Yesterday was Easter. Today I am in the chair at the infusion center, watching a steady drip work its way into my arm. At some point over the next few days I will likely be scheduling an “exit interview” with a friend who is going to die from his cancer within the coming weeks. There is an interesting, perhaps timely mix of metaphor in all this. The holiday, for those who celebrate its religious significance, is about spiritual rebirth (and literal rebirth for the more fundamentalist among us). I look at these chemicals entering my bloodstream right now as agents of my own rebirth, my second chance at life for as long as it may last, a chance to try and get some things right while I am here. And my friend’s impending death is a reminder that, even with the best of science and consistent faith, these days do come to an end for us all, whether we are ready or not.
Michael March as been, as far as I can tell, a solid Christian and a man of reason. He chose to evaluate all available treatment options, pursuing even the difficult ones when they offered a clear explanation of potential outcomes backed by decades of studies and documented successes. For eight years, he has dealt with various cancers, outliving each prognosis because of committing to his treatments. But at each stage, from diagnosis to remission to reoccurrence, he has been forced to examine his own mortality and come to peace with the idea that he may not see another birthday or Christmas or, as is now the case, another Easter. This was his final celebration of his faith’s Resurrection Story. For Michael, there is a definite end to this existence as we know it, and he is facing it with the determination of ensuring a positive legacy. Continue reading Death, Rebirth, Living On→
One of the great wedges used by the anti-medical and anti-science proponents of these alternative treatments is the suggestion that the mainstream medical community cannot be trusted because they are all about the profits and not about actually curing disease. The suggestion is that Big Pharma is something of a shadow organization, bribing doctors and hospitals in order to maximize their corporate wealth — and there is just enough truth to thatfor it to be believable. The conspiracy generally lumps in a wide range of health practitioners, insinuating that MDs are systemically part of the problem and that anyone who speaks out against potentially deadly alternatives is automatically a shill for pharmaceutical companies. I get that one leveled at me from time to time, in spite of the fact that I advocate for a well-rounded and well-researched approach to personal care.
As the alternative crowd is fond of saying, if you want to know who to trust, you should follow the money. See what any particular site has to gain for spreading its message and, when possible, look at personal motivations from the authors. I have been fairly transparent in this regard, but perhaps I could go farther with my history. I am no “True Believer” in the medical establishment, at least not insofar as I put blind faith in doctors to automatically do what is right and best for every patient. I do think that most doctors genuinely try and that they believe they offer the best solutions. But I have also witnessed patients being treated like cattle, given no real consideration, and pushed toward drugs or treatments they probably neither needed not benefited from. And I fervently believe that my own father was pushed toward an early death by being overly and improperly medicated by too many “specialists” who failed to communicate with one another or fully attempt an understanding of what was going on with his health. Continue reading The Truth About the Truth About Cancer – Myth of the Wellness Warrior Part 3→
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 was going to write about working without wearing any pants, and how pantsless careers are sort of ideal, but instead I am going to offer some thoughts on death and dying.
Most of my mornings begin like this: the low-impact sport of serving up espresso drinks at my daughter’s school followed by a cool down period of errands on the way home. Sometimes, since this is Los Angeles and there is always a bit of traffic to contend with, I have time for a phone conversation or to catch up on my quota of NPR. The ride home also gives me time to ruminate on important issues and subjects for my blog. Sometimes a conversation sparks a new thought process, twists the direction I had planned on going or otherwise derails what would have been a perfectly good fluff piece. By way of example, I recently conversed with my mother about my father’s final days, thus running the train of intention for this post completely off the rails. Continue reading The End of Life and How to Die→
Death and dying have been on my mind lately. I recently interviewed a friend about the experience of losing her mother to cancer. I am planning an interview with a death doula, whose job it is to help people through the process of dying. And one recent morning, I spent a good deal of time mulling things over from a religious perspective, thanks to my daughter and her explanation as to how a particular used tissue ended up on the floor instead of in the wastebasket.
When I asked her how it got there, my daughter took the opportunity to concoct a whole creation story for her tissue. At the end of this story, sad as the tissues eventual demise was, it ended up going to a Tissue Paradise where it was reunited with all the other tissues with which it had once been packed. It was an interesting and inspirational twist, ultimately bringing much joy to the tissues (and to my daughter, who was convinced that her cleverness trumped my passive-aggressive attempt to get her to clean up after herself). Continue reading Death, Life and Tissue Paradise→
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→
I almost never reblog another writer’s work, but I think that this one is worth sharing with a wider audience (partly because I don’t have the time to write my own riff on the topic today). I have written many times about the importance of critical thinking, and I believe it is not being well taught in our schools much of the time. It seems to me that too many adults in these here United States are under-practiced in basic critical thinking skills, so it is difficult to merely fault the students or their teachers. This is a problem that should start and end at home, with school being a place to practice and develop an existing skill, rather than create one from scratch.
I recently read an article in which the author, a professor of science, deplored the pitfalls of teaching students critical thinking skills: eventually, the students begin to doubt everything, even the teacher’s knowledge and experiences. When I read the title of the article, my thoughts snapped out of “Mom in her PJs Drinking Coffee” to my alter ego, “Defender of Teaching Our Students Conscious Choices and Critical Thinking.”
I’m working on the name. But this persona is really tall, she wears super cool boots and can run really fast. In her boots, even. Not that she needs to run. She spends a lot of time standing in front of schools and ranting about how we teach our students in this country. Or don’t, as the case may be. She wears sharp fitted business suits and her hair always looks fabulous. Plus, her children are standing beside her in support and awe of her, not telling her “the hamburgers taste funny” or “you forgot to put money on my lunch card” or “by the way, the dog peed on the carpet awhile ago but it’s not my turn to clean it up.”
You see the difference.
The Defender wanted to write a rant-y response to this article on Facebook RIGHT. THEN. She’s rather impetuous. Instead, I advised that we actually read the entire article first, because that would be really funny, if we went and ranted about another author criticizing teaching critical thinking skills when we never actually read what was written. Get it?