Monday, December 30, 2013

C is for Cancer

2013 began with a sore throat I couldn’t shake. Two months and three doctors later, a growth was discovered at the base of my tongue. The bad news was cancer. The good news was that the particular type of cancer had a hopeful treatment prognosis. After three rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation, last month's post-treatment PET scan looked good.

I appreciate people who blog during treatment, but I decided not to publicly disclose or discuss my condition online during that time. Nevertheless, much of the creative output I posted throughout the year ended up reflecting my experience. Since I'm out of the woods for the time being, I decided to end the year by coming out of the cancer closet and provide the context for the illness-related work I posted over the year:

Kisagotami’s beautiful son, the light of her life ran into the street and was struck dead by a runaway cart. She wandered the village in a blur, child clutched to her heart. She went to the Buddha for an herb to revive her son.  He sent her into the village to find a mustard seed from a household that had never suffered the death of a loved one. Of course, there was not a single home without loss. She found that the living are few, but the dead are many. Her personal grief was transformed into compassion for all beings.
Based on a traditional Buddhist Parable

My maternal grandmother lived into her eighties, her last months bed-bound in a nursing home. Up until the end, she cared about her appearance and insisted she have her hair and makeup done. I couldn’t imagine what comfort she found in the mirror’s reflection of sparse hair and time-eroded skin and features. 
Almost twenty years later, the image I see in my own mirror appears decades younger than the person who looks back from a photo of myself snapped moments before.

The permanent self is an illusion. It feels like I’m killing time, but time is killing me.

Some medical treatments work by attacking the body. Vaccines include a dead or weakened germ to trigger the production of antibodies. Allergy shots inject minute amounts of allergens into our bloodstream to elicit desensitization. Chemotherapy eliminates cancer by killing fast growing cells. In each case, the weapon of poison is used as medicine. 
One of the most pervasive psychological afflictions humans suffer from is self-centeredness. The poison of personal pain, illness and misfortune can act as a medicine if we use it to generate compassion for the countless others around the world who experience similar or even greater suffering.

I’ve lived a pretty charmed life for the past fifty years. I’ve never known hunger, grew up in a loving home, always had a safe place to live, worked at jobs with opportunity for growth and learning, had a lifetime of satisfying creative pursuits, enjoyed twenty years and counting in a great marriage, and have two children who are thriving.

I got some unexpected bad health news recently and thought for a moment, “Why me?” It only took an instant to realize that the better question was “Why not me?” No one is exempt from the radical uncertainty of life.

The art of balance is all about managing weight. At first thought, taking on the lightest possible load seems the best strategy. It’s not. 
Gravity requires sufficient mass to ground us within its stabilizing embrace. Without enough well-arrayed ballast, a stray gust of wind would send us flying topsy turvy; a passing fancy could shanghai us into insensible service; or a glancing blow from the hand of fate might knock us down into dark despair. 
Over time, a well-weighted garland of burdens strengthens the will, opens the heart and fosters an equilibrium that’s immune to misfortune or boon.

I usually create out of joy and wonder. I've been blessed for most of my life by a positive and fulfilling environment that offered the time, resources and inspiration to follow my creative passion. I've often joked about "life doing what the fuck it wants." This year she decided to take me up on my implied offer. Sudden and unexpected changes have shattered my (naive) illusion of safety and undermined my overarching optimism at one fell swoop. 
During this time I've mostly used creativity as escapism. Creating stuff like the Deep and Mysterious set of videos gave me a way to turn my mind from suffering and immerse myself temporarily within a state of positive flow. Although I will continue to use the creative process as a drug when I need to, I've decided to concentrate on creating from within the experience of suffering, rather than from outside the temporary walls I keep constructing around it.


Honour McMillan said...

Yay you! I expect you to be around a long long time, and since I'm older and have just admitted to middle age, I figure you're less than half way there. :)


Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks! From your mouth to the Universe's ear. These days, I'm taking little for granted.

Anonymous said...

Best of luck, Botgirl. Love your posts and tweets, want you to have a long run.

Bay Sweetwater said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks, Danko. Me too.

Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks, Bay. At this point, although I'm not feeling any pull to spend time in 3D virtual worlds, I'm almost constantly immersed in the 2D virtual world of social networking, mostly because I can participate in short spurts throughout the day. One of the more interesting lessons from Second Life for me was that although it was born there, my virtual identity no longer depends on rezzing into a virtual world to exist and prosper.

Rhianon Jameson said...

Wow, I'm very glad you're doing better. That must have been a difficult post to write.

It's interesting to see how the creative process works. The mind whirls, and often what comes out is something that's been churning inside the brain. I like that your stories reflect that state of mind with varying degrees of obliqueness.

And I like Honour's definition of middle age. :)

Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks, Rhianon. I definitely went through a lot of stages along the way. After the initial panic, my first pull was to philosophize the experience. As the symptoms of treatment started to kick in, most of that went out the window and I was just trying to endure until the worst of it was over. As I've been recovering over the past couple of months, I haven't been thinking too much about the experience, and mostly playing with my revived creative energy through daily Twitter "practice." Although I'm not sure exactly what I'm practicing for. :)

Bay Sweetwater said...

Oh yikes. I put my comment up on your G+ post, and somehow that deleted it here. Oh well, here it is again, adding a hooray! and so glad you're here:

This is an amazing collection of writing. Thank you so much for sharing the experience that came with it. One item I remember that isn't here, was a post about your diminishing interest in the virtual. I am hoping that this was understandably because RL had grabbed your attention so forcefully. Perhaps interest in the virtual might now come padding back on little cat feet, siting up purring for attention?

Unknown said...

I'm so glad to hear that you're on the mend. Here's to a Happy, health, and prosperous 2014. Cheers!

Sean Kleefeld said...

Damn, I'm at a bit of a loss for words. Glad to hear you're in more postive territory, though. Here's hoping 2014 continues that trajectory!

Jim Tarber said...

I noticed that you had pulled back quite a bit, but it's shocking, frustrating, saddening, and frightening to hear just why. The thought of "why not me?" is of course very fitting. It's good to hear that you have completed your treatment and well into recovery. Let's hope that's the last we'll hear of those nasty little guys and best wishes for a very healthy 2014.

Botgirl Questi said...

Thanks! I'm also hoping for a much kinder 2014. I won't be able to Ignore the reality of the absolute uncertainty of life, which is probably a good thing one I come more fully to grips with it. The philosophical idea and the concrete experience are two very different things.