Friday, March 30, 2007

To forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things ...

I had my CT scan today -- half a CT scan, really.
I was to have two separate scans, one with contrast (injectable dye) and one without. Because a blood test revealed that my kidney function is slightly compromised now (high calcium does that), the dye can't be administered -- which is just fine with me, as needle-phobic as I am.
So, I'm hoping the surgeon determining the feasibility of surgery can make do with a non-contrast CT scan (which doesn't provide as detailed an image as one with the dye).
The film should be available Monday, and I'm hoping it's sent to the surgeon sometime next week so that the road ahead will be revealed -- at least up to the next mountain.

Elsewhere in my life (but inextricably related to present circumstances), I'm resuming my zazen practice after a considerable lapse. Come to think of it, my 14 years of Buddhist study have featured a succession of considerable lapses. So it goes.
I may return to a sangha that meets nearby with which I was closely affiliated up till three years ago. Then again, I may decide to practice on my own. This sangha's approach has a decidedly Western and New Age feel to it (God, how I hate that empty label "New Age"), which isn't the best choice for me. I prefer a more traditional, no-frills approach. But, I relate well to the teacher. She has a nice way of cutting through the bullshit in short order.
I don't want to seem like a Zen dilettante because of this sangha search. I'm reminded of Dogen Zenji's admonition: "If you can't find the truth right where you are, where do you expect to find it?"
But I believe at this point in my practice that having an environment conducive to introspection is important (and this is where my ego and idea of self get me into trouble).
What's meant to happen will.

To study the self is to forget the self ...

I had a candid chat Thursday with one of my endocrinologists.
I told her that I had a frank, honest question that demanded a reply in kind, and that I would settle for nothing less.
I asked her if she and her colleague thought my health was taking a turn for the worse. My doctors' recent decision to advise me to undergo a monthly intravenous infusion of the calcium-lowering drug Zometa prompted this question. Usually, it's given just once a year for symptoms of osteoporosis. Once a month carries certain implications.
In a bit of hyperbole, she said she and her colleagues were surprised that I still had any bone left in my forearms and pelvis from which to draw the calcium that teems through my blood.
My calcium has already risen between the time of the first infusion about three weeks ago and now.
She explained that a monthly treatment would keep my calcium level fairly steady -- abnormally high, but steady -- at least for now. She reminded me that the tumors associated with parathyroid cancer aren't what kill, but rather the high level of calcium in the blood they create and the calcium's effects on organ systems.

Today I have a CT scan scheduled for the evening. It had been postponed the past two weeks, mainly over confusion and miscommunication about paperwork. In any event, this is a critical juncture because the scan will reveal whether surgery is advisable or even possible (last year, I was told that it was neither). If it can't be done, then Zometa and, possibly, an immune therapy being developed in England are my primary options. Thing is, my doctors have been talking about this therapy for two years but I have yet to learn its details, much less undergo it. I'm looking at time a little differently than they are.

So that the day won't be a total loss, I would like to do some photography in Manhattan for a few hours before the scan. And then, whatever is meant to happen will.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

For S.

Cat sleeps in my lap

Too old to do much but purr

Just wants to stay warm.

--Originally published December 2005

Monday, March 19, 2007

Did you ever wonder what 2,000 looks like?

This video made a profound impact on me. It kicked me in the gut. Tragically, the question now is, did you ever wonder what 3,000+ looks like?

Make sure the volume on your computer's speakers is turned to a comfortably low level. The video may take a while to load. Be patient.

Smooth like no other

Clinton Street at Houston* Street, Lower East Side

(*pronounced "HOW-ston" around these parts)

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Tompkins Square Park, East Village

Our life is a lightning flash, here and gone
Spring plants blossom, to be bare in fall
Mind not the rise and fall of fortunes
They're dewdrops twinkling on the grass

--Van Hahn, 11th-century Vietnamese poet

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Chugging along

On Thursday, I had a blood test to check whether the intravenous drug I had received Feb. 27 lowered my serum calcium, and it did. My doctor said my calcium level "lowered nicely" without getting into specifics, at my request.

I think my feverishness and its accompanying irritability weren't side effects of the drug, as I had thought shortly after receiving it, but just part of whatever bug has been going around lately. My headaches, which I now know are symptoms of greatly elevated calcium, have also declined in intensity and frequency. My joint pain -- especially in my knees -- has also lessened. I went to karate class twice this week after a layoff of about a week and a half. It worked wonders on my psyche.

The next step is a CT scan to determine exactly where in my chest the tumor is in relation to surrounding healthy tissue. Then, a decision can be made on whether surgery is a good idea.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Tompkins Square Park
East Village

Sidewalk salsa

East Village


East Village


East Village

Face to face

March 2, 2007

A few times a year, I enjoy returning to Philadelphia, which was my home for a decade.
In the 12 years since I lived there, nearly everyone I know has moved on. The few friends and acquaintances who remain form the core of the karate dojo where I trained.
The instructor now, as then, is Gerald Evans, whom everyone knows as "Ski." He is my mentor and my closest friend -- like a father, really -- and the subject of blog entries in the past.

I regard my visits to Philadelphia as homecomings. Friday's visit, though, had a much different vibe. There was an undercurrent of agitation and unease brought about by recent developments in my medical situation.
In a previous life, I must have been an actor or filmmaker or at least someone with a deep appreciation for those crafts. I can see the potential for drama and pathos in any situation. And so, running through the back of my mind during this visit was the thought, "Will I be coming this way again?"
Fade to black ...

Ski has offered me wisdom and inspiration over the 14 years we've known each other. A dozen years ago, I was working in the latest in a succession of dead-end, woefully unsatisfying jobs and I was about to be fired. A fellow dojo student told me of an opportunity to live and work in Japan. Ski helped me to decide whether to give up my career (such as it was), abandon my comfort zone and take this chance. We approached it from every angle, carefully weighing the many risks and benefits.
I took the chance, and it changed my life in fundamental ways that are still revealing themselves.

And now I find myself at another critical juncture in my life, when the deepest questions about existence haunt even my most enjoyable moments. And again, I turn to Ski.
We talked about my cancer, as we've done during the five years since my diagnosis.
I told him that I think I need a diversion, an adventure to offset reality for a while.
"An adventure?" he said, laughing. "An adventure? You're on an adventure now, only you can't see it or refuse to see it.
"You're a worrier. Your worries create chemical changes within you. Then you try to shake yourself of those worries and you have to undo all those changes you've caused."

Ski has a way of discovering a person's demons and parading them before the person's eyes. He is a mirror.
I told him that the combination of the effects of the cancer and the possible side effects of the drug I received Tuesday were making me extremely irritible, impatient and anxious with myself and those around me -- tendencies I have anyway, but not to this degree.
"Maybe the disease and the medication are showing you glimpses of your true nature you'd rather not see," Ski said.
He's right, and meeting with this stark truth is painful.
Of course, there are other aspects of my nature that this illness has brought to the surface for which I'm thankful. But the good and the bad are different sides of the same coin. It's just too easy to say that the disease is always to blame, or the medication, or whatever.

Ski isn't suggesting that I deny the reality of what's happening to me. He is urging me to do my utmost to accept it.
Before major chest surgery two years ago, I discussed my fears with Ski, especially the fear of possibly dying during the procedure. "If it succeeds," he said at the time, "you've got nothing to worry about. And if you die, you've got nothing to worry about.
"So what are you worried about?"

Dogen Zenji, the 13th-century theologian who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan, said much the same thing: "If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where do you expect to find it?"


Philadelphia skyline from Grays Ferry Avenue, southwest Philly, March 2, 2007
(manipulated image)

I took a much-needed break from the ordinary Friday and headed to Philadelphia, my home from 1985-1995.
When I left Philadelphia nearly a dozen years ago, I took an even bigger break from the ordinary and moved to Japan.
I've been thinking a lot lately about breaking with the ordinary.