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Cancer Advisory Threat Level: Guarded

Another day, another doctor appointment: I tagged along to Joe's appointment with his oncologist today, with my list of questions. Because we're still waiting to have PET scan #3, our personal Cancer Threat Level (stealing from the Department of Homeland Security, because what could be more your homeland than your own sweet body?) is now reduced to Guarded. That's a lovely change from the Severe and High threat levels of the past 7 months. Oh hallelujah and thank you doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies, lab animals, researchers, family and friends!

As Dr. Maloney put it, Joe passes. As far as Dr. Maloney is concerned, Joe is cured. Yes, there may be recurrence in future, but right now, Joe is done.

Now we heard these words and didn't quite jump out of our chair, off our exam table, because remember, there's still that tonsil business and PET scan #3 to get through. But Maloney thinks it's really unlikely that the tonsil thing is lymphoma and reminded us that not all uptake indicates cancer.

If it weren't for that tonsil, we'd be at Threat Level: Low. The PET scan is in a couple of weeks and once we have those results in, then we might really strike up the band.

Maloney is expecting we'll see nothing on that scan. That's what we all want. But at least, if that tonsil still lights up when the radioactive sugar hits Joe's bloodstream, then that tonsil and its partner will just come on out of his body altogether, scoring him a couple of weeks of recuperation, popsicles and pain-killers. They'll biopsy the thing, and we'll know once and for all.

So yes, guardedly, we are jumping around, doing a little Snoopy dance. Almost there, people. The real terrorist among us is almost eliminated, may it go away and not come back on any day.


Lymphoma: are we done?

We went to see Dr. Chien today (not Chin as I thought before) regarding Joe's right tonsil which was still causing some concern among the doctors. This has been worrisome, since we would really like to put the whole Cancer Incident behind us and move on. I think we heard good news.

Dr. Chien said that the MRI didn't really show much there on the right tonsil. And that the second PET scan had shown less uptake than the first (reminder that uptake is taken as an indication of hungry cancer cells). If the Something on the right tonsil was indeed involved with the lymphoma, then theoretically the chemo would handle it. The fact that the uptake value went down on PET scan #2 is a good, but not clear, sign.

I then had the distinct delight of watching Dr. Chien thread a scope into Joe's right nostril after numbing it, so he could get a closer look at the tonsils. Amazing. And Joe says the scope smelled like pumpkin pie.

Dr. Chien didn't see anything weird or suspicious, but has recommended that Joe have a third PET scan to see whether there has been further change in uptake. Since the second PET scan was after Joe's fourth of 6 rounds of chemo, it's entirely possible (crossing fingers, lighting candles in my mind) that the chemo was still working on this area and that chemos #5 and #6 knocked it out completely?

So we'll see. Early in April, Joe will have PET scan #3 to see what's going on in there. If the tonsil lights up, then we're on to tonsillectomy. We could skip the PET scan and go straight to tonsillectomy, but having seen what it did to Laurent when he had one two years ago, we'd rather only do it if absolutely necessary.

I'm treating this as good news, inconclusive but good. Phew!


Adventures in Austerity

While I wait for Amazon to ship my copy of Gurumayi's "Sadhana of the Heart," which contains, I am told, everything I really need to know to ground myself deeply in the austerities of the mind, I am still researching on the interwebs and conducting my little experiment.

In an article on, Swami Jyotirmayananda writes:

Manah prasadah means to allow the mind to be joyous. People who have been accustomed to think of austerity as something crude will be surprised by this. In Yoga philosophy, austerity is not supposed to give you pain, but discipline you so that the spirit flows in a healthy, unobstructed way through your personality. Thus, the effort to maintain cheerfulness of the mind is a dynamic aspect of austerity.
My definition didn't include this joyousness of the mind, though I can see a path to it. My first day's manah-prasadah effort at work was really more about eliminating the big swings of negative emotion, the anger and irritation. I just wanted to savor a sense of inner calm. And that, surely, is the way to cultivating the cheerfulness of the quote above, but there can't be cheerfulness when there's so much annoyance.

The Day One experiment went pretty well. I decided that it might be helpful to note the triggers, to keep a running list of what specifically seems to set me off. Of course, the very idea of writing it down made me feel better, since it really did give the whole endeavor the feeling of an exercise, bought me some necessary distance.

From the very first moment when I opened my Monday morning email, I was conscious of how early and quickly I can get triggered, leading to entries #1 and #2 on my list:

- spazzy, misspelled, over-broadcast emails by [my boss].
- TMI by [employee X].

But just writing that down made me feel a lot better, took a lot of the energy out of the reaction. [And interesting how both of those have to do with communication style of two individuals with very seepy boundaries.]

Through two challenging meetings yesterday morning, back-to-back, I managed to maintain my poise, largely unruffled, very aware of my words and reactions. I did lose it a bit in the afternoon [entry #3: "[employee X's] passive aggressive disregard for direction she doesn't like."] but all in all can count the day a succcess, if only for the sustained attention to the state of my own mind.

If nothing else, I'm thinking about communication and how my own irritation is really a defense against what I feel are incursions into the quiet of my own space. The peace of mind is really just a knowing that no matter how much spazzy TMI comes my way, it really doesn't affect my internal state unless I let it.

Like Laura said in class on Saturday, "How bad do you want awakening?" I want it BAD so it's on me to stay with this practice, cultivate that cheerfulness of mind which is actually my nature but tends to desert me in the office. Pretty hard work!


Manah-prasadah at work: this is going to be interesting

I said I'd work on applying the austerities at work this week, starting with manah-prasadah, 1st of the 5. So I'm re-reading my notes and thinking and laying the groundwork to pull this off.

So, manah-prasadah -- peace of mind. Stated another couple of ways: self satisfaction and serenity free from mental imbalances; tranquility due to self satisfaction; mental purity due to the absence of lust, anger and greed. I am interpreting it to mean equanimity of mind, an absence of strong emotions that take me over, an abiding peacefulness that has its origins in an inner calm.

Yep, this is going to be interesting.

I find that at work, I am routinely reacting to the craziness of the people around me and angered by emails and demands and the people I manage. If anyone is in need of some peace of mind at work, it's me. But it's going to require that yogic discipline for sure, a lot of it, lots of repetition. On the other hand, if anything is going to teach me peace of mind, honestly it's work, since if I can pull it off there, I ought to be the equal to any challenge.

And that, really, has got to be the whole point. It's not enough to have a contented mind when standing on the mat, practicing with a bunch of friends with the same outlook and same intentions. It's pretty easy to get along and feel peaceful when everybody is there for the same purpose. Work is just not like that, so that's where I'm going to roll out this manah-prasadah, see if I can hold that pose for any extended period.

Wish me luck!


I live in a temple of love

Today Joe finished the new fence around the front of our yard, the fence that he started on the sneak on Valentine's Day. I was away at yoga all day, and when I came home that night, lo and behold my sneaky spouse had begun the first panel of the long-planned fence. Every spare moment since that weekend he has been out there making that fence, delighting particularly in working on it while I'm gone or when I'm not expecting it so that he can surprise me.

The fence project has been such a glory, such a pleasure. It's beautiful, of course, and represents hours of Joe's love and creativity and attention. And I know that although he does it for us, really he's doing it for me, delighting in adding elements that he knows I'll love, every board a loving touch.

And that's really something, knowing that what he does, he does so much for me. But it gets bigger.

For us the fence celebrates Joe's triumphant return, a spring like none other, made so much brighter after the nightmare winter darkness of cancer. Just as he used to -- but we forgot he was like this, cancer erasing what "normal" feels like -- Joe is up and at it from the moment it's light enough to see to the moment it's too dark to operate tools, clearing and beautifying and making this place where we live a paradise, a temple of love. In every room and in every corner of the yard, there is something that Joe has made. We are living inside our very own Taj Mahal.

Every time I look at the fence, I remember something Laurent said to Joe, when Laurent was very young -- "Dad, you're the bestest maker." I still say it, because really, truly, he is. Yes, we may now the nicest front yard on the block, but honestly that's nothing compared to what I see when I look at it: a life and love that just keep getting bigger and stronger and better, 20 1/2 years in.