Category Archives: Cancer

Itchy Eyes

In April and May of last year, I asked my hair cutter to cut my hair shorter and shorter as a way to prepare myself for the inevitable.

smile

One day not long after my final haircut, I was at Smile, a neighborhood drugstore. (There’s already an astonishing number of drugstores in Tokyo and they keep opening new ones. At least 99.9% of the junk they sell is stuff I would never buy, and the list of what I do buy keeps getting shorter, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. A funny thing, though, is that they only sell OTC drugs. Pharmaceuticals are only sold at pharmacies.)

The Smile “pharmacist” is an older woman who has been very helpful when I ask for weird things like mosquito spray in February (She found some!) and cold medicine without caffeine (doesn’t exist). That day, she commented on the shortness of my hair and I made a lame joke about Takarazuka, which is a women only theater troupe, many of whom have very short hair because they play male characters.

takarazuka

Well, she exploded in Smiles (see what I did there?) saying she was a major fan and offering to copy some of her DVDs for me. It was a kind offer and I accepted even though I knew I would probably never watch them. I only know about the group because there were always posters advertising their performances outside the sento public bath I had to use my first year in Japan because my apartment had a squat toilet and no bath.

sento

Last week, we went to Smile to consult with her about my itchy eyes. She looked me over and said that I looked hale and healthy and we told her, gently, that I had had cancer last year but was feeling much better. More explosive Smiles (I did it again!) and she gave me a bear hug, something Japanese people do so rarely I can barely remember how it’s done. Then she plucked a cat hair off my sweater and called over two other women who work there to exclaim over the almost absurd adorableness of our cats.

the boys

But there was something much, much more to all of the oohing and aahing than cats. I was so deeply moved I had to fight off tears, which I could at least blame on itchy eyes.

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Fallout

World-Health-Organization1

The preamble to the World Health Organization charter reads, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” And yet, when I asked my oncologist about physical therapy, all I received was a sympathetic half-smile.

I realized I would have to take my well-being into my own hands. So I studied lymph drainage videos on Youtube (How did we ever survive before Youtube?) and found a therapist on my own. He has been working out some of the scar tissue in my torso. I didn’t know that such a thing is possible; the doctors say I have to have additional surgery to cut out scar tissue.

Voodoo doll
Me after surgery

Say what? You want to cut me open…again…to clean up the mess from cutting me open?

I don’t think so.

I progress with recovery, an ongoing process, a seemingly endless series of baby steps. Just recently, I have noticed some of my muscle strength returning, a glimmer of the joy yoga used to bring me. For months, just turning over in bed and standing up hurt every joint; just imagine being so tired that getting out of bed is exhausting. But this morning I did a seamless transition from core work on my back to downward facing dog. (If you’re not a yogi and don’t know what that means, please feel free to be impressed. A few years ago, that would have been gibberish to me, too.)

While I can’t really complain about the medical treatment I received in general, I have discovered some glaring holes in the system. Women’s health is still a secondary issue, shrouded in mystery, whispered about behind closed doors. And women’s well-being is a non-issue; the very existence of our well-being is questioned. A prime example: Number one on the Japanese list of side effects we and our families might expect to see from chemo is grouchiness, whereas grouchiness doesn’t even appear on any of the English websites I consulted. I would assume Japanese society still expects women to smile, no matter what, a concept the West seems to have ditched. There was a time when women marched and burned their bras for the right to be bitchy. I am grateful to them.

Women protest

(Heavens. I just deleted two paragraphs about social injustice and bullying and racism and guns and violence and the lunatic fringe, which includes people who decide to move to Hawaii during a volcano eruption. Who would do such a thing?)

Apologies, dear reader. It seems a bit too much at times, coping with the fallout from last year while Madame Pele is raining her fallout much too close to my soon-to-be backyard. May I ask that you do whatever it is you do, pray or chant or meditate or light incense or do a hoopla dance, to send a little luck my way? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Same Moon, Different Me

moon eclipse-2689
Photo by Joanna Ohmori

I continue the slow, tedious journey toward recovery, one painful step at a time. And I mean that literally; the chemo left me with nerve damage in my legs which causes pain in my joints and muscles. That may improve in time; it may not. As expected, the treatment sapped me of much of my strength and energy. What I didn’t realize is how long it would take to recover, or even start recovering. Only now am I beginning to regain some of my yoga self, my balance, my poise. Just yesterday, I managed to transition from one legged dog to low lunge without thumping my foot down. It was a major victory and cause for much celebration.

My senses are still unreliable. My favorite white wine still tastes like rotting cabbages but there is hope. Last night, a drop of shower water landed on my lip and when I licked it off, it filled my mouth with rapture. An ordinary salad sent me into paroxysms of delight last week. Yesterday’s curry was the stuff of legends.

All of my hair has returned except for the part of my left armpit where I was nuked. The stuff on my head is about an inch and a half long, curly, a blend of colors. A friend looked at it and said, “You look…expensive.” I am considering keeping it this short. I like the way people look at me now.

As the Year from Hell slunk out the door, we resisted the urge to kick it’s narrow butt down the hall and slam the door with a resounding bang. Instead, we cultivate peace, calm and gratitude. The very wise Deepak Chopra said an essential element for lasting happiness is a reflective, quiet, alert mind. Peace in the mind opens the heart to intuition; your life is in a state of flow because your mind is quiet. This is the essence of mindfulness, a sort of Vinyasa for the soul.

In that state of mind, we went to Hawaii. We looked at some properties. We were deeply disappointed. The first house we saw was dark and damp. There was a riding mower rusting in the garden alongside a chipped bathtub. The neighborhood smelled of defeat. The second house had tacky paneling, filthy shag carpet and stunk of cigarettes. Then a flash of intuition led us to meet Beer Belly Man, who introduced us to Realtor Ron, who led us to this.

Me at new house

Our new home. Our little piece of paradise.

People keep saying we deserve this after all we went through last year. I know they mean well, but I don’t think merit has anything to do with it. What about all the other people who had cancer last year and didn’t get a house in Hawaii? What about the people who didn’t survive? Did they deserve that? For that matter, did I deserve to get cancer in the first place? Did the other people in my life, and in the world, who are coping with disease and tragedy and grief and all that is evil, heartbreaking, unfair and unnecessary deserve that?

These are not questions that have answers and I will waste no more time looking for them. Life is not logical; life is not fair. Life just is. And I am grateful to have it.

In a few months, I will bid farewell to the invasive sounds of my neighborhood, the screaming kids and motorcycles and trucks and helicopters and always, the incessant, relentless, ear-shattering, soul-crushing power tools. In place of all of that, I will listen to the sounds of exotic insects, palm fronds brushing together, lemon trees blossoming in the garden and above all, coqui frogs.  Few things have ever sounded so sweet to my ears. And I’ve heard a lot of stuff.

I have read that many people find coqui frogs invasive and annoying. I have also read that one of the many reasons for NOT moving to Hawaii is that I will always be an outsider, invasive, annoying. Shoot. I’ve been existing pretty happily as an invasive, annoying outsider for more than 30 years. The big difference is I will be an outsider who isn’t illiterate. And I will be a literate outsider who is living out her days doing yoga here:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

I could live another three decades. Or my cancer could return and I’ll be gone within years or even months. Or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or choke to death on a chunk of pineapple today. So deserved or not, this is the place for me to find peace, peace in my heart, my mind, my spirit, peace to accept my forever changed body and soul, peace to move on and make the best of whatever adventures may lie ahead.

Thanks

True calendar

I finished Adriene’s 30 day True series this morning. It was good, just the right speed for where I am in the recovery process, and the final sun salutation brought with it a sense of closure. As I breathed deeply into my rapidly recovering lungs, I glanced out the window at the men pouring concrete into the foundation of the new house going up next door and I gave thanks that I wasn’t them. My little space heater barely makes a dent in the frigid air so my breath fogged the window as my toes turned blue, but I gave thanks all the same. One does not wear socks when one does downward dog. Yoga must be approached with respect and I give it with gratitude and humility.

Last week I lost my Pasmo train pass, the day after I’d charged it with 5000yen. An hour later I got a call from a station employee saying they’d found it and I could come pick it up. Ah, Japan. I gave thanks.

On Monday I had a wicked scare at the hospital but the doctors went into overdrive and fixed the problem. Their bedside manners might leave something to be desired, but they know their stuff when it comes to medicine. I gave thanks, more than once.

Tokyu shoppers

Yesterday at the supermarket, an old lady was having a hard time with her shopping cart so I helped her with it. Not only did she not give thanks, she didn’t even look at me, just walked away with a “harumph”. Meh. Her problem, not mine, but I watched my brownie points swarm with confusion, not knowing quite what to do with themselves.

Tomorrow I board a plane for a long overdue vacation in Hawaii where I will be able to salute the sun properly, and she will cook some of the stiffness out of my joints and muscles. Then I will stuff myself with mangoes and listen to the sound of the surf and congratulate myself for surviving last year, all the while giving thanks.

I will continue to give thanks, for the sun in the sky and the air in my lungs and the blood in my veins and being able to walk and talk and see and sleep and eat and think and feel and love. Thanks.

Yutenji Buddha

Horsepower

For a long time, each new year has felt like a temporal follow-on from the previous one. What difference does a new year make? Turning the page on a calendar doesn’t mean anything. Time doesn’t care how we count it. Time just is. Time moves forward; nothing changes.

But this year is different. With a silent whoop I tossed last year’s calendar in the trash. For once, there is something to celebrate. Last year was harsh. After the initial shock and fear, there was a slow dawning of the enormity of what lay ahead. After a time, I was moving on autopilot, incapable of even thinking about the future.

Most of what I did last year was passive. I had surgery, slept in the narrow bed, I ate the horrid food (sometimes). I opened the door to the doctor’s office, week after sweaty summer week, and received my chemo treatments. I walked to the hospital day after crisp autumn day and lay still for radiation. It would have been so much easier to run away.

kids statue

I spent an entire year having things done to me. I was the horse hitched to the wagon, the bit between my teeth, the reins being pulled by drivers I couldn’t see. I plodded along the trail, hoping I would reach my destination even though it seemed that each step forward pushed it farther away.

I feel as if an earthquake has shaken all the merchandise off the shelves in my internal warehouse. I see a mountain of mess, hair clips and a Barbie doll and a rubber snake and Christmas wreaths and chocolate cookies and tarnished earrings and broken dishes and knotted shoelaces and a one-eyed Teddy bear, a scratched record, some snarled yarn, a battered shoe box, a single sock.

Some of these things can be dusted off and returned to the shelves. Some can be salvaged, a bit of glue, some polish, a button. Some are lost causes. The coming months will see me sorting through the flotsam of me and trying to make sense of it, putting the pieces back together where I can, figuring out what no longer serves.

To do that, I will eat well, sleep a lot, watch butterflies flit and smell the flowers. I will also do yoga.

adriene

This is Adriene. She just started TRUE: 30 Day Yoga Journey. It’s online. It’s free. It’s the foundation I need to start getting back on track, start reminding my muscles and my spirit of what they can do, what they need, where they are going. Adriene has a an easy nature and a wonderful smile and manages to bring me back to the mat, day after day. There are hundreds of yoga classes online and I have tried many of them, but I keep coming back to Adriene. She is part of my journey.

I have been doing yoga long enough to appreciate the Zen it represents, the thousands of years of practice and millions of practitioners who have put their lives, their bodies, their faith into its calm, gracious power to heal. I know the joy of a pose feeling right regardless of how it looks, the freedom of air moving through my lungs, the pulsing electricity of blood flying through my veins, the serenity of balance, the golden, fleeting, priceless gift of each moment that no longer exists once it passes and yet is eternal in my memory.

A friend said I am a fierce woman ready to take 2018 and squeeze every last drop of magic out of it. Amen, sistah. Someone left the barn door open and I’m ready to bolt.

In 2018, I will heal.

mystic me

Jingle

stocking

As snowflakes gently surrender to gravity and make their way toward the earth, a little girl opens her eyes. It is early Christmas morning. She extends her arm in front of her face and can just make out the shape of her hand in the murky light.

“Oh, goody!”

She leaps out of bed, knowing she has permission to go downstairs and explore the contents of her stocking, as long as she does it quietly. The big people will need a couple more hours and a cup or two of coffee before they’ll be ready for Christmas, a terrible lapse in judgement as far as the little girl is concerned. But she is already old enough, and still young enough, to know the world is full of magic and mysteries.

She sails down the stairs and grasps the stocking to her chest, feeling the crinkly, crunchy promise of the collection of shapes bumping and jostling against each other inside. Pulling out the goodies one by one, she finds underwear, personalized pencils, chocolate footballs, an orange, three walnuts and a sliver dollar. Every year, those items appear and she never asks why; without them it would not be Christmas.

At the very bottom of the stocking, tucked into the toe, there is a small scroll, a piece of paper rolled tightly and fastened with a red ribbon. She slips off the ribbon and discovers that the paper is a blood test report, indicating that her tumor markers have fallen below normal levels.

The little girl, now a middle aged woman, looks up, barely daring to mouth the words, “Does this mean I don’t have cancer?”

From his perch on the roof, Santa peers down the chimney. Laying a finger beside his sooty nose, he winks and says, “Yes. It means you don’t have cancer.”

The girl/woman feels her insides curl into a ball, like a cat on a sunny windowsill, its nose tucked under its tail, its purr and twitching whiskers proof of contentment.

clarence

Just then, her phone jingles. She thinks of Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” saying that every time a bell rings, an angel gets their wings. But this time it is an app that gives a jingle every time Tokyo Tales gets a new follower.

The girl/woman thanks you.

MC and snowman

Burn Baby Burn

I’ve been reading about a classmate of mine whose daughter has a rare and rather nasty form of cancer. My heart goes out to her, to him, to the rest of her family, their friends, and to everyone else whose lives they touch. I cannot begin to imagine how any of them are coping with that reality.

In the seemingly endless process of dealing with cancer, I have found one of the toughest struggles is making my peace with it. Half my intellect says, “This should not be; there is no logic to it.” The other half says, “It is what it is. Get on with it.” My heart contracts into fetal position in a dusty corner and weeps.

crying sumo

A sumo tournament of conflicting thoughts is thundering inside my head. A teenager with cancer is a tragedy; a middle-aged woman with cancer is not. But where is the tragedy? The middle-aged woman has already lived more than half of her life; she knows what she would have missed. The teenager has barely begun her journey; the future is a mystery no one can know. The middle-aged woman has probably seen tragedy, anguish, desperation in other people’s lives and in her own; with luck, the teenager has not. A teenager is more able to accept the unacceptable, to believe the unbelievable, to see the abnormal as normal. Acceptance may be harder for the middle-aged woman who has lived long enough to be aware of, and dread, some of the bumps and jolts that life will eventually offer. The teenager has the purity of belief that she is immune to the evils of the world, she is safe, indestructible, and all will be well.

You can’t compare the teenager and the middle-aged woman, the lamb and the ewe, the pristine silk stocking with the worn woolen sock. What value does experience have? What value innocence? When do we stop asking questions like that and just get on with it? How can we?

I was coming to the end of my endless radiation treatments when I had my final doctor visit. She said, “As you know, the effects are cumulative. The worst of it will be within the two weeks after treatment ends.”

THWAP! Out of nowhere, another boot hurled itself toward my head.

old boot

Ouch!

All along, every doctor I’d talked to said that most people don’t have any reaction at all. If anything, I was supposed to experience nothing more than a mild sunburn. Mild sunburn my Aunt Fanny! I am very pale and love to go to the beach; I know what a sunburn feels like. The day after the final treatment, my armpit looked like someone had left a hot iron on it. And it got worse over the next couple of days, eventually developing as severe burns do, then into a rash on the middle of my chest. The redness progressed sideways, downward and across my chest. I would have had to pull a Rip Van Winkle under a sunlamp to get this kind of burn. Perhaps the doctors meant the type of sunburn you might get on Venus. I’ve heard awful things about the beaches on Venus. Sunscreen SPF 462 is recommended, one factor for each degree Celsius of average surface temperature. Yeah, that must be what they meant.

The silver lining, if you care to see it that way, is that the worst of the burn is on the part of my armpit that is still numb from surgical nerve damage. I look at it, touch it, and know that it should hurt, but it doesn’t. That makes me wonder: where does pain go when you can’t feel it? And what is the purpose of pain that is not felt? If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to see it, does it hurt?

I have a hard time not getting angry at the medical people I’ve dealt with over the past year. The occasional sympathetic nod does not make up for the overall indifference. They either pat my knee and tell me I’m going to die (we’ll let that one go) or they understate the case so much that the reality is a shock. Their attitude makes me think of a quote from Buddhist scriptures: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” I’m certainly the one who got burned. But what’s the point in anger? It won’t make the doctors lose any sleep, won’t make my pain any less real.

I still have to believe, as they do, that the treatment will prolong my life. I’ve read that some of the effects of chemotherapy and radiation may never go away completely, but at least I will be alive to experience them. There’s no point in assigning blame, no point in calling any of this good or bad. It just is. I have to make my peace with all of that. If I am lucky and I am strong enough, I can find a way to learn from all of this and move on.

So, I slather myself with Aloe Vera and coconut oil and hope that they will work their magic. And I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

aloe

The Blue Lollipop

blue lolly

I have spent the past few years trying, with some success, to cultivate a sense of gratitude. I don’t mean Pollyanna gratitude: “Thank you so much for the one legged blind teddy bear that smells like old dog! It’s the best Christmas present ever!” No, what I mean is more a sense of finding what is unique or at least special about my life, my family and friends, the things I live my life among, and loving them for what they are, giving them the value they deserve. It’s also putting envy into perspective. I will always be envious of some things: people who are tall, people who can do math, people who can eat eggplant, people who can sing or juggle or Magic Eye. I know I will never have or be those things but I can envy those people without actually wanting to be them. I can see something beautiful in a store and enjoy its beauty, bask in it even, without wanting to own it, pleased that it exists but not needing it in my life, allowing my magic credit card to rest.

So now I am trying to find gratitude in the fact that I had my final radiation treatment today. There will be no more solitary morning walks to the hospital, no more taking off my shirt and lying on the table while people whose names I don’t know draw on me with magic markers. No more waiting in the pink paper line, no more pulling out my magic credit card and paying the bill, day after day after twenty-five days.  I can sleep in. I can take my time with morning yoga, finally start to work back toward where I was when this all began. I can finally start scrubbing the map of Arizona off my chest.

honey

(As a side note, one radiation treatment costs just about the same as a 1200 gram bottle of organic Acacia honey. Given a choice, I’d rather have the honey. Extra irony: my credit card is magical because it can somehow withdraw an unlimited amount of money from my bank account. The organic honey store only accepts cash.)

When I was dressed and opened the curtain, the radiation room was deserted. There was nobody to say good-bye to except the horrible machine but we had never really made friends. It felt strangely unfinished, like I should get a lollipop or a balloon, something to mark yet another passage through the surreal world that my life has entered.

So I walked back home, just another day, and got to work on the script for a program I will direct next week. In the program, three teams compete to make the springiest food they can come up with. One makes a gelatin-and-starch-based, multi-textured pudding (ugh), another makes a sticky rice ball seasoned with tomato and basil and topped with fish (blech) and the third, the crown jewel, is a blue, bacon-flavored lollipop made of mochi and swathed in mustard-flavored cotton candy. I kid you not.

monkey

Monkey Boy was minding his own business, having a nice nap in front of the kerosene heater, when I barfed on him. And then I realized I had something more to be grateful for. Nobody will ever force me to eat a blue bacon-flavored mochi lollipop swathed in mustard-flavored cotton candy. And as wild as my imagination may be at times, it will never go that far. For that, I am also grateful.

Giblet Gravy

When I was a kid, my grandpa (maternal) always came to our house for Thanksgiving and we went to my grandma’s (paternal) for Christmas. As I remember it, Ma would get up early to stuff and roast the turkey and then prepare all the other fixings and by the time everything was ready, she was exhausted and in a grumpy mood. But then Grandpa would wield the carving knife and sharpening wand (apparently this is called a ‘honing steel’) and everyone would smile. Also, for once in the year, we were not required to eat stuff we didn’t like, which for me meant turkey skin and mashed sweet potatoes. But regular mashed potatoes? Stuffing? Homemade cranberry orange relish? Bring it on, baby.

スクリーンショット 2017-11-26 16.30.20

Gourmet Night at Fawlty Towers

But then there was the giblet gravy.

Wikipedia defines giblets as edible fowl offal. (That ought to put you off your crackers right there.) Every year, Ma would ruin her silky smooth homemade turkey gravy, rich with bird drippings and roasting pan scrapings, by adding said offal to it. Nobody liked the giblets very much but nobody ever said anything either because, well, family. I would look at my magnificent mountain of mashed potatoes, dripping with melted butter and, with a sigh, pour on the giblet gravy.

During my freshman year in college, Grandpa passed away. The next time I was home for holidays, probably Christmas that year, I was in the kitchen with Ma when she was making gravy. She started chopping the offal and I said, “You don’t have to do that.”

“What?”

“The giblets. Nobody likes them, not even you.”

“Grandpa does.”

“Grandpa’s not coming.”

She gave me a blank look for a moment and then, just like that, we never had giblet gravy again. We got to revel in the smooth and silky and the cats ate the offal.

This all came to mind because my 54th Thanksgiving came and went and I celebrated with a head cold and a bowl of chicken soup. I had expected to start recovering by now, but that isn’t happening, won’t happen for some time to come.

I continue to be amazed at what they don’t tell you about cancer treatment. I made a point of doing diligent research because there were bound to be cultural and language barriers involved in how this is done, but even the English websites like breastcancer.org, the NIH and the American Cancer Society don’t give you much detail. I dug around and followed links and when I finally got close to what I was looking for, they invariably said, “Talk to your doctor.”  But my doctor is not very cooperative.

Before we got started on chemo, the doctor told me I have a very rare form of cancer and that we would follow the standard treatment.

“But how can there be a ‘standard’ treatment if the cancer is so rare?”

“The treatment is world standard, not just Japan standard.”

“That’s not what I asked you.”

“I’ll show you the website.”

“You’re not answering my question.”

“Here, look at this American website.”

“Oh, never mind.”

I was told he behaves that way because he doesn’t like the way many doctors in Japan pussyfoot around illness, refusing to tell their patients just how sick they are. Instead, he goes way too far in the opposite direction. I have been baffled by this. Why tell someone they’re dying when they’re not? What possible benefit is there in scaring the pickles out of someone who is already scared? Am I meant to be grateful to him when the test results come back negative? But all he did was hand me the results. The nurse who managed to get blood out of my damaged veins and the lab technician who did the test deserve more recognition.

It took a lot of research and some tooth-pulling to finally determine that it doesn’t matter that the type is rare. And the term ‘standard’ is not quite accurate. It should be ‘strongest’. Because the tumor was large and starting to spread, they hit me with the strongest stuff they had because it has the greatest chance of being effective. If I couldn’t take it, they would try something milder, but by doing that I would lose effectiveness percentage points. I try not to dwell on the thought that the surgeon may have gotten all the cancer and there isn’t any need for any of this horrible treatment, while at the same time, there’s never any guarantee that it won’t recur or some new cancer will rear its ugly head and we start all over again. It happens.

The first part of my treatment was a three month course of Paclitaxel. The famed nausea that comes with chemo was well-controlled with steroids. My hair fell out, but that was also expected. Lung impairment was on the list; I expected it after being a smoker for so many years. Even bone-weary fatigue was explained and no surprise when it kicked in. What they didn’t mention was disorientation, memory loss, digestion issues, dry skin, broken nails, blurry vision, tinnitus and a level of grumpiness that makes Ma on Thanksgiving look like Mother Teresa on Valium at a day spa. Even now, four months after finishing Paclitaxel, I have new symptoms. This time it’s swollen feet and hands and pain in the joints and muscles of all four limbs. I was told that the pain comes from nerve damage caused by Paclitaxel and could last for years.

I’m angry and frustrated, but there isn’t any point in yelling at anyone. I’m enough of a grown-up to know that…most of the time. Still, I have to wonder; if they had told me in the beginning how hard this was going to be, would I have had the courage to do it? To be honest, I think I would have. Early on in this odyssey, one of my oldest friends, who is also a doctor, said, “It’s your boob or your life. Pick one.” Simple, direct, absolute truth. I picked. There is only one road that leads where I am going and I have to follow it.

As much as I hate the idea, percentage points is what it comes down to, and all the medical world has to offer. Cancer is unpredictable, and each person’s body reacts differently, so each cancer case is unique. In the social atmosphere of the ’60s, that might have been a cool thing, but in terms of human mortality, it means I will spend the rest of my life walking on a tightrope. There are no guarantees, no promises. Tall or short, beautiful or homely, wealthy or poor, dedicated athlete or couch potato, vegan or MacDonald’s addict, we’re all in the same boat. Nothing stands along the bus route to the terminal station except statistics and dumb luck.

hospital bus

I thought I was safe, but someone put the giblets back in my gravy.

‘Snot Good

For reasons that escape me, there is a statue of Florence Nightingale in the lobby of Tokyo Medical Center, where I get my daily dose of radiation.

Nightengale at the hospital

I asked her what she’s doing there, but she’s mute on the subject.
Nyar, nyar, nyar.

I still haven’t made my peace with having a disease that doesn’t make me nearly as sick as the treatment to get rid of it, but if I don’t do the treatment, the disease will kill me for sure. Cancer contradictions are varied and frustrating. Death Star tends to overstate his case, but after all he is focused solely on boobs, all day every day. The radiologist at the hospital shrugged and said, “It’s just breast cancer. It’s perfectly manageable.” I guess from his perspective, it is. He must have seen things I can not, don’t want to, imagine.

All the same, it’s still cancer, and the treatment is no picnic. After a year of  it, I’m pretty worn down. On top of that, or maybe because of it, I have a cold. It takes two weeks to get over a cold, says my mother, or with medication, it takes 14 days. (She is very wise.) I read somewhere that despite enormous progress in modern medicine, nothing can be done about viruses except control the symptoms and let Mother Nature steer the ship.

But now I am wondering how long it takes to get over a cold after two major surgeries, six months of chemotherapy, twelve rounds of radiation (with more to come), endless pain killers, steroids, radioactive isotopes, some really doubtful hospital cuisine and way too many doughnuts. I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, here’s a piece of wisdom I discovered this morning: Do not attempt a yoga headstand when you’ve got a cold. Gravity and phlegm do not get along. You will find yourself in the fast lane bound for Dizzytown.

On a lighter note, Mt. Fuji put in a rare appearance today. I find it very important to find something, at least one thing, to be grateful for each and every day. Yesterday it was the 1/16th of an inch of hair that has appeared on my head. Today is is Mt. Fuji, which is much more significant in the grander scope of things, but relatively insignificant from where I’m sitting. You can have the mountain; I’ll take the hair.

Carrot Tower Fuji