Archive for February, 2008

Where oh where have my benefactors gone?

Posted in Cancer Life on February 28, 2008 by lawler

Okay, folks. We’ve been holding steady at $600 (only 30% of my goal) for days now…

Remember, this money isn’t for me–it’s for the American Cancer Society (ACS). The other day I was thinking about this horrible young woman that once admonished Dawn and I for giving $2 to the American Red Cross by tacking it on to our grocery bill at our local H.E. Butts (HEB) one night in Austin. She said to me, “You should really give your money to a better organization than that.” At the time, I nodded and ignored her because I was tired and wanted to go home. But every now and again, when the memory rears up in my mind, I think of things I would have rather said: “Oh really? And have you given any thought to where your money goes? The designer jean company that supplied your legwear, for instance? The animal testing, polluting makeup supplier that has painted your face?” I could go on, but my anger at that woman is something to be let go, right?

Anyway, I can attest to the worth of ACS . They actually directly benefited Dawn and I during my chemo by providing me with rides home from the chemo ward when no one could be there to get me home. I remember thinking how great the people who volunteered to help were, and am in the process of looking into volunteering with ACS myself.

All of this isn’t to say that you’re not donating because you don’t like the mission or adminstration of ACS. It’s probably because you missed my email asking for help, or forgot about it. Or you don’t have the money. But if you do, please help.

Thanks (again) in advance.


Thank you!

Posted in Cancer Life on February 21, 2008 by lawler

As of this morning, I’ve raised $600 for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and please keep it coming…

Why I Smell of Garlic; or, I’m Dreaming of a White Easter

Posted in Cancer Life on February 19, 2008 by lawler

Last night, as Dawn and I sat in a recital hall at UW-Madison listening to the Marseille Woodwind Quintet, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Did you eat raw garlic today?” I nodded my head silently and became incredibly self-conscious since I was also sitting next to Linda Bartley, one of Dawn’s new colleagues in the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, whom I had just met for the first time.

Lately, Dawn has been turning her nose up at me more and more, thanks to the increase in raw garlic I’ve been consuming since deciding to shape up my post-chemo diet. According to our copy of Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal (a great quick reference for food) garlic “may help lower high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol, may prevent or fight certain cancers, [has] antiviral and antibacterial properties [that] help prevent or fight infection, [and] may alleviate nasal congestion.” Now, despite the fact that the cholesterol fighting properties seem to have been debunked (though Michael Pollan debunks our fear of some cholesterol anyway), it’s really the cancer fighting and preventing that I’m after. The “drawbacks” listed in the book include, of course, bad breath. But Dawn takes it a step further than that, and tells me (sometimes several times a day) that it not only makes my breath stink, but that “the stench exudes from your pores.” Well, she may be right, but my argument goes something like this: “I’d rather stink like a vampire-fearing peasant while listening to a quintet that’s traveled all the way from Marseille, than avoid a potentially highly beneficial food.”

And so, I say to all of you who may encounter me some evening in the future: pardon my stink.


It’s mid-February here in the arctic tundra, and Madison surpassed the previous record snowfall a couple of weeks ago. The record was about 77 inches, and we now are over 80 inches for this winter. The so-called experts are predicting a final count that exceeds 100 inches. What can I say? Holy cow? (A slightly amusing side note: the last record winter was the winter of 1977-78, the same winter that my in-laws moved here with baby Dawn from Germany. I said to Dawn, “isn’t that funny that the winter your dad moved here was also one of the harshest winters on record, and now the year I move here has made the list?” The only difference, perhaps, is that he loves the winter here in a near masochistic manner.)

Don’t get me wrong — I like the snow too, actually, but all this cold is going to take some getting used to. Dawn and I are still discussing a possible move to Baja California.



My Relay For Life fundraising is now at 20% of its $2,000 goal. Please help me reach it!

Relay for Life

Posted in Cancer Life on February 18, 2008 by lawler

Today I signed up as a participant in the UW-Madison chapter of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event on April 11 & 12 to support cancer funding and research. If there is one thing that I have learned over the last several months, it is that anyone can get cancer (or, as I’m fond of saying “come down with cancer”), and the disease no longer looms in the back of my mind as something that happens to others — even to ones I love — but rather as something that happens far too often to far too many people, from young children to the elderly, and, of course, as something that has happened to me.

Just to give you an idea, according to the American Cancer Society’s latest report, “Cancer Facts & Figures 2007,” there were over 1.4 million new cases of cancer diagnosed last year alone. In 2008, over a half a million people are expected to die from some type of cancer — that’s more than 1,500 people PER DAY. Cancer, the second leading killer in the U.S., accounts for 1 in 4 deaths in this country. It kills indiscriminately, and as if that were not enough to consider how crucial funding is, the Bush administration’s latest budget has cut cancer funding, including programs for breast, colon, skin, prostrate, ovarian, and blood cancers.

It is a life-altering condition that I would not wish on another living soul. Unfortunately, we have already been touched (rather gently) by it, and many of us will be touched at least once more in our lives. It demands attention — and money.

You can help me reach my fundraising goal of $1000 $2000 by visiting my Relay For Life “personal page.”

Thanks in advance.

UPDATE: So far I’ve raised about $350, so I’ve upped my goal to $2000.

I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing every so often…


Posted in Cancer Life on February 9, 2008 by lawler

At my bedside there is a stack of books in various stages of read-ness. The Neon Bible, Life of Pi, Musciophilia, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England, Building Construction Illustrated, Mindfulness in Plain English, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. And others too. This is not really all that unusual. I’m not a serial reader; that is, I don’t read one book, and then the next, and then the next. I sort of pick up a stack at a time, easing one out of the mix every now and again, and rarely finishing most of them in their entirety. In fact, when my dad died I gave up reading the end of novels. I read until I’m a dozen or twenty pages from the end (when I find a good stopping point), and then I put them down. It was the book that I was reading when my dad was in hospice, and when he died that did it: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want the book to end (I didn’t), but a combination of two things: I knew the book would leave me with a feeling I wasn’t in the mood for, and I had this terrible fear that when I finished it my dad would die. But we know the end of the story — he died anyway. And I still haven’t finished that book. In fact, there is only one novel that I’ve read from cover to cover since July of 2006: Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, which I picked up at a little used bookstore down the road from my brother Jeff’s house where my dad passed just a day or two later. (Yes, it’s true Dawn, I didn’t even read the end of Straight Man — so, I guess you are really under no obligation to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma as per our exchanged reading agreement)

And then there are the stacks of books that I intend to read, or feel obligated to read: The Brothers Karamazov looms large on that list (while at a new year’s eve party a couple of years ago, the guests scoffed when my answer to the traditional question “what one book would you bring with you if you were stranded on a deserted isle?” was The Great Gatsby, and the host thrust his copy of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece into my hands), as well as countless books that were given or loaned to me during my chemotherapy days. One such book, loaned to me by Georgia, Love, Medicine, and Miracles (apparently at the request of the author, Bernie Siegel, with whom Georgia had been corresponding regarding her own book) was sitting out yesterday because while cleaning the bedroom I had decided to return it unread to Georgia. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by what had become a post-chemo surge of “neccessary” reading. When Dawn noticed the stack, she said, “what are these doing out here?” I told her I was returning them to her mom, and picked up Siegel’s book. I flipped through it and found this passage on my first flip:

“The phenomenology of cancer is full of images of guilt and retribution and promises to oneself and others that, should there be recovery, sacrifices will be made, there will be a change of ways, life will be lived properly. The psychology of such unwilling sacrifice is quite different from that of willing sacrifice.”

The first (okay, maybe second or third) thing I did was look up phenomenology to be sure I understood this sentence: it means, simply, the study of phenomena.

Then I thought about the sentence. I read on a bit, but discovered the remainder of the page did not pull me in the way this sentence did. I thought I could strike all that nonsense about guilt and retribution, keep the promises to oneself bit, and accept in part the notion of sacrifice and change. What really got me was the idea that such change, or hope for positive change is/was unwilling. And why does Siegel use the word sacrifice at the end of the thought, rather than change? Change does not have to mean sacrifice.

So, it got me thinking: are all of the changes I have made in life since being diagnosed with cancer, and all those I am trying to make, somehow unwillingly being accomplished? Driven by guilt and fear of the ultimate retribution? What is unwilling sacrifice anyway? If it is unwilling it isn’t sacrifice, it’s something else — my American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim” — and it doesn’t work. An alcoholic can not give up booze unwillingly anymore than I could change my diet unwillingly.

So, Siegel lost me as a potential reader, I think, and the book will return to Georgia this weekend. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge an entire book on the first sentence one reads of it, but hey, there are millions of books out there to be read, and I feel as though I’ve got half of them sitting near my bed.

But he did get me thinking, and that’s more than some books read in their entirety accomplish. Maybe I owe him a thank you for that — or a review on amazon that begins, “I have only read one sentence of this book, but…”


Posted in Cancer Life on February 8, 2008 by lawler

Life is funny. Kind of.

Yesterday morning on my way to work I dropped a 9×12 white envelope at the post office, sending it priority mail to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance for the state of Wisconsin. The envelope contained a full complaint against Assurant Health (about which a friend recently wrote, “I’m sorry you have such an ironically named insurance company”). Soon after sitting down at my desk, a woman from a place called Turville Bay called, returning my call of the previous day. It was the sort of phone call that has become so annoying: having to explain to our medical creditors why we still can’t pay them (Turville Bay is the facility where I had an MRI done when Dr. Arbaje wanted to be sure the cancer had not spread to my brain). The woman was very nice — they all are, these medical bill collectors, thank god — and said she could put one more thirty day hold on the account, which totaled $1700.

An hour later, while still sitting in my office I received a call on my cell from Monika — our primary contact with the ironically named insurance company — telling me that the review of my case had finally been completed and Assurant was beginning to pay my claims. Holy shit. Talk about relief. She told me that she could not explain why the review had taken so long, and apologized for the “inconvenience.” I thought to myself, “it’s too bad I went through the headache of preparing the complaint, but it’s still valid, and I hope it is still investigated.”

Today I received a thick packet in the mail from Assurant, full of evidence that they had paid many of my medical bills.

What more can I say? I could say “whew!” but that sounds lame.