190427_093135

ATF, Bailey (see racist Native American statue between white pillar and main building)

Propane truck, log cabin, Bailey

Propane truck, log cabin, Bailey

Rocky Mountain Soda

Rocky Mountain Soda

Important NYT Article

Written By: Charles - May• 02•19

Beltane                                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

nyt, may 2019             I’ve included several brief quotes here, but if you have time read the article. It’s not long. What is remarkable about it is its analysis of the gap between current political institutions and the passionate concern of young folk and those of us who know climate change is already well upon us. Something’s happening here, to quote Buffalo Springfield

“…the squabbling and endless recriminations in Westminster are just a particularly farcical version of a global phenomenon. The world’s political classes are, increasingly, rendering themselves almost completely irrelevant in the eyes of their constituents…

Young people even in rich countries like America and Britain, terrified of what the world will look like when they are in their 50s and the current governing elites are safely dead, are increasingly willing to embrace extraordinary measures. In both countries, more young people are questioning or rejecting capitalism itself…

The kind of vision in public works and collaboration that no more than a few generations ago created the United Nations, welfare states, space programs and the internet now seems inconceivable to the richest and most powerful governments on earth, even if the very fate of the planet depends on it…

The last 30 years or so have seen a kind of war on the very idea of visionary politics. Where ’60s rebels called for “all power to the imagination,” the consensus of the opinion makers who took over as those social movements sputtered has been precisely the opposite: The very idea of unleashing the human imagination on political life, we are consistently told, can lead only to economic misery, if not the gulag…

“…with scientists warning us we may have precious little time before rates of planetary warming lead to irreversible consequences, the one thing that seems clear is that refusal to engage in this kind of imaginative exercise is the real danger.”  nyt, may 2019

Spinning out

Written By: Charles - May• 02•19

Beltane                                                                     Rushing Waters Moon

High Holidays at CBE, before the bleed

High Holidays at CBE, before the bleed

22 degrees. A thin layer of snow on the solar panels, Black Mountain’s lodgepoles topped in a floury white and the sky that Colorado western blue. Bright sun. Why we love the mountains.

Still spinning out, not working much, floating in caregiver world, distracted. It’s ok. I’m waiting intentionally now, Progoff workshop starts Sunday and I’ll go deep into this current version of me, self-guided, self-analysis, Jungian style. The week after it finishes I have my pet scan, then the meeting with the oncologist. Into the unknown, first my psyche, then my body. All in two weeks.

The Progoff method is a pet scan for the psyche, letting me see the things within that have been hidden by busyness, anxiety, stress, competing demands, looking away. Once I’ve seen them, like the pet scan’s images of my cancer, I can diagnose my situation and make a plan. That’s diagnose in its etymological sense: from Greek diagnōsis, from diagignōskein to distinguish, from dia- + gignōskein to know. Merriam-Webster

My suspicion is that I’ve entered a different moment in my life, one that began with two dramatic changes, the first being the move to Colorado. It took about a year to process. All the financial squirming of two houses, moving and pitching stuff, lots of stuff, removing ourselves from Minnesota and moving onto Shadow Mountain. The second change. Prostate cancer. In which I went from a normally healthy aging man to a cancer patient. The sudden push back into the space of a cancer patient, after thinking I’d put it in the past, been cured, has jarred me in ways I’ve barely begun to realize.

20180909_183444

September 9th, easing the SMA induced nausea and cramping

Kate’s slowly, but now surely, rebounding from her long ordeal. She’s able to take on the dog’s second feeding, a modest, but real return to pre-bleed life. Our visit to Dr. Gidday, a post the most recent hospitalization appointment, gave her situation much more clarity. Dr. Gidday agreed that if her hemoglobin numbers don’t stay up, she has labs drawn weekly for the tpn feedings, then she’ll go to iron infusions. That will resolve, or at least attenuate, her anemia. Continued weight gain will happen through the j-tube placement. (remember the j-tube?).

The final piece of the puzzle, her lung disease, awaits either a lung biopsy, which she does not want, or a close reading of the high-resolution CT scan she had on April 2nd. With a diagnosis and the resulting treatment for the interstitial lung disease all the presenting problems of the past year plus should be addressed. A long, long time coming. Just how far back toward her old life she can expect to come is unknown, but if she can get back to sewing, driving, going to CBE and to Bailey Patchworkers and the Needleworkers group I’ll count her better.

Then, maybe I can get back to more abstruse obfuscations here rather than this medico-journalese I’ve had to adopt over the past several months. The tincture of time, as Kate would say.

At a Journal Workshop

Written By: Charles - May• 01•19

Beltane                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

My Intensive Journal from 2014

My Intensive Journal from 2014

This Sunday I start my fourth Intensive Journal Workshop. It runs each day through Friday, the 10th. The whole rising psa, get in the oncological spirit matter has come up since I decided to attend. Makes the whole process even more important. What’s life like for me post the move to Colorado? What’s the next few years’ focus?

No question that health matters have had pride of place almost from the time we got here. My prostate cancer diagnosis came in April and May of 2015, only months after we moved into our house. Kate’s multiple issues, Sjogren’s, the bleed, food aversion and weight loss, anemia, and lung disease have dominated for almost 18 months. We both had joint replacements, my knee, her shoulder.

20190501_090802Having said that, they don’t compare to the importance of having been here for Jon and the kids during that messy divorce and its aftermath. Which continues. Nor do they compare in importance to finding Congregation Beth Evergreen. Or, the constant wonder and awe of living in the Rocky Mountains. Or, the creation of a new family with Joe and SeoAh’s marriage.

How have all these things changed me? What do they suggest for things that need emphasis, and things that need to go in the compost heap of my life? An introvert’s delight, the journal workshop. It’s my birthday present, maybe the best one ever. Thanks, Kate.

Beltane, 2019

Written By: Charles - May• 01•19

Beltane                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

great wheel beltane_2017As the growing season begins, as the Green Man and the Goddess in her Maiden form come together to pass fertility into the soil, we have snow on our solar panels. The streams though have been rushing, carrying water down the mountain. The lodgepoles are greener. Catkins are on the dogwood and willows. Leaflets on the aspen.

Beltane marks a turning point from the fallow time. Finally the crops could go into the fields, food for another year. Beltane was a time of celebration in the ancient Celtic world. It began with a week long market where goods could be exchanged, hand-fasting marriages (a year in length) begun, and night time love making in the fields to assist the Greenman and the Maid in their joy. Work contracts for the growing season were made as well.

As the fallow time fades, you might consider what you want to plant, to grow. Was there a dream that took shape over the time of darkness and cold? For us mid-latitude folks, anyhow. Was there a project that got started, that needs the energy of sun, the nourishment of rain, and the nutrients in the soil of your life? Perhaps a transition that only got underway, but now has better definition. How can the growing season push it along, make it a better part of your life?

Or, are there things in your life better left behind to compost, to decay? Finished parts of your life. Things that can be set aside, that no longer need your energy? The cycle of life is not only about growth. It’s also about literal recycling, of energy, of resources, of flesh and food and fuel waste. There may be things that promised a good crop, but came up stunted. Or things that simply didn’t flourish in your life. Better to let them go, allow them to become memories, learnings, and not give them what other parts of your life now need.

(Maxwell Creek, dogwood catkins last week)

Here on Shadow Mountain we have the stirrings of a new awakening for Kate. She’s gaining weight, eating more. She’s also started, again, bringing up things that need to get done. Just before I go to sleep. Hmmm. We have a way to defeat her anemia and a plan for continued weight gain. When the lung diagnosis is complete, surely before the growing season ends at Samain, we’ll have a treatment. I want the sun, the rain, and the nutrients of our mutual soil to boost her, give her that push to get not only better, but well. May it be so.

In my situation I want to stop growth. Of those damned cancer cells. Looking forward to the axumin scan and getting treatment recommendations. Then, implementing them.

 

How do we know?

Written By: Charles - Apr• 30•19

Spring                                                                                 Rushing Waters Moon

Kate was in the dentist’s chair for 3 hours. Four crown preps. All that drilling. Exhausting. She has temporaries on now. May 13 she gets the actual crowns. Much shorter visit.

Snow much less than predicted. Maybe 3 inches rather than a foot. Weather5280 reeled back their forecast, but we still got less than their numbers.

OK. New pastime. Looking up data about prostate cancer reemergence treatments. Ugh. So much information, so little of it digestible by this non-medical, non-science person. Imaging studies like the axumin scan have competitors. The data comparing those competitors is available, but mostly in journal articles. I can only read them for so long before my attention rate drops.

Another issue that arises is availability of certain imaging modalities. A promising new isotope based on gallium is not yet approved by the FDA. Only two , a choline based isotope which the Mayo Clinic uses, and the amino acid based axumin, have passed FDA trials. Even then, the trials vary in their consistency and in the type of information gathered. The gold standard of evaluation in imaging studies is histologic examination of their findings. That is, the sites identified by the imaging have biopsies and the pathologist determines if the cells are cancerous or not. Difficult to pursue in any numbers.

Once the imaging is done, which can produce 3-D maps of cancerous lesions, but with real caveats, especially the lower the presenting PSA rise, like mine, treatment plans are next. After a radical prostatectomy there are two treatments: hormone therapy (think chemical castration) and radiation. A huge issue in choosing treatments, especially newer ones like Cyberknife is the slow growth of prostate cancer. Statistical studies must be conducted over 10-15 year periods. If your new treatment is less old than that, the likelihood of good studies following actual patients are difficult to impossible to find.

So in both cases there are problems. This isn’t big news to those in medicine. Docs have to work with incomplete and unverifiable data all the time. That’s a major part of what makes practicing medicine such a high wire act and something I’ve come to admire the more I’ve learned. Even so, as a patient, I prefer certain knowledge and definitive options. Just. Not. Possible.

One more issue. Where to get treated. Right now my urologist has referred me to Anova Cancer Care. Anova and Urology Associates (my urologist’s group) are in the same organization. The more I think about it, the more I want a second opinion. Not because I distrust anybody, but because I want the chance to explore options other than the Cyberknife.

Although. Cyberknife does match up well with what I understand about my reemergence. The confounding factor with is the necessarily imprecise nature of the petscan. Cyberknife can kill lesions and tumors it knows are there. But, not ones that the petscan can’t find. There’s more, but I’m tired of thinking about it for now. Gonna go have breakfast.

Long. Strange.

Written By: Charles - Apr• 29•19

Spring                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

whatWe hit month 7 since Kate’s bleed yesterday. (To quote the Grateful Dead.) Procedures and imaging. Trips to the emergency room. Trips to doctors. The gradual shift in roles at home. Things have gotten clearer, some solutions have appeared, but nothing certain right now.

I remember saying to Rabbi Jamie in October, “Three weeks! It’s been three weeks. I know a lot of people have it worse, but three weeks…” Kate had been at Swedish for two weeks and Brookdale for one at that point.

As we enter the eighth month of Kate’s ordeal, I believe we’ve found a useful rhythm, a way to be together as this all winds its way toward whatever conclusion can be had. We know who does what. We’ve made some gains towards healing her illnesses. There’s a community of folks, wide spread, from Saudi Arabia to the western burbs of Minneapolis, to Singapore who care about her, about us both. The dogs, fortunately, have been healthy the whole time. A whole winter has come and gone.

The Celts originally had two seasons. The fallow season that began on October 31st, Samain, and the growing season which begins on Beltane, or May 1st. Here’s to a hope that the growing season, which starts in two days, can release its magic for Kate’s continuing improvement.

Rigel and Kep

Rigel and Kep

Rigel continues her odd habit of eating a bit, then going to the back door, which is mostly glass, and looking outside. She stays there 30 seconds, maybe a minute, turns around, comes back and continues eating. Kep, or Kep the Inhaler as Kate has dubbed him (she just finished a book that had Vlad the Impaler as a key character), finishes first, always. Gertie is pretty fast, too, but not as vacuum like as the Kep. She’s blind in one eye, it has the cloudiness of Odin’s, missing a canine, and has a bum left knee but she wags her tail, runs up the stairs to the loft, and can still catch a treat thrown directly to her. Dogs understand wu wei, perhaps Lao Tze learned it from a dog.

Kate’s coronation begins today. She gets the prep work done for four crowns. Sjogren’s, which dries out the mouth, reduces saliva, the natural mechanism that fights tooth decay. Since 1994, we’ve been on our own well, too, so no fluoride. And guess what? We’ve maxed out our dental insurance. Sigh. Whenever I’ve gone in for a crown, I’ve had an old hymn as an ear worm, “Crown him with many crowns.”

gunSynagogue shootings. Mosque shootings. Church shootings. I’ve not read of any Hindu temple shootings, but if they’ve not happened, it seems inevitable.  A Southern Baptist clergy said, “…no one should be gunned down in worship.” NYT  Well, No one should be gunned down. Not in school. Not at worship. Not in a McDonalds. Not at a mall. Not a college. The gun is a curse on our culture and the NRA is its pimp.

When will we take on the NRA, the terrorist organization responsible for more American deaths than Al Qaeda, ISIS and all terrorist attacks worldwide since 1995? According to the National Consortium for the study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 3,685 Americans have died from terrorist attacks worldwide between 1995 and 2016, with 2,908 occurring on 9/11. In 2017, 39,773 Americans died in gun violence. NYT. That’s right, 10 times the number of deaths in only one year! No wonder the world shakes its head. We are, in many ways, our own worst enemy.

 

 

 

Yet more

Written By: Charles - Apr• 28•19

Spring                                                                                Rushing Waters Moon

Kate on the porch on Pontiac Street, 2015

Kate on the porch on Pontiac Street, 2015

Asked Kate yesterday how she feels about my cancer reemergence. “It’s not real to me yet. I’m still dealing with my own stuff.” Yeah. She’s got a lung diagnosis yet to be made and an assessment of her viability for surgery. The current plan, to have a lung biopsy and the j-tube placement at the same time, has stalled. For reasons known to Colorado Pulmonary Intensivists, but not us.

The good news in her situation is that we know she can gain weight. The tpn has proved that. We know her anemia can be countered. The blood and iron infusions proved that. We need to get a plan for continued weight gain, the j-tube most likely, and a plan for the anemia, blood and iron infusions make sense to us. With those two major issues addressed, then the lung diagnosis, whatever it is, will need a plan, too. That can’t be made until we know the etiology of it. Can’t know that without a lung biopsy. So… The ball goes back to Colorado Pulmonary Intensivists.

Georgetown RR, 2015

Georgetown RR, 2015

The next couple of months will be intense. Although. As Tom said yesterday, he knew there was the inner Taoist in me that was calm. Yes. And the dominant part of me, I said. Doesn’t mean there aren’t ripples of anxiety, of stress, of fear. The interleaving of our medical issues has actually been good for me since I can focus, as I have been, on Kate’s more immediate needs while I wait for May 14th, the axumin scan, and May 17th when I meet with Dr. Gilroy at Anova Cancer Care. After the 17th the trajectory of my illness will be more clear, a prognosis probably in hand, and a plan for what to do.

I don’t think I’ve remarked on it here, but treatment after a radical prostatectomy, or for that matter after any cancer treatment that fails, has a weird name. It’s called salvage therapy. Sounds like the law of the sea rather than medicine. It also has an unfortunate connotation to me. Let’s see if we can do anything to fix this mess. Not confidence inspiring.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. With 8-12 inches of snow forecast over the next couple of days. Colorado.

 

 

At the Jabbok Ford

Written By: Charles - Apr• 27•19

Spring                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

jacobPhone call today from buddy Tom Crane. In referring to the current kerfuffle within my body, those cancer cells, he said I was “wrestling with a dark angel.” That is so.

Yet what it called to mind was one of my favorite biblical passages, one I’ve written about here before and about which there are many wonderful works of art. Jacob at the Jabbok Ford.

Through the night Jacob wrestles with what the text refers to at first as a man. When the man, now revealed as an angel, sees he cannot best Jacob, he says, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” Jacob, strong enough to hold an angel fast through an entire night, is not willing to do that. “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” It is at this point that the angel, who had to dislocate Jacob’s hip to keep from losing the match, agrees: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” Jacob (now Israel) continues to limp the rest of his life. He names the spot Peniel, (I) saw the face of God.

Wrestling with angels is a tricky business. Just ask the Egyptians. That one, the angel of death, sometimes called Azrael, passed over the lamb blood smeared doors of the Hebrew slaves and killed the firstborn of Egypt. What would have happened to Jacob if he’d been beaten by the angel? No blessing, I’m sure.

Wrestling with Azrael, cancer forces this struggle on the psyche in the same way Jacob’s angel blocked his passage across the ford, could be represented as happening at a ford of the river Styx. Lose a match to Azrael and, to mix mythological systems a bit, you can catch a ride with Charon.

As with Jacob’s angel, no contest with Azrael will result in victory, Azrael wins all struggles in the end. But in the interim, as with Jacob’s life after the Jabbok Ford, we can go away changed in heart, identity, and fate.

ruin_stairs_leave_destroyed_broken_dirty_building_factory-921666.jpg!dRecalled as I wrote this that I had a dream:

“I was in a non-descript house or building, bare of furniture. Someone, or something, was in the basement. I could hear gun shots. I hunted for entrances to the basement and found two, one a door and one a grate.

Down there were steel pillars covered in concrete.  Whoever or whatever down there wanted to bring the building down. The blue painted concrete had shattered on many of the pillars exposing steel beams. They still stood strong.

Somebody handed me a rifle. I readied myself, though frightened, to go down and save the building.”

Surely this is Azrael. I woke up before the contest could begin, so I’m going to imagine the rest.

I went down the stairs, grateful for the rifle, thankful for whoever handed it to me. But, could I use it? I’m not a man of peace exactly, but I’m not a man of violence either. Still, desperate times. The basement had a little light, enough to make shadows. Gunfire echoed more loudly as I got to the bottom. Whoever it was, was serious.

The gunfire stopped. “You shouldn’t be down here.” A voice cold and firm. From the depth of the shadows. “Leave now and I won’t destroy you. Not right now.”

OK, I thought, back up the stairs. This is too scary. However, I didn’t move. I lifted my rifle and aimed it toward the voice. When I pulled the trigger, it clicked. A rifle with no ammunition. Well, that settles it. Back up the stairs. Nope. Stayed. Scared, but unwilling to give up.

The gunfire did not resume. The air had faint patterns of blue dust from the pillars that had been shot up. The silence was complete. No voice. No evidence of another.

Fates

Fates

My feet began to move before my mind caught up. Whoa, I thought, feet where are you going? I knew, though. Straight toward the depth of the shadows. I heard what I imagined was a rifle clatter to the ground. Hmm. Even up, I guess.

“Come no further unless you want to meet your end.” Cold, firm. Closer.

My mind said, back up the stairs. My feet kept moving until I lost sight of them in the darkness of the deep shadow. Heart racing, adrenaline swimming through my bloodstream, setting me on fire. We closed.

How long we struggled, I no longer remember. He was strong. Much to my surprise, so was I. We went back and forth, pushing, straining legs and arms, trying to gain an advantage. This was all in the darkness of the shadow. I could not see him and I assumed he could not see me.

Oh. Wait. Not a he. At one point, arms locked together, we touched at the chest. Breasts. A woman! Didn’t change my situation. She was still there to bring down the foundations of my life.

This went on. And on. I grew weary. So did she. Panting, both of us. Our moves more feeble. She touched my left shoulder and my left hip. Pain. Agonizing pain. Giving up not possible, I hung on, endured the pain, chose it.

Isle of the Dead, Arnold Bocklin

Isle of the Dead, Arnold Bocklin

“We must end this,” she said.

“Not until you stop. I need those pillars, I can’t let you wreck them.”

“If not tonight, later. You know that.”

“Of course. Yes. I know. And when it’s time I will not fight you, but come willingly.”

She dropped her hold on me. My shoulder and my hip blazed. The adrenaline was gone. I felt weak. “You must bless me and I will leave.”

Later, back up stairs, the door to the basement closed and locked, I sat at a small wooden table, drinking coffee. I had a new name. Just like Jacob.