22 December 2012

and in conclusion

December 20, 2012

Well, that sucked.

And I could leave it at that but that would be chintzy—unfair to this journal, this chronicle of my year.  So let me try to make this post more worthy of its predecessors.  I’ll begin where I began:

Well, that sucked.  But, after much misery, the ordeal is winding down, like a clangorous monkey-with-cymbals toy one begins to suspect will never desist.  Let’s pause here:

Philosophic View—Life is an array of the seemingly endless and the truly fleeting.  Some of those seemingly endless events are indeed long—one’s chemo treatment, one’s undeclared-major undergrad years, the NBA playoffsbut needn’t be very long to seem so—one’s common cold, one’s transatlantic flight, the preacher’s sermon on a game day when one missed breakfast for waking late with a hangover.  Such is also the case with the truly fleeting; event-duration is moot.  Whether a single moment of peace or the whole of one’s happy youth, good things are never so lasting as we’d like.

I must say, I expected a more monumental sense of relief when I reached the end of my treatment.  What sense did I expect?  That of Bunyan’s pilgrim, unburdened at last?  That of pardoned Barabbas, guilty but free?  That of a sweltering farmland at the gush of the season’s first rain?  I’m not at all sure.  Probably because I’m not even sure exactly what I do feel.  Pause:

P. V.—Expectations are hard to pinpoint when actuality itself is hard to articulate.  Wishing is easy, limited only by the bounds of one’s imagination.  Disentangling a chain of events, kinked by months of workaday tumult, in order to make sense of the whole thing is an action bound on all sides by guts and gravity and the price of gas. 

Maybe what I do feel is suspicious.  Suspicious of the chemo’s success.  My doctor tells me things went well.  The tumor was stabilized; whereas it had been slowly growing again, the chemo did stop that particular rudeness.  Furthermore, there is a clear (albeit unheroic) reduction in the tumor’s size.

P. V.—If in the face of facts one can feel inversely persuaded, are there any size or sort of facts that can be positively compelling?

I am certain, however, that part of what I feel is the way a balloon-blower-upper feels when, vein-gorged and purple-faced, the mindless, heartless piece of rubber slips his lips and phubbers about the room, losing breath, losing oomph, phubbering, phubbering till it reaches the floor where it phubs its last. 

In other words (one actually), anticlimax.  Because for all of the toil, the tumor remains.  Just as it did after radiation.  Just as it does when relatively dormant.  It’s still there and will have to be dealt with again.  Like an unruly child for whom punishment only works temporarily.  

December 21, 2012

Be the gloominess of yesterday’s entry as it may, there is much cause for elation.

·        No more entire weeks of not being able to read.  Of all the things I thought chemo would affect in my daily life, I never guessed that being able to read—focus, engage, progress—would be a casualty.  I can’t be certain but I’d wager to say that no entire week in the previous 25 years had gone by without a chapter or two in the books.

·        No more recovering from one bout of sickness only to start dreading the next one.  I can now recuperate in stride.  Depleted blood counts can rally, non-tumor cells can detox without impending relapse.

·        No more, shall we say, bowel concerns and gullet revolts.

·        And MORE!

Also, cause for thankfulness.

·        I lost only a quarter or so of my hair.

·        I never got sick due to a weakened immune system—no cold, no flu, no leprosy, nothing.

·        I never lacked care.  My wife took the brunt of things with grace and near perfect patience, even when nothing could be done but crawl to the next finish line.  My son never failed to chip-in—to fill water bottles, bring food, turn that fan on, turn this light off, etc.  Mothers, fathers (in-law and in-genes), brothers aplenty and their magnificent spouses, friend for miles and from miles going miles out of their way to support, pray, and wish me all sort and size of well.

·        And MORE!

[Tidbit:  The more one says 'more' the less it signifies anymore.]

December 22, 2012

When I turned sixteen fifty-eleven years ago, I wrote a birthday poem for myself.  In the years that followed it became somewhat of a sporadically observed tradition of mine.  That first poem, I am glad to say, is in a spiral-coming-unbound notebook in a storage unit, otherwise, I might feel compelled to include it here.  The others are accessible but of less consequence presently, so I’ll spare you.

I wrote one this year.  Not on my birthday because I was sick that week, but on the first day after the sickness wore off.  I will conclude my chronicle by sharing it with you because it concerns erased slates, wishfulness, illness, health, twinkling hope, and stark reality.  It’s a seasonal poem—the last season into the next one, whatever the last has been or the next might be.


At thirty-seven, addled, stripped
To the raw skin of memory—
A consequence of medicine
And the sickness itself, I wish
I could recall the Milky Way
Without constellation, planet
Or Cynosure. 
                        On those long drives
To Knoxville from Bland, Christmas Eve
Now mostly dark, the frozen air
Whistling through the car cracks, I watched
The sky.  How the moon bounced from view
And reappeared in the windshield
Or from my brothers’ side while stars
Took all the time they wanted—
Up and up, slow as hours, as miles
To the ever distant coal-pile
Of the Smokeys.

                        The nameless stars
Are gone, their shapeless clusters
Are gone, their random amble, gone.
My greatest wish, more than a brain
Without lesion or panicked cramps,
Is to have my catalog cleared
Of Messier, mythology,
And hydrogen fusion. 

                        I wish
For an Orionless sky.
At thirty-seven, I wish to press
My face to the gelid glass
And see in Leo’s place a vast,
Velvet cloak pricked through with the pins
Of God’s own angels, hard at work
Embroidering the most wondrous
Mystery there ever could be—
The mystery of the miracle.
Not of light speed or warped fabric
Or multiversal maybes, just
Of the miracle, unlearned,
Raw-skinned, bounced and whistling.


Have a happy new year, everyone.  I’ve got to say, I like my chances.

28 November 2012

a tally and some likenings

Oh, before I forget to mention it . . . the score is:

Vomitless Chemo Days—76

Vomitful Chemo Days—1

I can’t remember if I’ve brought up the likening before but it bears repeating anyway . . . I liken the yarks of chemo days to the yarks of a massive hangover.  The poisoned blood, the caustic guts, the brimstone saliva, the thrice-sized head.

The similarities are bad enough, but it’s in the dissimilarities where the going gets especially yarksome. 

Alcoholic hangovers have remedies.  Aspirin.  Milk thistle.  Pedialite.  Dunkings in ice-water a la Fezzik to Inigo.  Sleep.  And, of course, my personal fav from the ol’ dipsomaniacal days . . . hair of the dog and try, try again.

Chemo hangovers, on the other hand, are unshakeable.  They settle-in and hog the couch for a week with their fungalacious feet on the coffee table and their sweating tumblers of moonshine on-the-scum-water-rocks staining the oak.

They are a week’s worth of crying babies beside you on the red-eye to your frumpy Aunt Belinda’s late-life nuptials.

They are a week’s worth of ramshackle rollercoaster rides and haggardly ring-toss barkers at the trash-heap-of-a-gypsy-carnival where the freak show cast doubles as greasy-corndog dippers.

They are a week's worth of Vonnegut being read aloud by Smeagol  over the constant simpering of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange strobing from the thousand screens of a Buffalo Wild Wings in Limbo staffed by the Lollipop Guild and under the new management of Charlie Sheen.

I could go on. And on.  For week or so, say.  But I won’t.

Oh, and the vomit?  The vomit of a drunken man comes like fresh water to the sea-foundered sailor.  The vomit of a chemo-ed man comes like the oasis mirage in the desert—the hope of relief that corrodes upon arrival.


Have nice days this post notwithstanding. 

25 October 2012

the ol' proverbial mixed metaphors

October 17, 2012

And on the seventh day of chemo week he shaved his neck beard and felt that it was good.

October 24, 2012

If at any point in this journal I sounded as if some milestone or another made me feel like there would, in fact, be an end to all this yark, please forgive me for misleading you.  It was only after this month’s chemo effects began to subside that I can honestly claim to have seen the tunnel’s end.

After the first month’s treatment, I could still see the light behind me if I cared to turn around; but it was no paradise’s light beyond the entrance—more like the sickly fluorescence of hospital wards—so forward into dimness was as good as the way over my shoulder.

From then on, each round bore me deeper into the mountain of this metaphor, deeper into the metaphor’s darkness.  A darkness with dripping limestone plicking the slick, blind path ahead.  In this metaphor there are bats named Legion about your ears—the whirruping of whose wings drive out any hope of cogent thought, any thought of hope.  There are lurking slimerifousnesses mustering ambuscades to squelch whatever fleet comfort one derives from (to speak literally now) Tropical Smoothies.

If at the quarter-mark, taking the first turn, I led you to believe that I had gathered some momentum and could stride apace,  knees never buckling, until I broke the wimpy crepe-streamer at the finish line, forgive me.  Wrong metaphor.

If in July I seemed to be saying that I had crowned the summit, could descry my destination in the verdant valley below, and had only to begin my descent, vertiginous though it may be, precarious with leafy pitfalls, jagged with jags and thorny with thorns, but visible and beckoning nonetheless, forgive me.  Wrong metaphor.

If even just last month, I claimed to have rounded third and to be sprinting toward home-plate, reaching full speed, ready for the rapidly nearing collision with the armored hind-catcher, ecstatic in the notion of a walk-off score, of a locker-room champagne shower and a morning show’s people already in touch with my people . . . wrong metaphor.  All apologies.

But now, there is a twinkling. A lone pulsar like a pinprick in the black night funneling grains of daylight.  

Ten months of purported progress, of going forward for fear of going back, back to the sickly fluorescence of hospital wards--but now, there is a twinkling at the end of this metaphor, the proverbial light—in a manner of speaking, figuratively, that is, my journey in opacity, of bat-attacks and chilling limestone drips, is approaching the point of return.

I can see it.  Honestly.

08 October 2012


While it is virtually impossible not to be aware of my brain tumor (thanks to my persistent limp and chronic timidity), it is possible (and advisable) not to ponder it.  Nonetheless, now and then, I am given to a contemplation--a monkish Rubik's-cube-ation--of the phenomenon itself.  It's a precarious proposition this skull-bound dual-duel.  To be mindful of the brain, a brain full of mindfulness.  

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago while considering a different aspect of the tumor --not as a blatant antagonist but as a subtle foil.  Neither a smite from without nor a blight within but as a pesky part of a puny parcel.

A Few Notes On the Tumor

The tumor is not a freak of nature.
It’s a diplomat thereof
Come to finagle territory
For the motherland.

The tumor is not an interloper.
It’s the lash of a flagellant
System unleashed to rein-in
The hominid pride.

The tumor is a new idea
Bethought by a cellular
Synod in thrall to the orthodox,
To time immemorial.

The tumor is a tag-a-long
Whose watch is synchronous; it’s the ape
In your shadow, the familiar
With whom you share contempt.