Tag: personalstory

One Fresh Hell, Hold the Tomatoes

Last week found me a visitor to a mental health facility, leaving each evening alone and downcast. The place just a few miles from our home, in the foothills south of the city, in an unremarkable single story building where I chose to allow supposed professional responsible human beings to rescue my ailing partner from the shackles of long term anxiety and depression. Leaving without him broke my heart and provided not a whit of relief as a few close friends hoped a “break” in the action might provide. His pained eyes looking upon my sadness as yet another judgement to come down upon me. Another multi-year term added to the #lifer tag around my neck, another blow to my remnants of hope.

All the while I possess the knowledge that I likely won’t live to see our future through to a plausibly happy conclusion. Even though this love 10 years in the making, its melodramatic script changed and the film itself in the can, spliced together and the story arc mangled under the cruel editor’s blade. The final reels go to the studio with my scenes cut and lying on the editing room floor.

I hoped for relief at the end of a long week spent alone over the course of treatment, yet no sparkle reappears in his eyes yet and his life not yet resuscitated. It takes the Zoloft about four weeks to help much. But I’m mostly alone these days. Yearning for my partner’s support and the kind of tender and caring love many of which many metastatic sisters write and blog about, I now look over at him, home in bed, and find one whose dark, inky emotions remain locked away inside his heart, like the stars behind clouds in a dark night sky. He lays there disengaged, thinking to himself about things that cause long bouts of sighing, and the simmering anger of so many men who find themselves bitten by such disorders.

Sometimes, my difficulty lies in hiding my visible outrage for being his care giver for over three years, of which this past 18 months one of the most heart wrenching trials of my life. My god – this and cancer, too? Fuck. What more can one do but look up and ask the ceiling over our bed long and winding questions about the treacherous nature of spiritual meaning, self-worth, and the relative value of a life. I then break from the sum of my existential questioning of cogito ergo… to find an email in my inbox from someone who reaches out to me to thank me. Grateful for my honest approach to my blog posts they type out a note that reminds me of why it’s worth it to know that it’s my responsibility as a wife to make a decision to help alleviate my partner’s suffering and try to revive him. To ask that his soul be returned his body.

He, too, wants only the same for me and indicates we may not stay together. For fuck’s sake — why now and you have got to be joking (the only sentences I can form without punching him in the face.) These trivialities came to him exactly how? And in what universe does he believe he lives in where this would even be okay by a substandard unintelligent alien culture of unfeeling assholes? And with that he passes wind and falls asleep and I’m left to wonder alone, naturally, what fresh hell might await me tomorrow?

Hopefully a new sandwich called “fresh hell” from the deli and no more than that.

Lessons from the Present

In my darkest hours collapsing under the weight of my own perceived adversity, I wonder how to find the energy to bring happiness to myself and others while in this life. One relatively recent shift that’s come via studying the practice of presence and living in the “now.” I search for strength from within myself, hoping to find an ore of clarity in a vast cave of stone and archeological discovery. To focus on the present seems implausible on a dry infertile landscape littered with anxiety about my past actions or insidious worry about events or emotional fallout that may never transpire in any of the potential future scenarios that lay stretched out before me.

Whew. Yet all these realizations happen despite the complexity of my given task at hand. An unexpected benefit of my focus in the now: I’m defocussing away from the heaviness, the sadness, the darkness of life with metastatic cancer, throwing away and cross shredding my membership card to Club Cancer. I learn to find clarity here where the present moment provides me with strength cooking at the stove or sitting behind the wheel of my car. Instead of the usual sigh at a routine task, I smile and do what I used to perceive as mundane chores with flawless efficiency and with joy.

The results become a happier self and a much better outcome. Even a moment of silence can bring about deeper meaning in these everyday tasks. The boring becomes the beautiful, the Wonderbread(TM) becomes the wedding cake. Finding beauty in everything I take into my senses for example while stopped at a traffic light on a peaceful Sunday evening. A routine drive becomes magical, sparkling with blue, red, green, purple, pink, gold, and white lights and holiday decorations on houses and buildings. Or while preparing soup from scratch, an activity that certainly brings the past into the present through kitchen skills learned over a lifetime to create a fresh bowl of soul-warming bisque.

The increased value of the ingredient of my presence requires relatively zero investment. It’s really a divestiture of an investment of negativity, rumination, hostility, or even aesthetic snobbery. Instead of focusing on getting to the destination, the journey instead uplifts my heart with more joy than I expect; I float above the paved roads just for a while with the ease of an untethered spirit. Similarly, if I become present in a moment with my pet I find happiness and peace through a relationship to the natural world and with this animal. He consciously plays with me, which sets a good example for me to follow.

Strength, too, I realized comes from human courage exhibited through people’s stories. Our personal narratives bring us to the present with our past experiences. Everyone’s present self must therefore contain and be informed by our past and none are more important or less fortunate than any others – it’s simply a matter of scale and influence: from a great leader of human kind to a single person overcoming a physical handicap.

Ridiculously, compared to how much work I produced in the 11-hour days of my career, I find it difficult some days to write and post a blog piece. My comparably easy tasks sometimes require more strength than I can illicit from my tired and chemically-thrashed body. If I live in my past or concern myself with the future of what might happen I’d never write a word. In other words if I don’t exist in the present, I only focus on the perceived value of the words I write. How insane to think I know the worth to any reader of my discourse? If my expenditure of energy brings any return on investment it must only be for the present situation of this moment for me and in that same line of reasoning, for you in reading my words.

Perhaps my essays or poetry bring you a smile. Maybe they give you a bit more strength in knowing you’re not crazy or you’re not the only one who feels the way you do. I believe then in this moment, in the here and now where our individual thinking intersects, we become friends. Whether you’re a new friend or a friend come to read a while for a visit, I’m so glad you came to share your presence with me – I treasure your gift.

Some might arrive as a short respite from of a world severed from it’s once well mapped out future, now thrust into the cancer culture where we’ve a lot to share with each other. Here, either a love giver to one with a disease or a cancer survivor, we can walk hand and hand. We step to a rhythm of head nods of recognition as we see of ourselves in one another like mirrors. Our circle contains everyone who continues to prove that we can live on as a reluctant card carrying member of Club Cancer. Including those who love us.

And to those who pop in for a visit without your identification card – newsflash – you don’t need a card. We welcome your visits and love and time, so stop by often. Please, just don’t remark when you hear one if us has cancer, “well you could get hit by a bus.” We throw people out for saying ignorant, insulting crap or regaling us with some vaguely fictional cancer story about your aunt’s neighbor’s ex boyfriends third cousin’s adopted brother. Stories couched in empathy but only meant to alleviate your own guilt and the inability to not make another’s pain about yourself.

I welcome anyone who cares enough to visit: now is always the best time.

Son of a Canferatu

Chasing me for almost three years, could Canferatu possibly close in on me, catching up in an average game of cat and mouse? Struggling to stay away from its heinous blasts of hot, narciferous breath, of the damp bone cold green-gray living-dead body, or the gnarled knuckles arthritic and exposing curled, long encrusted finger nails? I feel trapped inside the generic walls and barely concealing privacy curtains of many scenes of many hospitals. Canferatu pushes up against me and wants to bite me. I know how to handle a vampire, the kind of film legend, of the horror genre and less pathos imbued Dracula from the infamous oeuvre by Bram Stoker. The stuff of romantic legendary fictional bumps in the night.

Yet I, perhaps as a pathetic stand against my fiend, yet not so unlike Lucy who loses her life to kill Nosferatu, hold up some garlic I found buried in my backpack. (I’d have made a great Let’s Make a Deal contestant but not a great paperback heroine, I’m afraid). I duck under Canferatu, reeling from my video game style one-two punch, leaving the cold, putrid huffing breath, which smells like rotting animal meat. It’s ugly pointed fangs still glisten with the blood of his latest victims. I chuckle to myself.

I stroll nonchalantly in through the emergency room security and then sliding door cutting the air full of concern and the permanent infirms the temporarily injured with their and brain damagingly bored visitors. Some of the older women and men, the infirm, sit in tubing laden wheelchairs made of slings strung on metal pipes while the young sat on parents or in strollers with their curious eyes peering out wide with fever or fear, over annoying masks. Can anyone see their own illness monsters sitting in their laps, hanging from the ceiling above, doing high wire acts? Illness monsters turn to look me over, their zombie-like stares piercing my heart, and I pull a gleaming arrow from my backpack and shoot the largest dumbest monster through the eyes. They look at my tired face. “Unimpressed,” said their gazes. Descending a flight of brightly lit, stone cold stairs, I trip on the last step and land flat on my face. I look up to see several helping hands reaching out to get me back up on my feet down in the basement on the #oncology floor.

My partner, and his insistence, ripped my crying annoyed body from my comfortable bed into the car. He took me to Stanford Medical Center’s emergency room. #Metastatic #breast-cancer, that strange body snatcher, moved into my corpus and took up residence squatting in a few choice properties – now my liver on its menu. I could take up residence as a Buddha statue on a Tibetan shrine, my abdomen distended with 10 pounds of fluid, yet again.

My intestines crushed inside the cavity wall, and pinched by tiny cancer seedlings floating in the fluid and causing a kind of neurological short circuiting. The long trip, of both small and large tubing, suffers from incredibly slow transit and now an infection near my stomachs dumping valve, my ilium. By the light of the TV on with no sound on, the watery fluid, extracted by my awesome Dr. Brian, assisted through the night by Nurse D, who has a contagious laugh and keeps me pain-free, with her big smile and easy manor. Then, as the gastric acid moved down from my esophagus, back into its rightful home in my stomach.

I find myself actually hungry after a month or two of chicken soup and not much else other than the allusive matzoh ball (thank you Gunther’s Deli San Jose) or more common creature comfort, the wonton. Not having eaten for a lunar day, I’m very hangry (hungry + angry) by the time I’m able to eat anything at all. We arrived at 1:00 pm today; by 7:00 pm pacific, I fill with boredom, pain, and weariness from a day-long wait, interspersed with ugly, unwarranted comments and curses from my partner, a three year long depression sufferer.

Apparently, ascites build up and potential infection where they found a thickening of my bowel in the very same spot of my abdomen where I complained to my oncologist of constant pain. A pain level so fiercely off the charts, its feeling replaced organs and tissue about eight weeks ago.

No sleep and no change of clothing, no toiletries, no cat, not much of anything anywhere like home and of course no partner to hold me or wipe away any fears with a quick flick of the wrist. I’m complaining now rather than feeling the grace of life, in the now, where I am. I am grateful and very fortunate for my complete access to skilled nurses, doctors, and support staff.

That said, what company’s geniuses made this radically uncomfortable hospital bed? From the designers of, Hospital Gown, opening in the back for no real reason and showing the crack in your ass for over a century, comes new Z-Style Forward to the Past Torture Bed, now with patented bubble wrap technology in our extra, extra thin mattress. They tell me it’s for insuring patients do not get bedsores. And I’m exhausted from the bangs and inane noise coming from the room next to the one I share with a woman who speaks only Spanish and requires LOUD translators. Although she can apparently read the room service menu and translate it back to Spanish to order breakfast. She also gave me her cold so I’m running about a 99 degree fever and feeling flu-like symptoms.

Over the next few days my oncological team wants to remove, without prejudice, any remaining stuff in my sore, distended guts – still experiencing “slow transit.” Slow transit, an intrastate train system outside the country of Switzerland, where measurements of timeliness literally are marked to the 10th of a second. On time. I wish for a magic metamorphosis of my slow guts into a fast Swiss Train version.

Guts. Hmmm, apparently my friends and family admire my spiritual resilience, my steadiness and guts in the face of scary situations, and in particular, my over the age of consent blue humor. How much can my good qualities can stretch today? And so, I remain, my dear blog reader or two, your friend, in a sad state of Sick, in country called Illness, in a loud windowless room with Canferatu scratching on my door. He scares me nearly to death with oddly scented train cars and unpredictable time table based on non-Swiss random intervals.

I smell nice however, I’m not shooting with much accuracy, these days, either. From Werner Herzog’s remake with Klaus Kinski as Nosferatu, based mostly on the silent Murnau adaptation of the Stoker novel, I leave you with a quote, and one that says maybe it’s not Lucy with whom I should resonate, but the monster himself:

To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst…

Playing the Cat

Scene 1: Enter Stage Right, Cat

This year Cat knocked Mary down.
Mother of Jesus, Carpets, Jews.
Last year, Cat ran off with the Husband—
Taking Joseph’s coat, too.
Not seen since the incident,
Neither man, nor carpet, nor cape.
Cat, exit stage.
Three years now since,
Cat, spuriously,
Dragged down a turkey.
Bigger than his head, feasts Cat,
Dinner of greasy fowl, used and
Orphaned. All shiny fat prickly sinews
Cold kitchen floor decor.
We retired in living color,
Cat waits on sock rugs,
Chasing bugs and saints.

Eyes devour the Lollipop Guild,
Feasting on colorful Witches brews
Enter Wizard. Sleep in straw
The tin cans sending queues
Heads with curlers, spitting nails—
Shake and roar, black as night.
White pictures of spoiled babies.
“My,” gasping grandmother
Hungry, yet we search the air.
Relief, at long last,
A manger all in tact,
Still missing:
Carpentry’s first common
Union worker.
Cat stole him three years past.
In stretches morning, you gripe
“Such an imprint for a wife.”
(I am the knife.)
Cat, please take leave —
Please leave, leave the coffee.
Four years back, for I
Then me. We sighed, “no cat.”
Dreams of dances on tippy toes,
A vision of homes built round,
All trees and ornaments and we’s.
Petting slowly, backhanded
Head to tail.

Cat purrs waltzing,
Jesus asleep now, Joseph
Warmly herd sheep sows, Mary
Wailed and cried still.
Windows shuttered,
Elbows under chins, on sills.
We keep all the straw for a manger.
We each pull out one for luck:
I forgot to count the flock tonight —
Up to number 10 to silence
My weeping, I shivered.
The Egyptian visions,
The escaping slaves —
The sundown desert —
They eyed green knaves.
The riddle the answer the
Four Footed beastly things.
The long tail sweeping
Dust up on wings.

Nestled pyramids, soldiers of sand,
No servants hand, no strangers.
No one died today, no saints
Made. Cat wore the Ankh,
Carried the dog headed staff,
Drawing along the sea crooked to
And fro on the sand, wand dragging
Wagging a tail — Happy in now,
Yet name him Memento.
Cat, built it all alone, he meant
To say, “I made that,” in peace
Aligning November’s
Surrendering sun.
Cat dreams of Cat things:
Play, sleep, sun, warm, eat.

Return to your lines, to track back
Over three years, to four.
In scene two: sorrow and worry,
Cat pictures Mary, Joe, and the baby boy.
Rejoice, back in the trunk
Running for the fifth term monks.
Cat: teeth glitter with hope
Of centurions and scarabs run.
Cat, to you surrendered or given
From your own meaty dinner,
pulled. Drowned asunder
All in a Dead Sea, deep
Asleep, dreaming wonder.

Swaying, overhead wire flying
Cat awake and wicked green
Snipped, he nips at grass.
His game — Cricket.
Slow, moribund, drying spice scent.
Boring holes, hearing voices.
Charming. Then crack —
A bat. Eyes followed us
On western war bliss.
Then rob the sun, beaming
Warm like a kiss.
The Queens pearls go dark.
Yet to remember:
Do not face
Anything larger than you
May forget
To enter: open this moment.
Exit the Cat.

Bird with a wire

Poetry Foundation

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

T.S. Eliot  The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

It’s 9:15 a.m., a frantic and rainy Monday after thanksgiving weekend, cars spinning like plates on 85, the 280, the 101. Crashes and minor accidents dot my GPS maps. Not too late for an appointment with a knife. Today, happy to wait in a room of nervous caregivers and their cared for loved ones with cancer, to get a lumpectomy more like a mini mastectomy.

We thought my surgery would take less time and tissue, however my former tumors left corrupted and genetically damaged breast lobes, and even with clean margins for the the 4mm tumor more must be removed. I imagine a pit inside a peach and the radio oncologist agrees with the metaphor except the peach grew in my breast. Not on trees. Like money grows on trees.

The surgeon uses a marker of sorts for navigation in the form of a very thin wire inserted into my breast using radio mammography and a good amount of numbing agent. Cannot recall the x- ocaine used, but no matter. A wire like a fuse on a bomb extends from my right breast as I await my surgeon, Dr. Tran, an affable, confident doctor who instills in me a feeling of relief rather than  fear. The first surgeon with whom I met months ago, asked why I was there in the office since, “we don’t operate on  stage IV cancer patients.” He’s not going to make the team. He’s cut immediately as the odds against the procedure become tougher to beat.

Patient. A person who waits. A woman without patience makes an awfully poor patient. However, this impatient patient won the battle against the oncological team who abided by the predetermined treatment bible for all people with metastatic disease. “Biblical” may seem somewhat overstated. I assure you, somewhere in a dark room under a thick  museum grade glass box, sits a jewel encrusted tome with instructions for medical personnel by which they must abide. I lean towards choosing those willing to simply consider my strategy for my battalion to fight along side me in battles I can win as parts of a war I can never truly conquer. They are special ops forces. Doctors who missed that part of the oncological specialty curriculum. Willing to listen and see patients as people. Individuals.

When I  entered metastatic pergatory, I found that treatments come and go in the cancer high fashion set. Metastatic cancer patients become the lab rats for the next new wunder drugs and all sorts of treatments. The anesthetic wears off as I lay in recovery, my mouth dry and sticky like my brain. For some unknown reason, I begin cracking bad jokes with the nurses. Nurse Sandy gets a no arms no legs at the beach joke and doesn’t find it funny, yet the others snicker and let me in on her emotionally serious nature. To balance things out I say what do you call a girl with one boob? Ilene.  Ha. Funny day. Steve Miller sang, “I really love your peaches wanna shake your tree.” Well, maybe one peach is enough.