Milky coffee, english muffins, gray sky after a rainy night. It is surprising how normal I’ve been feeling for the last week. Given my disease, I’m grateful that I seem to have found a plateau of ordinary life that is characterized by weakness & mobility problems (still walking with a walker) but without sharp or debilitating pain. Current medication is mostly morphine ER at a low to medium dose, with a shorter-acting opioid for “breakthrough pain,” though I find I don’t need those as often as one would think.
I’ve begun doing some medical research online regarding pain associated with cancer. For quite a while now I’ve set my anxieties aside & just tried to get on with my days, focusing especially on writing poems; but lately I’ve had the sense that I ought to intellectually prepare myself for the progression of my kidney cancer. Perhaps it is time to start sneaking up on reality, though without becoming anxious or obsessive; in fact, I’ll probably want to go back to ignoring chronic symptoms as much as possible for a while. This sort of modulation strikes me as healthy & should allow me to work on publication projects, sending poems out, etc. (A lot of that stuff is easy to shunt aside, but has a remarkably positive physical, intellectual & even spiritual set of effects when I focus on getting such things done.)
So I’ll be listening to doctors, pharmacologists & etc. talking about pain & pain medications on YouTube & following up the very materialist parts of these discussion. (I have little or no problem dealing with the linguistic, metaphorical & spiritual sides of the problem; what I need to do for a while is look more closely at the nitty-gritty.)
Still, a lovely cool morning with mostly bare maple trees out the window, Somehow wet & dusty at the same time. The body adjusting itself to the various fields of force that act on all of us all the time. And acting on me & the qualities of my time & life in the coming months.
Late autumn leaves stripping off the trees today in a warm wind. Unseasonable & unsettling like the weather in my body, which feels odd but not actually abnormal–not having crossed some line defined by pathology. Weather must be the master-metaphor for illness.
I’ve recently, like most cancer patients, been concerned with the effects & side effects of medication. Side effects, the way we usually use the term, are unwanted, negative. But over the last couple of weeks, being treated for the crack in my pelvis with morphine & steroids & a bone strengthener, I have noticed periods of the day when I feel . . . good. Not high, just good mentally. Sometimes this is just the spacy sort of consciousness good for watching YouTube science videos, but sometimes, as this evening, the state of mind gave rise to a poem. Often, my poems begin with an idea, but this just began with a couple of images from today’s NY Times online Science section, one about the voicebox of a prehistoric bird, the other about a Saturn-like object somewhere 400 light years away. The rest was just a matter of constructing language as it constructed itself around a philosophical question–series of questions–I’d discussed with my friend Chris. It’s not that the insights are out of the ordinary, but, doing what a poet is supposed to do, I may have helped find some language to refract off the ideas in a useful way. I like the notion of refraction becauses it confuses the tendency toward making binary oppositions. I have no idea which drugs might be tweaking which neurons, or whether that matters.
We are taught in Zen that even change changes, but we never really believe it. Even in the midst of change we expect to be able to extract moments of stability. Even in the midst of a disease like cancer, which is always changing, I have become lulled to the idea that I will have a period during which things remain more or less the same. I guess, depending on the scale one applies, this is more or less true; but at bottom there is no standing still.
All this was brought home to me this evening by a new pain in my pelvic bones, this time on the right center rather than the left. That is, I have been confronted by the possibility that my disease is spreading away from its site of origin. Actually, it has already done this, way up into my sternum, but there has been little or no pain associated with that spread. Without the pain, that change has seemed unreal.
But this pain has the potential to make walking even more difficult than it is now, which would amount to a major degradation of my condition. Now, a bit of rest seems to have diminished the problem, but it has caused me an evening of distress. I’m going to take it easy & chart the changers tomorrow & over the weekend then make a decision about whether or not to see the oncologist sooner than my regularly scheduled check-up in two weeks.
It’s not the pain itself
but what the pain itself
Without metaphor. No
walking, just falling in
to the arms of others
(this is no comfort) be
cause then everything
is depending on a kind
of singing. No singing.