Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving, Gratitude and Allowing God to Carry My Burden

My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, has passed as well as most of the chemotherapy drugs in my system. I did my very best, staying awake and up on my feet for our family feast. My Son, Jonny came down and spent Wednesday and Thursday night with me. Even tough I was exhausted from the treatments, it was wonderful having him in the house again.

My Son and I have been close his whole life. It is so odd the way things change in life. He is twenty years old now – a grown person with a baby on the way. He is completely self sufficient, at least in terms of coming and going. (He still needs occasional guidance and direction). He is no longer the small boy that I brooded over for so long and with so much concern. Oh, I still concern myself with his wellbeing more than any other thing, but unlike when he was young, I can no longer protect him from the world, or any bad decision he might make. I am so very proud of my Son, and if you were to combine all the wealth in the world, and compare it to the value my Son has to me, and would not even be a close comparison. And he worries about me as much as I worry about him. He is constantly asking me if I feel ok, or if I am going to be ok. I re-assure him with all of the hope I reserve for myself, and he accepts it and goes on about his young persons life.

In world flipping chain of events, he wanted me to help him get caught up on his math homework. He is taking a class that I have taught before. He and I spent hours mulling over his assignments. With only minimal guidance, he was able to complete the rest of his semester homework and he did so with clarity I have not found in my of my own students. He certainly could be a math person and that makes me proud of him.

I worry about him so much… he has so much on him to be so young. He has a son on the way this spring and he’s working full time at a job that pays minimum wage. He is going to school full time and is living in Lexington on his own. While he has had difficulties in the past with substance abuse, he doesn’t party and he is focused on how to make his life one upon which me might be the best father and husband he can be. Most of the time, my heart aches for him when I recall my own early twenties. I had the chance to be a young man with little or no cares barring my college grades. My Son will not be allowed such a carefree early adulthood.

I haven’t really thought much about the cancer this week. I haven’t thought much about what prognosis I might get after these six months of treatment lately. Not sure why. I had treatments Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the week past, and that went as expected; nothing out of the ordinary. I am now beginning to feel better. My mood and concern over my fate seems to be like an ocean tide; sometimes ever present and dominating, and at other times, far away, and insignificant. It is true that we go through periods of acceptance, the final phase of which is exactly that; acceptance. At least that is how it has been for me. As I have said before, the hardest part of cancer for me is the profound weakness that has come along with it, and the inability to join my friends and team mates for bicycle rides…. Not being able to go fishing or hiking.

I trained hard for several years, and won several medals in cycling, and now I am at the weakest point in my entire life. That is hard for me. I care little for material things, in fact to a fault. My values; the things I have held most important have involved my ability to explore the world around me, and deploy this God Given Miracle – my body – to see everything I can see of His wonderful world.

Still, the crushing “Oh My God, I have Cancer” thoughts have faded into the basal fabric of the life I am living at this time, and I am able to concern myself with other things more easily now. And that seems odd. My chances of surviving this are not certain at all, but somehow I have accepted that – perhaps truly placed it all in Gods hands, and that being the case, I find it senseless for me to worry to much about it now – at least from day to day. Sure, there are days I take it all back from Him and carry the burden of it myself for awhile – that is only natural. When I realize that it is all too heavy for me, and I can not carry it, I give it back to Him…. He gladly takes it from me.

The treatments are not fun, and are extremely debilitating. But I believe they are saving my life, if not simply prolonging it. When the treatments are over, despite the odds, I will climb back up onto the track of life and get myself back into shape; I will train to race bicycles, go fishing and hunt ginseng. And I will go hiking – perhaps climb Mount LeCounte. As my good friends keep encouraging me, I must proceed with my life as if I didn’t have this illness, nor ever did, and conduct myself in such a manner. What else can I do, or what is the risk in that? Until or if I am told otherwise, I will simply assume I will survive. And when I am not doing a very good job at this, I know that I have not truly given it over to God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Soothing Music by Will Ackerman

Dealing with the Things I love

Well, I wasn't like the wicked witch of the west from the Wizard of Oz who melted when she got watered. This, my fourth treatment should constitute 1/3rd of my entire treatment regime; that is, when I finish it on Wednesday. I am happy about that. As the treatments go along, however, they effect more profoundly in some ways, and less in others. Strange. As long as it killing what is killing me, no complaints about the uncomfort of chemo.

The first night of my second treatment, I got extremely sick and my mother and brother-in-law had to take me to the ER. Ever since then, I stay with my mother at her house every first night of treatment. So, last night that is where I spent the night. I was four years old when my family moved into the house, and it really his my home. It is nice being here, and Mom takes good care of me.

In a great many ways, I believe that being the parent of a cancer patient would be worse than having cancer yourself. I mean, if my Son had cancer, I'd be a basket case! I feel sorry for Jonny, my Son, when he gets a cold. I can't imagine how hard this is on Mom.

After two or three days of isolation and depression last week, on Saturday, I built a camp fire at my Mom's and my friend Jack Evans came to sit with me for a hour or more. I told him that I just wasn't sure what to do with my life; now or even after treatment. I was considering proceeding with a master's degree in mathematics but that seems silly now, and I told him that. Jack said the coolest thing. He said that my best, and as he saw it, only option was to proceed as if nothing had changed. Live your life - take the ride - experience the adventure, he said.

When I spent too much time away from my friends, I tend to get into the wrong frame of mind. Still, I don't think rushing off to UK for a grueling advanced educational endeavor is possible while on chemo, but perhaps after.

The hardest part of all of this is that I figure my chances of survival are about %50 (Much higher in my mind than the statistics). So when I see or think about the things I love, there is a sadness in me, which stems from the uncertainty.

I have so many questions for which there are no answers; at least for now. It is hard.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chemo Monday.

Well, my easy times have come to and end, and I start treatments again tomorrow. I do not look forward to them. None the less, I have had a good weekend, sitting by a camping fire yesterday visiting with Jack Evans; a team mate of mine. It was really nice.

I may not feel well enough to post much this week, so look for me later on in the week.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I spent the last two days somewhat depressed. The sun is coming up right now. The sky appears to be perfectly clear – what a beautiful day we must have in store for us! So, if it is all the same to you, I am going to resist the depressive moods with all my might today.

I start chemotherapy again on Monday. This will be my forth treatment (out of twelve). My treatment regime consists of a three to four hour IV every other Monday. After the IV, they send me home with a pump that continues the treatment for 22 hours. Tuesday, I arrive back at the doctors office right at the time the pump is finishing, and I have another 3 to 4 hour IV. They send me home again Tuesday night with a pump that continues the treatment for another 22 hours. Wednesday, I go back in to have the pump removed. The sickness and fatigue that comes along with it, lasts until about the following Monday.

I think part of my depression this week has been in anticipation of treatments starting Monday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I feel a little sorry for myself that I am not going to be feeling well at all.

I haven’t yet sorted out how to feel about the holidays. I love Thanksgiving and the Christmas a great deal. I have a birthday in there too. But I think, if it were a choice I’d just-as-soon skip it this year. Not in a “Scrooge” sort of way, just in the practical sense that I know I’m not going to be feeling well.

It is odd how my outlook has changed. It has changed in every particle of grey matter I have. I will try to explain more thoroughly in later posts. But I guess I could sum up how I’ve been feeling the last couple of days by sharing the question that seems to have been on my mind the last two days…

“What I am going to do now? With the rest of my life?”


Friday, November 18, 2011

"God, grant me a bottle of bear repellent, just in case"

Yesterday was a peach of a day… cold and brilliantly clear; windy. Clouds of leaves rushed down every corridor and swirled around every edge. As the sun sank, the Earth was bathed in the most lovely orange; this under a magnificent, brilliantly blue dish of a sky.

In my weakened physical state, I usually take a nap or two during the day, and having woken yesterday at 5 am, the first of the naps came somewhat early. I don’t know if I had bad dreams, but when I woke, I felt lowly. I felt deeply depressed.

I am not now, nor have I ever been a champion of moods. I have never won a gold medal in strong character or intestinal fortitude. But to collapse into pure, self pitying depression as I did yesterday is not common either. Yes, I have always fought with depression, but it is not common for me to sink into such a profound low as to not see any good at all or feel even a shred of hope and joy.

Sometimes, reality is like a lost object you’ve stopped looking for, suddenly found not looking for it, so that you experience that “Oh, there it is” moment. When your reality includes being a seriously ill cancer patient, that “Oh, there it is” effect is often as weighty as suddenly realizing you have a wild grizzly bear living with you in a one-bed-room efficiency. It can chill the warmest mood, dispose even the widest joy and for me, resides in a domain of fear for which there aren’t words to describe.

Some days, like part of yesterday, the very best I can do is sit in the face of a three handed clock senselessly urging the second hand to move a little faster around its course to happier domains. And just like yesterday, it finally did.

Sometimes it seems as if getting cancer comes with the ability to cope in ways you never thought you could. It is just like having your first child. You could have never imagined that you’d love another human the way you do your children. Getting children comes with the ability to cope and experience things you never imagined you could.

So that, to me, in God’s Universe, every experience He gives to us, He also gives the new ability to manage those experiences. Which isn’t to say we always deploy those abilities in the most productive manner, just that we have the tools we need to get beyond every trial, whether we use them or not.

I must always remember, while I may spend some of my time alone in a room with a clock, desperately awaiting stronger moments, they will always come. Oh, and that any grizzly bear (worth his tooth and nail) in a small room, probably wouldn't be in the mood to eat you anyway.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Finding Unexpected Dimensions

My place has changed. My outlook on life, past, present and future – changed the moment I stirred from the anesthetic sleep of a routine procedure and heard the words, “Mr. Thompson, we need to bring your family in the room”.

That was eighty-four days ago, and it was the first indication; the first vague notion that something might be seriously wrong with me. From there, as the days passed, I found out how seriously ill I was. Emotionally crushed and terrified, I realized that I wouldn’t be returning to my ridged calendar of fishing, ginseng hunting, cycling and teaching math at the college anytime soon. My full time job would become that of a cancer patient.

In these eighty-four days, I have generally accepted things the way they are. I feel adjusted, if not still slightly confused as to why things had to be this way. And while I don’t know for sure, I feel down inside my heart, I will be okay.

Yet when I am still and quiet, some moments, thoughts come over me, and I feel saddened that I hadn’t done more with my life in these 49 years. Prior to August 26, 2011, I thought or I was certain that my life was simply half done, and that I had about the same amount of time left to complete all of the things I had dreamed of. While I am not necessarily afraid of dying much sooner than I thought I would, it feels at times as if something has wiggled loose. The structures that fastened everything together, providing my life with a comfortable certainty (that I took for granted), have failed – sending me into state of limbo, that, at times, feels insane.

I always thought I had time to rebuild a colony of honey bees, or plant a small apple orchard. And while I may very well have plenty of time to do all of the things I thought I would, the certainly typically allotted a healthy 50 year old man is gone, and I am left, at least for the moment, wondering if I need to piece together a Bucket List, if not a bit premature.

It’s not that I believe that anybody’s life span is certain… any one of us could expire at any given moment. It’s just that somebody has come to me recently, and said “Your life and times may be over soon”, and the act of living on a daily basis has become… Well,it has become more interesting among many other things.

If the normal life and times is experienced in only two dimensions, future and past, forward and backward; then it feels as if living with cancer has added a side-to-side component; a left and a right. It feels odd.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Holiday Soup

The woods are newly bare now; and I feel fine these days. A November gale has been rushing over my homeland gathering drifts of leaves around every corner; upon every curb and fence…. Piles of brown, yellow, red, burgundy; piles of colors are everywhere and streams of colorful leaves rush down streets, caught in the wind, inches off the ground, as if they were alive and had somewhere to go.

The hills off to the east and south, no longer green, have taken on the look of Thanksgiving; gray landforms rising up to meet a delightfully overcast November sky. The hills are still a little spangled with only the loosely leaved and brilliantly yellow poplar crowns.

The sights and smells of the Earth bring forth in my mind a sense of holiday; a sense which has become like a drink or dish; a delicate fusion or blend of distinctly separate tastes. The new blended emotions, so well developed within my library of experiences seems to have become a new and whole emotion on its own self.

Holiday Soup; an emotion developed over my life-experience is a nearly perfect blend of exuberant happiness and glee, hope, giving and receiving, thanksgiving, gratitude, profound joy, anxiety, sorrow, worry and profound fear. It is like a well designed exotic potage that is both sweat and sour blended such that, upon tasting it, you can’t decide which it is.

I suppose, as human adults with some years of life-experiences, it is only right and correct that what were, in our childhoods times pure and simple joys have been gently laced with sadness and mild disappointments to outright tragedy; and we are left with a completely evolved outlook on the Holidays that feels inside me like a reluctant anticipation to a pleasant process.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Oh Crap" has no scale among friends

People often come up to me; friends… and we chat a while. They tell me about having been sick recently, or some other trouble with a child or family member. They talk about how hard things are sometimes. They often qualify their own hard times by mentioning how it doesn’t compare to my own difficult times. Usually through long faces, they appear to feel sorry that they had even mentioned their own circumstances. I always assure them, I was and always am glad my friends share with me.

It makes me sad…. Troubles me really when people don’t feel like they have the right to discuss painful things in their own lives to me.

One thing that this whole mess has taught me is that our problems, no matter what they are, consume us at times. None of us, not one is immune to the pains and genuine horrors of this life, and mine are no more significant than anybody else’s. I mean, when we find ourselves on the “edge of that proverbial bottom less pit”, the nature of that pit, its depth, stealth, navigability, even its level of danger simply doesn’t matter. All that matters; that is where we all find ourselves from time to time. And because of this, no one single bottomless pit is more dangerous than the next.

When facing crisis, I now believe, how we feel about it doesn’t necessarily depend on severity. At times, we all hurt; we all have times of great fear and even horror. There is no interpersonal scale to measure or compare whose crisis is the worst. It simply doesn’t exist to me.

I remember, just three months ago the things that were bothering me, or the crisis’s I was facing. They loomed large in my path; it seemed, I couldn’t find a path through or even around them. To me, at that time, those things were ultimately significant. Now, however, with less than an 8% chance of surviving the next five years (statistically), I look back at those same things from just a few weeks ago, remember how unmanageable those things seemed, and I am dumb-fuzzled how little those same things bother me now.

I have come to the conclusion, even though it seems counter intuitive, there is no relative scale with which to measure the serenity of crisis between persons. No matter who you are, or what you happen to be going through, please know that I believe my troubles do not in any way, trump your own. And given that, burden me when ever you have the need.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Windy Walk

The Moon of the New Snow is past full and is now waning. It was a windy day, warm and overcast… more like spring than late autumn.

This is my week off from chemo, so today I felt pretty good – 5 days removed from my last dose. It is very odd; how weak I am…. I mean, physically unconditioned. I have never been so weak. I went for a walk in the woods today, and it was wonderful, despite the fact that I had to stop and rest a great deal. The wind in the tree crown was marvelous, and fallen leaves were adrift everywhere. I do love this time of year.

As the days go by, I become less and less afraid of dying. Not that I am going to, but It certainly is not given that I will survive this… Strange how we go though phases…. I think now, beyond a great desire to live to be an old man, I think that I am more afraid of being really sick than actually dying.

The wrens tea kettle

Sitting by a campfire the other day, watching the November Clouds sail-white though a crystalline blue sky, from the nearby woods, I heard the faint but distinct “teakettle” of a wren. I listened a while – as it moved, unseen to me from place to place in the woods…. And I thought to myself, if time did not flow, that beautiful woodland song wouldn’t be possible.

At times, especially in these days of illness and uncertainty, I think about time a great deal. I think about it a great many ways – everyway possible, I suppose. I think about my future; whether I have one past the next couple of years and if so, what am I suppose to do with myself for the rest of my life (as a cancer survivor). I think about the past… the distant past when I was a tot, living on busy street in the downtown of our hometown. Since the cancer diagnosis, the memories of my past come flooding into my mind with great frequency and fidelity.

So many emotions I have now – some settled some not.

The wren song; that “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle…. “ reminds me that our lives upon and within this “nature” is beautiful at some deeply fundamental level. It also reminds me time does flow moment by moment into the future years; we are all time travelers.

I am at times, consumed by the nature of time.