how the story goes

The days have run out. 

I finished. I’m done with all the big cancer treatments. 

I am remembering the story of Jonah. He’s famous for being swallowed by a whale. But the whale wasn’t the end of the story. It was an interstitial adventure that happened while he was on his MISSION to go talk to Nineveh about how God was going to destroy them if they did not repent.

I’ve spend a year with very short horizons. Get through a surgery…Get through 4 doses of chemo…No, just this one dose. 

Ok, just this one day.

And then…

Jonah was in the whale for three nights. He didn’t know how long it would be. 

I was told how long my treatment would be. 

And now it’s over. I am cancer free.

Barfed up on the beach by my former prison, the whale.

What was I doing again? What was it that was so important that I lost sleep and plotted and planned? What were my dreams again?

That’s one story.

Then there was that other story, the one where Joshua got his army to march around the walls of Jericho. There was a formula for that one. He was supposed to march his army around the walls once a day, and on the seventh day go around seven times, blow the trumpet and THEN the walls would fall down.

I wonder if Joshua and his army were thinking about after the walls fell?

It’s a lot of tension. 

Will they fall? After seven days of nothing, and THEN they fall?

As the story goes, they walls fell down and they took the city. It was a bloody scene of victory.

I am now standing in the rubble of the wall. 

I don’t know if I’m the army or the rubble. Truly, I would like to be the victorious army. But I feel like a rubble.

When I was counting the days that remained I was imagining the feeling of victory. 

I knew I’d still be weak, but I was hoping I could shake it off. 

If I’m the rubble, I’ll have to have patience as I rebuild myself. If I’m the army, I can start yelling.

I really am both, so I’ll do both as best I can. It’s my story now.

hero’s journey

Since Friday I’ve ben radioactive. Truly all the way radioactive. They read me on a Geiger counter. I was disappointed that it didn’t click like it does in the movies.

Now I’m a sci fi action hero—on the hero’s journey like J. Campbell talks about. Leaving the nest…Kicked out to go find the magic I can bring back to save everyone.

Passed so many fairy tale tests along the way. Is this the last one? There is always another straw, so I dare not say it is the last. But I anticipate recovering my strength and capacity. Wise women who went before have told me it will return.

I miss being able to think. My mind is weak. Sci fi is a great genre for this experience. An old short story Flowers for Algernon. It’s a dark problematic story of how a mentally challenged young man gets some drugs that worked on a rat named Algernon to make him smarter. He gets genius level and then loses it.

He once understood things. Once upon a time he was extraordinary.

And I feel it. I feel the weight I am carrying I as I try to remember and think clearly. I can’t. I can’t yet.  

Some things yes. 

It also depends on whether things line up. How much pain am I in? Will I get a good night’s sleep? Will I have the right size of task to warm up on? Will I get the right food and also not be upset in a way that saps my energy?

I started to read a beautiful book Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance again, and the writing was so painfully beautiful I had to stop.  I can’t bear it right now.

Is this part of what it’s like to be 80? What I talked about here?

So I’m re-reading The Expanse, and I started in on the second book Caliban’s War.  Sci fi novel made into a TV show, categorically easy reading.

In the first parts of the book, Praxidike Meng joins Holden’s crew on the broken Ganymede landscape after a desperate, starved  and unfruitful search for his daughter. They feed him. And this bit of the story is written out:

Over the course of hours, his mind started coming back. It felt like waking up over and over without falling asleep in between. Sitting in the hold of Holden’s ship, he’d find himself noticing the shift in his cognition—how much more clearly he could think and how good it felt to come back to himself. And then a few minutes later, some set of sugar deprived ganglia would struggle back to function and it would all happen again. And with every step back toward real consciousness he felt the drive growing

I know I am not myself right now. I am more tired than I was during chemo. I have flashes of clear thinking capacity that quiver and collapse under the load.

The man/boy in Flowers for Algernon and my circumstances also remind me of John Stuart Mill’s pig. Do you remember John Stuart Mill’s pig? In his classic age-of-enlightenment essay Utilitarianism ?


“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.” 

I am not a child. I know both sides of it. I am a human being dissastified. And I worry that maybe I’ll never get it back

Updike’s Rabbt Run comes to mind:

“after you’re first-rate at something, no matter what, it kind of takes the kick out of being second-rate.”

Now that I’ve found that quote I remember how I dislike that character. There was nothing about him I wanted to emulate, except how he crafted words around his complaints. And that was the author anyway.

I’ll go back and get it right..This maudlin isn’t helping. Alfred Lord Tennyson has what I need:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

That I can do.. I shall not yield.

science non fiction

Just finished reading A Brave New World. I haven’t talked about books in a while, but they are still with me.

Here’s the list of books I read last year. These medical treatments are suppressing my thinking skills, so my books are a lot fluffier this year. I read vampire and werewolf books for the first time this year, for example.

But there was this online book club part of the phetasy community, and we chose Huxley so I read it. 

During the book discussion, someone was wondering if this book counted as Science Fiction. OOOH! Literary theory?! Strap in! we are going there

Science fiction can be a lot of things, but one trend in the sci fi novel is universe building where at a rule is changed. Then the events of the novel proceeds from that change. There is a famous short story where time travel is invented, and the traveller goes back in time and accidentally steps on the first and only butterfly. He returns to his present time to discover that his action has prevented the future (his present) from including butterflies. The culture has morphed in ways only the time traveller sees. 

IF the world has no butterflies, what else would be true?

I remember that game in my improve classes. In the book club, Bridget Phetasy is a stand up comedian and she said that’s part of developing stand up.

If this is true, what else is true?


And what else is not true?

Brave New World seems to be exploring the idea of a world in which reproduction is asexual. Many people find the world Huxley created to be compelling.

In my world, it is true that I am impaired in a medically induced way.

What else is true?

What are the borders of my science non fiction?

I am weak. I am tired. I remember things with an effort (..what was the name of that one person I’m supposed to call?)

Today, I sit in the limbo of my last thyroid medical treatment being scheduled. It was planned for last Friday, but that had to be pushed into the future because the numbers weren’t high enough. The numbers might still be too low. Which means I may have to remain in this medically impaired state for even longer.

I cried when it was rescheduled the first time. It may be rescheduled again.

Ok.

What else is true?

How weak am I? can I walk around the block? Sometimes. 

Can I still think enough to write my weekly substack?

It appears I can today, if I have a nap beforehand.

Towards the end of the day, I am weaker and less able.

What else is true?

It is true that I don’t know when that treatment will take place. But it will take place and it will be done at some point.

It is also true that I get to explore the borders of my universe with an eye towards adventure and see what the possibilities could be.

motion

I’m done here, so I put my phone down and stand up.

There it is–that push up through my head and the throb in my legs.

Whoa. Stop, bend my knee and put my arms out to keep my balance.

This time my vision goes black around the edges.

Should I sit down again?

Is my head clearing? Do the black edges clear out.

No, I didn’t have to sit down yet. I take a step and start going to where I was thinking when I needed to get up in the first place.

I could sit. I could always sit. Rest is there for me. I have that privilege.

And if I wait for my blood, breath and strength to catch up to my ideas movement is there for also.

I want to go. I was done with resting. Movement is the key to what I want next.

Every moment it’s a choice. What motion could I make now? 

Ooh…Not yet. Don’t fall over. Wait a moment. Vision needs to clear.

I stand still, holding faith that the next step will open up.

It almost always does. The way is before me.

I’m not yearning for rest. Those who long for rest should have it.

I want that step, that movement, like it’s my breath. 

Pause. 

And pause again.

Hanging in the balance, with the fiath that the next step will appear when it’s right.

I’ll save the rest for a rainy day. I’ll save it for something special.

My motion pulls me, even if I can’t keep up with it. 

I’m on my way…I’ll be there as soon as I can.

News from the front

NEWS WIRE:

Jan 16th, I had my last radiation treatment. That day I got the results of my PET scan. My body shows no sign of any more breast cancer. Treatments are done, and I can move into maintenance. I’ll go in for regular checkups and move past the breast cancer.

There is still the second thyroid cancer. That treatment is scheduled for February 2nd, and I will have to stay 3 feet away from people for a week, as well as take some precautions not to radiate others. But I will be able to put on bow on it on February 9th and get on with the efforts to get strong and have stamina again.


Back to Regular Programming:

It was a year ago. It was just a regularly scheduled mammogram.

No problem.

Then it was a closer look.

A little worry and dread slowed my steps

Then it was a biopsy and a diagnosis.

Fear walked with me. And death came out of the mist and waited with me for what was next.

Fear has a camp follower:

Shame

The dread made me want to cover it up. Nothing to see here; I can handle this.

It’s embarrassing to have something be WRONG with me. Cover it up, move along.

Maybe if I can fake it, it will go away.
Maybe if I show I am the slow one, the predators will come.

Shame and fear feed on each other. Because I was afraid I tried to hide it. I didn’t talk about the diagnosis until April, when I was headed into surgery. I hoped it would go away

This was live fire coming at me. I wasn’t sure where to turn.

I can see that shame has been with me as well as fear.

I know more about defending against it. Cancer was only one of the enemies.

it is safe out there?

All the chemotherapy—medical poisoning—has come to an end. Radiation is done this week, and although my skin is red and needs to recover I’m looking forward to getting into life without doctor visits.

It’s a good thing because life is coming at me with demands for my attention.  I’m nervous. My mind is clearing up enough to be able to imagine what could go wrong. What if I can’t do it? 

Will I be able to go out in the world again? Can I handle it? My impulse in this change is fear.

But I don’t want to stay hidden. I want to go out into the wide world of adventures again. But I’m scared!

There are a chorus of voices who tell me to watch out. Take it easy!  This was serious. I should act like it. They are loud and nearly constant, like a tinnitus hum.

I don’t want to hear it. I definitely don’t want to give it attention.

What I want it to go out and have adventures and do exciting things. How am I supposed to get past those voices and the scared I feel?

I do feel scared. And those voices are not silent. I can’t get past them.

What am I to do? I am hungry for experiences.

My adventures will have to include the fear. Scared can come on the ride with me. And those voices that say I shouldn’t or can’t will be in the back seat. 

There are some things to be afraid of, for sure. Those voices want me to consider every possible threat. 

Once I start off though, I’m feeling like it is not so threatening. If I can start the fear is quieter.  It doesn’t go away. I’ll have to make room for it because I’m going places. This new year is the phoenix’s rebirth.

Books i read in 2024

  1. brave new world
  2. never finished
  3. magic bleeds
  4. ruby fever
  5. emerald blaze
  6. the bookworm
  7. Broken mate
  8. shattered wolf
  9. warrior fae princess
  10. warrior fae trapped
  11. nstural dual mage
  12. silver moon
  13. fated hearts
  14. zen and the art of motor maintenance

imagine the path to victory

The year is spread out against the sky, and I want to put my face among the thousands of heroes that have come before me. I want to leave this safe space and have an adventure.

I am tired of being spread like a patient etherized upon a table. I’m ready to leave the safety of this known safe—safe-ish?—place I’ve been in and go on a quest for adventure.

The desire to conquer a new year is shared, it would seem. Lots of people talk about the new year and how they will achieve new heights. Many minds turn to heroic deeds.

What will it take to conquer new territory? I’m imagining what I’ll do, picturing the finish line and how great it will feel to cross it.

That’s the prize. The victory march.

Heroism isn’t a walk in the garden. If I were flitting from one delight to another, I would be a child and not a hero.


The struggle is a big part of what creates the value. The victory is not as sweet if it were a gift.

A great hero has a powerful enemy. 

Of course, I don’t wish for a struggle. But at the same time, I do want to do hard things and get stronger and more skilled.

That takes striving. That thing I wish I didn’t have to do. Strive with my own weakness to overcome it and turn it into strength. 

Less weakness means I can face the powerful enemies outside myself with better success. I’m going to need to be ready to conquer those enemies when they appear.

I had best start with myself.

bags beneath my eyes

Cleaning out a cupboard, I found a stash of plastic grocery bags. It has been a while since I got into the back of that cupboard, because these were from when the stores gave you a bag for free. I kept them so I could reuse them.

Except in this case, I hadn’t reused them. I’d stuffed them back into the back of my attention and forgot. Bags of bags.

What would I put in these bags? I thought the bags would have a use. But they took up space in my kitchen. Years ago, I stopped seeing them.

Sometimes bags hold things for me. Sometimes things hold onto me and accumulate.  Like bags under my eyes. Or bags in the back of the cupboards

When I discovered those bags I saw the truth of this choice I made and forgot. It limited my possibilities and cluttered my life. I made space and accepted these without a second thought.

If I asked myself what bothers me in my life or my environment, I have a fast response, and I could roll on the topic of things that need to be fixed or improved.  

It was appalling to suddenly see what I’d been tolerating for so long. Willful ignorance of the sneakiest kind. What else have I become intentionally blind about?

It’s a new year. I’m ready to ditch old habits for new ones. My cupboard full of bags of trash is a splash of cold water to my smug confidence. I need to check myself. 

I’ve been coasting on a set of assumptions. Some of them are helpful. I’m just not sure which are and which aren’t. 

It’s never convenient to re-examine my behaviors. I’m just trying to go live my life. And I can go about my life in a straight line. I’ll step around that thing. Then jump over that gulch, duck to get under that overhang and get straight to it.

How easy it is to contort myself to keep it simple! I end up in absurd contradiction.

Like finding out I’ve got toilet paper stuck to my shoe. With humiliation, I wonder how many people have seen it. I do not resent the time it takes to fix it. I only wish I could have fixed it sooner

I want to get myself proper for the new year. 

So then what?

It was this time, a year ago, that i scheduled a mammogram

I didn’t expect that to take over my year.

I had to come to terms with the very serious and compelling news that I had breast cancer. That kind of information gets VIP treatment. Almost everything else comes second to this new priority.

I resent giving up my priorities in favor of something that’s pressed upon me. My priorities are my own.

Cancer though, is different. This is my LIFE I’m talking about, in the teeth of a very serious disease.

It’s not something to bargain with. Except it kind of is. I made this cancer journey–well, the medical treatments to fight cancer journey–my own.

I was not willing to lie back and take it. I had to find myself and express that I was strong and a fighter throughout it. I kept exercising, and tried to eat healthy things.

Eating was harder than I thought–30 pounds gained.

I am very close to being done with these treatments. Done with Chemo and halfway through radiation I will get a scan in January that should reveal that the cancer cannot be found in my body

ok. what then?

I have to recover from this fight…from the poisons I have put into my body to kill the disease. It hasn’t left me unscathed. I have lost my beautiful hair. It’s going to come back changed.

I am NOT willing to be weak and tired going forward. But it looks like I will be for a while longer.

How can I shorten that time?

Because i WANT that energy, that stamina, clarity and creative expression. Why did I go through this if not for that?

I want to redeem what i bought with the suffering. I want to SPEND my life on the very best life has to offer.

i need a plan. I need to turn from the easy and the cheap to the precious and valuable.

Taking the time to think about what I value and set away from the cheap will help me spend wisely.

As I bask in the wind-down of christmas, and the ramp-up into the new year my perspective has changed a lot. My faith is stronger, but humbler too.

I hadn’t realized what a small thing i am in the face of the cosmos. There is so much that is outside my control.

And still, of the things that are inside my control, there are so many actions I can choose to take. I am small but mighty, and I can choose to be persistent.

Persistance brings down any barrier.