Monday, May 30, 2011

Embrace the Dragon

I'll admit right off, I'm stealing this from the website Cancer Crusade. I've used several of their items before, often meditations that they send out to the folks on their e-mail list. The Cancer Crusade founders are really wonderful, and they obviously bring great comfort to a lot of people (including a couple that I know in the support group).

I was looking at their site this weekend, and I saw this piece called "Embrace the Dragon," written by Kathy Cawthon, who founded the site with her husband Roger. It's a nice call to arms when we need a call to arms.

The original is available at their website's "Library" section.

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EMBRACE THE DRAGON

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

According to legend, Shaolin temple monks had to endure an agonizing test of endurance and courage in order to achieve the level of master. They were made to strip naked and embrace a branding vessel that had been emblazoned with an image of a dragon. The resulting "dragon scar" was proof that the monk could face and overcome his fears.

Many people refer to cancer as "the beast," and being diagnosed is often compared to "facing the dragon." Cancer is indeed a terrifying diagnosis to receive, and it is little wonder that the first instinct for many of us is to turn away, to say I can't do this, to be paralyzed by fear.

But I wonder if we might do better to consciously employ a different technique, that of embracing the dragon, and by doing so, to tame the beast and finally defeat it.

One of the earliest stories in which someone who is threatened by a dragon makes use of this technique is the story of St. George. George (not a saint yet, of course, but just a tribune in the Roman army) came across a maiden who was being held captive by a dragon. The dragon was hiding nearby (they're sneaky that way), and the maiden - quite understandably - was weeping. When George asked her why she was crying, she urged him to "quickly mount your horse and fly less you perish with me."

Of course, the brave tribune stood his ground and asked of what she was so afraid. Just then, the dragon emerged from its hiding place and the maiden screamed (maidens did a lot of that back then). George, however, made the sign of the cross, uttered a brief prayer (it is often necessary to be brief when facing dragons), and advanced on the dragon. Brandishing his lance (don't worry; you won't need one of these), he transfixed the beast and cast it to the ground. He instructed the maiden to pass her girdle (I don't think "girdle" meant the same thing in those days) around the dragon - note that she "embraced" the dragon! - and to fear nothing. When this had been done, the dragon followed her like a puppy!

George and the maiden then led the dragon into the town it had been terrorizing. The people fled, but George called them back and told them they no longer needed to fear the dragon because he had been sent to deliver them. After much celebrating and baptizing, George smote off the head of the dragon.

While we as cancer survivors are not required to face down a fiery dragon (and I for one am very thankful for that!) or do any actual smoting (again, grateful!), we can learn a powerful lesson from the Shaolin temple monks (no branding vessels required) and St. George. By turning and facing "the beast" head on, showing no fear ("fake it 'til you can make it") even when your knees are knocking and your heart is pounding, and maybe even shouting "Bring it on!" above the dragon's roar, we can tame it enough to embrace it, not with affection, mind you, but in an act of power and control.

In yet another bit of dragon lore, it is said that by embracing a dragon, you absorb a bit of its heart and its courage. And who among us couldn't use a little more of that?

Dear God, I find that I must face the beast called "cancer," and I am more afraid than I have ever been. I can and will stand up to this enemy, Lord, because I know that You are behind me as I move forward into this fight, and if I fall, it will be into Your arms. I know, too, that You are in front of me as my shield and beside me as my sword. Whatever the outcome, I will prevail because You are mightier than any evil or hurtful thing,and because I am Yours. Amen

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hey Jude

Peter performed in his last FMI All-State Band concert yesterday.  He's been a member of the All-State Symphonic Band for four years now, and this year he was also in the All-State Jazz Band, as first chair for alto saxes. As you will see, the Jazz Band is pretty small -- very elite.

The bands performed three times this spring, including a concert at Lincoln Center in New York City. This video is from their outdoor lunchtime concert at the Old State House in Hartford. Kind of nice to see office and connstruction workers stop and listen.

For this piece, Peter was the soloist for the Jazz Band's rendition of the Beatles' "Hey Jude." He has two solos: one at the beginning, and one at the end.


video


Sorry for the shaky camera. The conductor has a bad habit of moving in front of me, cutting off my angle, so it took a while for me to find a good spot.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Colonoscopy

I had a colonoscopy today.

I had met with my endo guy a few months ago about my reflux problem. He saw a few risk factors (including the fact that I have NHL) and suggested we play it safe and do the colonoscopy, even though I'm a few years away from the normal age of 50 for getting one done.

There are a startlingly large number of blog posts out there that discuss the writer's colonoscopy experience. I mean, a really large number. I know, I know, it's all about publicizing the importance of the procedure --  I'm a cancer patient; I get it. But, seriously, all that detail?

I'm just going to say this: it went well; everything is completely normal. I retain my title as The Healthiest Cancer Patient in Town. If you want more deatils, google "Colonoscopy Blog" and read it from someone else.

And as Forrest Gump says, That's all I'm going to say about that.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Patriotic NHL

I wrote recently about Marcus Cannon, the football player for TCU who was diagnosed with NHL just before the National Football League draft. He was projected to be drafted in the 2nd round, and fell to the 5th round, as teams were concerned about how chemo would affect him, short- and long-term. Rick Reilly of ESPN.com wrote a nice column about Cannon a few days ago. It includes a video. Apparently, Cannon is responding well to treatment. Good for him.

Of course, I especially like the article because it makes the Patriots look like nice guys for drafting him.

In today's Boston Herald, there's a nice profile of Joe Andruzzi, former Patriot, Southern Connecticut State University alumnus, and Nodes-of-Golder, who successfully fought Burkitt's lymphoma, a very aggressive form of NHL. The article talks about Andruzzi's foundation, which is holding a golf tournament/fund raiser, with proceeds to help out families of cancer patients who need financial assistance, as well as helping fund research for pediatric brain cancer.

Andruzzi offers advice for Cannon, and for all cancer patients: Take it one day at a time. Listen to your doctor. Stay positive.

Sounds very simple -- maybe too simple -- but it's still great advice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Commandments

I needed to look back at some earlier blog posts for something, and I came across a post from October 2009 that featured "The 10 Commandments for Cancer Survival." Someone from the support group had posted it, but didn't give an author or a source, so I can't give credit.  But it's an excellent list, and one worth re-running.

And as I said back then, sometimes we sin and break a commendment. That's OK, as long as you try your best again the next day.

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The Ten Commandments for Cancer Survival:



1. Thou shalt regard the word "Cancer" as exactly that: a word. Nothing more, nothing less. For its original meaning has changed mightily over the years, as have such words as Smallpox, TB, and Polio, all once dreaded ailments, now non-existent as maladies. And thus, too, shall go thy Cancer. The answer shall come to those who shall be present to hear it. Be present to hear it when it comes.


2. Thou shalt love thy chemotherapy, thy radiation, and thy other treatments even as thyself, for they are thy friends and champions. Although they may exact a toll for their endeavors, they are oft most generous in the favors they bestow.


3. Thou shalt participate fully in thy recovery. Thou shalt learn all the details of thy ailment, its diagnosis, its prognosis, its treatments, conventional and alternative. Thou shalt discuss them openly and candidly with thy oncologist and shalt question all thou do not comprehend. Then, thou shalt cooperate intelligently, and knowledgeably with thy doctor.


4. Thou shalt regard thy ailment as a temporary detour in thy life and shalt plan thy future as though this detour had not occurred. Thou shalt never, at no time, nohow, regard thy temporary ailment as permanent. Thou shalt set long-term goals for thyself. For thou will verily recover and your believing so will contribute mightily to thy recovery.


5. Thou shalt express thy feelings candidly and openly to thy loved ones for they, too, are stricken. Thou shalt comfort and reassure them for they, too, needest comforting and reassurance, even as thou doest.


6. Thou shalt be a comfort to thy fellow-cancerites, providing knowledge, encouragement, understanding and love. You shalt give them hope where there may be none, for only in hope lies their salvation. And by doing so, thou providest comfort for thyself, as well.


7. Thou shalt never relinquish hope, no matter how thou may feelest at that moment, for thou knowest, in the deep recesses of thy heart, that thy discouragement is but fleeting and that a better day awaits thee, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the day after tomorrow, but certainly it shall come.


8. Thou shalt not regard thy ailment as the sum total of thy life but as merely a part of it. Fill your life with other diversions, be they mundane, daring, altruistic, or merely amusing. To fill your life with your ailment is to surrender to it.


9. Thou shalt maintain, at all times and in all circumstances, thy sense of humor, for laughter lightens thy heart and hastens thy recovery. This is not an easy task, sometimes seemingly impossible, but it is a goal well worth the endeavor.


10. Thou shalt have enduring and unassailable faith, whether thy faith be in a Supreme Being, in Medical Science, in Thy Future, in Thyself, or in Whatever. Steadfastly sustain thy faith for it shall sustain thee.





Friday, May 20, 2011

Dr R Visit

Had another visit today with Dr. R.

Everything looks good.

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Every doctor's appointment includes a worry. That's just the way it is with Follicular NHL: every ache, every pain, every bump, every funny feeling -- you have to ask yourself, is it what it seems to be, or is it something else -- you know, something?

This time, as I hinted a couple of days ago, it was the congestion I've been feeling in my chest, coupled with a little bit heavier breathing than normal when I carry the laundry up a couple of flights of stairs. It just kind of feels like I need to cough something up, but I can't.

So when Dr. R asked how I was doing, I told him about it. I said I went to my regular doctor earlier this week, and she couldn't find anything wrong. I told him a friend was having the same kind of feeling, and her doctor put her on a bunch of allergy stuff and expectorants. I told him I assumed it was all the pollen and mold in the air over the last month. But, I told him, always in the back of my mind is the idea that maybe it's the lymphoma, maybe it's an enlarged node pushing on my trachea or lungs...

His response? He laughed.

I told him I wasn't sure if it was a good sign or a bad sign when your oncologist laughs at your symptoms.

He told me laughing was OK; it's when he cackles that I should be worried.

Given my blood counts, which are "perfect," it's pretty unlikely that I have overgrown nodes. Especially considering that I don't have any other symptoms.

So that was good news.

The physical exam was great -- no nodes (or anything else) swollen.

I brought up the idea of a scan. I was sure he would want to do one, since it's been over a year since I had one. But he said he'd rather hold off. "If you really want one now, and you tell me it's better for your schedule, then we can do one. But I'd like to hold off. I think 18 months would be fine."

So we're holding off on the scan. I'll see him again in August, before classes start up, with enough time to schedule a scan before classes start, too.

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The bottom line is, I trust him enough to go with what he wants to do. I know my body well, but I also know that my mind plays tricks on me. So if his more objective eyes fail to see problems, then I'll go with it.

Of course, I'll keep you updated....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Don't Be Alone

I see Dr. R on Friday. it's a regularly-scheduled, 4 month appointment, and while I feel OK, you just never know what he might see that I don't see. Happened once before -- something in the blood test results made him a little concerned. He asked me to come back in a month (rather than our usual three or four months) for another exam. It turned out that everything was OK. But it's always there in the back of your mind.

I've been having some issues lately with breathing. I'm sure it's the pollen and mold that's been affecting lots of people. But you just never know. I'm due for a scan sometime soon, so it wouldn't surprise me if Dr. R orders one.

But all of this brings up the issue of anxiety. When people in the support group first join, the advice I always give them is: Don't stop talking. Talk to a trusted love one. Talk to your doctor and ask questions, even if they seem totally out in space. Keeping it all in was the worst mistake I made when I was first diagnosed. If you do that, all you have is yourself and your own thoughts to bounce things off of, and you're in no shape to give yourself good advice.

So remember that you aren't alone, and take advantage of that.

I'm going to do another cut-and-paste job here, as well as provide a link back to original page. This is a post from a blog with one of the best names I've ever come across: Beef on the Grill, written by Jerry and judi Seehusen. It's not a barbeque site (though it probably reflects their midwestern location); it's a site on integrating Christianity into your everyday life. The specific post is a few years old, but it's got a nice message. Maybe not one that everyone is open to, but some readers will be. And if you look at the big picture, it's just a good reminder that you can't isolate yourself.

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Waiting for Cancer Tests—you got to walk that lonesome valley by yourself…or do we?


In the late fifties there was a popular song entitled “You Got to Walk that Lonesome Valley.” Some of the words are:
"You've got to walk that lonesome valley
Well you gotta go by yourself
Well there ain't nobody else gonna go there for you
You gotta go there by yourself."

Waiting for the results of your cancer test can seem like one is walking in a long, lonesome valley. People who go through this will agree with what I’m saying. Whenever I have upcoming tests to see if my cancer has returned, I get edgy. I get more depressed; I isolate myself on purpose. Problems at work seem much larger than they really are, relationships seem more tenuous. Every ache or twinge gets exaggerated… “has the cancer spread?” Every thought lost in mid-sentence raises the idea “I wonder has it spread to my brain?”

Some people may think I’m nuts but anyone awaiting tests has experienced this in some way or form. Most of us keep all this to our selves. We, by choice, walk that lonesome valley alone and it sucks. After some thought and inspiration from John Piper (“Let’s not waste our cancer, let’s live each day to the fullest”) whether we have cancer or not, today could be our last day. Let’s not keep all the pain and all the joy to ourselves. Whether we want to believe it or not, cancer can be a blessing. Yes, it shifts our priorities, shifts them back to what is really important. Our relationship with God, new found appreciation for our marriages, and our children. Work is still work but if we look for it a reward and satisfaction are somewhere in the mix.

Cancer is not a detour in life. It is life. Why do we think we’re exempt from getting it? Why should everyone else get cancer and not me? Why do other people lose loved ones in tragic accidents yet I’ve been spared that? Life in this sinful world is cancer and tragic accidents along with joy and sheer delight all mixed in…that’s life.

We must keep involved in life, we cannot withdraw. A lot of people don’t want to hear about our aches and pains. Yet if we pray and search, God has gifted certain people with the gift of encouragement and the long lost ability to just listen; to be still and yet love us and encourage us.

The world and its songs may say “You got to walk this lonesome valley by yourself.” We can walk it alone or with someone else; the choice is ours. But, if we are a believer, we don’t walk it alone, the Lord is with us. Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The Lord is with us. His rod (an instrument of authority; He rules the universe and eternity) and His staff (an instrument used to control, rescue, guide and protect sheep) comfort us. What is God’s comfort? It is His reassurance that He is on the throne in control of all things and we need not worry. Good news!!

Remember, whether we are on the mountain top or in the valley, whether we’re riding the horse given us or crawling to the finish line, we need to remember the Lord is with us. This is good news. Hang in there; the Lord is good. Amen.

Posted by Judi Seehusen at 11:30 PM

Monday, May 16, 2011

Inner Peace

This article was published a few years ago in Coping with Cancer Magazine, a really nice publication with lots of advice on dealing with cancer-related issues. It's for the newly diagnosed, those in remission, care givers, and anyone else touched by cancer. I'm sure I've linked to it before.

 The original version of this article is at this link, but I'm going to copy it here, too, for easy access.


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Finding Inner Peace in the War on Cancer

by Morry Edwards, PhD

We have often used military metaphors such as fight or battle to describe a person’s struggle against cancer. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Cancer,” which we are slowly winning with approximately 12 million cancer survivors living in America today.

It is important to fight the good fight, but how you wage that fight depends on what is important in your life. We have plenty of powerful weapons in the “War on Cancer”: targeted chemotherapies, modulated radiations that spare healthy tissue, effective hormonal treatments, and immunological vaccines on the horizon. But we should never forget a most powerful tool that money cannot buy, but all of us can possess – inner peace.

There are many extraordinary cancer survivors. But you don’t have to be a Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times after metastatic testicular cancer. Or a Sean Swarner, who climbed Mt. Everest and six other continental heights after two bouts with two different primary cancers. You don’t have to be Lance Mackey, a throat cancer survivor and two-time winner of the Iditarod, the grueling dog sled Alaska competition. Or Barbara Hillary, a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor, who grew up in Harlem, learned to ski, and made it to the North Pole.

And you certainly may not have the guts to perform a biopsy and administer chemotherapy to yourself like Dr. Jerri Nielsen, who discovered her own breast cancer while on expedition at the South Pole. But to have inner peace, you do need to be in harmony with your true self. To be at peace with yourself means you are headed True North, that you are living your life as best you can from moment to moment.

Ten Habits for Cultivating Inner Peace

1. Make a point to start and end each day with a positive thought.

2. Develop a daily practice of becoming quiet enough to experience what calmness really feels like. Start with just two minutes if that is all you have. You can always increase it.

3. Try to acknowledge 100 blessings a day, to notice all the beauty and small miracles that surround you. You can begin with an appreciation for what still works in your body. Watch the sun rise or set. Feel the touch of a family member. Savor a drink of water.

4. Create the best individual healing path, which includes exploring all avenues that can generate growth, peace, and harmony among body, mind, and spirit.

5. Be proactive and informed so you can pick your treatment team and participate actively in decisions that affect you.

6. Be willing to explore and accept your thoughts and feelings so you can change them or make peace with them. You have the ability (although it needs to be cultivated) to refocus your attention on what really makes your life matter.

7. Stay in the moment instead of worrying about the future or holding regrets about the past. This opens you up to a fuller experience of what is happening as you pass through life.

8. Stay focused on what you still have rather than what you have lost.

9. Experience the wonder of a spiritual connection. It may be difficult during this time to understand “why?” but an overriding sense that there is some purpose is essential to inner peace.

10. Focus on what is meaningful, joyful, and makes you feel productive. This gives you something to look forward to, and we all need that. Keep doing the things you love to do as long as you possibly can. Surround yourself with the people who matter most and who help you feel supported.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dr. Morry Edwards is a licensed psychologist and certified biofeedback practitioner who specializes in treating people with cancer and other chronic illnesses. He currently practices at Neuropsychology Associates and is director of Psychological Services at the West Michigan Cancer Center in Kalamazoo, MI. His book, MindBody Cancer Wellness: A Self-Help Stress Management Manual, 3rd Edition, will be available soon through acornpublishing.com. This article was inspired by “Waging Peace in the War on Cancer,” by Dr. Thomas Edes, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2008.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Musical Kids

OK, I have time for this post: I can look at student papers while I wait for the videos to load.

Monday night was the kids' school band concert. They did a great job.

Catherine is in the school's Cadet Band -- all first-year players. Among her favorite pieces was "Bugler's Dream," which you will recognize as a song from the Olympics. Her trumpet section plays a big role in this one; she's at the end of the second row from the back -- the row that's kind of pushed in one space from the others:


video

While this is John's first year playing oboe, he's a member of the Advanced Band. His favorite piece: "Smoke on the Water"; John's the one with his shirt-tail hanging out:

video

For Peter, the eighth grader, this was his last school band concert (at least at this school; we're looking forward to many more next year). The four eighth graders got to perform solos. Peter's was called "Alto Rhapsody," backed up by the rest of the band.

video

All three kids did very well. We're immensely proud of them.

Monday, May 9, 2011

CD20 + CD47

I know, I'm slipping back into not posting very frequently. No Mother's Day wishes, no video of Peter's recent concert. But I have a good excuse -- this is the last week of classes, so things have been especially busy, but that means they should ease up soon (at least for the week or so between all that grading I need to do and the start of my summer classes).

So here's a quickie: An article from the Science-Business eXchange on a potential improvement in NHL treatment. Researchers think that using half a dose of Rituxan and half of an anti-CD47 antibody might be more effective, with fewer side effects, than anti-CD20 (Rituxan) and chemotherapy:
http://www.nature.com/scibx/journal/v3/n37/full/scibx.2010.1109.html

(I should probbaly remind you that monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan work by targeting a specific protein that exists on the surface of a cancer cell. Rituxan targets the protein CD20. Other antibodies target other proteins.)

What I like about this research is is that it shows off my brilliance: I've been saying for a while that I thought the future of treatments would less likely to be a single agent that would cure everything, and more likely some combination of treatments that would fight things off over the long term. it sounds like that's what this anti-CD combo would do: target different proteins on the surface of cancer cells in ways that chemotherapy can't do. More targeted, less toxic, more effective. (This does show how brilliant I am, but I probably read all of that somewhere and am now taking credit for it. In fact, I'm sure that's what is happening.)

Anyway, this is certainly something worth following.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Treating Patients Like People

I really liked the video linked below, probably because I watched it a few hours after John came home last Sunday from a friend's house. He'd been begging us to let him go to this friend's, especially now that the weather is warmer, for an all-out water gun battle. His (and our) schedule was finally clear enough for him to get over there and get wet, and he spent a long time in the toy aisle picking out his weapons of choice.

The video is a brief, two minute profile of Dr. Dan Shapiro, chairman of the Department of Humanities at the Penn State College of Medicine. He's not a "real" doctor -- he's a PhD. (Hah.) His specialty is working with medical students to get them to treat patients like people, to treat the whole person and not just the disease, as he explains in the video. As a survivor of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, he has firsthand experience with what happens to doctors when they refuse to see the person behind the patient, as he also explains in the video.
There's an important lesson there for doctors. (I'll let you figure out what it is.)

Monday, May 2, 2011

NHL in the NFL

There was a nice story coming out of the NFL draft last week.

The Patriots drafted Marcus Cannon, an offensive tackle from Texas Christian, in the fifth round. He had been projected to be picked much higher, maybe as high as the 2nd round. But just before the draft, he found out he had a form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He started chemo the day before the draft, and should be finished in June.

Before they picked him, the Pats seemed to evaluate everything they knew: he's 22, in great health, and has a form of NHL with a 90% cure rate (not sure exactly what he has, but it ain't Follicular), and figured he was worth the risk. Good for them.

Poor Marcus Cannon. I say "poor" not because he has NHL, but because on top of all of the stress of the draft, he also had to deal with all kinds of rumors about his health. Apparently, he had a benign growth in his groin four years ago. A couple of weeks ago, rumors came out that he had testicular cancer, and that a biopsy showed things were benign.  Of course, he didn't have testicular cancer, but he wasn't given good news, either. So I say "poor Marcus Cannon" because it's hard enough to deal with the uncertainty of a biopsy without having a hundred football web sites talk about it -- and get it wrong.

I think it's fascinating that the Patriots are following the Red Sox in supporting a potential star (for the Sox, it was Jon Lester, of course) as he deals with NHL. Boston is the Hub of the Universe, the Cradle of Liberty, and now The HomeWhere Those with Nodes of Gold Go Pro.