"Our soul must perform two duties. The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised. The other is that we must gently let go and let be." Julian of Norwich

...Cancer teaches both!!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Down Days

Don’t let anybody kid you! There are lots of down days on this journey. Yesterday was a particularly tough chemo day. The nausea was bad and I spent a good chunk of the afternoon and evening chatting with Ralph on the great white telephone!

Surgery, radiation, chemo… they each take there toll. Recurrences and metastases contribute their own special horror. Add to this the stress of scans and blood tests, the emotional rollercoaster of fear, frustration, anger, and despair alternating with relief, joy, peace, and hope… well you get the picture. It’s tough on survivors, and just as tough on their loved ones.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as positive as the next person when it comes to living with this beast. I think the right attitude and the “will to live” are important. But so is honesty and authenticity. Part of the reality of this disease is that it knocks the stuffing out of you!! Some days are really dark and tearful. We need mechanisms to release our sadness, fear, anger, and despair. It is not a sign of weakness, of losing, or of giving up. It is a sign that we are human, and an acknowledgement that letting go and release are part of the journey.

Music, meditation, and movies can be helpfully “cathartic”…
Catharsis : a Greek word meaning "purification" or "cleansing" derived from the ancient Greek kathairein "to purify, purge," and adjective katharos "pure or clean".

My colon cancer friends will appreciate that this word has also found its way into the medical lexicon as a bowel cleanser or purgative, cathartic. But I’m thinking of it more in terms of the emotional cleansing, or catharsis, that can happen when we are moved through compassion by tragedy, death, love, redemption, hope, or any of the other "really real" things in life.

TTFN… Rob; in Vancouver

“I cry a lot. My emotions are very close to my surface. I don't want to hold anything in so it festers and turns into pus - a pustule of emotion that explodes into a festering cesspool of depression.” Nicolas Cage

Sunday, July 29, 2007

For the Beauty of the Earth

John Rutter arrangement of classic hymn as sung by Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Primary) choir.

Respect for Creation

A respect for all creation and solidarity with all living things is a fundamental, but largely forgotten, aspect of most world religions. For some, all of creation is a revelation of divine love, a true blessing, to be honoured, cared for, shared, and preserved for future generations.

I learned of an incredible ethic of “respect for creation” from the Tsimshian elders I lived with for ten years on BC’s north coast. The traditional Tsimshian were a people who lived as “a part of creation” rather than “apart from creation”, as most of us live today. Their yearly cycles and daily activities were integrally related to the seasons. The coming of the oolichen in the spring was a time of great celebration as new life returned to the coastal villages by way of the “saviour fish” or “ha’li’mootg”. Then came the herring and the rich spawn laid on kelp and eel grass. May marked the season of seaweed gathering as families left the villages for their camps on the outer coast. Along with the seaweed harvesting, halibut was caught, sliced, and dried for winter food. Summer was the season for salmon fishing and berry gathering, and winter was a time of feasting, story telling and celebration of life. There was truly a season for everything and a time for every matter under heaven.

This closeness to creation is reflected in the Tsimshian worldview, in their spirituality, and in their traditional ethic of stewardship. I can only partially describe it as “a caring for, and sharing of, what is received from the creator and generations past for the benefit of both today’s people and generations to come.” This ethic applies to food gathering traditions, to stories, rituals, and cultural property, and to the land and sea. And everything took place with a profound sense of gratitude, thanksgiving, and prayer (sometimes spoken).

Earth, Teach Me: Ute Prayer

Earth teach me quiet

~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering

~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility

~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring

~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage

~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation

~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom

~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance

~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal

~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself

~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness

~ as dry fields weep with rain.

Peace and blessings... Rob

“This we know, the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites us all. We did not weave the web of life, We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” Chief Seattle

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Happy Birthday Terry Fox

Terry Fox was born on July 28, 1958 in Winnipeg, Manitoba and was raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver. In 1977 Terry lost his right leg to osteosarcoma, a form of cancer. While in hospital as a young man Terry was deeply touched by the suffering of other cancer patients, especially children. He was determined to do something about it.

On April 12, 1980 Terry dipped his foot into the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s, Newfoundland to begin his “Marathon of Hope”, a cross-Canada run to raise funds for cancer research. His plan was to run 42 km (26 miles) per day, the distance of a typical marathon. Terry’s original goal was to raise $1 million. He soon revised it to raise $1 for each Canadian or $24 million.

Terry began his run as a virtual unknown. By the time he reached Toronto, Terry was well known across the country. Toronto streets were lined with thousands of people and a huge rally was held with over 10,000 attending. Unfortunately the run came to an end just outside of Thunder Bay on September 1, 1980. After running for 143 days straight, a total distance of 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles), Terry had to stop because of difficulty breathing. The cancer had spread to his lungs. Terry returned to British Columbia for further treatment. He developed pneumonia in June of 1981. Terry died at dawn on June 28, 1981, one month short of his 23rd birthday.

His “Marathon of Hope” raised over $24 million and was the inspiration for the Terry Fox Run”. The Terry Fox Run is held around the world on a Sunday in mid-September to raise funds for cancer research. This year the run will be held on September 16, 2007. To date over $400 million has been raised for cancer research.

In 1981 Rod Stewart and Bernie Taupin wrote “Never Give Up on a Dream”, a tribute to Terry’s “Marathon of Hope”. The video clip below includes pictures of Terry’s run to the music of Rod Stewart”.

“If there's doubt and you're cold,
don't you worry what the future holds.
We've gotta have heroes to teach us all
to never give up on a dream.
Claim the road, touch the sun,
no force on earth could stop you run.
When your heart bursts like the sun
never, never give up on a dream.”

Had Terry lived, he would have been 49 today.

Remembering Terry… Rob; in Vancouver.

“Even though I'm not running anymore, we still have to try to find a cure for cancer. Other people should go ahead and try to do their own thing now.” Terry Fox

"Never Give Up on a Dream"

Images of Terry's "Marathon of Hope" to the Rod Stewart/Bernie Taupin song "Never Give Up on a Dream". The song was written as a tribute to Terry.
If you can't view it in this window go to... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VboVtLFCb0A.
Rob; in Vancouver.
"It occurs very rarely in the life of a nation, that the courageous spirit of one person unites all people in the celebration of his life, and the mourning of his death." Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BC Nurses

To be diagnosed with cancer is to be launched into the midst of the health care system. Just coping with the system can be overwhelming! So much of what is happening is unfamiliar; so much is out of our control. For myself, I went from a colonoscopy, done in the “day surgery” suite, into the operating room in one day. So began my cancer journey, and so began my relationship with BC Nurses.

Between three major operations, four weeks in hospital, two extensive chemo programs, and numerous visits to various ambulatory care clinics, I’m sure I’ve been touched by the service of hundreds of nurses. Many I can’t remember, being either “out cold” or just too dopey!

What I do remember is the warm blanket wrapped around me when I was moved onto the surgery table in the freezing cold operating room. I remember the first person I saw in recovery after surgery, a nurse from my congregation, a familiar face and comforting presence. I remember the surgical recovery wards of Lion’s Gate and Vancouver General Hospitals and the teams of nurses that cared for me night and day. When I felt at my lowest they were there with help for pain, with firm reminders to do my coughing and breathing exercises (not fun!), and with support for the most basic of bodily functions (use your imagination!). I also remember the incredible respect that these nurses showed for my privacy and dignity in the midst of very vulnerable and embarrassing circumstances.

The Chemo Nurses are a special group. They’re on hand with advice for coping with Chemo side-effects. They make the jargon of “blood-work” understandable, administer the chemo medicine with skill and competence, and bring the human touch of caring and compassion to an environment which could too easily become cold and “clinical”.

Home-care nurses and nurses in the “ambulatory care clinics” round out the nursing care community for me. They would swing by the house to “de-access” my chemo port, or I’d swing by one of their clinics to have my port “flushed”, or to get an injection of Neupogen to boost my white blood cells. Again, they were available for consultation on side-effects and general health concerns. “Are you sleeping OK?”, “How about your digestive track? Things working OK?”. “Are you having any pain?”

In all of my experiences I’ve found BC Nurses to be caring and compassionate, well trained and competent, knowledgeable, and respectful of patient dignity, privacy and rights. A truly great group of people to have at the heart of our health care system.

So, to Leslie, Kim, Hazel, Myriam, Wendy, Chris, Judith, Erin, Shelly, Rufina, Karen, Aileen, Trevor, Judy, Natalie, Mary, Joyce, Shirley, Suki, Jenette, Deborah, Kathy, Marcus, Karen, Mia, Robin, Maria, Stephanie, Sandy, and the many whose names I regrettably can’t recall, Thank You. Thank you very much!

In Appreciation… Rob; in Vancouver

“Nurses - one of the few blessings of being ill.” Sara Moss-Wolfe

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What a Wonderful World

Enjoy this beautiful Louis Armstrong classic.
Have a great day... Rob

International Year of Rumi

The reflections over the past week were inspired by a 2003 lecture by Sufi Shaikh, Kabir Helminski. Kabir is of the Mevlevi Order, a Sufi tradition tracing its roots to the 13th century Persian mystic and poet Rumi. Rumi was born in 1207 and 2007 has been declared by UNESCO as the International Year of Rumi in honour of the 800 year anniversary of his birth. I invite you to join me in taking some time during this year to learn a little of Rumi, the Sufi Islamic tradition, and the Persian history of Afghanistan and Iran. As always, Wikipedia's a good place to start... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jalal_ad-Din_Muhammad_Rumi . There's a short clip from "Rumi-Turning Ecstatic", a film by Tina Petrova, on YOUTUBE at... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjSig4DxU_M. It shows the beautiful "turning with love" of the Sufi prayer tradition.
Here are some of Rumi's thoughts on prayer as translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski.

The Window of My Soul
Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi

During prayer I am accustomed to turn to God like this:
that's the meaning of the words of the Tradition,
'the delight felt in the ritual prayer.'
The window of my soul opens,
and from the purity of the Unseen World,
the Book of God comes to me straight.
The Book, the rain of Divine Grace, and the Light
are falling into my house through a window
from my real and original source.
The house without a window is Hell:
to make a window is the foundation of true religion.
Don't thrust your axe upon every thicket:
come, use your axe to cut open a window.
Translated by Camille and Kabir Helminski

Peace be to you... Rob
“Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more - more unseen forms become manifest to him.” Rumi

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Evolution of Dance

Again with the dance!! This is the most viewed of YOUTUBE clips. 52 million hits!! If you can't play it within this window go to...
Rob... (_*_)
"And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh." Friedrich Nietzsche

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Funny Pages

Top Ten Ways To Know You Are A Cancer Survivor
10 Your alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and you're glad to hear it.
9. Your mother-in-law invites you to lunch and you just say NO.
8. You're back in the family rotation to take out the garbage.
7. When you no longer have an urge to choke the person who says, "all you need to beat cancer is the right attitude."
6. When your dental floss runs out and you buy 1000 yards.
5. When you use your toothbrush to brush your teeth and not comb your hair.
4. You have a chance to buy additional life insurance but you buy a new convertible car instead.
3. Your doctor tells you to lose weight and do something about your cholesterol and you actually listen.
2. When your biggest annual celebration is again your birthday, and not the day you were diagnosed.
1. When you use your Visa card more than your hospital parking pass.

Bad News and Really Bad News...
A seventy-year man goes to the doctor for a health check-up. After some tests and checks, the doctor comes in with a grave look on his face.
Doctor: Well, I have some bad news and some really bad news.
Guy: Well, give me the really bad news first.
Doctor: You have cancer, and only 6 months to live.
Guy: And the bad news?
Doctor: You have Alzheimer's disease.
Guy: Thank God. I was afraid I had cancer!

Enjoy the Day.... Rob (_*_)

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing." William James

Friday, July 13, 2007

Greetings from the Beautiful West End!!

Well I've had "A Cancer Journal" up and running for about a month now and I just wanted to say thank you to all who have stopped by. I've put up about 30 posts and had over 2400 visitors to the site. Some are daily guests, others less frequent but still regular, and a few just stopped by for a peak.
I've found this to be a helpful exercise for myself. I've jounalled sporadically for the past 27 years and always found it to be an important discipline in terms of reflecting on life's journey. Many of the posts so far have come from different sections of my journal during my first diagnosis and more recently with my recurrence. I'm trying to strike a balance between technical posts, spritual reflections, humour, music, inspiration, and personal updates. Weekend posts will continue to be along the lines of "The Funny Pages" and "Sweet Hour of Prayer". My plan is to continue posting daily until I go back to work in September. After that I'll probably post a little less frequently.
Some hints for using this site... pretty simple stuff mostly...
OLDER POSTS: Older posts can be accessed from from the "Blog Archive" to the left. Post titles from the current month are visible. The post titles from previous months can be accessed from a "drop-down" menu by clicking the arrow indictating the month.
LABELS: Each post has a number of labels located at the bottom. Yesterday's post, "To Everything There is a Season" has the following labels: companionship, death, journey, mentors, and Palliative Care. If you click these labels you can pull up other posts with a similar theme. The journey label refers to posts that have to do with particular aspects of my own journey.
COMMENTS: I really value the comments that folks have made so far. It's a good way for you to share your own thoughts, to add something, or to just say Hi!. You do not have to be a member to make a comment you can simply post it under ANONYMOUS and sign your name in the body of the comment. If you have any suggestions for future posts or resources you would like me to share please let me know.
SHARING THIS SITE: If you find a post that you would like to pass on to someone just click the envelope icon at the bottom of the post. It may be something inspirational, informative, or funny that could be apprecitated by someone else at just the right time. Alternatively you could just paste the URL from the browser window into an e-mail and forward it that way.
Next week I'm planning a 5-part series "Living with Cancer" based on a framework of lessons for living from Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski. It will be a combination of reflections, quotes and clips on living deeply, finding peace, and sharing goodness in the midst of this cancer experience. Moday's theme is "Committing to Your Highest Possibility".
Have a truly great summer weekend... Rob
“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior” Christina Baldwin

Monday, July 9, 2007

Chemo Day

Well the Chemo holiday is over and I'm back to the clinic today to start round 4 of 6. I'm now over the hump in this short program and I have the end in sight. I had my blood-work done on Thursday and saw my Oncologist on Friday. Everything looks good. My platelets were a little low so he prescribed the steroid Prednisone to help boost them. I'm not sure how that works but we did it several years ago and it seemed to do the trick.

Here's a flowchart of my chemo program. You can click it to get a larger version. Please disregard the many spelling errors!!

I'll start the day at the clinic by giving a blood sample. The lab will do up a complete blood count and if it looks good I'll start the intravenous drugs. If my platelets are still low I may get a reduced dose of a couple of the drugs. Prior to the chemo starting I'll have two anti-nausea medications, Kytril (oral) and Decadron (IV). Then I'll get my Avastin over about 1/2 hour. Before they start the Irenotecan I'll get an injection of Atropine to prevent an early onset of diarrhea (we like to get home before that business starts!!). I'll carry on with the Xeloda (oral chemo drug) twice/day for the next two weeks. Then I'll have a week off and start over again.

Our Chemo Clinic is a bright comfortable facility. Patients can receive their drugs in recliner chairs or on hospital beds. Volunteers provide refreshments, social workers and dietitians are available for consultations, children and families visit, there is a resource library, dvd players, AND jigsaw puzzles!

The highlights of the Chemo Clinic are the other patients and the Nurses. I find the other patients I meet at the clinic to be a great source of inspiration. Here we all are plugged into our IV machines chatting away. People from all walks of life, every age, gender, and culture, bound together in a common journey of healing and life! The Chemo Nurses are some of the angels who meet us on this journey. They review our blood-work, ask about any side-effects, make suggestions for dealing with side-effects, administer our various drugs, and respond to our many questions. They are models of nursing competence and compassion!!

As things are currently scheduled, and barring any deferrals to accommodate side effects, I'll have this all wrapped up and be back in the pulpit by September!!

Living in hope... Rob

"The dream of wellness sustained me throughout the reality of the treatment." Vickie Girard

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Funny Pages

Colonoscopies are no joke , but these comments during the exam were quite humorous..... A physician claimed that the following are actual comments made by his patients (predominately male) while he was performing their colonoscopies: from allnurses.com
1. "Take it easy, Doc, you're boldly going where no man has gone before."
2. "Find Amelia Earhart yet?"
3. "Can you hear me NOW?"
4. "Oh boy, that was sphincterrific!"
5. "Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"
6. "You know, in Arkansas, we're now legally married."
7. "Any sign of the trapped miners, Chief?"
8. "You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out. You do the Hokey Pokey ..."
9. "Hey! Now I know how a Muppet feels!"
10."If your hand doesn't fit, you must acquit!"
11. "Hey, Doc, let me know if you find my dignity."
12. "You used to be an executive at Enron, didn't you?"
13. "Could you write me a note for my wife, saying that my head is not, in fact, up there?"

Have a truly great day!! Rob;
"Laughter in and of itself cannot cure cancer nor prevent cancer, but laughter as part of the full range of positive emotions including hope, love, faith, strong will to live, determination and purpose, can be a significant and indispensable aspect of the total fight for recovery."-Harold H. Benjamin, PhD

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Celebrate Life

I’ve always enjoyed life’s celebrations, big and small. Birthdays, weddings, baptisms, Christmas, New Years, Easter, anniversaries and all of the many special days that mark our passage through time and life have always been meaningful to me. I think there is something inherently important about marking life’s passages and celebrating life’s significant events.

But these events have taken on increased significance for me since being diagnosed with cancer. I feel that my appreciation of life’s frailty and brevity has been deepened since being diagnosed. I no longer take any day, any year, or the future for granted. Each day is a gift, each moment a blessing. Each passage and event is worthy of being lived deeply.

This past weekend we celebrated one of life’s great moments with my daughters wedding. Family and friends gathered from Florida, Georgia, Cape Cod, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and throughout British Columbia for a wonderful long-weekend of celebration and feasting. It has been an absolute blast and I have enjoyed every tear and laughter filled moment. The day itself was grand, the service awesome, and the parade from the church to the reception with noise-makers and streamers a true delight! The reception, overlooking English Bay, was a wonderful feast with great fun and dance. The many events on either side of the wedding day itself rounded out a great Canada Day weekend of connecting and celebrating. Through it all we sang and danced, giving thanks for the gifts of family, friends, and the special love that brings two people together, body, mind, and soul.

I am so grateful to have been able to share my daughter’s wedding day with her. An extra week off chemo meant that I had good energy and could handle the long days. It’s been truly great to have this respite of celebration in the otherwise day-to-day regimen and tedium of chemo.

Several years ago, shortly after being diagnosed, I was visited by a wise and gifted colleague. As I shared with her my struggles around adjusting to life with cancer I asked, not really expecting an answer, “How do I live now?” My friend reflected for a moment and said simply and gently… “I think you have to do what’s life-giving.” Her words have been with me since that day, along with the questions from time-to-time, “Is this life-giving?” or “What is Life –giving in this moment?” or "How can I let this be life-giving?" Ultimately we have to discern what is “life-giving” for ourselves and choose the path that is sustaining in the midst of whatever we are going through.

Working with my daughter as she has planned her wedding, and sharing in this past weekend as we celebrated it, has definitely been LIFE-GIVING for me. As I said in my welcome to the guests at the dinner… “It’s times like this we can say… IT’S DAMN GOOD TO BE ALIVE!!”

Still Celebrating in Vancouver… Rob;

“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So let us be swift to love, and make haste to show kindness.” Henri Amiel