Posts tagged ‘cancer’

Cancer, Michael, and Heroes

Once in a while at an odd moment, thoughts of my cancer come flooding in. This time it was probably brought on by the fact that I go in for another PSA test and my PSA has been showing a slight rise.  Is this a new chapter? Now as far as cancer patients go, I have no complaints. While I have an incurable prostate cancer with a really high (9) Gleason score (highly aggressive), right now the treatment has put it in slow motion. So other than the side effects of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) and antiantrogen therapy to wipe out testosterone in the body (fatigue, loss of libido, some weight gain, hot flashes that never end, sore breasts), I am mostly fine. No pain, no chemo, no radiation or their horrible side effects. So it is easy to ignore it, forget your now on a fast-moving time clock, and just cruise like most of us did through our younger days. Sure, weight lifting is more of a challenge, and golf wipes me out for two days, losing weight is a bitch, but I can still do all of them. My tolerance of heat is non-existent, but I am not suffering the ravages from the treatment that most cancer patients suffer so bravely and fight so valiantly (My sister-in-law comes to mind as a close example).

But still, I know that when things start to go down hill, things are going to get tough, unless some new treatment comes along to prolong my life until I die of something else. When those thoughts come flooding in as they do sometimes, I think of the movie Michael, the archangel played by John Travolta, who was on his last trip to earth to pull off one more miracle. But he knows this is it, this is his last hurrah, he is not coming back. Michael lived life large and enjoyed the sensory pleasures of this world taking in everything life had to offer. But in a great scene, Michael has that same sense that I am sure most terminal patients all have at one time or another, about how much they love life.*

The scene is with Michael who sees a bull in the field and decides to take it on. The noble fight. Imagine the battle scene between the two when they charge at each other, full of the passion of the moment and the fight, and then Michael and the bull are both knocked out by a high-speed head butt (there might be something here being said about fighting itself and its utility). When Michael gets back to his feet with help from William Hurt, he reveals to Hurt that this is his last big blast on Earth, his last hoorah. Michael looks to the skies, eyes closed, arms up, wind in his hair, and says, “I’m gonna miss everything so much.”

That is exactly how I feel. It just could not almost be over. There is so much around me that is to rejoice in. Yeah, young love is gone no matter what, I am an old man after all, but I have a wonderful enduring love that few will ever experience. And then there is that sunset, the amazing beauty of the sun, the feeling of a breeze blowing by you, just the pure joy of living, of being, all of that is still there and the thing that comes flooding in, that soon this is going to be over. Take it in, drink it up. Stay in the moment. And then… I’m gonna miss everything so much.

But the moment I am trying to stay in will pass and I will be in another moment, one that could be brutally hard, not just on me, but for everyone around me. And that is when I think of heroes. People who just carry on when things get really tough. That is the real definition of a hero. I think of the Medal of Honor winner who was honored the other day at the White House, who was a medic who just carried on with his job risking everything for his comrades. Who does not have a hero fantasy about themselves? You know, some fantasy about you saving the world. We have a whole genre of movies these days about heroes.

I think they all miss the point. Heroes don’t have to be super. Heroes are all around us. People, who in the face of adversity, carry on. And many of them do it with such grace. Whether it is the last throes of cancer, a disability that puts them at a disadvantage in this life, a tragic loss, or simply being poor and disadvantaged. If you want to find heroes, stand in a crowd and look around. The fact that you don’t know their stories makes what they are going through and how they manage it so much more heroic. And whether they win or lose the battle is not the point, but how they nobly fought the fight.

And that is my next great challenge. Who knows, I may luck out, but then again I may not. And the challenge is to do this thing with grace and dignity, to leave those you love so very much ready to carry on without you, remembering you for your grace and dignity. This last chapter is really more about them than me. Am I up to it? I really don’t have a choice. I have to be up to it. And if I need a role model to inspire me to get me through, it is not the combat soldier, the Navy Seal, the fireman, the police officer, the usual suspects, it is a little old lady who spent her last days in pain, but carried on. It is the bravery of those around you who will have to shoulder the pain of your loss when you are gone. It is all around us and yet most of us are oblivious to it. Well, I see it, maybe because I now am forced to profoundly understand it. I just hope I am up to it.

*This is not to say that at the end, some could and should choose death when the reality of life and their disease overcomes them. I cannot help thinking of the bravery of Brittany Maynard, her husband, and her family on her journey with cancer, and giving the rest of us some modicum of control over our lives in the end. That is one amazing role model.

Cancer, Mine Update

Well I am two months into hormone therapy and the news is good.  PSA, an indicator of of growing cancer in the body (sometimes), dropped from 3.8 (not high to begin with) to 0.4 and a CAT Scan showed a decrease in the size of the lymph nodes that were involved.  Ooh Rah, Hooah, or as we fighter crew members used to say in the AF, Shit Hot. As cancer patients go, I have had it very easy so far.  Just a shot in the butt every 6 months and hope it slows down.   No chemo or radiation yet and as long as the hormones work.  I feel fine other than my knees hurt and my back is stiff from a very bad golf swing, the sign of a man in his 70s, so I am doing remarkably well.

But I have incurable cancer and hormone therapy will only work so long.  How long? Who knows?  As all cancer patients know, we dread the next test and the other shoe to drop.  Maybe they will come up with a cure or a more long-term treatment, which is the wish everyone has with a debilitating disease.  Of course our friendly Republicans have cut funding for most R&D and our Pharma has come up with a better way to treat prostate cancer and will only cost you a couple of hundred grand a year for the medicine.  Gotta keep those taxes low for the wealthy, right?  So what is the message here?  I can’t change politics, but I can live each day as a gift, because it is for all of us.  Besides, someone has to hit those golf balls into the woods for others to find.

One thing does stick in my mind.  When I went for my CAT Scan on Friday, I was waiting in the CAT Scan waiting room and there was an elderly lady there on a gurney who looked very ill and scared. I wanted to make eye contact and smile at her, but she seemed to want her privacy. There was an elderly couple sitting waiting for their turn in the CAT Scan or the bone scan, she holding his hand.  Both looking scared.  They all knew the news was not going to be good.  Things were not going to get better.  Somehow at the moment I felt very connected to all humanity.  We are all going down this road.  It certainly puts things into perspective and hopefully makes me a kinder person.

It’s Time to End Islamic Fundamentalism

If you read my blog yesterday, you probably thought I was just venting.  We do not want to get bogged down in another war in the Middle East.  But I was drawing a rational conclusion.  ISIS is no longer a regional threat.  The nature of the conflict has changed and so must our approach.  Apparently I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion as Roger Cohen, writing for the New York Times has come to a similar conclusion:

The only adequate measure, after the killing of at least 129 people in Paris, is military, and the only objective commensurate with the ongoing threat is the crushing of ISIS and the elimination of its stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The barbaric terrorists exulting on social media at the blood they have spilled cannot be allowed any longer to control territory on which they are able to organize, finance, direct and plan their savagery.

And like me, he sees this as a NATO imperative which will not be easy:

The battle will be long. Islam is in a state of fervid crisis, riven by the regional battle of Sunni and Shia interests (read Saudi Arabia and Iran), afflicted by a metastasizing ideology of anti-Western hatred and Wahhabi fundamentalism, seeking a reasonable accommodation with modernity. The scourge within it can probably only be defeated from within, by the hundreds of millions of Muslims who are people of peace and are as appalled as any sentient being at the Paris slaughter. Their voices need to be raised in unambiguous and sustained unison.

My point is very simple.  It is now a different threat and one we can no longer wait out.  America acting alone is folly, but if the rest of the World mobilizes to remove this cancer from the face of the earth, it can be done.  It is really a war about the future of mankind, and sadly I must now say it is time to fight it.

Donald Trump’s Candidacy is a Cancer on Conservatism

That would be Rick Perry today with this:  “Donald Trumps candidacy is a cancer on Conservatism and must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.”

Okay, does that make the 22% (as of today) who support him and his antics a cancer on Conservatism.  I would say they need to step back and remember they, the Republican Party, created Donald when they failed to rebuff his birtherism because it suited their agenda to just hate President Obama.  They created the 22% who love Donald with lies, racism, and xenophobia.  So if there is a cancer, it may be impacting the whole body, and for once I agree with Rick Perry, it needs to be exercised.

Oh and how is this for class.  Boy Senator, Marco Rubio said the following:  

The Presidency of the United States is not just the top government official, it is the leader of our people and our nation and it is important that we conduct the presidency in a dignified way. I don’t think his (Donald Trump”s behavior is either dignified or worthy of the office he seeks.  We already have a president now that has no class.

The whole party lacks class or respect for the president and they just don’t like their own behavior showered back on them by Donald Trump.  It is a clown act that we need to bury in history.


Yesterday I watched the Master’s Golf Tournament and I had an epiphany.  There was Phil Mickelson with a miracle day the day before, and now stuck between two trees on the 12th hole with a shot most of us duffers know very well.  The safe play was to hit it out into the fairway and then hope for par.  But that is not the Phil Mickelson we all know and he went for gold and got it.  Who did not have a dry eye as he sunk his shot on the 18th and then went looking for his wife to hold, she fighting breast cancer?

Then we have an interview with Tiger Woods and we started to understand the vast difference between the two men and what is admirable and what is not. Tiger Woods expressed disappointment that he had played poorly (coming in fourth?) and that he did not enter tournaments if he didn’t think he could win.  Now in the past we would have admired this pluck, but with the revelations about who Tiger really is, it was clear we were dealing with a narcissist.  As one of my friends opined, he sounded like a spoiled child who thought he deserved to win the Masters.  Had he smiled and said he had a lot of work to do, shown a little humility, he might be on the right road, but that was not what our special Tiger felt.

So we have this contrast, a guy who quit playing golf for a while because his wife needed him, and another who quit playing golf for a while because he wrecked his car after his  wife discovered his infidelity.  So why did we not see this duplicity in Tiger before and withhold some of our adulation? That brings me to my epiphany.  Yesterday, I wrote about how the financial talking heads loved Enron as the new model for business in the future even though there were plenty of questions about them, until the house of cards collapsed.  Even though what they were doing was too good to be true (think Bernie Madoff here) we never asked hard questions because we love a winner.

Certainly there was enough to see that maybe Tiger was not such an admirable a guy (other than he can play golf), but we all looked the other way.  As we piled on our admiration of him, we simply feed his narcissism.  When we ask how anyone could have been doing what he was doing and think he would not get picked off, the answer is he was living in a culture that said he was special and he believed it. But the epiphany extends to our political world.  Tiger seemed to think he could just practice a little and then win the Masters.  He did not understand that he is going to have to work very hard and suffer failures before he may ever regain his golf game, much less our respect.  In other words, his attitude was I deserve this win because I am Tiger Woods.

As I look around at governments that are slowly self destructing because they cannot pay their public servants, their teachers, their prison guards, and their police and firemen, the one thing that never comes up is that maybe we are going to have to raise taxes.  People seem to think they deserve all these services, but they don’t have to pay for them.  We have become the Tiger Woods of the world demanding our due, without earning it, or in this case paying for it.   And why can’t we see that what is government waste to some to some of us is a life line to another segment of our population?  Why do we latch on to anecdotal evidence to support our warped view of the world that can be clearly shown to be the exception and not the rule?

Because like seeing Tiger as the philandering adulter, it is an inconvenient truth that doesn’t fit our image of what we want and need to see, so we look away.  It must be their fault that they are poor.  They had choices didn’t they.  We turn off our empathy because it would force us to face the inconvenient truth that maybe if we want things in this world, we will have to pay for them, and life is inherently unfair and we have to share our good fortune.  We have become narcissists just like Tiger and it is all about us and nobody else counts.

My point/epiphany is simple.  We are stuck in a mess because we are so in love with ourselves and our needs that we cannot see the obvious truths in front of us that demand another path.  Republicans refuse to allow Democrats to govern because they believe they should be in power.  Their own self-love has produced a spoiled repugnant child that will not cooperate because its their world and no one else’s.  Welcome to the world of Tiger Woods, Bernie Madoff, and Eron, small government, and screw the little guy.  They would be a big guy like us if they deserved it.  Well thanks Phil.  For a short time we got a lesson in something we can believe in.  Sometimes you have to work hard for what you get, and sometimes some things are more important than winning.  It was nice to see the guy who we really admire for his real life,  turn out to be a winner.