Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wisdom Arrives On A Warning

Everything is unfolding slowly these days: the opening-up of society in this middle stage of the pandemic, my tulips, the plot in the book I'm reading, my own writing, and my ongoing relationship with cancer. I had a PET scan last Friday, and as is usual these days in so many aspects of life, the information it provides is not great and is somewhat confusing.

I got a preliminary result by email yesterday. I can't get a phone visit until May 13th here with my university-based oncologist, but I do have a video consultation with my "second opinion" oncologist at Dana Farber (in Boston) this Thursday, May 7th. I find it amusing that I will be getting my second opinion before my first. Life is turned upside down and backwards these days!

I don't have access to the actual scan to look at it myself, so I am dependent on the written report until I have my appointment on Thursday to clarify things. Here are the high points:

  • My breast tumor (my 10th one) is about the same size, but is not as metabolically active as it was last October. That means the cancer cells are dividing more slowly than they were.
  • I have a new "tiny" spot glowing brightly in my sternum - damn! 
  • My 3rd rib shows increased cancer activity - but it doesn't hurt anymore. Go figure!?!
  • They did not even mention my 2nd rib, which showed up on the last scan as a new place of possible spread. I have no idea if it stopped lighting up or if they missed it.
  • The lymph nodes in my chest are lighting up in the same way as they've been for a while. They are not in my lungs, just around the area of the upper chest. They seem to be processing something...but what, and why for so many years?
I am mostly feeling disappointed. I had hoped to prove the trend to be wrong, but there's too much evidence that something is going on to ignore it. I don't want to cross that fine line between positive thinking and denial. I am also wary of the other fine line - the one between heightened awareness and paranoia. I am committed to my practice of staying grounded in the present and not allowing my mind to make things worse than they are.

It's easier to stay present and be clear about choices when I'm feeling relatively better than I have in a while. Steve & I hiked up Snake Mountain, the highest point in the next county south of us last Saturday, along with our friends Patty and John, whose birthday we celebrated on the summit. It was 8.2 miles round-trip. It's the longest hike I've taken in 11 years! I bow to the spirit of the serpent, symbol of the movement of water on land, and the mythic representative of transformation. I shed my skin in tribute as I move through this time in my life. Thanks to John for having a birthday and giving me the reason to hike that day up a mountain named after my favorite symbolic creature.

It's hard to be afraid of cancer when I am feeling so much better. Way back at the beginning of this ordeal, 10 1/2 years ago, I felt horrible. Deep down, I knew that something was terribly wrong way before I was diagnosed. Now, I have to find a way to balance information, sensations, and my gut-feeling about what's happening. It's not easy finding this balance. I'm exploring ways to be with what's unfolding, and I'm immersed more deeply into uncertainty. I have some waiting (a most challenging practice) for my 2 appointments to move into some phase of making choices. I have a sense that nothing is happening quickly and that I won't be taking any drastic measures.

I listened to Krista Tippett's interview with Ocean Vuong this week ( and was moved by so much of what he said. He described how "wisdom arrives on a warning" and I have chosen this as my contemplation for this very challenging week. We are all surrounded by countless warnings in these times. How can I discern the difference between wisdom, useless information, dogma, and propaganda?
What matters most right now?