unpredictability and a thought or two on the supernatural

Perhaps I was foolish to think I could make assumptions about how the chemo would affect me and when the worst times would be. My doctor did his best to explain what sort of patterns might emerge, and as of Tuesday I was confident that in the midst of the second cycle, I had accurately predicted how I would be feeling and when. It was comforting in some ways to convince myself that there would be bad weeks in the middle of each cycle, but that otherwise I would feel mostly normal. Tuesday seemed to be the breaking point, where normalcy was returning to my body (and my mind), and I even went into the CTM offices to attend my first staff meeting and get some actual work done on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the feeling had subsided by that evening, and it seemed I had contracted another (perhaps worse) cold, with lots of hacking coughs and some rather severe joint and muscle pain. In fact, I can honestly say that last night I experienced the worst back pain that I have ever encountered in my life — and I certainly didn’t strain it at work. It was intense.

Just to reassure everyone before I complain too much, I did see my doctor today to discuss all of these new and unexpected symptoms, had another (how many must I endure?) chest x-ray, and overall he seemed pleased. It’s strange to talk to a doctor, list an array of awful symptoms, and have him tell you, “this is how you can expect to feel in the coming weeks.” I’m not used to being a patient, I’m not used to being sick, and all of this has really started to take an emotional and mental toll. I’m prone to breaking down nowadays, and the mental struggle to rise above all of the unusual physical discomfort has grown intense at times.

(Oh man, I have so much to say tonight, but only so much energy. I’ll fit in as much as I can, and thanks for reading.)

Although I did agree to go into the dreaded oncology clinic to see the doctor this morning after speaking with a nurse on the phone about the symptoms I was experiencing, I was determined not to visit the chemo ward to have any fluids administered or blood withdrawn. I was very anxious about that. I’m developing, especially after the rough time I had there on Monday, a true, deep rooted aversion to the place. I told Dawn today, “All of the people there are so nice, so great, and I never want to see them again.” At one point, as I waited for my doctor to call me back, an oncology nurse named Pam who I have worked with a lot noticed me in the waiting room and said, “Oh, come on back Mike, we’ll get you started.” I must have turned pale, because both Dawn and Pam looked a bit frightened by my response. I told her unequivocally that I had no interest in going into the chemo ward, and would do everything in my power to avoid it today. I felt the same way about having more blood drawn, and luckily the doc didn’t feel he needed any. Do I sound like a baby? Sometimes I feel like one, but all of this is quite taxing. It’s all I can muster to show up and take the treatments I’m actually scheduled for, let alone those that are extra.


*Please, please note: this entry is not intended to offend anyone!

Aside from ear hair, back pain, and general fear, there is another subject that crops up frequently in one’s life when scary words like cancer are floated about. In a word, we could call this subject God. For many of you it is far more complex than that, for others far simpler, and I beg my readers indulgence on this post. I have not shied away from topics such as masturbation, death, love, fear of death, et cetera, here in this blog, and I don’t think it would be right to turn a blind eye to a subject that has come up between so many of us with such urgency in the past several weeks.

Yesterday, from a friend I received the following email, which led me to the decision to write on this topic today:

“The boney arms of death are for Halloween. If this is all a test of faith or faith finding, then find a faith in a force, power, strength, God (god) that is open to you and comforting. We are praying to the one we know for a positive outcome from all of this.”

It might seem odd, but my first thought was, “oh man, I misspelled bony in the blog yesterday.” I thought this because this is an email from a learned man of letters with degrees and such. Of course, email is an informal means of communication, and I am pleased to report that he misspelled it, not I. Does this make me shallow, or does it demonstrate my level of comfort with my lack of faith? I don’t know.

What I do know is that members of my family and many of my friends have put me in their prayers in a very real way, and some (such as the friend quoted above) have made overt suggestions to me that I might pursue a supernatural source of relief and comfort.

I have received from friends and family everything from medallions of Saint Perigrine, to blessing packets from Oroville, India. And believe me I appreciate it all. As I told people when first sharing the news of my cancer who offered to pray for me even though I am a non-believer, “It means something to me, because it means something to you.” And lately I have felt more pressure than ever from folks to look for something (far) outside of myself in my time of duress. But I can’t. I’m sure many of you will share with me all sorts of wisdom in attempts to convince me that I can, but I feel as though to turn to a god or force that I have hitherto not subscribed to or truly believed in would be to compromise my integrity. Perhaps I’m just stubborn, but until it strikes me in a genuine way how can I look to the sky and beg some mercy?

What else to say? I don’t know. For now, I think I’ll leave it at that, and I look forward to your comments and emails on the subject.


6 Responses to “unpredictability and a thought or two on the supernatural”

  1. Forgive me for providing rabbinical thoughts all the time these days–particularly on this subject.

    But anyway, I was listening to a book on tape a few months back, and I think it might have been by Rabbi Harold Kushner, but I could be wrong. But I like that guy, in any case–could’ve been Telushkin, too. But this is not important. Here’s the thing from the book that stuck with me: the Rabbi talked about his response to people who say things like “Jesus loves you” or other positive phrases that include Jesus, such as “Jesus saves” and other such things. He finds a great deal of joy in those moments, and often says “Amen,” when a response is appropriate. He says that he does this because he recognizes the purity and love with which (he hopes) those sentiments are offered. It’s not that he is agreeing so much with the Jesus thing as he is agreeing with the belief and spirit behind such a statement. He said it much better than I did.

    Which is all to say that when I read your response, “It means something to me, because it means something to you,” I thought that reply echoed this rabbi’s thoughts quite well. And I was thinking that is such a good attitude. I certainly appreciate all the prayers that have been sent in my own direction to whomever. I appreciate the thoughts and concerns, too. I think that’s the right idea.

    Do I think it would be easier for you if you had faith in something outside yourself? Yeah, I do. But I don’t think something like this should necessarily be what drives you to find something/someone to believe in. I am also certain that your own appreciation for life, which is both in and outside you is a bit like believing in something anyway. Hope, too, is a god-figure isn’t it? I mean, hope in a cure–hope that you’ll never have to see those folks in the ward again–hope that tomorrow is normal–hope that how you feel is bearable because it ends, etc. etc. That’s a faith of some sort.

    As long as you accept the prayers, tokens, energy, etc. of others as valuable by some definition, I think you’re doing good.

    I just wish the cycle was a bit more predictable. But I have my sights set on mid-November on your behalf, at those moments when it’s difficult to remember.

  2. Hey Mikey,

    I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you. I check your blog every morning to see what’s up. It’s feels good to hear about how you’re doing and what you’re thinking and going through. And I’m sure it helps you to get it out. I wish I were closer and could spend some time with you, but it sounds like you’ve had a lot of support. Anyway, I love you and think of you often. Be strong. Say hi to Dawn – we’re thinking of her too.


    ps – Susan also enjoys reading your blog.

  3. Mike, there are so many things we don’t have answers for; the important thing is that we continue to ask the questions (and not arrive at a place where we think we have everything figured out, and then don’t allow ourselves to contemplate other possibilities). This illness seems to have put you in a place where you are contemplating your life and its meaning. It has arrested your activity, and because you cannot be engaged in the “doing”, you are forced to contemplate your “being”. This is one of illness’ gifts, and you know that I speak from my own experience, not just philosophically. I love this quote from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is solved in your heart and try to love your questions themselves…Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually then, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

  4. BIG TYPO IN MY LAST ENTRY. THE QUOTE SHOULD SAY “Be patient toward all that is UNSOLVED (AND NOT SOLVED!!)in your heart….” SORRY!

  5. Jamie Marks Says:

    Michael. Michael. I just caught up with the blog. It hasn’t been my practice to follow online writings and I just read, with horror, the ordeal you and Dawn are going through. I guess I bought what you called your overly optimistic idea of what this process was going to be, and thought you were out having a fun busy summer. Could I have been more wrong?

    I hope this explains those cryptic (and I realize inappropriate) emails that I sent which couldn’t possibly have made sense when you were going through all this.

    Please know that I do care.

    Love you you and Dawn.


  6. Jamie. Jamie. I don’t blame you — I’m not so hot on online writings myself! Besides, my summer was pretty fantastic. I mean, I spent a month in Europe this summer. It’s my fall that’s shaping up as a pain in the ass.

    Seriously, thanks for your thoughts. And keep reading.

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