Living One Day at a Time, but Living

I am coming out of a physical downturn of late.  A couple of days ago I had another liter of fluid drained from my lungs, which made me breathe easier.  I went to “chemo school” this week as well in preparation for beginning chemotherapy in the next week.  In both experiences the health care providers emphasized my being proactive with any physical discomfort.  So with some pretty radical lifestyle restructuring – like eating six small meals a day instead of 2-3, I am physically on the mend, which also means my head is in a better place.

About ten friends have joined together to study a book I mentioned before On The Brink of Everything by Parker Palmer.  I am amazed at how true that title is regardless of my circumstances.  I have really no idea what chemo is going to bring but it is truly the Brink of new experiences and possibilities.

This understanding has also shaken me out of a funk I have been in of late.  Although I weeded, fertilized, and prepared a couple of beds for fall crops, I had yet to plant the seeds.  Part of my reluctance was my new limited diet and problems with digesting the high fiber vegetables I intended to plant.  I also had concerns about even being able to keep up the gardens this fall if chemotherapy proves to be a rough experience.

Today, I planted the seeds.  If I can’t eat the bounty, there are plenty who can.  (Speaking of which, if anyone local wants some fresh-cut basil, I got a ton of it – let me know.)  If I cannot maintain the crops alone, other folks can help.

I had two motivating factors in planting the seeds.  First, I did not want December to come with unopened seed packets and overgrown beds, but me being in reasonably good health, regretting my inaction.  This is the very logic that convinced me to go back to school after my first year of sobriety, and it carried me through to a PhD.  I did not want to be sitting here 20 years later regretting roads not traveled.

Perhaps most importantly is the appreciation of the AA slogan One Day At A Time.  In today’s world of mass shootings, genocide, natural disasters, road rage and a myriad of other factors, I can die from many other causes long before my stage four cancer works its own kind of magic.  I truly have only today, this hour, this minute.  When I planted the seeds today I found an enjoyment and a sense of purpose in bringing new life and abundance to the world.  Having a reason to get up in the morning, whether to weed the crops, sit along the River with Emma and Grace, meet refugees with comfort kits at the bus station, attend a worship service with my friends, or work on a new skill in digital design – I know are reasons for living, cancer or not.

As I have written on many occasions, my best preparation for dealing with cancer today is my recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, and living one-day-at-a-time for the past 30 plus years.

Another Health Update

So today I got a good news/bad news report from the oncologist.  The good news is that the primary source of my cancer is now pinpointed in the stomach.  The bad news is the oncologist is recommending a type of chemotherapy as a treatment. (Note that I will spare the detail of the chemo type pros and cons – all of which Emma dutifully recorded – but is above my pay grade of understanding.  However, the anticipated results made sense to me.

We discussed my past reluctance in going down the chemo road on three counts.  First, I was not interested in a “spaghetti against the wall” approach which would have been the case prior to knowing the primary source.  The proposed approach is very targeted.  Second, I was not interested in a treatment where I would be completely miserable, only to buy a few extra months of life.  We discussed that if I do not handle the drugs well, modifications can be made mid-regimen.  Third, if the chemo was not going to directly treat my symptoms, I was not interested.  The treatment will directly address the nausea, bloating, fatigue, etc. that I have been feeling for the past several months.

As a sort of bonus, before beginning the chemo regimen, I will cycle through a round of antibiotics that will deal with any remnant H. Pylori lurking about in my system.

So having said all of that, in less than three months, my stomach issues of late should be dealt with and I will be able to return to a more normal diet.  Coincidental to which today I fertilized the garden bed where I will be planting the fall crops of collards and kale.

I am not certain what to expect from the chemo.  The drugs I will be taking are tolerated well on average. I am hopeful that my perpetual nausea and bloating over the past few months have prepared me for the average.

My oncologist would not even speculate on a prognosis, as he noted, the doctors have all been wrong thus far – as I was supposed to be wrapping up my life by last Christmas.

I will have a port implanted in the next week or so and then I am thinking by the first of October begin the four, two-week cycles of 3 days on, 11 days off of chemo – hopefully delivering me into the holiday season with the desire to make and ability to eat some of my Grandma Kurtz’s recipes for Sticky Buns and Shoo-fly Pie.

Emma and I discussed today the chemo will mean putting off our vacation plans till after the first of the year.  But we will use the end of each cycle of recovery time to take some 3-4 day trips to visit friends in Jackson, go to Birmingham to the new lynching memorial and museum, along with some other short jaunts through the region.

I remain grateful for the expertise, patience, and bedside manner of all the medical staff at Touro Infirmary over this past year.  They have been spectacular!

I am feeling more hopeful about all of this than I have in a while now.  A couple of affirmations from Bellruth Naparsteck come to mind:

More and More I can understand that I can heal myself and live or I can heal myself and die, my physical condition is not an indication of my wholeness.

I will get well not out of the fear of dying but out of the joy of living.

I am blessed and life is good.

I am grateful to all of my friends, family, their kind words, blessings, and prayers.