Cancer

A Cornucopia of Lessons

It was November 2011, and I had just finished leading a week-long retreat in Bali.

I was scheduled to return to Los Angeles, but I was too sick and incapacitated to fly all that way. Instead, I flew to the much closer Australia, where I had lived from 2005 till May 2011.

Bali temple

I was experiencing chronic and acute pain in my back. I was progressively losing leg strength. I could stand only on crutches. Lying down, I could not lift my legs and barely wiggle my toes. From various chiropractors, physical therapists, and other holistic healers, I had received a general diagnosis of spinal disc problems. No therapy relieved the pain or symptoms.

On Christmas Eve 2011, I was flooded with the awareness that something was truly wrong and that I needed to go to a hospital immediately. A few hours later, I was admitted to the emergency room of a local hospital.

You Cannot Do That!

[Written sometime around mid- to late 2016, but as relevant today as then, I reckon.]

“You cannot do that!” is what a well-meaning nurse told me yesterday at the chemo-ward, or whatever they call the place you sit in for several hours whilst intravenously imbibing what I like to call Shiva-Shakti juice.

Actually, this is what the second nurse said. The first one was unable to insert the needle into any of my veins even after three rather painful attempts. Apparently, my veins were small and would disappear on her. Bummer for her, and for me.

She said she’d get another nurse. As that one began to survey the situation, I politely (I’m always polite and friendly) said, “Let’s make this one count. If it doesn’t, I am out of here. Four is my daily limit for needle insertions.”

Chemo-cocktail, 10/18/'16

Chemo-cocktail, 10/18/’16

That’s not even counting the one I already had in the blood lab ward, where my Philippine lab technicians love me to death — in part because I always bring them home-baked cookies (courtesy of my sister Sandra) and in part because we laugh so much that others nurses come running in to be sure everything is OK. They flirt with me and I flirt right back. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. Whatever.

I Am Dying, Therefore I Speak Truthfully

Cogito ergo sum is a Latin philosophical proposition written in the 17th century by René Descartes in his Principles of Philosophy. It is usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am.” This proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy. I remember reading Descartes by flashlight, under the covers so as to not disturb my brother, in eleventh grade. I haven’t thought of him since then. Until now. For whatever reason, his proposition came to mind as I was searching for a title, and the spine, of this article. Thank you, M. Descartes, for catalyzing both the title and spine!

Ego morior ergo ego loquor veroo. “I am dying, therefore I speak truthfully.” This has become my fundamental philosophical and existential proposition. This proposition has become embedded in me, everywhere, in every nook and cranny. It not only lives in me, it lives me.

Where Do I Put My Mouth?

One of the benefits of chemo brain fog (not to mention post-stroke motor skills weirdness — as in “what the hell are my hands doing now and who told them to type that!) is the opportunity those beauties have given me to really get down with this mindfulness thing. Mindfulness, a very popular term and a growing practice throughout the land, is what I’ll use as a placeholder for the first two of The 5 Principles of Authentic Living: Be Present and Pay Attention.

typewriter_adler1_keyboard

Mindfulness. Be Present. Pay Attention. I have got to be very focused and mindful of where I place my fingers on the keyboard, which is something I learned in high school typing class. If my fingers are not place correctly on the keyboard, I  fyppe fiburgis . . . damn, I mean I type gibberish. Oy vey.

These days, I have to not only be extra careful about where I place my fingers, I have to remain extra, even super, careful about how my fingers move from one key to the next. My muscle memory seems to be compromised by the twin beauties I mentioned above. If I have any hope of being accurate, clear, legible and sensible in my typing, I have to be super careful all the way through. It was enough, before, to just start out correctly and I could trust my muscle memory to take it from there. Not now. Mindful. Be Present. Pay Attention. To start, and all the way through. No let up.

You Cannot Do That!

“You cannot do that!” is what a well-meaning nurse told me yesterday at the chemo-ward, or whatever they call the place you sit in for several hours whilst intravenously imbibing what I like to call Shiva-Shakti juice.

Actually, this is what the second nurse said. The first one was unable to insert the needle into any of my veins even after three rather painful attempts. Apparently, my veins were small and would disappear on her. Bummer for her, and for me.

She said she’d get another nurse. As that one began to survey the situation, I politely (I’m always polite and friendly) said, “Let’s make this one count. If it doesn’t, I am out of here. Four is my daily limit for needle insertions.”

Chemo-cocktail, 10/18/'16

Chemo-cocktail, 10/18/’16

That’s not even counting the one I already had in the blood lab ward, where my Philippine lab technicians love me to death — in part because I always bring them home-baked cookies (courtesy of my sister Sandra) and in part because we laugh so much that others nurses come running in to be sure everything is OK. They flirt with me and I flirt right back. Or, maybe it’s the other way around. Whatever.

The second nurse said she would do her best, and she was sorry for the difficulties and my pain. I smiled politely and in a friendly manner (I’m always polite and friendly) I said, “No worries. I must have bad veins today. Still, I am leaving after the fourth try.”

My nurse said, “You need your chemo. You cannot leave. You cannot do that.”

Cancer Taught me Dick

The other day, someone asked me to summarize what cancer has taught me. I thought carefully before answering. My one word answer was, “Dick.”

“Cancer taught you dick?! I don’t understand.”

“Since my January 2012 diagnosis of terminal stage 4 lung cancer, I have learned more than I can say and I have experienced things I cannot yet put into words. However, the way I see things, I taught myself. Cancer didn’t do squat except to run around all crazy-like in my body like out of control kids at spring break. Cancer didn’t teach me dick. My response to cancer taught me everything.”

Nice one, Robert. You are just such a sweet and soft person sometimes!

Whatever. Here is a bit more of what I taught myself to such a degree that now its all embodied. I became this. I am this. Cancer is still just a dick. I, however, have become who I’ve been all along: a mighty dude!

Chemo, Darkening One’s Beauty, and Dating Advice

oncology_nurse_gifts_mouse_pad-r7da4bd97206e45ffb21b625bf731c434_x74vi_8byvr_324

Meanwhile . . . I signed in for the first of my new round of chemo sessions and was greeted by Nurse Casey, who had attended to me four years ago for my first round of chemo treatments. We had hit it off back then, talking up a storm. I had given her some coaching advice and signed a couple books for her. (Actually, my sister Sandra had to remind me of all this, as I couldn’t recall any of it.)

Nonetheless, with the IV drip in place and Sandra sitting quietly in the corner, Casey and I picked up right where we left off years ago. I asked her how things were going, and her face darkened as she shrunk a few inches in height. “A guy?” I asked.

She replied, “Guys, plural.”

I closed my eyes for a moment. Sometimes I see better with my eyes closed. I asked Casey if I could say something to her about that. She eagerly said yes. (I have to be invited or given permission by someone before I will offer any “coaching advice.”

My eyes were still closed. I said, “You have a beautiful face. It always threatens to explode in light and energy. But you darken your light and your beauty from within. And you shrink, you become small. But you are big and you are beautiful and radiant and full of joy and many enthusiasms.

“Casey, do you hike?”

“Yes.”

“So, you will understand how important it is to start hiking from the right trailhead. If you start down the wrong path, you may end up lost and alone. If you start down the right path, you will eventually reach your goal, the place you want to get to. Right? So, based on your own experience, would you agree that how you start out largely determines where you end up?”

“Sure.”

“When you meet a new guy, you are not starting at the right trailhead, the one of your truth, of your energy, of your power, of your wildness. You start out on the trailhead of being nice and pleasant, of projecting a very modest account of yourself, of hiding your broiling enthusiasm for life. You take his hand and you begin walking down this path. Within minutes, or days, or a few weeks at most, you have darkened yourself from the inside. You have shrunk and shriveled yourself. You are a walking, talking lie.

“Stop it! Start strong. Instantly, from the first second. Every word must be true. Your listening must be true, so as not to be deceived. What you say and agree to must come unfiltered from your soul and through your heart. It is so important that you begin at the trailhead of honesty about who you are and what you want. It is so important that the first steps you take are down this path!”

The hour of my treatment flew by. Sandra and I left, saying, “See you in three weeks!”

Leaving the Hospital Without Permission

Final episodeThe cliffhanger episode from last week had me heading into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, head glowing with stroke explosions or alien invasion craft landing lights, and an uncertain medical future. The writers and producers of this popular mini-drama, though themselves thoroughly bored brainless of the whole thing, have nonetheless decided to produce one final episode. Here is their script, written in first person narrative style, to accentuate the main character’s POV.

“I entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at 3:30 PM on Saturday, July 23rd. For the next three days, I was treated to a grand tour of modern medical science and technology by a large, rotating staff of technicians, nurses, doctors and a few characters of questionable origin and purpose. All were kind and seemingly well-trained. I was informed that they needed to do many tests to determine the root cause of my stroke, in order to then determine a treatment plan to minimize future strokes, which could kill me. Everyone seemed more bothered by that outcome than me.

“In any event, I was then wired up to an EKG machine and IV drip, with blood drawn every six hours, and tests of one kind or another administered according to a schedule I never saw. Amazing stuff. I listened in to the actual sound of my blood rushing through my arteries. I saw blood vessels that looked like dark seas. A camera was inserted down my esophagus that took pictures of my heart. I had sonic this and CT Scan that. All for the purpose of finding out the root cause of my stroke.

“My oncologist stopped by. I also met with a cardiologist, neurologist, medical oncologist, physical therapist — I asked for a witchdoctor but no one took me seriously. The final bill for all these doctors, nurses, tests, etc. (plus the luxurious sea-view suite and custom-prepared gourmet meals featuring the got-to-be-good-for-you Jell-O.) would no doubt be enough to modernize our entire military. (Which we need, according to Mr. Trump.) Thank you, Medicare and Med-Cal.

By Tuesday morning, I had had enough. I told the coordinating doctor that I was going to leave that evening, no matter what. She said she couldn’t release me because they hadn’t found the root cause of the stroke. I expressed my understanding of her point of view and appreciated her concern for my well being. Nonetheless, I said I was leaving at 5 PM. Why? Though I respected and appreciated everything being done for me in the hospital, I became aware that I needed to get “back to my reality.” I felt my shakti slowly draining from me and the longer I stayed in the hospital, the weaker I felt. I can’t say more about this; you may or may not understand. I just needed to breathe my own air and touch the magic stone of silence, which I could not do in the hospital, what with all the tests and invasions of my body and mind. I HAD TO LEAVE AT 5 PM, OR I WOULD DIE.

“Let’s cut to the chase. Throughout the day, there were more tests, more consults, more discussions: What the fuck (my non-technical interpretation of things) is the cause of this stroke? Somewhere around 3 PM, my cardiologist appeared with a Bible-sized printout of my tests and results. I told him I was leaving at 5 PM, so I hoped the report he had included the mystery origin of my stroke along with a proposed treatment plan. He smiled in a friendly and understanding manner. Yes, he said, I think we’ve got it sorted. You have blood clots in your lungs and elsewhere. We believe all this is caused by your cancer (some 20% of all stroke patients are cancer patients). Cancer has caused your blood to thicken. We are going to put you on two blood thinning medications which you can take at home: Lipitor (pill) and Lovenox (syringe). (Yes, twice-a-day self-administered injections into my stomach.) Still, we may not be able to release you today.

“That morning, I had told my sister Sandra to get me at 5 PM. At 4:00 PM, as I was getting ready to take out my IV drip and disconnect all my other wiring and what not (very Steve McQueen in The Great Escape), I got a call from my coordinating doctor saying she and the other doctors agreed I could safely be discharged. She discussed the medications I would take and my rehab options. (I have to learn to type all over again and walk without falling over — as my left hand and leg seem to have developed their own GPS system, independent of my brain.) She advised patience in this process, which, for those who know me, is not one of my highly-developed characteristics.

My sister arrived (with boxes of donuts for the nursing staff) and I walked out of the hospital at exactly 5 PM on Tuesday, July 26th.

Postscript:

Since my cancer diagnosis in January 2012, I have maintained that it is less important what happens to you than how you respond, what you learn, and what you do with what you learn. I see no reason to change this now, in light of my recent stroke and the opinion of some that I am a likely candidate to have more. I want to just say a few things about what I have learned and what I’m going to do about it. This is a very personal sharing: I do not pretend it has any universal application nor do I intend it as any kind of “teaching.”

The bulk of what I’ve “learned” in the past couple of days came to me, as usual, preverbally, as energetic impulses that become meaningful in their own way and time. Tuesday, I was very agitated. I felt imprisoned. I became acutely aware of the “secret” I have consciously harbored since I was 11 years old. I don’t think I’ve ever said this publically before. I have always felt I was “meant” to do something significant. Now, that is certainly a vague enough idea, and open to vast numbers of interpretations — especially if you’re a nondualist who would ask, “Who is the doer?” (I am a nondualist in good standing, and I say to them: Go fuck yourself.)

However, I know what I mean. And, on Tuesday, I realized that, to date, I have not yet even come close. This pissed me off, since I can feel that my time is somewhat limited. Without thinking about this, but simply by opening, feeling, acknowledging, and accepting, I felt a monstrous, fierce, fire-breathing focus take over my entire body and being. This is why I had to leave the hospital: to begin immediately to do what was taking shape in this sudden, almost desperate fierceness of focus and purpose. This would keep me alive and going. I cannot prove this, but I know it. The focus took shape. I saw myself on stage. OK, check. The place I love more than any other place. Re-ignite your speaking career. You have things to say and people to say them to. You now have the experience, insight, maturity, and confidence to deliver these messages. OK. Got it. I’m on it. And publicize and promote Speaking Truthfully classes!

So, with my good friends lung cancer and stroke and alien landings and thank you Mother Shakti I am off to see the wizard and do something significant. I am available to speak now: in person, virtual, visual, podcast — it don’t matter to me. Just invite me and then get the fuck out of the way because a tidal wave of shakti and embodied freedom will follow.

Good. That’s it. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Any questions?

My Health Update: cancer, Dexter, and more pony rides to oblivion

If you know me, you know that I don’t care to, nor do I often, speak about my little friend. No, it’s not Tony Montana’s “little friend”: it’s my constellation of naughty cells gone all feral on their very own spring break madness; AKA stage 4 lung cancer, which has been with me since it was first diagnosed in January 2012.

Tony Montana

Tony Montana

No, I’m not in denial about this; I’ve written and spoken about it. It’s just that cancer is not my crusade. I never wanted to marinate in being a cancer patient, a cancer survivor, or a cancer anything. Certainly, I and millions of other people are grateful to those who have dedicated themselves to bringing new and important information, resources, examples, and stories to help heal and comfort those with cancer and other chronic conditions. I just wasn’t that interested in keeping my “chronic” condition front and center as a topic for me or you. I didn’t want to wake up every day with that condition in my mind, and I didn’t want the first thing out of your mouth to me being something like, “So, how are you?” Yes, I can be as narcissistic as anyone, but all me all the time is just too much! And, to be sure, there are only about 12 gazillion things more important than me and my “condition.”