Three Years Out and Starting to Feel Stronger
My check-ups have been falling on the first week of spring and the first week of autumn.
It just so happened to work out that way .. but I like it.
I never used to feel grateful for the arrival of a new season. But now I feel grateful without even trying. I am no-shit glad to be alive.
My exact 3-year anniversary fell back on January 26. I called the Clinical Trials girl and said, "I'm 3 years out today. I'm feeling good. I'm feeling grateful. I'm glad to be alive. I just want to let you know that I'm thinking of you and the doctors there at Moores. See you in couple months."
I was surprised when she picked up. She is usually away from her desk. So normally I just leave a message. It was nice that we had a chance to chat. I like her.
Immunotherapy is the future of Oncology.
Anyway, on this particular week, my appointment happened to fall on the exact first day of spring. The vernal equinox fell on Tuesday the 20th at 9:15 AM PDT.
And it was a spectacularly gorgeous day. Downright luscious. I could feel God smiling.
I am glad that spring has arrived. The winters are tougher for the cancer survivor. The cold affects you more. It blows right through you.
These days when I go to Moores are always trippy for me. Sometimes I can feel the emotions swarming not far beneath the surface.
Being 3 years out is better than during treatment, or during your first year out, or even during your second year out.
I always leave home early so that I can spend a little time down there and look around and see all the new buildings and whatnot that they are building there.
It seems like there is constantly new construction going on somewhere or other down there.
» I Received Your Christmas Letter, Oscar
Before I forget, I want to tell Oscar from Spain that I received his annual Christmas letter. He writes every Christmas. For years now. I now look forward to receiving these annual updates from him. Where he always shares interesting insights from the politics there and in Europe.
I see you, too, Jehu.
» I Am Surprised at How Much Better I Feel Compared to Last Year
The #1 thing that I would like to report from 3 years out .. is that, I feel considerably better than I did at 2 years out.
I confess that I had the idea in my head that the way I felt at 2 years out would be the way I would be left with after treatment.
My oncologists were talking here about moisture in my mouth following a return of the salivary glands, which get cooked from all the radiation.
They were also talking about things like my sense-of-taste returning. But I somehow expanded these conversations to mean that the way I felt at 2 years out would be the way that I would feel from that point on.
The problem was that I wasnt feeling very great at two years out. Nowhere near where I was before treatment began.
After spending a few years in a new environment .. you start to figure out a few things.
» The Best I have Felt Since Treatment Ended
On the road to recovery from cancer treatment .. which is no short road .. the thing that the cancer survivor is really looking for .. is a return to that place where you had the same vim and vigor and energy and stamina that you had before.
It may be difficult to put into words the thing that I am looking for .. but I know exactly what it is. I know exactly what it feels like.
Anyway, I am so happy that I was not limited to how I felt at 2 years out. I told my oncologist, "This is the best I've felt since treatment ended. I feel considerably better than I did at 2 years out. I am actually starting to develop a sense of physical stamina."
» That was a Very Stupid Thing to Do
Shortly after I was determined by my doctors to be cancer-free, I knew that I wanted to move beyond this thing and return to the place where I was, physically speaking .. as quickly as possible.
So I did what I usually do when I want to become physically fit. I pushed myself physically. I kept going even after I was tired.
The next day, I thought, "Oh, that was a very stupid thing to do." I was so tired that it hurt in ways that I cannot even describe to you .. in a way that you will understand.
It feels like every cell in your body is hurting and telling you continually that what you did was a very stupid, which you should not have done.
It took me 2 weeks before my ass stopped dragging from that. It was actually 2½ weeks before I felt normal again. So I learned that I was operating, physically, in a new world .. where I cannot physically do what I had done before.
I have learned that physical recovery is a much more gradual thing than you would prefer. The slope to physical recovery is much more gradual and much longer than you could imagine.
At the end of this 2½ weeks, I was not in any better shape .. because I couldnt do anything but try to rest. But finally, some 3 years later, I am now starting to develop a degree of physical stamina. Physical endurance. Physical fitness.
And no, it has not been easy. About 6 months ago I began in earnest to try a regain a degree of physical stamina.
» You Almost Need to be Neurotic About It
The mindset that you need to accomplish such a thing is close to fanatical. You almost need to be neurotic about getting in shape. Because you never feel like it.
The endeavor has not been without setbacks. The path not linear.
I have learned that the more I think about it, the less likely I am do exercise that pushes me physically.
Everybody agrees that regular physical exercise, when done smartly, is a good thing. But getting to the gym is another story. You know what I am saying.
And for the cancer survivor .. the distance between knowing that I should do this thing and actually doing it .. this is a long ways, my friend. This is a lot of ground to cover.
I had been waiting for some type of pre-treatment vigor and strength to return .. because I felt exhausted much of the time.
» Returning from a Place of Profound Physical and Emotional Exhaustion
After treatment you are exhausted, as you might imagine, both physically and emotionally. You are actually beyond exhausted, but that's another story.
I remember telling the Dog, "I did not know that you could be this tired and still be alive."
You have definitely been to places that you did not even know existed. And these are not very nice places to visit. Nobody goes to places like this unless they absolutely must.
But you do not really mind this deep sense of exhaustion because you are glad to be alive, and glad to be declared cancer-free.
» Year-One Compared to Year-Two
The cancer survivor spends most of that first year just putting on the weight he lost during treatment. I started at 180 and dropped to 140 frighteningly fast. I have put back on half that weight, and now hang out at 160-ish. Maybe 162. .. if you caught me coming out of In-n-Out. But I am comfortable here.
It takes the cancer survivor a considerable amount of body-energy to build back 20 pounds. I think that this is why you dont feel like doing much of anything but resting for that entire first year.
» I Could Not Seem to Make Any Progress in the Fitness Category
The second year was very stop-n-go. I could go a few days, but I could not sustain any type of pushing it. And I was still fatigued much of the time. If I pushed it, my ass would drag for days. And felt beyond merely tired.
For much of the second year, it didnt feel like I could make progress physically speaking. I would do something to stress myself physically, and then get tired and rest for a number of days. But I just seemed to return to the place I had began. I could not sustain anything. I could not build on anything.
This deep sense of exhaustion wanes as you move away from treatment .. but the gains are far more gradual, and you must work for them 5 times as hard.
I try not to think about it. I try to just do it, without thinking about it. Because, if I think about it, I can easily come up with a million excellent excuses for why I shouldnt do this today.
The voice in my head says, "Dude, if this is so hard, and the gains are so muted .. why are we even bothering?"
But I really wanted to look good for my oncologist. It almost felt like you are going on a date with a girl who you want to impress. So I just stayed with it .. despite the seemingly miniscule gains and herculean effort required.
In the beginning days, I would just come home and lie down on the bed and pass out cold. I would be shakey-tired. And I am not talking about any great feats here.
» It Affects So Much of Your Life
The thing that makes it difficult to move beyond this thing .. this treatment thing .. is that if affects so much of your life.
Every time you swallow, you are reminded of treatment. If you talk for more than 5 or 10 minutes .. you are reminded of treatment.
I could go on and one here .. with my stomach and food and taste and other things .. but my point is that this is not an easy thing to move beyond .. because it affects so much of your life.
The head guy who ran the radiation machines told me near the end of my treatment, "I think that the reason why your treatment may be the most difficult of all .. is because it affects so much of your life."
If anybody would know...
» The Place Where I was Before Treatment Began
It's probably the length of a football field. I have actually run it 6 times .. but that kicked my ass severely.
Even in the days before treatment began, after I had been diagnosed, I was still running the hill .. because it helped tame the anxiety.
The anxiety that follows a positive diagnosis .. it is severe. I had no problem checking off the box labeled severe in my weekly questionnaires that asked about anxiety.
[ During teatment they gave me generic Ativan, which I found very effective against anxiety. I would take one at bedtime and sleep like a baby. It is a nice, clean type of feeling. Not like the narcotics. ]
» I Got the Message .. in a Big Way
I still remember the last time that I ran the hill. It was during the very first week of treatment. Sure, I felt like shit .. but I have run before when I wasnt feeling so great. And I usually fely better after the physical exertion.
But not this time. My body let me know in no uncertain terms that this was a » very stupid thing to do. I was hurting badly .. for quite a while. I got the message. I got the it in a big way. And I never did run that hill again.
It was a dark place for me .. where this thing I could always do .. now I could no longer do. And I didnt know if I would ever do it again.
» When Half a Hill is a Glass Half Full
I would like to report that, very recently, I have run HALF the hill. First I started just walking it. Then I would run 10 steps or so. Then 20, then 30. It took a long time (months) .. but now I can run half the hill.
Of course, the second half of the hill is much harder .. which is why I am not doing it. (Yet.) The day when I can run the hill once .. this will be a big day for me. Not very long ago, this seemed like such an impossible feat.
I am so happy that I can run the hill again (okay, half the hill) .. that I dont even care how sore my legs get the next day.
Sometimes they feel pretty rubbery .. but I dont even care, because the soreness reminds me of what I could not do .. for nearly three years.
"My legs havent felt this sore in a long time," I think.
» Transitioning to Annual Check-Ups
My oncologist is going to see me in another 6 months, and then we will switch to an annual check-up schedule .. alternating with my ENT surgeon.
Going to a year .. this seems like such a head-trip. I mean, it's a good thing. A good sign. A sign that things are going well.
That was such a strange feeling. I mean, it was a good thing .. but it somehow didnt feel that way.
This guy, my radiation oncologist, he is a teaching doctor. He always has some cool, smart student with him. This week he actually had two students. One from Brazil .. who told me where not to go in Brazil.
(I slept at this Brazillian chick's place one night .. a half-block from the beach in Santa Monica .. after she had spent a night at my place in Laguna. No sex was involved, but I admit that I am fascinated by other cultures .. how they see the world. We went to breakfast in the morning .. and I had a lot of questions.)
I learn a lot from listening to him talk to his students. He is a good teacher.
They spray the cocaine up my left nostril and run a scope up through my sinuses and down into my voice box .. where they look around .. on a TV screen that I can't see.
Sometimes when they are talking their medical lingo .. and they are talking about the things that they are seeing .. I dont really want to know exactly what they are talking.
What I really want to hear is when he pulls the scope out and turns to me and says, "I dont see anything that looks like cancer."
» Reflections from Day #23
Between you and me .. the thing I am really looking forward to .. is that day when it occurs to me .. that this 'thing' .. this cancer thing & especially the EFFECTS of its brutal treatment regimen .. is/are behind me.
I cannot say that today, tho. Because this 'thing' is all up in my ass, presently. Like a toothy croc munching on your butt.
My chemo doctor told me that "the three weeks after treatment ended" would be the worst-of-the-worst .. due to the 'cumulative' effects. If anybody would know.
» You Know the Worst is Over .. But It Doesnt Feel that Way
The chemo fucks up your blood .. which fucks you up. You can watch the numbers on the counts plummet over a number of weeks.
You do not know the meaning of the term 'anemia' until you've had a chance to experience a few chemo infusions. I remember one of my doctors saying, when I was on the way to recovering .. I remember him saying, "Whenever hemoglobin falls below 11, I start to get worried."
During treatment, my hemoglobin was waaay below eleven. Like 7 and change. This is the reason why you feel so tired .. on a level that it is not possible for me to adequately describe .. if you have never actually experienced it.
For my second (of three) chemo 'infusions' .. my counts were too low for chemo. My neutrofils were too low, a type of white blood cell. They check your blood right before chemo. That morning. They pull your blood and run it straight to the lab.
An hour later, they sent me home and said, "Come back next week, and we'll try again."
So, at this point, on day #23, when I was writing this bit .. I was at the END of the worst-of-the-worst. Now, merely knowing that the worst is behind .. this brings a degree of comfort, sure. The only problem here is that your body is not feeling that comfort. No, sir. Not hardly.
We are talking about a very dark place .. physically speaking. I remember thinking, "I know that they're not trying to kill me .. but, it kind of feels like it."
» Revisiting a Bad Place from a Position of Strength
I did something this during visit that I have never done .. in the last three years » I brought along my treatment planner with me. My 2-month laminated treatment planner (Dec/Jan). The one with a big black X over every day of treatment. The one that the Clinical Trials girl made for me.
I had written much info on that planner .. such as appointment times and pick-up times, and confirmation numbers. And many things changed along the way .. so there were numerous updates. Along with a number of key phone numbers.
Every one of those X's .. let me tell you .. was earned. (Abel knows what I am talking about.) The old-fashioned way. The hard way.
The difference between wanting to move beyond this thing, and actually being beyond it .. this is quite some difference, my friend. Quite some distance.
You may be done with the worst of the worst .. but the worst of the worst is not done with you. Not by a long shot. I know you feel me.
» The Thing I So Looked Forward to Is Finally Here
I showed it to my doctor, and his students .. of when I was in the 'thick' of it.
This is my way of revisiting a bad place from a position of strength. He saw me then, and he sees me now, and he is a witness of sorts to the difference.
There was definitely a death-n-rebirth pattern to the whole experience .. these last three years. That aspect was not lost on me. No, sir. Not hardly.
There is a passage in Psalms that talks about how » "Their soul abhorred all kinds of food, and they drew near to the gates of death."
I get that verse better than most people. Much better.
I could not say this thing last year. I could not say that I felt like I was beyond this thing. But now I can say this. This is how I move beyond these things.
» The Inspiring Courage of Those Survivors of Sexual Abuse in Gymnastics
Very inspiring, these girls. It takes years to move beyond some things. And it's not easy. Oprah knows what I am talking about.
» Coping Mechanisms Constructed in Childhood Can Become Hindrances Later in Life
This 7-minute video from the Academy says that the things we construct as children as ways to deal with difficulties .. can become the very things that work against us later in life as adults.
A strength over-used quickly becomes a liability .. as everybody knows in the field of personal and professional development.
This is because you keep relying on this thing that has worked for you in the past. But now you need to develop other skills .. because you are now in a different environment. A different situation.
Your life as an adult consists of different circumstances .. where these coping mechanisms that you constructed in childhood are now interfering with your functioning as a adult .. where more maturity is expected of you than is expected of a child.
» Speaking to a Thing in an Authoritative Voice .. Yet Lacking Firsthand Experience
I give him credit for his response statement, tho. Because it is easy to see how someone like him could be blind to the intracacies of #MeToo. No?
He is the opposite of a small, weak, poor, young, vulnerable girl. The model-of-life that he constructs will not incorporate many of these types of viewpoints. (I feel like I am stating the obvious here.)
For him, #MeToo was about other things (» significance and certainty) .. as compared to the women in it. You cannot speak to things for which you have no firsthand experience.
Well, you can certainly speak to them .. but your voice cannot stand up against the firsthand experiences of the women themselves. You can comment and speculate all you like .. but in the end, you must defer on the grounds of firsthand experience. (This is how I see it.)
It was a strikingly ignorant thing to say. You almost can't believe what you're hearing. "It's not about significance," I caught myself saying to Tony. "It's about being able to do your job without being sexually harassed. Duh."
And notice how I didnt even mention the apparent lack of compassion. But no one will deny that he was articulating his perspective and views of the #MeToo movement .. and particularly, how bad it is for men who are in positions of power.
I am sure that there is a woman or two somewhere who wanted to tell him "Go fuck yourself, Tony .. mister new age enlightenment."
His response gave me the sense that he was genuinely contrite, and not merely trying to save himself financially. (I could be wrong, sure.)
That lady called him out publicly. That's not easy to do. It's not even easy to speak in front of an auditorium full of people. Good for her.
» I Took Margot Robbie Home with Me from Moores
You know .. last spring, when I was down at Moores for my 2-year-out check-up .. I stumbled upon this magazine there on the table in front of me while I was sitting in the waiting area of Radiation Oncology (.. facing the bamboo garden) .. which contained a feature on Katie Holmes.
Many things in that article spoke to me. I had already been writing secret love letters to Katie Holmes. .. since she is now a director-chick .. and I happen to have some experience with director-chicks.
I like director-chicks. Director-chicks know how kick ass and take names. (And they always want to have plenty of sex. You have to pace yourself with a director-chick. And you will need to be in excellent shape.)
She is the reason why Channing's character is planning to blow up a bank vault with famed bank-vault blower, Joe Bang.
And she says things to him like, "I have full custody. You are shit. You have no money. I am moving out of the state next month with our little girl, because you suck as a father, and you dont smell very nice, either .. to be quite honest. So please shower before you come knocking on the door of my very fancy house. And besides, I have a Pilates class that I need to get to."
I may be adlibbing there a bit .. but suffice to say that it is too easy for me to put myself into this scene. Almost impossible not to.
» I Knew that I Shouldnt and I Tried Not To
Anyway, when I was down there at Moores earlier this week, I was naturally cautious about picking up a magazine. Then I saw that giant one with Margot Robbie on the cover.
I was already done with my appointment and lunch and simply waiting for my ride, who said that he'd be there in 10 or 15 minutes.
When I saw that photo of Katie Holmes on the cover last year, I didnt recognize her at first .. until I read the text there beside her face. But when I saw Margot Robbie .. I knew exactly who it was. (Brad Pitt knows what I am talking about.)
I took the magazine home with me. I stole Margot Robbie from the Moores Cancer Center. I got her right here with me.
She is an interesting girl .. for a number of reasons. My ego is convinced that she likes me.
She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress this year for her portrayal of Tonya Harding. She is not just another pretty face. Just being nominated along with such a group of talent, and being recognized by your peers .. that must be a great feeling.
» The Art-n-Craft of Convincingly Becoming Someone Else
In this article that I am reading about Margot .. the very last passage before the black diamond reads »
"I understand them both, but I miss Tonya more. Some characters, like Daphne, I can let go of very quickly. But not Tonya. I'm still not done with her. I found it hard to shake her off."
I have always wondered about the ability of the actor to deal with the dynamics of becoming another person .. to a very convincing degree .. of being completely consumed by this character .. and then moving on from there .. when the film is over .. when the carnival is over.
This seems like such a sketchy thing to me. What is the difference between acting well and temporary psychosis?
They say that this was one of the things that made River Phoenix vulnerable .. that he had trouble separating the two. He would get 'stuck' so to speak .. in the character, right?
I am interested, I confess, about the rituals that an actor might embrace in order to discharge the remnants of a character. I mean, this is how you move on to the next character.
What if the actor works all the time, and doesnt spend much time as just themself? Then what?
Such a thing smacks of a psychological daredevil, no?
» Countless Times in Some Other Lifetime
As I was looking at the photos of Margot there in the magazine spread, my ego was convinced that we mustve made love countless times in some other lifetime, or in some other universe. She probably hears this kind of thing a lot.
» Margot is a Wow Girl
I dont think that they necessarily try to do this. Rather, I think that they just can't help themselves. It is when they are most just being themselves .. when you find yourself saying 'Wow' the most.
So I guess that it was just a matter of time before I wrote about her.
There is a blue moon occurring later this month on the 31st.