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Archive for August, 2017

man in the moon marigolds

Yesterday I had the experience of a procedure called “gamma knife”.  It is a focused application of 200 some gamma rays on the site in my brain where the ovarian cancer had been removed last month. The intention of the treatment is to clean up any cells that might have been left behind and so to prevent a recurrence.

Every time I heard the term “gamma knife” I thought of the title of a Pulitzer prize winning play by Paul Zindel, later an award-winning film directed by Paul Newman. While I’ve never read or seen the play or movie, the title has always intrigued me. I never imagined that I would have such a close encounter with gamma rays. The experience was quite amazing.

I watched several You-tube videos that detailed the procedure. In order to be sure that the gamma rays programmed by the computer are directed exactly to the site identified on the MRI, a frame was placed on my head and literally screwed into my skull. (A little “ouch”!) Who knew that hospitals employ medical physicists to perform the sophisticated calculations needed for these kinds of procedures? Mine worked with the radiation oncologist and neurosurgeon to formulate the plan for my treatment while I sat looking like Darth Vader and drinking coffee through a straw.

After all the specialists agreed on the plan, I was helped onto the table, my head frame was clamped in place and I was moved into position in the gamma ray device. Laying flat on my back for an hour after an early morning rising and a dose of Ativan, I fell sound asleep. The treatment took about an hour and was almost silent and entirely painless. Several times I woke myself up snoring! A series of chimes indicated that the treatment was over.  I went to a recovery area where the frame was removed (A bigger “ouch” afterwards, like when the anesthesia wears off from a dental procedure!) and I was on the way home just after noon.

All this happened yesterday.  Today I feel pretty much normal except for a couple of little screw-marks on my head and a bit more visual deficit that is to be expected with the procedure.  It should improve with time.

So what is the effect of all these gamma rays on me and my experience of cancer? They tell me that the radiation effects can continue for several months. What I know is that I have been given an opportunity to keep growing, to continue discovering the purpose for my life.  I never get tired of saying that I believe gratitude is the most powerful force for healing in the universe. This most recent recurrence of cancer has deepened this conviction.  I am grateful for access to healthcare, grateful for my skillful healthcare professionals, grateful for compassionate providers and caregivers, grateful for the broad network of pray-ers who carried me through each day, grateful for my Catholic faith and the communion of saints who intercede for me and for all of us still on this side of eternity.  I hope that the gamma rays multiply my gratitude to God for all this healing and increase my capacity for love.

man in the moon marigolds 2

 

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in between times

andreas mountains

In between treatment and healing and testing and treatment is…time.  I notice things.  There are the strange little lights that are now in the colors of a prism and they appear in my visual field now and then- or maybe they are there all the time but I am able to suppress the images sometimes. The steroids gave me some jitters and I blame them for nighttime raids on the kitchen for graham crackers, Veggie Straws, peanuts or whatever else I could crunch.  Glad to be done with them until the gamma knife procedure. Now that they are gone I notice all the little aches and pains that they glossed over.

I mostly notice things in those early morning hours when everything is quiet. I’ve taken to sitting outside before sunrise with some citronella candles just in case of mosquitoes but mostly for the campfire effect.  I notice the change in the skies to the east and that magical moment when the flowers and shrubs start to sparkle as the first light appears. And I know such gratitude that I can see it- little prisms in my visual fields or not! I notice the appearance of the hummingbirds as soon as there is light for the feeders. The rufus variety has arrived and they are so much more territorial- and even more entertaining if that is possible.  Last Saturday Carol and I watched the sage bushes burst into bloom before our eyes. Again, thankful for the gift of sight!

But with all this noticing there is a feeling of being suspended in between times. My mind and spirit are catching up with the reality of this latest diagnosis and I don’t yet know what it means. It is a new part of the journey.  The other day I used a mirror to look at the incision on the back of my head to see if I could go without a scarf in public. (I thought it looked pretty good but decided that if anyone a little squeamish was walking or sitting behind me it might cause some distress- so I put on the scarf!) Nothing brings home the reality of a diagnosis like staring down an incision. “Oh yes. They cut into my brain and they took out something that was cancer again.” The body, mind and spirit came closer to being on the same page again.

I started my early morning walks again this week. This morning when I made the turn on the irrigation ditch, noticing how the cotton plants have blossoms that weren’t there when I last walked on July 13, I felt urged to listen to “I Will Lift My Eyes” by Tony Alonso.  It is a beautiful piece inspired by Psalm 121 and a favorite prayer by Thomas Merton. I found it on my phone, placed the earbuds and walked towards the east and the mountains. Oh my! Take a listen: I Will Lift My Eyes by Tony Alonso

For times in between this is exactly the faith that is required. And it comes as a gift, like the sunrise each morning and as constant as the mountains.

 

thomas merton prayer

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