Saturday, May 27, 2006

5.27.06, Gladly Pay You Tuesday

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Franky Scale: 6/7.

Not bad overall by any means, and the "shock" of yesterday's news still settles. I felt a rush when I heard it, the news; I felt an unsettling wave come over me at the same time. Nerves, like nerves. What is it about good news that makes me slightly suspicious these days? In any event, today is dedicated to chilling, slow time, reading (back into The Brothers Karamazov), making some headway (he hopes) thinking through what It is I'd like to be sure to do, and the basics. And Mr. Deeker left the building this morning. Some of our conversations dealt with the headway thinking just mentioned, but no conclusions yet.

If nothing else, this little post is just a Franky check-in, check-up, a note to say everything seems to be on an even keel, and a minor message that something more worth reading should be up tomorrow.

And last for today, alas poor Desmond. (Thanks for the news Lefty, it's a sad day in Skaville.)

Friday, May 26, 2006

5.26.06b, What the Hell--Very Good News, Again

[setting] Friday, 7 PM or so, I went out with Mr. Deeker to watch the warm-up game for the World Cup (US vs. Venezuela = US 2, Ven 0; Mr. Deeker becomes very nationalistic when it comes to soccer) and I looked down at my cell phone on the table.

[suspense] Cell phone, "1 Voicemail," press through to number--it's from the Cancer Center. Shit, this is not what I need, the hospital calls me on Friday at almost 6 pm--what, more bad news?

[climax] It's my doctor. Why would my doctor call? Why Friday? I'll tell you that in the midst of this experience, even with trying to be positive, I'm hesitant to hope much. Not too much. So against that feeling--Dr. Whiting called to tell me my CA 19-9 numbers, remember those?, they have dropped again! Down to 6300 (from over 9000 last time), which is about another 30 percent reduction. Excuse my French, but, fuckin Cheebus! I'm shocked. That's good voicemail.

5.26.06, This is Bauhaus A.M.

No preparation, no forethought, just thought maybe I'd post something from this morning's cafe, Bauhaus, where I've stopped with my friend Deeker (the Deeker?, Mr. Deeker, Professor Deeker....?) from out of town until Saturday. Twelve ounce drip, laptop, still limping through some Pascal and working more effectively from Althusser (than with Mr. P.) for the ongoing essay the wager of soul is a worth. None of that is really the point. And what the point is....? Hm. In yesterday's comments/posts, the confluence between the Princess post, two days ago, mine of yesterday, and the last four comments came together so smoothly, and David's ever-willing pen hit on something I feel. Now it all reads vaguely fugue-like, circular, coming back into some part of itself but never quite where it started. Into this fugue of sorts I learn my mother is finally making the leap and starting to read the blog--I'd assumed she already was, in fact, she has already been functioning as my Superego in this process: What can I write and still allow my mother to read? I don't have to worry much about sexual innuendo since she won't get any of it; "crass" language I worry about slightly, then I let my Id have its way; emotionally demanding or potentially depressive material is far more sensitive. (Even the simple jokes about chemo and hair loss don't go over well with her, which I understand.) She enters the fray; results we'll follow.

It's still in the a.m. here in Seattle, not much has transpired today, just a mess of pills (the norm), the slow rise from Ambieana, conversations with Deeker about financial affairs--he being one of my friends gifted with that brain part that has the capacity to process money matters, the one I was born without, packing up, heading here to Bauhaus. I'd put the Franky Scale at 8. Why not? It's early in the day still, and I figure I'll keep it mellow the rest of the day. The daily physiology is fairly simple right now, this being Day Four after the IV chemo; this day is often a low point but it's good to note that I have been learning much better with each cycle how to maintain some control over the Various Lovelies: nausea, fevers, fatigue, bowel impaction, clearcutting (joke, this, a joke), and so on. More and more since This Experience started I realize the impact of little things, little pleasures, a series of little pains and what they add up too, little gestures or kindnesses even..... OK, I'll stop boring you here -- & I'll hold my pen until I feel genuine inspiration today, if it comes today.

Peace & love.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

5.25.06, Another Toothpick

“Another Toothpick.” --Janice Soprano

* The medical trivia: At times I forget that a primary reason for the blog is to pass on medical information, share the news, let people know what’s up. Today’s Franky Scale is around a 7, which is good for a Thursday during the chemo cycle -- by Thursday the steroids and other feel-good balancing drugs they give me during the Tuesday oil-change usually wear off and the fatigue, the blah of food, nausea, and overall physical malaise sets in. I’m better at managing all with each week, but that’s the cyclical nature of this beast. Two days ago, I finished an antibiotic regimen, I believe what they call a Z-Pack (azythromicine), related to a few spots seen in my lungs during the restaging process. Dr. Whiting, my oncologist & the primary doctor I see these days, says they don’t look cancerous but possibly inflammatory (cause, don’t know), or an early-stage infection. Since my immune system is getting its ass kicked every day for two weeks in a row, or getting attacked at least and then trying not to get its ass kicked, there is of course increased likelihood of infections. Thus the Z-Pack--another medical unit that sounds vaguely superheroish, like Protonix Man! (Btw, you should see my cape, it kicks ass.)

*The formal narrative: There is some excellent dream analysis from the first disk of Season Three of The Sopranos -- though Dr. Melfi’s self analysis in the episode might in fact be too perfect, it’s too fast, she’s too practiced, especially in the spontaneous setting of a session with her own “Dr. Melfi,” Eliot -- this is all about the rape episode, btw. Not an easy one to watch. She dreams: her office after hours, alone, the ACME vending machine, the Rottweiler, then the rapist, then the catharsis. In waking life she gets right up after a few days, goes back to work, takes the same route she walked from her parking lot, up the same stair case, up through the architectural “blind-spot” with no cameras, nothing. She knows her fear, finds it, and walks straight into it. The solution of direct address. So many approaches to anxiety and fear. This just struck me particularly, I might be cathecting too much onto certain characters, the impression was serious though.

[written last night] And in the realm of serious impressions, I had some more after reading the post the Princess submitted a few days ago to have me put on the blog; she’d sent it in for the possible editorial work. You read it, the previous post, but there she mentioned how it’s now two months later and that there are only a certain number of months left and as I started to read my head started spinning with questions -- real and rhetorical. Months. Till what? Till somebody addresses the 800-pound elephant. It’s until I die. Soon I die, I think. And the last few days, after reading the princess missive, I’ve felt some anxiety about this, more than usual. Looking out over the city of Seattle tonight, the skyline lit and spread outside my windows, and having thoughts about how the view expires. It expires soon. What do I do about this? How much is possible? Realizing and knowing, knowing is the word, that I will die and leave this big round soft cookie that never tastes quite as good as you want it to. Still, it’s a cookie, and who doesn’t like a good fucking cookie and now and then? Worse still, who doesn’t want cookie when they’ve had it and it gets taken away? Where’s my goddam cookie?

Looking at it otherwise, no one wants the vision that comes with the blinding of their eyes, nobody wants the gift called prophecy when they realize what the cost of knowing the future is. Nobody really wants to hear it and nobody really wants to know. Anyway, here is where I find myself. Never the option to say “no,” to not come here, to not have these experiences. There is no life before your “made” (on HBO), and, there is no war in heaven that follows the first exercise of free agency in the world of Christological mythology (a drama followed by many of my people). The state where no one, not any more, wakes up and goes to work, again, another day, no more anxiety of being and no more anxiety of freedom. How is that for a solution to the old existential double-bind?

You rethink it daily. Everyday, though you step up and go to work. Nobody wants to walk out of their office, a bit early let’s say, say about 2 p.m., then walk over to the steps of Kane Hall to sit and enjoy a cigarette. And you do enjoy it, for a moment. Then the phone rings. Here you learn that no one wants to hear from the doctor that -- once you strip away the tempered and euphemistic language of medicine, once you learn more about the words being used -- that you might have a few more years but either way you’re gone. Irony of the plot at this point. That was the good news. Definitely nobody wants to learn two weeks later that it’s worse than that -- the euphemism of the day: “metastasize.” New jargon. Meaning? Metastasize: the possibility of several years traded in for several months in the course of one doctor visit. Or you can spin the Big Casino metaphor differently, you can locate the fear and walk straight into it, and/or you can gamble, gamble and fight, and see what it gets you. Nobody wants to hear this. Me neither.

And likely nobody wants to comment on it, back to one more Sopranos figure, Uncle Jun -- one with stomach cancer like the Princess points out! --, nobody wants to comment on “all this goddam morbidity.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

5.24.06b, [Guest blog, by Princess] Fear is the Heart of Love

“Fear is the Heart of Love”
21 May 2006

If the price of a plane ticket comes with a guest blog slot, then here I am to claim my prize. Oboy oboy. I got to come for the restaging, which in and of itself was worthwhile for the great news that was disseminated. When presented with the opportunity to write something, I have to admit my initial reaction was that of the student to her professor, "Ugh, what do I have to write about?? I have nothing to say . . ."

Then, too many allergy pills and one Ambien-fuzzed red eye flight later, here are my reflections on the trip, if they might give anyone insight into the experience of being a 'cancer groupie.'

It is a strange moment in life, looking at someone you think you know well and realizing that something is wrong. It gets more complicated, because it's not readily obvious (beyond the flamingly obvious) what the problem is. Small, barely perceptible things . . . new facial expressions that I haven't seen before, new grunts, moans, and sighs through the course of the day, restless motions and twitching throughout the night. The strain of day to day that becomes so pronounced, you'd do anything to help shoulder the burden if it'd lighten his load.

It's the cancer talking and its got a whole new vocabulary. A three dimensional volumetric mass, egotistical and needy, spouting words like 'metastasis,' 'locally advanced,' and 'unresectable' . . . constantly making its presence known. Questions like "Does it hurt?" become superficial, as the answer is usually yes. Better to ask "How does it hurt?" or "How much does it hurt?" and try to deal accordingly even as there is no way for me to understand the pain.

And then comes the balancing job, many balancing jobs for everyone involved. How to be encouraging without pushing too hard? How to be optimistic and not cross the line into unrealistic? How to make plans around a three week chemo cycle, live life from one restaging to the next, possibly even enjoy life when the cancer looms omnipresent.

That's looking forward, to a future that's about as promising as hitting the Mega Millions jackpot. But then looking back: It's the end of May. That puts us at two months down, two long/short months post diagnosis. The rhetorical question of "if you only had __ number of months to live . . . " isn't so rhetorical anymore, and even at this point the process of reflection is rife with thoughts of coulda this, shoulda that, and other such regrets.

Even more complicated than the physical pain that I can't begin to understand, there's the emotional tumult that I am too inexperienced with to even broach. I want to scream at him, like Sam to Frodo in LOTR, "Don't go where I can't follow," but he's already gone it seems. I just have to learn that nothing between us is personal anymore . . . I can't try to read the intent behind his words and actions because there is none– his mind is elsewhere, consumed with more 'big picture' thoughts and battling the daily drudgery.

Somehow, from a vantage point of 3000 miles away the questions only get louder and more insistent. I wonder and doubt, how I can be strong for him when I feel so scared, and really need him to be strong for me? These are moments when the best I can muster is to turn away, or leave the room so at least he doesn't have to see me cry. The voices in my head pontificate on whether it'd be safer and wiser, emotionally, to plan my life with him around, or with him gone. For how long? 6-8 months? Ten months??

There's this unintentional habit that I've adopted of late – I see cancer everywhere and I can't seem to escape it. I try to read a book and one of the characters falls ill. I try to watch TV and all the characters are suffering from bowel distress. There's been a lot of reference to the HBO series "The Sopranos," and I will conclude with yet another. Ever notice how there only seems to be two routes of exit from that series? You can either 1. get 'whacked,' or 2. die of cancer. It's a prevalent theme and coincidentally, all the cancers are GI (gastrointestinal) related. One character in the third season actually dies while sitting on the toilet doing his 'business.' As a threat to a doctor who won't operate on Uncle Junior's cancer, Furio makes the comment "You know, there are worse things than can happen to a person other than cancer." Let's hope this bit of infinite TV wisdom rings true.

5.24.06, Blog to come--poetry snippits

This is not a blog.

I have something I want to post but I'm at someone's mercy.... --public guilt complex, the possibilities of the internet are amazing aren't they?-- until I have the goods in hand and the go ahead I will wait.

For now, something for the bored to nibble on. I went back and looked at "Gerontion" after I saw that older poem of mine about the Kissing Grandmother, and some lines stood out. (And there are only about 3-4 entries in the contest to name this whole whacky season of my life or my writing/non-writing, whatever it turns out to be, and I'm hoping I'll get more from people.)

If "The Wasteland" is the poem of April, then "Gerontion" might be called the poem of May. Perhaps it doesn't have to be about old age, it might well be middle age, but either way it's filled with musings on youth and decay, age and what one can expect, what one can expect from history at the end of life, and the mind as it "dries" out and thinks dry thoughts in this season. So with that some lines about how to reminisce.

from "Gerontion"

Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree. (1920)

(T.S. EliotComplete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 22)

Franky Scale, so far: 5/6 (partially explained by not enough coffee yet)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

5.23.06, A Day in the Cancer Life, Pt. 2, Daytime, or Shits and Giggles

[, a P.P.S. Special greetings to friends in Maracaibo and Instanbul; based on guesses only but two songs to dedicate, to the former Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone" and to the former Tom Waits' "Telephone Call from Instanbul." Say hello to Uncle Hugo & fight the power, -Mr. J]

[...first, a P.S.: It's "Melfi," with an "e," I checked. Didn't we cover this already? And I suppose it's too confusing to have more than one Melfi, even though she's more metonym than reality. So I'll use "Dr. A" instead; sounds kind of Ian-Flemingish, the sinister villain! Of course, no one wants an evil villain to reduce their head size. -Mr. J]

Last time I covered what goes on every morning, today I’ll try to bore you with the trivial activities of the “average” day in the life. In a more creative mood this could be material for a list poem, but I’ve been an other-people’s-poetry groove (see below).

--Reading something: poetry here and there, but mainly fiction, e.g., Kafka, Faulkner, Burroughs, Hemingway even, then non-fiction Pascal, getting after him, Althusser, now I’ve decided he stands out as the most significant philosopher of the twentieth century, noteworthy because I’m not usually one to pick favorites, but his work appears in a more particular light to me now. Why is that, I wonder?

--Questioning my motivation to do everything, the consequences, why do it at all, what is worth doing, etc.

--Some doctor shit every day: shrink, labs (poop, blood, anemia, pneumonia, ulcers, fevers, ), or a nurse phone call, or the scheduler, or a mail-order pharmacy (forced by insurance, good enough though), going to the pharmacy

--A run. I still imagine running six days a week with my new day off being Tuesday since that’s the infusion chemo day during the weeks when I’m on cycle; the reality is more like five times a week because, so far, at least one extra day has been sucked away by maladjustment to the chemo afterdays, fevers, nausea, some hectic craziness that often involves physically having to head in to work, and so on.

--Related to Causes of Missed Runs, there is usually some rather pragmatic task that needs doing -- legal paperwork, you know; financial paperwork, not that I have a lot; some school-related tasks which I’ve already pissed and moaned about, & btw, who uses the profile name “Piss and Moan” to post comments? I wonder…

--No poetry being written during this period. It could be my Blue Period…? Some other color? Struggle Period? I should think of a name for it. I’ll take suggestions for a really good title to this phase of my life, you can all post them in the comments section; the winner will get something special -- I’ll let the winner decide what! -- then I will break my dry spell by writing a piece that uses that as its title. (It’s like a daytime activity for overgrown toddlers with rhyming dictionaries.)

--At least three or four times a week I try to get to one of my cafes to do some work or just read.

--Libido check ☺.

--Musing about nearly-complete projects: primarily, one chapbook, one full-length book of poetry translated and just waiting to be “sold,” one academic book nearly done, thoughts of a narrative version of “A Foreshortened Life” or some such thing…

--Phone call to my mom, I’ve become an official Mama’s Boy. My mom would be so proud.

--I usually always get in some Music Appreciation time, as long as I’m home or in my office: most recent sessions, Tom Waits, Brad Mehldau, Erik Satie (earlier misspelled first name), Monk, The Clash, The Mekons, Elvis Costello, Counting Crows (mostly only when Frank was here).

--Some blog writing & writing a more extended piece about Pascal’s Wager and the period when I came across it at 18, though I didn’t know who Pascal was then nor did I know the formal aspects of or reasons for the Wager; and so, now I’ve been writing about the uncanny making of the Wager on my part, then, and the consequences of my act -- it all leans toward a critique of Pascal an the notion of a rational choice approach to belief /or faith/ in God.

--Trying to keep medical bills and records in some semblance of order.

--I try to talk to one friend or family member for a bit every day, more than a few minutes.

--Hydrating, attempting to stay hydrated; eating, same scenario; and pill taking, which can get complicated with anywhere from 10 to 20+ different pills or times for taking them, depending on where I am in the chemo cycle and what the day’s symptoms / side effects are. This can get complicated when affected by “chemo brain” and though keeping a chart or list would make very good sense, I still just record it all after the fact and rely on memory to get it done.

--A few times a week, also, I watch DVDs on the new TV left by the Easter Bunny.

--There’s almost surely one bout of “sudden” fatigue every day, so when it arrives I try to nap or chill somehow deal with it.

Overall, it’s just shits and giggles. Kisses from Seattle. Time to head out this morning for my infusion. Pick a good book so you can hold it and not really read but kind of sleep and loll about instead. AND, don't forget the period/poetry naming contest!

Franky Scale: 6

Monday, May 22, 2006

5.22.06b, Meeting Doctor Melfi & Double Injustice

Meeting Doctor Melfi & Double Injustice

Granted, I do not think of this situation, my situation, my stepping into the Big Casino as they might say in Soprano-land, as one having anything to do with justice. That means both from the positive and negative sides, it’s not just, it’s not unjust — to imply it as either is to impute a higher power to the workings of the universe and I stepped past that a long time ago. (But remind me to tell you the chaplain story at some point. G -- I haven’t told you this yet but when I went to see my own Dr. Melfi [the shrink, if anyone’s slow on the draw today] today, she said, while looking at some report-like records, “Oh, so I see you’ve spoken with our chaplain.”!! Can you believe this? Suddenly I have visions of Bush, Cheney, and the other national insecurity monkey boys giving SCCA chaplains instructions in privacy invasion, deception, and spiritual coercion. Apparently “my nurse” requested the chaplain stop by. Hm. Something fishy in Seattle.) Point is, I’m dealing not with justice in or out, it’s just not an issue thereof. Still, I was stuck for a title. What you gonna do?

Her actual name is Sylvie (sp? Sylvy? any ideas?), Dr. A, and fortunately she has no hair stuck in any orifice, as it were, about titles. Today’s meeting was essentially uneventful, just preliminary questions about demography, background, some medical clarifications, the basics of my “diagnosis experience” — i.e., the moment I “found out” (another blog topic, another day?) — and similar groundwork items. One point she made, thus the title above, that rang true and has been rattling around my brain a bit today is that my specific case involves a double diagnosis, or rather double shock. She may have used the word “injustice,” or it could be a screen memory. Does it matter which? Being told you have cancer is part one; being told you have an especially unfriendly type is part two. Hearing this helped, for whatever reason, and it partially explains why I get internally pissed off when some people work at being empathetic with me by discussing the Cancer of a person they know, usually in an inspirational way, but in almost every case it’s a cancer that has, let’s say, an 80 percent survival rate. I want to respond, “Well, yeah, technically we both have cancer, but that’s like cancer with training wheels.” Yes, it’s upsetting. Yes, my thoughts might be rude — at least I keep them to myself. The finality involved with this metastatic pancreatic cancer however is unavoidably hard. Just sharing.

On an entirely different note, here’s a poem for today, one from me, . . . makes me feel like Garison Keeler when I write that, yeck. . . . and I managed to find something at least tangentially related. If I post any more, poem related to the Big Casino will soon exhaust themselves. Poetic fatigue. Rhythmic anemia.

“The Kissing Grandmother”

His mother, my grandmother, locked in place
now only by memory and funerary conversation,
discomfiting exchanges between father and son,
Do not ever let me end up like that,” he says,

a reminder from my father, whose mother,
now finished slowly clawing her way out
of life from — or into — painfully smooth oblivion,
is visiting coals of fire upon my head,

twenty-one years and yet no preparation, to
watch forgetfulness tread with heavy boots
across her mind, footprints left behind,
once-known names, gadgets, recent associations

long linoleum halls, septic-urine smells,
three-day-old shit caked under her fingernails,
false teeth forgotten in a glass, lipless kisses, reading
poetry to her, she will say my name just once again.

We all knew her as the Kissing Grandma —
and with her last kiss she says my name too then
Get the hell out of here!” she says. So much for “Gerontion.”
I walk the seamless hall seeing only her empty eyes,

to holiday barbecues, too much food, family, and house,
handing my father “that thingamajig, wou’d’ya” then sitting
alone I see, already, that he’s lost the word for “plug”
and it’s just about time to pull.

5.22.06, Life in the Big Casino

All righty then. . . back after a short noncommercial break. I've actually got a headshrinking scheduled in about 30 minutes, so I'm only here to tease you. But coming up we've got some super money additions, editions ;-) There's a guest blog in the offing after a royal princess visit; there's another kind of guest blog from a friend with a pen so witty you might urinate; and there's going to have to be some of my poetry finally because another friend called me out "Hey, Mr. Other-People's-Poetry, when will I see your stuff?" and so it goes.

Franky Scale (clearly too early a.m. to accurately do this, and yet): I'm going to post a defiant 8. I'm actually looking forward to talking with my own personal Melfi. More in the p.m. hours.