View from the window on the cancer floor of the Reagan Hospital in 2012.
March, 2020. The Cat and I, are sitting here, looking out the window. We are complying with the "stay at home" order which is in effect due to the coronavirus pandemic. This does feel eerily familiar to me. Probably to other cancer survivors too. Isolation. Carrying hand sanitizer with you. Worrying about catching something bad (not because of an epidemic, but because your immune system is compromised by the treatment ordeal). The eerily familiar uncertainty is probably the biggest similarity. The difference being that instead of facing this by ones self, like a cancer patient, we all get to go thru it together.
Maybe this is dark humor from having been thru the meatgrinder before... I know hand sanitizer is impossible to buy right now because of the demand. But a happy byproduct of having gone thru treatment is I still had a few small bottles hidden. Bottles hidden everywhere, the way an alcoholic hides bottles, to make sure you have one when you need it. Dark indeed. But glad to have those bottles now.
If there is any takeaway from this, for my reader, from what I went thru during treatment - we can get thru this. Look to the light.
For now, I want to take you back to 2012 and to some letters which were written before we got into the 'hand sanitizer' phase of treatment.
It was dark. And I was looking for the light.
Wednesday, 10/31/2012 11:34 AM
I'm doing a little research on the cancer I was diagnosed with, on my work benefits, Social Security, and I've even read up a little on the Iraq Burn Pits (I went to a burn pit one time, it wasn't far from camp & the flight line).
The IOM report from the VA included this statement:
- "During deployment to a war zone, military personnel are exposed to a variety of environmental hazards, many of which have been linked to long-term adverse health outcomes, such as cancer..."
Anyways, I hope you are doing well, and I want to add that I have very much appreciated the spiritual guidance (can I call it that?) which you've given me. It has helped immensely, and also just means a lot to me that you gave me that help. The breathing stuff alone, has helped me stay calm in Dr's appts, and I have also had a couple experiences which are a cause for wonder. Sincerely Rick
Thursday, 11/8/2012 12:32 PM
I spoke with Jane yesterday. She told me she would call you. Of course I have a responsibility to make sure you get paid. I'll work on that when I get back.
Been on the "clear liquid diet" since Tuesday night. I'd be a liar if I didn't tell you I'm a little frightened right now. But I will continue the mission. Here is a quote I like:
“Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared". - Eddie Rickenbacker.
Thursday, 11/8/2012 1:56 PM
(From Larry to me)
Yeah don't worry about any of that. Jane and I worked it out. You do the best you can and then give it up.
Riding on the horse of hope, Holding in my hand the rein of courage, Clad in the armor of patience, And the helmet of endurance on my head, I started on my journey to the land of love. - Hazrat Inayat Khan
Dr. Larry Decker was my counselor at the Vet Center, where I went for "re-adjustment counseling", after returning from Iraq. In our meetings we'd mostly discuss practical things. He helped me understand PTSD and how it was affecting my life, and taught me ways to cope with it. How it affected work, relationships, and feelings. I think some people get a little too good at shutting off feelings, during military training and then war, so that part was particularly helpful to me. He was also a spiritual man having studied Universal Sufism since 1973. In our work together, he introduced me to mystical and spiritual ideas and practices. Some of which is in a book he has written, (that you can get on Amazon) called, "The Alchemy of Combat: Transforming Trauma in Combat Veterans". Thru weaving the quotes of Hazrat Inayat Kahn, and Sufi philosophy into his practice, his guidance thru the mundane was valuable to me. But thru what I was facing now, this guidance felt crucial.
My Liver Resection surgery was scheduled for the next morning, after that message I wrote on November 8th. I was to check into the Ronald Reagan Hospital at UCLA in Westwood, California, that next day at 4:30am. It had been eight weeks since I'd had my gallbladder removed. Six weeks since I'd been given the diagnosis of Stage 2 Gallbladder Cancer. Six somewhat surreal weeks. A whirlwind of activity, information, and emotion. I was playing with the artistic-intellectual punk rock band Crying 4 Kafka at the time. C4K was pretty active. During this time between my surgeries, we did shows in Santa Barbara, and at The Roxy in Hollywood. It was during this time that I procured a Gibson SG guitar. I needed a lightweight guitar due to the abdominal incisions which were still somewhat tender, after my first surgery, the gallbladder removal. I was trying to do what I could to stay in the game. I'd also been working, going to Doctors appointments, in a relationship, and spending quite a bit of time educating myself about what was going on. Educating myself about my health, my insurance, and the cancer itself. But the next morning I was to be sidelined for at least the next six weeks. I would eventually resign from the band, going on a hiatus from music, which would last for a year and a half. The future was out there, but I became increasingly focused on this looming moment, and it's uncertain outcome.
I probably weighed around 180 lbs. before I had the first surgery. My weight dropped substantially thru this period. I'm sure I lost weight having my gallbladder removed. Thru this, I was trying to eat right and exercise, and was in decent shape for a man my age. But by the time I was getting ready for the liver surgery there wasn't any extra weight on my frame. The effect of all this, and the three days of clear liquid diet, was my weight would eventually hit a low of 149 pounds.
The afternoon of the 8th of November 2012, I would memorize the prayer-ful writing of Hazrat Inayat Kahn, which Larry had sent to me.
The next morning on November 9th, I can clearly remember reciting this prayer to myself. Like a mantra, over and over, as I was wheeled into the OR.
It is for me now, a prayer I will never forget. On my journey to the land of love.
Salty Rose, 2020
Stay tuned, the next entry in this series is Cancer Letters #7, the story of my time in the Reagan Hospital.
Here is a link to Dr. Larry Decker's book-
The Big Sky. The story of a man who kept the world turning. In spite of adversity. Inspired by the story of my Great Grandfather Willian Patrick, and the world events of March 2020. Recorded at home, during California's stay home orders.
The stay home orders, social distancing, and uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic, are eerily familiar to a cancer survivor. During chemotherapy a cancer patients' immune system becomes compromised. The patient is then advised to wash hands a lot, avoid crowds, practice social distancing, etc... Seemed fitting somehow to post this song with todays installment of The Cancer Letters.
The shows, between the surgeries, in 2012
C4K at The Roxy, Hollywood, early November 2012. Just days before my liver resection. The last show for a year and a half, for me.C4K at Roy, Santa Barbara, Oct 2012. Rocking the Gibson SG guitar. Nice and light.
The dog tags and cross I wore in the military. After I got out, whenever I'd get on a plane or engage in any other kind of risky behavior, I'd wear them. It was kind of a little inside joke to me, really. More of that Veteran dark humor. I almost certainly wore them on the way to the hospital for surgery. But this time it was no joke. The dog tags would again serve for me as a talisman of survival, and the cross, an emblem of faith.
Please leave a comment. Also, please go to the Home Page and sign up on the mailing list, to receive news about website updates, and Salty Blog stories...
Thank you for visiting!
Bring light and faith to the fight.