Community Born of Solitude

Maybe it’s the pressure of all the rain washing the clay away from the roots of the fir trees along the border of our land. Behind it, a horse trail runs parallel to the front of the house. Four weeks have passed since any horse and rider trotted by, leaving our cat with his head crooked to the right or the left, wondering just what the hell that big dog is doing carrying a person down the street. How undignified. He’s not seen a horse before. He’ll see one again.

It’s all about perspective. This entire global debacle, even from the cat’s point of view, indelibly changed the daily regimes of everyone, everywhere, with everything we do. Normally my writing calms me down. And it is. As I write these words my cracks that just began showing this week slowly begin to close, like a scar forming on an open wound. It’s not that I go out a lot during flu season anyway but the point is now that I can’t. Not that in any event I had to I still can’t.

My husband’s psychiatrists office was out and he was without medication adding to the super amounts of stress-ure (stress and pressure) on us. It’s been resolved and he’s better and stabilized. But it’s fallout that none of us suspected being told late in the second half of the game that we should get extra prescription medications. Our Walgreens was robbed twice by violent offenders who threatened the lives of two pharmacists in broad daylight to turn over the pain killers and opioids. I’m short 60 tablets as a result of not enough to fill up my entire prescription.

The cracks are showing. I suspect the months that will have ensued by the time COVID19 finishes raping, pillaging, and marauding our world, our scars individually and throughout entire counties and continents won’t soon fade. Like after a radical mastectomy.

Post traumatic stress disorder won’t spare a soul even in some small way.

Anyone who took advantage of others financially or emotionally or otherwise shall find a fresh form of hell that awaits them. Probably in this life, too, if you believe in that kind of thing. My take on karma is people who do terrible things walk this world looking back over their shoulders worried about what’s coming after them, rather than looking forward so as not to trip over something – missing fresh opportunities or stumbling over things in their paths and falling flat on their faces. Anything from small instigative acts like hoarding eggs up to exceedingly serious and life threatening acts of deception. Lies involving propaganda, and in this case concealment of the whole truth so everyone can prepare accordingly. I do not believe it’s as all bad as it was projected to be, albeit too late in the game to save New York. Sadly this virus carried by many who remain home without symptoms will be measured in numbers of the sick and the dead. This is the kind of thing I like to call “social treason.”

Social Treason

“Social” etymologically defined best on Wikipedia. Which makes sense because of the social input to the definitions themselves:

“Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This interaction is considered social whether they are aware of it or not, and whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary.” And treason, but in this case a phenomenon known by those fans of the inscrutable, infinitely quotable, late Douglas Adams as Somebody Else’s Problem, or SEP:

SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams,

The books narrator explains:

The Somebody Else’s Problem field… relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain. If [he] had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else’s Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there.

Ibid.

Sometimes we don’t want to see what may hurt us, and I think in the beginning of this coronavirus crisis in the United States we suffered from SEP. Now, realizing it’s our problem too, we are becoming depressed as a social organism called a “community.” People kidding themselves into thinking by hoarding toilet paper or hand sanitizer the resulting soft walls will provide m protection against what’s lurking on that head of lettuce they brought in their reusable bag from the green grocer.

We are alas, a global community. It’s a small blue planet. Some of the inhabitants may feel lonely and scared right now. Uncertainty is like SEP at times. But far more frightening than not seeing is overthinking what’s not known or not seen.

But I’ve seen so many good things happen too. Offers to go to the grocery for neighbors who are home bound. Seeing face masks for the medical workers abc grocery store workers and those deemed necessary for basic survival. And I read about people talking to one another, eating meals together, having walks with their spouses. Betcha there are a lot of babies born nine months from now.

I hope I’ll be around to see the upside of all this. I know it’s been difficult on us but also made my husband understand he can do way more than he thinks without me. Is it a good thing? I suppose a dry run for when I’m no longer here couldn’t have hurt, or maybe it hurt more than either of us want to acknowledge.

SEP saves the day.

Viruses and Assholes

Assholes. There I said it. You who were too selfish to even comprehend that viruses beg for crowds to strengthen them. The more the better, and you just couldn’t stay put for a couple of weeks to save humanity. 3,000 people in the United States are dead as a result of COVID19, as of today March 30, 2020, or so we’re told. If there are too few people to take hostage the virus will become less deadly because a virus, like a parasite, won’t kill off all of its potential hosts. To survive with less the virus weakens. So with fewer to infect so it can remain alive only far less deadly. Much unlike stupid metastatic cancer, which will eventually kill its hosts.

But such assholes probably won’t die. The ones who will die are the aged and the infirm.

I fall into the category of “infirm.”

I have one of the diseases metastatic cancer along with diabetes, AIDS, and other lovely human killers have repressed the immune systems of the human beings who walk around with those assholes. Those jerks who couldn’t stay home just for the sake of their fellow Americans to avoid such an imminently high death toll.

And the slow burning down of our Economy is their fault, too by the way.

Having metastatic breast cancer means jumping from one therapy to the next until they no longer work. Right now the very Immunosuppressive chemotherapeutic medications ingested into my body to hunt down cancer cells and save me, could kill me. Good luck to me for trying to find a lab willing to draw my blood for the four major blood tests I need to know if the Verzenio and aromatase inhibitors are working and if I’m suffering from liver or kidney dysfunction. Oh and how bad my white blood cell count really is right now to see just how open my system is to this corona virus. I’m not too happy to have been home now going into the fifth week.

I had two telemedicine visits last week with my palliative oncologist and my medical oncologist. My palliative oncologists and I are just in the “getting to know you” stage of our relationship. He’s a great guy, and I hope he lasts in the role longer than the previous four I’ve had at Stanford. I don’t think palliative medicine is still taken as seriously as it should be for those with terminal and chronic illnesses. But what a great time to educate yourselves if you’re at home like I have been.

Dr. B and I had a laugh or two on our call. He’s not as techno savvy as he will be when this is all said and done. I hope for his sake and mine he stays well. He’s in the “aged” category and I am in the “infirm” category so we run similar risks although mine’s a bit worse than his but he was in clinic doing our call. I need some ascites fluid drained off – the new protocol I’m on doesn’t seem to be getting rid of it as we’d hoped. I have a hard time breathing and I can’t button my jeans and the rest of me looks thin. It’s making my back ache where I had the L5 stress fracture in my lower back. That was two months ago when I had my CT scan. It’s showed a slow accumulation of fluid and it needs out. We will try to find a place to have it done but chances are I’ll have to go to the cancer clinic – alone. No use anyone else getting sick if I do.

But I’ll do what I have to to keep myself alive and well as long as I can. Every time Craig and our friend S leave the house they are the only ones wearing masks and gloves. They assure me the looks they get are like two men about to commit a crime. When the opposite is true – those assholes who refuse to take this situation as seriously as it should be are the thieves and crooks. The thieves of lives and the crooks of humanity.

Every time they come home from the grocery store, the post office, or the pharmacy and the occasional trip to the hardware store – we procure most of what’s needed online and the rest we try to buy from local small businesses when and if at all possible – they remove their clothes in the garage to be washed later and shower in our downstairs bathroom. They keep me safe.

I do get out for my walks and for some much needed gardening, too.

Our friend has been staying with us for the past three weeks and knows once he leaves the house he cannot come back due to the high incidence of the virus in the Bay Area and specifically to his neighborhood. He is the opposite of an asshole: the Yiddish word mensch comes to mind. He’s here to help complete what’s necessary to bring our house up to move in ready. It turns out our dream home wasn’t as move in ready as we were led to believe.

So people reading my blog aren’t likely in the part of the Venn diagram labeled assholes. And there’s a few who should stay home or face a ventilator and take a hospital bed away from someone who couldn’t help it, like a nursing home resident. If it was your mom or grandmother I doubt you’d think – well they already had their lives…fill in your own blanks. I know Americans. They love their freedom, but freedom at what cost? The cost is detrimental this time. And to those who least can afford a virus as deadly as COVID19. I don’t care if the conspiracy theorists are right and it was unleashed by the Chinese on an uprising in Wuhan province. I don’t care if it came from Mars. I’m a native New Yorker and I know the venom from the fangs of the rabid individualists. It’s deadly too.

But hear my plea. Don’t, for the love of those you love, take risks on our behalf. Don’t be an asshole. Assume no one can fight off a very strong virus. And don’t assume you don’t have it right now. You might. The massive campaign to politicize this virus is only now becoming apparent. Shame on those assholes, every last one of them. But here I sit, happy in my bath of green tea, macha powder, frankincense, and Epsom salts. I’m lucky to have telemedicine, immunotherapy, people who love me, and a house far from the madding crowds. And if you’ve got metastatic cancer and need to get away for a couple of days drive in and stay. My house is open to you.

But the rest of you – don’t be an asshole. Stay home, please, because this too shall pass and all will be well after the dust settles. I just hope I’m still here to see that first sunrise on that first day we can all breathe in the same air and heave a collective sigh.

PS The photo is of three donkeys who live up the road from us. They look rather unbothered by this fiasco and I take solace in their existence every day they come down by the fence when I am walking by. They see me and trot quickly down to say hello to me no matter where all three of them are at that moment. Craig said they don’t do that when he walks by without me. They come to the fence and shake their manes at me as though they’re inviting me to hang with them for a while. Maybe next walk I will, too. They’re asses not assholes. 😜

And then there’s my cancer…

We never know how high we are
Until we are asked to rise
And then if we are true to form
Our statures touch the skies

  • Emily Dickinson from poem 1176

Happiness: an illusive inner state to those of us with terminal illnesses. Each happy moment rolls into the next, yet we drive through life on a road with potholes and speed bumps as a reminder that we better slow down and enjoy it while we have this chance. To be sure, each and every waking morning opens the curtains on a new chance to grab at the brass ring, that for us is coveted yet covered in Vaseline. The ring slips from our hand as we ride by. The horse we ride runs free with us on its back, hand filled with the shadow of oil from our attempt at forgetting for a single day that this might very well be our last.

As finding our dream house should make for a feeling of joy at the real chance of building a fantasy foundation for our new beginning, I still well up with tears when I’m alone. Amazingly we have experienced much joy, having moved from the angry, traffic snarled, polluted San Jose to the clean, kind, and friendly cradle of the Sierra mountain foothills. Put that together with finding a home to put down roots permanently and you’d think – what does she have to complain about? Believe me, I’m not complaining one iota. It’s simply that the bittersweetness of biting into such a red delicious apple knowing it’s laced with poison that will kill me sooner, or I hope, later, covers my heart with a dark vail of sadness. I may not be here to enjoy the fruits of the seeds we planted and have cared for such a long time now.

We tended to our garden most recently with the difficulty of the move itself and over many years seeing my beloved finally pull out of his depression. So much to look forward to, so much love in this very moment in time to be grateful for.

Then there’s my cancer.

Making plans to switch oncology teams, making sure we’re in as clean of a house with the very best infrastructure in which we can invest – things like low to no VOC paints and bamboo wood floors – we’ve found an opportunity to live by the anti-cancer book. Complete with new friendships and a very cancer-supportive community this is certainly what appears as one of the four noble truths: nirvana. I’m finding a certain lack of suffering here. To me, who’s always lived by the old cliche the grass is always greener and finding some level of happiness wherever I am, this time of my life comes as something of a surprise to me.

And then there’s my cancer.

I’m reaching out for an exacting of equanimity here. A balance of sadness and happiness. Where suffering becomes the background or the shadow and joy comes forward to the forefront and into the light. It’s so hard. That’s all the language I can use to look for a way to achieve balance of taking care of my physical and emotional heath while not focusing on it. I can liken it to taking a photo of a sunset when you’ve got a person standing in front of the camera lens. I can see the colors blazing in the distance but there’s a big dark presence preventing me from taking in all that beauty.

Because there’s the cancer right in the way.

I hide it well. Sometimes my beloved asks if something is wrong or if I’m angry with him. No honey I’m not. I’m happier with our relationship than any other time in our 12+ years together or any romantic relationship I’ve been in my entire life.

It’s just the cancer getting in my way again.

Here’s a poem I wrote a few weeks ago as my weekly blog bonus. I love the theme of it – it’s tangentially akin to the theme of this blog post. On that note here’s:

Cold Love

Would I be if born a snake
Or bee, or clam, or fish?
Leg less, bloodless, and cold blooded
A thing without future or past.
Without arms to hold us
How do they establish a child’s
First love? Without sounds
Without syllables, no words to wound
With no hands to slap cheeks for the tears?
No false devotion to express and
No arms to commit forged emotion.
Did god know we needed belief?
Maybe words and hands on the end of arms
Beat us to the punch?

Whose guilty fingers purge my throat
To say nothing of love’s remorse.
Outstretched, sewn, and quilted
Receiving dubious mistrust
And soiled gifts of healing.
Arms holding light to beseech me
The creatures run back to the wooded wild.
Any path dark and clouded
Covered with leaves compacted
By nights grand mothers who sneak
By and slither away with our soundless cries
Morays silently drift in shallows,
The pecks of grounded wild turkeys,
The opinions of poisonous black widows
All mothers in the dark shadows of sea, of land, and of twine
Wait to hold their young somehow.
They give what’s needed and then take away
Without a word to convey their warnings.
Compliantly we wait at the forest edge
Huddled alone and cold until
Tonight tar black and frightening
Clears away in the dim light of morning.