Friday, October 21, 2016

Reading the Fine Print prior to the Voyage.

It’s been a week of waiting and preparation. Radiation and Chemotherapy will start October 31st, with a last dry run Friday the 28th.  It’s been a two week period of getting ready – a quick trip to Dana Farber in Boston to get a radiation mask made, time at home getting things together for the seven weeks away from home.

Friends ask about getting together before I go and it feels like some sort of farewell event, as if I am never coming back. And of course, given the chance to be anxious about what is indeed coming I wonder, “what do they know that I don’t?”  Is it farewell? So it has been couple of weeks of mild anxiety. How is this all going to go? Am I worthy of what is about to happen? How will I be in battle? All that stuff….

I remember Arjuna’s injunction to Krishna on the battlefield, “not farewell, but fare forward voyagers.”  It isn’t farewell, but fare forward.

While I have been imaging the upcoming cancer caper as a “walk” in a strange land or sometimes as a battlefield experience, the medical establishment has pushed me to also consider another image:

Last week a very helpful medical administrator in the Dana Farber system spelled out the “truth in lending” provisions of the contract for treatment. There were three columns of information: things most likely to happen, things that could happen, and things that once in a long while happen. It was similar to the TV ads for new medicines.  The disclaimers are tacked on to the miracle drug being touted and suddenly you think, “why on earth would I ever take that?”  You know, “use of Zstrain has been known to sometimes make you dizzy, occasionally make you act out your shadow self, and rarely has been known to turn you into a Zombie killer.” 

Well, as near as I remember, the truth in lending package that comes with radiation goes something like this: “radiation has been known to make it hard to swallow, occasionally it makes it impossible to do so, making it necessary to put in a temporary feeding tube, and rarely has turned your whole lower face to mush.”   This of course makes anxiety a near neighbor.

I’ve been trying to recast the truth in lending in more optimistic terms. In all likelihood I will have some discomfort and then rebound. I have some hope to be among the most fortunate and least traumatized. But the whisper is there… this could be a real mess. 

Last week at church, after communion I joined those who went to the side chapel for the laying on of hands for healing. When my turn came, I asked to be worthy of the days ahead. I was surprised by this request coming from my mouth, and have been thinking about it all week. I think what has made me anxious is my concern that I might not be up to the task. Certainly I have been concerned that I might not have sufficient courage for the time at hand. But beyond that my sense is that this particular journey is an opportunity to grow more deeply willing to be present with myself and more, to be less ego (self) centered and more centered on the great self, the being that is the all in all, of which we are all parts.  So the question is, will I be worthy of the battle to endure for some greater end than my own comfort or even my own life?

Then too, perhaps I’m a drama queen. Perhaps this is all just an ordinary walk in a very different part of town and I am just nervous. Maybe all this talk of farewell and fare forward is just talk. Perhaps I think too much. (Sigh.)

I do know this: the “truth in lending” list, the waiting, the little twinges that tell me the cancer is present and working its way, the wonder about if I can do this, are all a bit like the anxiety prior to a great struggle, a battle, or (using an image from my own world) a really tough exam.

The only solution for all this is for things to get underway. I am ready to do this. Now.  But it will take another week to get there.  Meanwhile I am blessed with Kathryn, Matthew and Kellee, Ema,  and the love of brothers, friends, communards and voices from the past and present… you know, the great cloud of witnesses. The Saints go marching in.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bring Them On: Continuing report on cancer and life.

Bring them on! 

For family and friends who have asked, and those who have not asked.  (If you don’t want to get any more of these reflections, let me know.)

Update on dealing with the unwelcome visitor.  After very good experiences talking to both people at Tunnel Cancer Center in Lewes and Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, as well as with family and friends in Boston and here, and (as usual) in close conversation with Kathryn, who keeps me sane (sort of), I decided that I will pursue treatment at Dana Farber.

I’ve had a biopsy of the area on the back of the tongue and it confirms that the primary cancer is there, with spread into the lymph nodes in the neck. So treatment will be radiation and chemotherapy for seven weeks. The hope is this will smack the cancer down and out and that will be that.  Still, as we all know, it is one step at a time. The prognosis is pretty good.

Treatment will begin October 31 and run through the third week of December. So I will be home for Christmas. (Probably grumpy and tired, but home.)

It was a great relief to get the matter of where and when settled, but of course anxiety always finds a home in the details. Now that where is settled I am anxious to get started. Does it make a difference to start quickly? How quickly? And I am anxious because the doctors, like the drug ads on TV, are bound to tell us all the things that can go wrong, can be expected, might happen, etc, with the treatments. So I am anxious about the effects of the treatments and how I will react. How quickly relief turns to new anxieties!

I do indeed get the message: fear not. And on some level I don’t fear. But I am surprised how much the little anxieties gnaw at the greater confidence. The big confidence is the rock on which I am standing. That bigger confidence is about the goodness of creation, the love of Jesus, and the presence of peace in the spiritual love we have for one another.  I find the whole notion of the Trinity remarkably connected to the matter of healing and wholeness.  In the weeks ahead I hope to have the presence of mind and spirit to contemplate on the confidence that comes from binding myself to the strong name of the Trinity. 

So “fearing not” is possible, but it is made difficult by the small nagging sense that things are out of control. Which they apparently are.  The only thing that finally casts out fear is love, and I am blessed by a wide and wonderful community of love.

As things move forward I will need to rely upon that love more and more, for my hope is to fear not, knowing that God is with me in the love others and I have and share. All in all, given that I’d rather not be doing this, I feel amazingly blessed by friendships and by joy in living.

So, let the doctors and nurses work their will, and may they serve the greater Will, whose message is pretty clear… do not be anxious and fear not. I will try to obey.

More next week.