"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!!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Good Day

Enjoy this short meditation on gratefulness from Brother David Steindl-Rast.  Visit David and learn more about the practice of gratitude at www.gratefulness.org.

Have “A Good Day”!!   Rob; in Vancouver

“Love wholeheartedly, be surprised,
give thanks and praise,
then you will discover the fullness of your life.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast

Friday, November 19, 2010

Well Enough!

Most cancer survivors are familiar with the inevitable "How are you?" question from family and friends.  It is innocuous enough in most instances but can become challenging when it can't be answered with the obligatory "I'm Fine".

For the most part we have reduced "How are you?" down to a rather meaningless greeting.  It fits in very nicely with "Hi!" as in "Hi! How are you?".  Likewise, the response has mostly been reduced down to a meaningless "Fine", or perhaps the lengthier version "I'm doing good", whether or not we happen to be "fine" or "good" at all.

Ah... but for the cancer patient, and their circle of friends and family, this becomes a much richer exchange.  To begin with, the friend comes with a genuine curiosity, heartfelt care and concern. They earnestly want to know "how you are", and equally earnestly want to hear that "you are well".  Family and friends are our strongest hope bearers.  They want us to be well, and if they could will it, we would all be well.  There is no stronger healing power in the world than the love and prayers of family and friends!

Be that as it may, the problem arises on those, not infrequent, occasions when we are not feeling "fine", "well", or "good".  For myself, I wonder "How much do I say?"   My experience has been that people's eyes often begin to glaze over when I launch into a litany of minor medical problems, or they begin to squirm when I relate the nasty details of the latest disease progression or treatment regime. 

Those who know me and have followed my blog know that I have always been forthcoming and detailed about my condition, my treatments, and my options going forward.  But still... the greeting "How are you?"  challenges me.  How do I answer, honestly and succinctly?

I have finally found the response which now works best for me...  "I am well enough."   "Well enough" seems to sum it up for me at this particular stage of the journey.  I am certainly not as well as I would like to be.  I am not able to work in the job that I love.  Nor I am not able to travel to Florida to visit my folks and many friends there. I can't even take a lengthy roadtrip to visit friends in the North, the Okanagan, or the Kootenays. It is difficult to plan much of my life beyond a few months at a time. Each of these things, and many others, are a cause for disappointment and some sadness. Alas!

However...  I was well enough to attend Robyn's wedding in Edmonton and dance 'til the "wee hours". I am well enough to walk the forests and seawalls of Stanley Park with friends and colleagues.  I am well enough to enjoy lunch and a matinee movie with my daughters Kelly and Morgan.  I am well enough to anticipate with great joy the birth of Robyn's child next Spring.  I am well enough to enjoy the occasional night out at the symphony or a play.  I am well enough to explore the many different options for living well (enough) with this deadly disease. And I am well enough to enjoy each day and night, each moment, with my beloved wife and partner Pam.

And that brothers and sisters is  W E L L   E N O U G H!!

Be well enough... Rob, in Vancouver

Guess I'm Doing Fine

Thursday, November 4, 2010

John Tinker: Rest in Peace

I lost a dear friend, and fellow pilgrim on the cancer journey, last night.  John died peacefully at home, free of pain, and in the arms of his beloved partner, Adrian.  In his last few days he was remarkably free of the pain that had racked his body for the last several months.

John was a deep thinker, an avid reader, a gifted writer, an inspiring teacher, a good friend, a passionate gardener, and a fun and faithful partner.  Others could say more, but this much, at least, I know to be true.

John and I met in cyberspace through the American Cancer Society's online support network. John, his partner Adrian, and I made a quick connection and found that we were bound in part by the common cards this dread disease had dealt us.  John and I both had colon cancer that had spread to our sacrum, the lower vertebrae of the spine, the "Holy Bone".  A painful and deadly recurrence.

Our relationships grew to include personal e-mails between John, Adrian, my wife Pam, and myself.  In time I called John and we began to converse about symptoms and treatment options on the phone.  Finally, last April, Pam and I traveled to San Francisco, where we were met by a smiling John and Adrian at the airport (SFO), and where we enjoyed much of their company over a wonderful 5-day visit.  Highlights of our visit included a roadtrip to Point Reyes park and a pizza dinner at their beautifully restored home and garden.

In addition to sharing a common ailment, John and I shared much in common in our approach to living with cancer.  John engaged the experience of living with a life-threatening disease deeply.  (John engaged all of the experiences of life deeply!)   After much thought, wrestling, and a transformative hypnosis session, John came to the point of understanding that is best summed up in his own words...  "I cannot control the disease; I can control how I experience the disease."

John lived deeply and joyously through his life with cancer.  He focused on what was "life-giving", which for John was his relationship with Adrian, his garden, his writing, his friends, and "Hogarth", John and Adrian's lively boxer.  This is not to say that he did not have times of deep pain and suffering.  He most certainly did, both physically and psychologically.  Yet he was able to reflect on such periods, write of them, and ultimately transcend them.  Where some might become embittered and resentful, John remained gracious and loving. 

John shared some of his writing on the experience of living with cancer with me.  His writing of this experience was detailed in its descriptions, insightful in its analysis, and graceful in its conclusions.  I hope some of it finds its way to publication.  It is certainly most worthy of it.

The picture of John above is not complete.  It is cropped from a larger picture and a larger context...

... the context of love.  I have not known John, apart from Adrian.  Together they lived a rich life of creativity and love.  Their home and garden is a living expression of such creativity and love.

Robert Louis Stevenson said that... "Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well."   John was dealt a bad hand with a deadly cancer, but he played it graciously well.

God be with you John Tinker... until we meet again...

My deepest and heartfelt condolences go out to Adrian and to John's great circle of colleagues, family, and friends.

Peace and blessings...  Rob; in Vancouver

"Despite all of this, we focus on good things.   
As I write, Adrian and I are sipping champagne.  
 Hogarth is nestled up with us, and life is good."
John Tinker

John Tinker

I have put this together using some pictures from John's CaringBridge site and a few of my own.  A small tribute to a wonderful person.  Gone far too soon...