Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

Thyroid shmyroid

Monday, June 9th, 2008

I guess I haven’t mentioned that I found out that I don’t have cancer. I know I never really posted that it was a possibility, but what with the thyroid nodules and all, there was indeed a chance. But the biopsy came back benign, thank goodness. I mean, I still have to have my thyroid out, apparently, but at least it isn’t cancer with all its chances for extra complication.

So while I’m frustrated at having a mysterious new health problem emerge from nowhere, I’ve also been trying to remember to appreciate that it could be much worse.

But I’ve also been having increasing difficulties with drooping energy level, irritability, and trouble concentrating — all of which are probably at least partly attributable to my thyroid. So even with proper perspective? This pretty well sucks.

Oh, but to complete my roller-coaster thought pattern, the doc did tell me that it’s unlikely that goitrogens have any real influence in my case. He says iodine is far more likely to be a factor, and I don’t really think of myself as having a diet that is in either way extreme when it comes to iodine, so that’s good. And it means I can still eat my fill of soy and broccoli, which is REALLY good. Because I don’t think I was really prepared to give that stuff up. I’d be like one of those people with advanced lung cancer who still smokes three packs a day — only in my case I’d have an ever-growing lump in my neck while I gorge myself on stir-fried broccoli and tofu.

Hmm. I think I know what I’m having for lunch tomorrow.

Grace or casseroles? A non-believer’s musings on prayer

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” on one of my flights a few weeks ago. (It’s a wonderfully insightful and beautifully written book; I highly recommend it.) There’s a passage where the author, having recently developed a personal relationship with prayer and a self-styled spirituality, is describing an exchange with her pragmatic sister, Catherine.

A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy when both the mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing the family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.

Karsten and I got talking about my father’s death. My father was a popular man, loved by many in his town and with a wide circle of friends and family across the country. Many people were praying for him as he waged his fight with cancer. Some people would probably conclude that the prayers must not have been very effective since the cancer ultimately won. But even as a non-spiritual person, I think that’s an unfair characterization of the effects of that praying. I would never attempt to claim that there is no power in prayer. I just don’t think it’s the only vehicle for the conveyance of caring, and it’s loaded with religious affiliation, which has no appeal to me. But I have no trouble accepting the possibility, perhaps not as a direct result of prayer, but perhaps resulting indirectly from the quantities of people who simply told my father and the rest of his family that they were praying for him, that my father died with more awareness of how loved he was, and that we, his family, could accept his death with more comfort because we knew how loved he was.

Maybe you wouldn’t call that the power of prayer, per se. And I would agree that it’s something different, but I think — and this is a non-believer attempting to understand the minds of believers, so I may have it entirely wrong — but I think there’s something uniquely potent about prayer to a believer that is somehow not present in the offerings of “thoughts” or “good vibes” or “positive energy,” or any number of alternatives you or I might suggest.

That’s the struggle I have as a non-believer who wants to offer comfort to my loved ones. I wish I had something I could offer my cousin’s family as they’re dealing with my 17-year-old cousin battling lymphoma. I have told them I’m thinking about them, but I feel acutely that that’s not as powerful a statement as telling someone you’re praying for them. To my eyes, as a non-believer, that’s the power of prayer: a communication shortcut that says you want to intercede for someone; that you feel their situation merits grace, and you’re looking to powers bigger than yourself to provide it.

But without that communication shortcut, I guess I find myself in the role of the pragmatic sister, trying to think of when and how to make the proverbial (or literal) casseroles and hope that they are received as grace. (Here I should mention how humbling it is to have a sister who is both a praying person and a casserole maker in the most active sense — she was recently awarded Citizen of the Year in her hometown for her efforts in setting up a non-profit organization that helps the poor and needy in her otherwise well-to-do suburb. She’s a double-helping of grace.) What I lack in spirituality I make up for in plain old compassion, but how can I be of much practical use to a family hundreds of miles away? There’s a missing ingredient that could help bridge the distance, and to say “I’m thinking of you” sounds hollow.

I suppose it’s relevant in some way that I’m musing about this on Easter morning. I have no real ties to Easter: nothing about its religious implications carries weight with me, and the childhood chocolate-fest is behind me. Even the pagan traditions offer little to the pragmatic, so it’s simply a Sunday when more businesses are shuttered than usual. But there is something about the hope of renewal, the rituals of rebirth that carry through from the pagan to the Christian traditions, in welcoming spring and recognizing the cyclical nature of life — something about that does appeal to me. (Maybe it’s the gardener in me.) I know I’m looking for a chance to discover something in myself — some offering I can provide to those who need comfort that feels as powerful as prayer and does as much good as casseroles.

I don’t expect to find the answer today. But I’m asking the question, and questions are more important than answers.

Happy Easter, happy March equinox, happy Sunday, happy day. I’m thinking of you.

Things that probably deserve their own post

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Yes, each of these probably merits a post of its own, and my blog has been sorely neglected of late. But since I’m powering through my to do list, I’m giving them each a bullet point, and I may choose to come back to one or more of them later.

  • I’ve been working very, very hard. If you visit over the next few months, you may see some cool changes start to take place.
  • I’ve been traveling a lot. Since the beginning of February, I’ve been in San Francisco, New York, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Boston. And not in Nashville very much, clearly.
  • My 17-year-old cousin (well, first cousin once removed) has lymphoma. But she’s got a great attitude and a lot of fight in her. I’m thinking a lot about my cousin and her family.
  • My coworker’s 10-year-old nephew just died from cancer after 9 months in the hospital. And then, at the funeral, the same coworker’s mother-in-law collapsed, had a heart attack, and died. I’m thinking a lot about that family.
  • Karsten and I are about to go on our first cruise. It’s a vegetarian cruise.
  • This weekend is the fifth anniversary of the crazy little experiment Karsten and I performed that we like to call “getting married.”
  • I finally convinced Karsten to join Facebook. We’re now married on Facebook! I feel so hip.

Drawing to a close

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

So I guess I haven’t posted in a while.

It’s not for lack of stuff to write. In fact, I should probably be journaling like crazy through all of this because, as I explained to over the phone a few weeks ago, I could write a freakin’ book about how weird and surreal this whole process has been — and strangely comic at times, believe it or not. But the energy to journal just isn’t there, so I’ve been skipping it.

But let me see if I can explain. No, it’s too much to explain. Let me see if I can summarize.

My dad is dying, but typical of my dad, he’s being stubborn about it. If the doctors say he has days, maybe a week, then by god, a week comes and goes and he’s smiling and having a rare good day at the end of that week. If we get the impression, as we have several times, that this day might be his last, then by god, the next day he’s alert and nearly talkative, and we’re left scratching our heads and drying our tears and just trying to ride out the emotional tidal waves.

My mom and I went to meet with the people at the funeral home a few weeks ago. Fortunately, my dad already made all his arrangements six years ago when his cancer was first diagnosed as malignant. Unfortunately, it was like a freakin’ Keystone Cops routine with these guys at the funeral home, and although I found it all absurdly funny, I know my mom didn’t see the humor in the ordeal.

If there’s one bright spot in this whole sea of darkness, it’s that my sister and I have largely reconciled. It’s a long story, but it comes down to what my coworker and friend Keith described as sounding “like a Lifetime original movie.” A significant letter that apparently never arrived at its destination, a conversation where both participants had completely different understandings of what was said, that sort of thing. And that’s the basis of what’s been keeping us distant for lo these last nine years. So although things aren’t perfect now, there are signs that our relationship may improve with time, and I think my dad has been coherent enough to realize that, which must help him feel a little more at ease, since I know the strained relations between my sister and me have bothered him terribly.

For a long time, I think my brother didn’t get the whole thing — he’s developmentally disabled, borderline retarded but still basically functional and normal-appearing — but several people within and outside of the family have made efforts to clue him in. Now he’s acting out in ways that suggest he gets it and he’s not handling it very well. He’s supposed to be on Medicare but that benefit is currently being contested, so getting him psychological help of any kind is not easy. He’s having to tough it out on his own, and I hate that for him. I sure wouldn’t want to be going through all this without the benefit of Prozac — let alone without being equipped with the emotional maturity to process even comparatively simple issues well.

And my mom is struggling hardest of all. Her husband of 40 years, her closest and dearest friend by far, and clearly the best companion the universe could have ever invented for her, is becoming — or perhaps has already become — unrecognizable to her, and she’s still feeding him, bathing him, and performing plenty of other thankless tasks out of love and duty and determination to see him die with whatever dignity is still possible at this point. Her dilemma breaks my heart every day, and as stressed out and wound-up as she defininitely is, she bears it all so much better than I can ever imagine doing myself.

And Karsten — well, what can I possibly say about Karsten that does him justice? After losing his mother seven months ago, I’m sure it’s suffocating for him to be in an environment where the reality of parental death is thick in the air. But he knows I need him with me, and he’s there for me. We’re in this together, after all, and thank whatever gods there may be for that. This man is like oxygen to me — I simply can’t imagine breathing without him. Especially not right now. And he’s consistently the one person who can relax me, who can always make me laugh, with whom I can just walk and walk and walk for hours and talk about anything or talk about nothing — and it’s the only kind of therapy that could possibly do me any good right now. He soothes my soul.

So there it is, in a nutshell. The cast of characters, the somber scene, the barely-crawling pace of it all. It’s draining as hell, and I feel like I’m in limbo no matter where I am, but I’m trying to make the best of it and find the moments of levity, the revelations of truth, the opportunities to draw closer with the people from whom I’ve moved away so many times — and trying to laugh and love as much as possible at all times. I think that’s all there is to do. I think that’s all there is for any of us to do.

Health and happiness to you all. I’ll update again when I can.

Heard of the “Jennings effect”?

Thursday, August 18th, 2005

Apparently, smoking cessation programs all across the USA are experiencing higher than normal volumes of phone calls and involvement from people who want to quit smoking in the wake of Peter Jennings’ death from lung cancer.

Yes, we’re obsessed with celebrities, and yes, it’s kind of eye-rollingly silly that it takes someone like Peter Jennings dying from a smoking-related disease to kick off this trend, but hey, whatever works, I’m absolutely for it.

Personally, in the eight-and-a-half years since I kicked the habit of smoking cigarettes, I’ve probably smoked about twenty cigarettes at parties and in other social contexts, but I’m determined to make it a far smaller quantity over the next eight-and-a-half years. The fewer, the better.

How about any of you? Still smoking? Thinking of quitting? There’s no time like the present.

What I can tell you is this: quitting won’t be easy — nowhere near as easy as lighting up. And you may fail the first few times you try to quit. I certainly did. It took me 12 attempts to really kick the daily habit. But with each failed attempt, the key is to determine what made you fail, and figure out how to counteract that the next time you try to quit. For me, most of the obstacles were routines in which I was very comfortable and in which smoking played a relaxing part. But once I made a conscious effort to find alternatives (munching baby carrots as I walked to work, for example) or to avoid the obstacles altogether for a while (staying out of coffee shops late at night, where I would drink coffee and smoke cigarettes for hours), I began to find the cravings much easier to overcome.

You will, too.

I can also tell you this: they say healing begins right away, but some things take time. Although I could run and play sports just fine while I was smoking, for several years after I quit smoking, I had a terrible time breathing while playing sports or running. I had very little endurance whatsoever. That must have been my lungs really putting an effort into healing themselves, because now I’m a stronger runner than ever, and I can run for hours without feeling winded.

You can get through it, too.

If you’re ready, please give it a try. If you’re smoking now, you’ll be through the worst of it and ready to enjoy your new, smoke-free life within weeks or maybe a few months. Imagine the Christmas season (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice or whatever you’ll celebrate) this year, when you’re feeling healthier than ever, and knowing that you’re well on your way to reducing your risks of coronary disease and lung cancer.

Wouldn’t that be a nice gift to give yourself?