Sunday, September 25, 2016

Update Dealing #2, detecting the detectable.

First, thank you all for kind thoughts, prayers, and occasional oddities that made me laugh. You are wonderful! As you can see I've now blogged this "dealing with cancer" stuff, so those wanting updates can find them here.

Now, to the update.

The detective work is almost over. I have been twice now to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston (about two buildings from where Matthew has his labs). Based on CAT and PET scans done here in Lewes the cancer seems to be located in several lymph nodes in the neck and the primary site is near the base of the tongue. Friday (two days ago) a Dana Farber surgeon did a biopsy of the area to determine it as the primary site, which it now seems it is. It does not seem to have spread anywhere else.  At this point they are talking primarily about the option for chemotherapy and radiation.  But all that will become clear next Monday (October 3) when we meet with the DF team and hear their recommendation for action. Meanwhile I am seeing oncologists here in Lewes about the possibility of treatment here based on the orders from DF.  It would be wonderful if I could have the doses here under direction from the oncologist team at DF in Boston. If not it will be eight weeks in Boston.  We will see.

The whole family has been wonderful and supportive, particularly (of course) Kathryn, who is her calm and loving self.

I am mostly seeing this as a piece of work that needs to be done, but have already jumped the rails a couple of times. Feelings are sneaky.  Some observations:

(i)             It is real depressing to feel helpless. The fact that I can engage doctors who “know what to do” about the cancer makes it seem as if I’m not helpless. But they talk about what needs to be done (by them) and I feel like I am the receiver only, and not an agent. I really have to work at it to remind myself that I do have agency, that I must decide what course of action to take. Still, helplessness is a pervasive thing, and the downward spiral takes a few turns.

(ii)           Anne (the sainted mother) was a great model for dying. She was real clear that death was not the problem, dying was.  And of course I have known for a long time that the dominion of death is often in the details. But it is amazingly difficult not to get caught up in the notion that if I just did this or that I might avoid death altogether (which by the way is a terrible idea). So in the midst of the beginnings of this walk, dear friends, I am surprised how often I have to catch myself from falling for the oldest trick in the book – turning the fight to live into a fight not to die, from turning living into something less spiritually interesting, that is, simply not dying. So far I am succeeding, but it is nip and tuck.

(iii)          Kathryn has for years meditated, and I in my own chaotic way have walked a spiritual path that has been of great help, and I am always comforted by the possibilities of non-attachment as a way of living lightly with the passing away of all things, people, ideas, nations, selves. Years ago Jim Friedrich sent me a postcard of a stand of trees in the snow, with snow falling and wind, so that one side of the trees were covered, the other not. On it he wrote, “Shh…it comes, it goes.”  Seems right.

So there it is.  More next week. Hopefully then the full blown program of treatment and the beginnings of a path where we go “stamping out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath are stored.” 

Your continued thoughts are hoped for, as I will dream of you often.

Three Poems while viewing the currents on the River Styx

Three Poems while viewing the currents on the River Styx.

Part of dealing with this walk is times of depression, particularly the depression that mocks faith - not blind faith or faith in some safety net, but faith in walking at all.  So three poems from such a time this last week:

Te Deum:

Te deum,

Te diddly dumdedum,
La luna, la leche,
La lucha:

I feel like God’s fresh meat
Laid out on the table.

The moon struggles
And nothing is itself

Except the song
Of Praise the the midst
of sorrow,
Sung by small children
Skipping home
At dusk.

Here Gropes:

Here gropes the snarls
And wily grime
Around the slime

That wounded
dominions leave.

Slime that has no pity,
no good work,
nothing divine,

only a path
to the shadows
and lights out.

Death's dominion is just around the corner.

Everything I feel, now, 

becomes important.
Where before there were just complaints,
You know, mutterings of older life,
Now this ache, that scratch, a vague itch,
Even arousal, take on the portent
Of impending death.

It took fourteen seconds for me to lose it.
Gone the quiet grace of faith.

Then I was not the center of the universe,

Now I am.

Then there was confidence in the unfolding,
Now I am unfolding, and without confidence at all.
Then Death had no dominion.
Now Death has, perhaps, a new convert.

Mr. Death has pulled a fast one, yes?

Dealing with Cancer.

September 2: I have cancer. Don’t know where else, but at least in some lymph nodes in my neck. As they say, “the news is not good.” I found out yesterday afternoon.  Kathryn is with me and her presence is wonderfully calming.  I wish there were ways to write each of you personally, but there it is.

I’ll know more than I ever wanted to later, but for now it is enough to say that much of my attention turns to the unwelcome visitor and days ahead that are even less in my control than usual.  I’m a bit in reactive mode just now, but God willing will turn more proactive as possibilities for treatment emerge.

Cancer is not another name for death, but I am aware that cancer often deadens the life force. So my most proactive work right now is (i)  to pay attention to the work Kathryn and family and I,  and lots of health care people, have to do dealing with the cancer(s) and (ii) to pay attention to living creatively and with imagination. 

It also means that in this next period I will need to focus on these things and not others. So I will be resigning from a variety of civic and religious committees and stepping back a bit from the busyness of life.  But conversely I will hopefully step forward with at least some grace into those dangerous areas where body and spirit are tested.

So, I’m dealing. Kathryn’s dealing.

What I need from friends is your dealing too.  We will no doubt need help dealing with life not in control. I know I will need friendship and love. I will mostly need compassion.

What I don’t need is too many questions, too many assumptions, too many solutions. Dealing is not rescue. Dealing is not avoiding death (which is really bad theology.)  Dealing is a sacred walk. It is an example of the journey being the destination, which is about God NOW.

So…pray with me for a good walk, perhaps walking away from the unwelcome visitor, perhaps walking with it, but a good walk none the less, in which holiness and loving kindness is present. I’ll pray for you too. After all, we’re all dealing.