The past few days have been interesting, in the way that might make a person both sad and angry, and hopefully also touch into a compassionate spot. After a lot of attention had been given to the hurricanes that battered our nation last month, highlighting both the devastation of nature and human resilience, it seemed that we were due a period of celebration. Instead, music icon, Tom Petty, died (prematurely reported, retracted, and ultimately, with some finality, reported again). And just before that, on the last night of a big music festival in Las Vegas, a so-called “lone wolf” gunman managed to use a stash of roughly 20 weapons (at least some of which were modified to be more deadly) to kill in the neighborhood of 60 innocent people, wounding hundreds of others. He did this from a hotel room in a very fancy casino across the street, using long-range rifles. It’s enough to get a person ruminating on mortality. As if living with stage 4 lung cancer wasn’t enough.
Before I get too self-indulgent, however, I should put my thoughts into perspective. Death doesn’t bother me so much; I do not hold onto a fear of dying and I cannot recall a time when I did. But I do have a deep and consistent anger about enabled murder, preventable deaths and injuries (both physical and psychological), and the lack of public will to address the underlying issues that allow such things to continue happening. And in that regard, I suppose, I do have a fear of getting shot. In almost 50 years, I’ve been lucky enough to have been directly threatened with a gun only once — but I’ve still been threatened with a gun. It is hard not to think about these things when a mass shooting happens just a few blocks away from where you had been lying poolside about a month earlier. Continue reading Some Thoughts on Death and Dying→
Here’s a thought that needs to be considered. Since the United States is not doing its part to fight global climate change, nature will not be able to keep up. This REQUIRES us to be open-minded about the advantages science offers to help our species adapt. Science-denial is one of the biggest reasons we are in this mess, but science can help mitigate the damage if it is embraced and supported in a reasonable, methodical and pro-active manner. One of the areas that must be re-evaluated by many is the use of GMO crops.
There is overwhelming evidence from unbiased sources that show the safety of these crops, many of which are modified explicitly to be able to grow under hotter and drier conditions, or in soil that would not otherwise support proper plant development. Already, without the use of GMO crops, it would be difficult to keep up with the food production needs of the planet. Within the next decade, there is little doubt left that human food will be largely reliant upon GMO crops for minimum sustainability. I propose that it is time to look at the science objectively and stop reacting to fear-based marketing that mostly just serves alternative health websites and their advertisers or overpriced processed food manufacturers.
I just put about two weeks’ worth of coffee into my body, so please consider that as you read these proposed guidelines for political postings on social media.
I decided to put these down because I have noticed so many friends falling off toward these two camps: those who are tuning out completely due to political news fatigue and those who are spun up into a frenzy of posting and reposting and forwarding and generally being outraged all the time (or at least every fifteen minutes between the odd stress-reducing cute animal pic or positivity meme).
The fact is, neither approach is helpful, and probably not healthy, either. We should all remain engaged, after all, or at least aware of what is going on around us. But we should not get lost in the process, nor should we be a part of the system of misinformation that has plagued our national politics for a long, long time. (That’s right, it is almost a national treasure, this “fake news” thing, and it goes right back to the beginning of our country’s history. That it appears to have reached some new apex in the past year is something of a natural progression, albeit a sad one. The challenge now is for the media to really keep it in check as it had done, more or less, for the past 120-ish years since the Hearst-induced Spanish-American War.)
December 2014 marked the beginning of my chemotherapy, and two full years are now complete. This already puts me well beyond the “statistical expectation” for continuing to kick around, allowing me to enjoy another holiday season with my family and, for better or worse, getting me closer to my goal of actually going back to work full-time at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future. A third year on chemotherapy may have seemed like a remote option at one point, something that was a distant hope not to be taken for granted, but now is an accepted part of my ongoing plan, the “new normal” that has been often talked about, what I have simply become quite used to in my daily existence.
So I take a moment to sit in my gratitude for what modern medical science has afforded me. As I write this, I am one day past my infusion, feeling only moderately tired because I woke at 3:30am and was unable to get back to sleep due to the way my steroids get my brain spinning in the night. Ironically, that same effect does not seem to occur during the day, when my mental capacities tend more toward fatigue and fog as the hours progress. Chalk that incongruity up to sleep deprivation, I suppose. The good news is that the steroids will have mostly worn off by tonight and, with any luck, I’ll be back to sleeping — or at least being able to go back to sleep — mostly through the night.
A month or two ago, I had a discussion with my oncologist about how I felt fewer side effects from the chemo, as though it had become progressively easier for me to tolerate over the past year, and especially over recent months. It gave him pause because, he informed me, the body does not generally “learn” to process the chemotherapy drugs more efficiently and patients do not build up a tolerance to the chemicals. If that were happening, for whatever reason, it might indicate that the drugs would no longer work due to being processed out of the system too rapidly. My most recent scan, taken last month, clearly indicated that the chemotherapy is still working the same that it had been — so obviously the infusions are effective at doing what they are supposed to be doing. The observation that I am left with, then, is that most likely I am simply used to dealing with the symptoms to a greater degree. Drilling down a bit more, however, there have been a few changes made in my routine after the infusion, specifically trying to be more active even on my more difficult days. My oncologist confirmed that this approach was most likely responsible for how I am “recovering more quickly” than I had been earlier in my treatment. Continue reading The Chemo Diaries: Year 3 Begins!→
I don’t normally write about guns, but soon it will be gun violence awareness day, so it seems appropriate to throw my two cents in. After all, I like shooting guns, and I like talking about the law. Plus, you know, I have a terminal cancer diagnosis, so it just kind of makes sense.
I recently read two similar news stories about a pair of women who were killed mere days apart: one was deliberately shot by a stranger after leaving a rural vacation spot, and another was shot in the back when her toddler found a gun in the car while they were driving. Pure coincidence that both of those happened close together in Wisconsin, a state I used to live just over the border from, and happened within a week of each other with two mothers being shot and killed while driving with their children in the car. Otherwise, one was a presumably intentional (if random) murder by a horrible person, the other a very random (and presumably inadvertent) act by an innocent.
I’d love to say that the random shooting of mothers by their small children was a complete outlier, but it isn’t. Sadly, this sort of thing happens far too frequently, even among responsible gun-owners and pro-gun advocates — even while they are driving. Of course, not all toddlers who come across guns shoot their mothers. Sometimes, and I find this part deeply, deeply sad, they simply shoot themselves because a loaded gun was within reach. (For those of you who did not or could not click that last link, it details four cases where toddlers shot and killed themselves during the same week last month, in addition to five non-fatal accidental shootings by minors.)
I’ll admit that there are some days when I feel like stuff is pretty bad. As with most people, I imagine, it can be easy to focus on how stressed out I am over finances, health issues, car trouble, marital concerns, whatever it is that is going on with my kid, deadlines on projects I don’t really want to be doing, deadlines on projects I reallydon’t want to be doing, some bullshit, that other thing, whatever… But before I go moping off into my self-aggrandized pit of misery, something usually stops me. More and more often in recent years, it has been essentially the same thing: the reminder, through everyday tragedies experienced by people I care about, that life is fragile, tenuous and entirely worth not wasting on feeling sorry for myself.
Tragedy teaches us
As much as these are lessons I would rather not have learned, it is an inescapable fact that every tragic occurrence teaches something. The lesson might seem small, even devastatingly pointless, but that is part of the theme; the overarching message life gives us is that we are all relatively inconsequential, except to each other. Our value is created by our contribution, our loss felt more deeply for a future deprived.
More than that, however, life teaches us that we — any one of us, at any time — can simply be removed from the social equation. That includes everyone we love, everything we hold dear. Our closest friends. Our parents. Our children.
There are lots of practical causes for things that turn tragic. Some of these we can do something about. Better gun regulations, better mental health services, better education. Sometimes we just get lucky and hit the brakes while turning the wheel at precisely the right moment. Continue reading Everyday Tragedy→
The holiday season is upon us. Traditionally this is a time for reflection on our values, both our personal values and those shared by society at large. We are also in the midst of a heated political campaign season, made divisive largely through a fearful shift throughout our culture. Because these holidays, pretty universally across religious boundaries, are focused on peace, it seems like a good time to consider some of the foundational concepts that have created the divisiveness we are experiencing. By addressing some of these, perhaps the peace we aspire to will be easier to grasp for all of us.
The topics of gun control, national security and terrorism, taxes, healthcare and climate change are issues we all agree are important to our society. Ideological divides often prevent productive conversations on these issues, largely because we, as a society, are quite uninformed about the facts underlying each issue. And our politicians frequently do not help this situation, preferring to fan the fires of discontent rather than address issues in an open and honest fashion. We, however, as cognizant and inquisitive humans, have the ability to sidestep the easy rhetoric and parroting of sound bytes in order to debate issues in a civil manner not currently reflected by many high-profile politicians and certainly not reflected by most pundits in the media. Continue reading Truth, Peace and Holiday Values→
Aside from my ever diminishing veins, the infusions during maintenance continue to be easy and relaxing. I guess I am lucky in that way — I know people who have different cocktails that they have various reactions to, from rash to fever to nausea on one end and flat out groggy sleep on the other. During these Alimta cycles, I am in and out fairly quickly and my biggest complaint is not having enough time here with the heated massage chair and my morning coffee to, uh, get any real work done…
Two infusions ago this chemo drug appeared to really mess with my digestive system, but it cleared up just in time for my scheduled CT scan and did not recur with the following round. The assumption now is that I simply caught a stomach bug that lingered for a couple weeks. The whole repressed immunity thing has been on my mind lately, and not just because what probably should have been a 24 hour virus took me 14 times longer to purge from my system.
Although the ensuing three weeks were relatively symptom-free (steroids make me irritable, mess up my sleep for three or four days and make me an emotional raw nerve; the chemotherapy wreaks havoc with my joyous time travel into the land of teenage acne, but even these things seemed to lessen somewhat), the issue of immunity and, more specifically herd immunity, was thrust back front and center when we brought a new kitten home from the pound. Continue reading The Chemo Diaries: More Summer Fun→
Every now and again, I come across some great video or article that I want to incorporate, but it doesn’t fit into the current post I am writing. Chemo brain being what it is, I usually just forget about these tidbits of juicy knowledge, but once in a while I copy the link for later.
Now, because I am in a sharing mood, I present this recap of what you would have otherwise missed from my browsing history…
Ladies and gentlemen: the Clip Show, Cancer Edition!
In conversation with my mother, we began talking, as we often do, about politics. She related to me a story about how at a dinner party recently the topic of Ted Cruz came up and how he was receiving support from some of the more conservative members of the dinner party. One of the things that they raised as a positive issue was his opposition to gay marriage, in spite of the fact that, apparently, there were several gay or lesbian friends at this party. That alone seemed pretty uncool, but tact isn’t the point here. My mother’s response was that it isn’t the place of the government to police lifestyle options or the choice of homosexuals to publicly live that way. This is where I put the breaks on the conversation. Lifestyle options and choice are not matters that truly, empirically figure into the equation of whether homosexual, transgender or bisexual individuals are deserving of the same rights and privileges of their sexually straight counterparts, by which I mean fellow citizens. These words are linguistic tools that actually hamper the progress of our understanding by being misleading and, ultimately serve to enforce the stereotypes that the Far Right uses to suppress rights of individuals. As long as the narrative remains unchanged, progress does not occur. Continue reading Changing the Narrative Through Language→