Friday, November 16, 2007

Journey of a lifetime ...

I had a consultation this afternoon with the surgeon who performed my latest operation, in July.
We have a very cordial relationship built upon mutual respect, and we indulge in precious little beating around the bush.

He told me that future surgeries at this point seem futile. As anxious as he is to help me, my body seems just as determined to destroy itself. My surgical history is a long, painful, expensive series of failures. For the record, I'm 0 for 5 over the past six years, 0 for 6 overall. As the surgeon put it, operations seem to help me for about 10 minutes, and then the situation reverts to what it was, and with a vengeance.

I expected this conclusion, in large part because I felt it within myself. It's not rocket science. I knew, especially after July's unsuccessful surgery, that we were reaching the point of diminishing returns.

Given the progression of the illness and its ability to thrive as well as it has, he said that it may well come to pass that I'll be incapacitated within six months. I'm not so sure about that timing. Especially if I have something to say about it.
But, I agree that my joint pain, which has led to decreasing mobility, is going to prevail at some point, quite possibly sooner rather than later. And my headaches, which occur several times a day and can be debilitating, are likely here to stay, as they have now for years.

I'll learn to adapt to all that, hopefully. But what most scares me is that I'll lose my mental faculties. I need to live this, and to know that I'm living it. I need to be aware. This is important.

My doctors and I are going to explore the possibility of radiation therapy, knowing from the start that this cancer doesn't respond well, if at all, to radiation. But because the therapy won't do much damage, we have little to lose.

The focus now is on making me as comfortable as modern medicine can, and keeping pain at manageable levels.

A friend suggested I get a second opinion, even a third. But my surgeon is one of the world's top specialists in this disease, and I have the best minds at two of the world's leading hospitals employing everything but alchemy to try to help me. And alchemy may come next.

Sure, I could go around to different doctors until I find one who tells me what I want to hear, but one of my mentors has a term for that: mind-fucking one's self. The indelicate imagery is dead-on. Reality is what it is, whether or not you accept it.

Tonight, I spoke to a friend of mine who is a Zen priest. I plan to receive the Buddhist precepts from her within a month or two, forgoing the usual year's preparation for what is called the jukai ceremony. I began the process a couple of years ago and got a few months into it before my laziness prevailed.
Time was a luxury then.
It isn't now.

I feel the need to declare my spiritual and philosophical beliefs as a way of addressing the tremendous doubt and sometimes paralyzing fear I feel within me. And the jukai ceremony certainly is a public declaration.
Who knows, I may recant everything when my final moment arrives. Nonetheless, I think jukai will be useful. If I'm misleading myself about my motives for jukai, then my priest friend will be the first to tell me -- if I don't beat her to the punch.

I'm simultaneously comfortable with and terrified by the unknown.
Maybe jukai is just me grasping at straws.

I'm not sure I've fully processed all that has happened this momentous day. It certainly has a dreamlike quality. I've gone over and over what was said by my doctor, what was said by me. At times, I've choked up and have felt tears form in my eyes. I also realize the inevitability of all of this -- for me, for you, for us all, and this gives me great comfort. Some very difficult and conflicting emotions are waging war within me now, and I hope peace and acceptance soon prevail.

This has been a difficult post to write, not at all the way I wanted it to come out.
But life is like that.

I've been expecting you
but not eagerly

Won't you have some tea?


Mungo said...

I wish I could share your journey - drive along with you. I wish you well, you have brought me a gift in your writing.

In the decayed stump
a beautiful mushroom blooms
catching sunlight

Anonymous said...

I am out here and hearing you.

Michael said...

Thanks, guys.

The travelogue continues...

YourFireAnt said...

Michael, today I hung the photograph you sent me. Today I received the gift of your post about the journey of a lifetime. Today I am grateful for everything I have. Everything.

with love


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,
I'm here (literally) as a reminder to you that you have more options than medical science may offer. Your family and friends love and support you completely in order that you can choose how YOU want to act and feel.
The jukai ceremony sounds wonderful. I'm leaning towards learning more about Budhism myself. I don't know why but I've always been drawn to the Philosophy and very open to the "complicated" simplicity that being has to offer(as opposed to always thinking and doing).
I love you and remind you that you have my undying support and love and that if you need anything, please ask, please! This would be the case no matter what the situation, it just is. I love you!
Your Sister,

Michael said...

Thank you, FA. And today, I am grateful, too.

Hi Nancy,

Nothing I say would do justice to your sentiments, except thank you.

Jean said...

I'm out here too, Michael. Wondering why whatever you have to share, even when it is so hard, is something I want to read. But it always is. And will continue to be. The power of honesty and communication and just being here.

Michael said...

Thank you, Jean.

Matt K. said...

I wish you the best possible outcome for the rest of your journey called Life. I don't comment a lot here, but I do read (and look) often.

Michael said...

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Michael You are so loved. You are truly one of the few people in this world I love and admire and every time I read what you write, it blows me away.
Just know I am here for you in any way I can help.
I wish i could make you all better.In the meantime, I admire you more than i can ever tell you.
love you,

Michael said...

Thank you so much, Lisa. Of course you know that I love you, too!