In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Questions and Answers

Dear ones,

Many of you are asking wonderful, insightful questions by email and in person. Boswell has been answering your questions individually, and thought it would be helpful to everyone to post those answers here. Leave more questions in the comments or send them via Boswell-mail: rebecca.lafond@gmail.com.

How is Mimi doing?
Mimi's health is pretty much the same since the last post three days ago. Her status probably won't change suddenly, it'll be more of a gradual decline - more on that below. If any sudden changes occur, they'll be posted asap here. This blog server seems to take several hours to send out updates by email, so you might want to check the blog link regularly. You will hopefully see at least a brief update every three or four days. Always, always feel free to email Boswell at any time. You may not receive a long reply, but the more detailed your question is, the more likely you'll get a detailed answer. If you don't hear back within a day, it's totally ok to send another message. Your caring and concern are appreciated!

What spiritual practice is Mimi relying on?
Right now Mimi is especially drawn to Avalokiteshvara and Vajrayogini. Tech-savvy friends have created recorded loops of mantra recitations (OM MANI PÄME HUM and the three-OM mantra) to be played when Mimi's physical and mental activity decline further. From Boswell's perspective, Mimi also seems to be relying on the minds of patient acceptance and cherishing others that she has developed over her years of Buddhist practice and her cancer journey. You can read all about her experience with this on other blog posts. As mentioned in the post prior to this one, Offering to the Spiritual Guide was a particularly energizing practice for Mimi at the beginning of this week. Perhaps another puja will happen here again on August 10th.

Can I come visit Mimi?
Of course! As reported in the last blog post, Mimi's energy is up and down. A few times over the last couple of weeks a visit has had to be rescheduled because she was too worn out to receive visitors. But even though they might not have a chance to see Mimi, visitors are nonetheless most welcome! (The best way to set that up is to send an email to rebecca.lafond@gmail.com.) Kind local friends have been stopping by to help with chores and provide respite care so that Richard can have breaks. Family members are here from out of town this weekend and next week to visit and help. Even if you're not able to be here in person, there is nonetheless a very important way for you to help! Here's what Mimi asked for in a group email she sent a few weeks ago after receiving her prognosis: "Please pray that I continue to have a peaceful mind throughout this dying process, deeply connected to Geshe-la at my heart."

What is Mimi's prognosis?
In the same email quoted above, Mimi says, "Apparently I've come to the last lap of this current 'race' (but not at all at a fast pace for me)." One could read that last part in parentheses in a couple of different ways. It's true that Mimi is spending quite a bit of time in physical inactivity as the cancer and side effects of medications drain her energy, and when she does get up she definitely doesn't move very fast. But she also doesn't seem to be heading very quickly toward the deadline (pardon the gallows humor) she received from her doctor. Five-and-a-half years ago, Mimi was first diagnosed with and treated for leptomeningeal disease, or cancer of the brain lining, which is commonly considered to be a marker of end stage cancer. Mimi's doctors have been astounded by the amazing good health she's experienced over the last 5+ years. (In fact, they call her a medical miracle, to which Mimi's response in a 2013 blog post is, "That probably isn't technically correct: I don't think I've ever heard any Buddhist use the word 'miracle,' but maybe I can get away with 'miraculous' as in extraordinary, as in emanated by the Buddhas.") It seems that her latest prognosis is not at all a departure from the miraculous story of Mimi's cancer adventure. Today is close to the approximate day Mimi was given for when she could expect her life to end, and she's still full of vitality and love! Ordinary prognoses don't appear to apply here - prayers and Mimi's mind of faith have truly worked to sustain her.

What happens next?
As mentioned above, Mimi's health will probably continue on the gradual (very gradual) decline it's been on over the last few weeks. Now that pain and other physical symptoms are under control, there probably won't be any further medical emergencies to contend with. If symptom control becomes an issue, there's a very responsive hospice team only a phone call away, and the hospice nurse provided an arsenal of medications to help with common end-of-life symptoms. The hospice social worker provided a booklet called Gone from My Sight: the Dying Experience, written by award-winning hospice nurse Barbara Karnes. The booklet describes the physical changes that can be expected during the dying process. If you're interested, the booklet can be downloaded in Kindle or purchased on Amazon, and you can also find helpful information at Barbara Karnes' website. Boswell has also been reading a book called Final Journeys by long-time hospice nurse Maggie Callanan, which uses real-life (real-death?) examples of hospice patients to highlight important end-of-life considerations and issues. This book is also available on Kindle/Amazon, or you can link to it here.


Hope this is helpful and that you enjoy this quote from a humorous post by Mimi from a few years ago: "It's kinda fun, and interesting, to write about yourself in the 3rd person. I've never thought of this before in terms of writing, but it seems useful as another way of looking at the emptiness of our self. We commonly, instinctively, think of ourself in the 1st person, as me or I. So what happens when we put ourself into a character of she or he? It's a bit like becoming That Mountain, looking back at This Mountain. You see yourself from the outside, as others might view you, but of course everyone's view is different."

Monday, July 25, 2016

Saying "Enough"

Hi all, it's another Mimi update from her Boswell. Some of you have been inquiring by email about Mimi's status - many apologies for the delay in responding and in updating this blog. It's been a busy week around here with family visiting from Florida and a friend visiting from New York. Next week will bring more family from New Jersey. How wonderful that loved ones are making the pilgrimage from near and far!

Many of our Seattle friends, along with thousands of Kadampas from around the world, are making another kind of pilgrimage: they're on a spiritual holiday at Manjushri Centre in England, attending the International Summer Festival that occurs every year at about this time. Local friends who aren't at Summer Festival this year are putting in extra hours to help out with cleaning and other chores, or just to be present while Mimi rests so that Richard can take a break. A friend who has experience with caring for a loved one on hospice calls these "respite visits." It's been so helpful for Richard to have this assistance - thank you, amazing friends! Your gift of cherishing is so precious.

As of the last report about ten days ago, Mimi's energy was good and she had been receiving up to five visitors a day. More recently, her energy levels have waned a bit and, outside of the respite visits, we've reduced her schedule to about two visitors per day. The remainder of the time she's been spending in bed to rest up and charge her batteries for the next visit. She's been spending more time sleeping and her appetite has decreased. Then Kadam Heather came up yesterday from Portland to spend the night here, and it was such an energizing visit for Mimi! Today Heather presided over Offering to Spiritual Guide right by Mimi's bedside so that Mimi could rest when she needed to during the two-hour puja. We coordinated with some friends at Manjushri Centre and timed the puja so that we were all making prayers at the same time. It was magical! Email me at rebecca.lafond@gmail.com if you'd like to see pictures.

Mimi's physical state is going through ups and downs, but her mind, as usual, stays peaceful and positive. As you might remember from her previous blogs, Mimi considers her experience with cancer as an opportunity to receive daily teachings on samsara's true nature. She views suffering and difficulty as gifts that help us to become deeply familiar with our real situation. Mimi has written that her approach to adversity is "not just to welcome it, but to thank it for being there, showing honestly the face of samsara, rather than the mask, which fools me into thinking there's some real pleasure here. I don't want to hang out in this impure world. I don't want temporary pleasures to hook me into believing they're what's going to make my life happy." If you want to read more of her thoughts about how deceptive samsara can be, and about renunciation, samsara's antidote, see this blog post (especially the last paragraph). It will blow your mind.

Send emails, post comments - it's wonderful to hear from you!

Friday, July 15, 2016

To Contentment and Beyond

Hello Friends of Mimi,

Boswell here.  All of your love and wishes are coming through and are deeply appreciated.  Mimi is still looking over her email occasionally so she has seen your kind messages.  In Mimi's own words from a post last April: "I deeply appreciate your prayers for me. You can see that they work. Makes it so easy to have faith."  As always, please feel free to add a comment to this blog post, send a reply message to Mimi, or email me at rebecca.lafond@gmail.com.

Just wanted to give you an update on Mimi's current state of health.  As a background, here's a wrap-up of the last 7 years of Mimi's cancer adventure in one sentence: she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent treatment; has had chemo on and off to address recurring abdominal tumors; had a metastasis to the brain a few years ago and was treated with surgery, radiation and chemo; and was most recently advised by her doctor that curative care is no longer an option.  And so she is now on hospice and preparing for a peaceful death.  The tumors in Mimi's abdomen are growing noticeably, and a recent brain scan indicates that she has cancerous lesions on the meninges of the brain, also known as leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, carcinomatous meningitis, and a host of other long-syllabled medical terms.  The brain cancer causes inflammation, so Mimi is once again taking a steroid called dexamethasone to keep the swelling down.  She's written about taking this medication in previous blog posts - it's the one that makes her really talkative, energetic and HUNGRY!  We can maybe consider these side effects to be a blessing as she has been receiving many visitors from near and far, and she has sufficient energy to engage in conversation.  She's also eating really well which is helping her to keep up her strength.  Many friends are bringing food to share during their visits - in fact, we're expecting Sally with dinner any minute now.  It's a gift for Mimi (and for us all) for her to be able to share these moments with friends and family.  The last few days have brought a poetry reading (Lynn Ann), an industrious cleaning of the master bedroom (Linda L), a tidying up of the garden (Linda S), and many kind and friendly ears to listen to Mimi's thoughts about the end of her life (Heather, Brian, Laurie, Eve, Kit, Noreen).  As the weekend approaches, her social calendar continues to be full and family arrives on Monday morning.

Anyway, to continue the "state of the union" regarding Mimi's current health situation, she's on a transdermal patch to control pain, two medications for nausea, and a variety of other meds to deal with the side effects of the main medications.  As we all know from our interactions with Mimi, she's an amazing example of practicing contentment in the face of adversity.  In a post from January of this year she wrote, "Thankfully I know my body is *not* "me," so I am still happy … and hope you are too."  It's an inspiration to witness how her positive habits of mind continue to sustain her happiness, even as she encounters these challenges.  May we all have such courage and strength!

The brain cancer, the many years of chemotherapy drugs, and the current medications are causing unavoidable cognitive decline.  About this phenomenon, she said in a post from June 2015 that, "my mind is good, my brain not so much."  She seems to lose a little bit of energy each day and yet she's a gracious hostess, always looking after the comfort of her guests.  I'll end this post with her expression of gratitude from a couple of years ago:
"Thank you, Buddha.
Thank you, Sangha.
Thank you to everyone who's been making prayers and offering good thoughts."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In the Spirit of Family

Hi everyone,

Rebecca (aka Boswell) here.  Thank you all so much for your emails and blog comments to Mimi.  Some of you have received replies from her in the last couple of days. Sunday brought a harrowing trip to the emergency room to deal with unexpected and brutal head pain, combined with nausea and pretty much constant vomiting.  In the face of that recent challenge, Mimi has kept a strong interest in maintaining connections with her Kadampa family and all her friends around the world.  Please keep your messages coming - you can comment here, email Mimi directly or send messages to my email address rebecca.lafond@gmail.com.

The excellent and expert care that Mimi received at the Swedish Ballard ER on Sunday contributed to a surprisingly pain-free, festive and fun Monday.  It was a day full of love and life.  Mimi's friend Kate is about halfway through her 10-day visit and has been providing invaluable support in the form of organizing, cleaning, shopping and attending to all kinds of tasks and decisions.  Yesterday was also punctuated with early visits from friends Liz and Gayle, then fly-bys from Ellen and Katherine.  Mimi has been having so much fun engaging her friends in conversation and jokes!  (One of her medications has the bonus side effect of making her very talkative, giving us the opportunity to enjoy her quirky, one-of-a-kind humor.)  One of Mimi's many passions is literature, and she has a wonderful collection of classic novels.  She's hoping that all of her friends and family who visit have an opportunity to look over her "please take" books and choose one or more that appeal to them.  (I heard that Katherine left with a few ;)  The evening was a festival of pure delight with delicious homemade gnocchi from Marie, accompanied by lovely music from Mel.  We were singing, reminiscing and enjoying the atmosphere of love and family, when Richard was inspired to play this song by Dar Williams.  "Let your love cover me / Like a pair of angel wings / You are my family / You are my family."  There were more than a few happy tears, please give the song a listen if you have a chance.  You might not have been here in person, but because your love for Mimi is so strong and present, you were definitely here in spirit.

Today started with a visit from Marsha who chatted with Mimi for a while then went out to the backyard with Richard to pick the abundance of greens that are taking over the garden.  Some of these fresh greens contributed to our lunch - yum!  The afternoon took on a business-like atmosphere, although there were still plenty of jokes - we were visited by an intake nurse from Providence Hospice.  Hospice is an amazing service and has many hidden good qualities.  It's meant for people with "life-limiting illnesses who are no longer seeking curative treatment" (quoted, not quite exactly, from the FAQs at the link above).  Many people think of hospice as applicable only during the final days of life, and only meant to keep the patient as comfortable as possible, but it's so much more than that.  Hospice provides weeks and even months of nursing support, hospital equipment and supplies delivered to the home, medications, doctor liaison services, home health aides, social services including end-of-life decision assistance, volunteer house-cleaners and errand-runners, and chaplain visits should the patient choose to have them.  It's a system of comprehensive support that allows the patient to direct, as much as possible, the circumstances surrounding their own death.  Hospice care is designed to make the death process as peaceful as possible for the dying person, which according to Buddhist practice, is crucial for the process of transference of consciousness.  Hospice also provides invaluable support and guidance to the friends and family of the patient - the compassion and love are shining right through the booklets and documents we received!  And, get this, hospice services are covered 100% by Medicare and by most private health care plans.  The support of hospice care is going to be such a blessing in the coming days and weeks.  The first delivery of supplies has already arrived at the front door.

The next few days will bring more visits with Seattle friends, Mimi's sister flying in from Florida accompanied by Richard's brother and sister-in-law, and Kadam Heather visiting from Portland.  What a loving extended family we have!  Thank you for being part of it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Introducing Rebecca LaFond

of whom I am very fond ...
She is my "Boswell"

She's going to be writing updates if you want health updates.

----------------------

Hi all, Rebecca here.  Mimi wrote the above a couple of days ago when she was feeling fairly energetic.  Since then she's had a trip to the ER to deal with pain and nausea, is now at home resting comfortably.  She will probably be going into hospice this week, and has the intention to stay at home.  Mimi is looking forward to receiving visits from local friends and from far away friends if you'd like to make arrangements.  Please be sure to email me at the address below if you'd like to plan a visit - emails to Mimi's and Richard's email addresses are less likely to be attended to.  I will pass along your email wishes and comments on this blog to Mimi, so please keep them coming.

Please email me with YOUR NAME in the subject line if you'd like to schedule a visit. rebecca.lafond@gmail.com

As you know, Mimi has a deep interest in English literature and is very articulate and wonderful with metaphor - unfortunately for those of you reading this blog, I'm of a more scientific, linear nature.  As an insight into Mimi's mind, see this link to see what she means by calling me her "Boswell".  He's an 18th century writer who documented his subject's doings continuously, and made them look good in the process.  It's hard for me not to make Mimi look good - she's such an inspiration!  I hope you all get a chance to interact with her in some way in the upcoming days.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Let It Snow ....

Why is that out-of-season song in my head at the moment? I DO have a place to go - an important place - I just don't know yet where.

This former English major has also been thinking about those lines from T.S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of Alfred Proofrock, " ... and in short, I was afraid." But actually I'm not. ...
Maybe just too dumb for that : )
Something better than nothing? Or are you one of those "no news is good news" folks?
(Sorry.)

Maybe soon a more reasonable person will be posting updates here.


Mainly I wanted to thank you all for the outpouring of support and love, to which I cannot reply with what you deserve. This is the best I can do right now. Accept ... or unsubscribe : )

~M

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Beginning ...

... of the End

You may remember one of my favorite jokes, by the deadpan comedian Steven Wright, who says, "I plan to live forever ... [pause] ... so far, so good."
Well, that plan isn't going to work much longer for me.

Best to use this post to generate compassion - for everyone, which early on I learned also includes me (that is, you!). From there, as Buddha teaches, widen your scope from those closest and dearest to you - say, family and friends - eventually to all living beings, and not just humans and furry animals.
I find that reading or hearing about intense suffering around the world, day by day in the news, really helps. Looking back at history also helps. Gives me a broader view, for one.

Mostly my cancer story over the past 7+ years is filled with extraordinary surprises that I attribute to Buddhism and to your support and prayers. I see even conventional doctors as a form of Medicine Buddha, and their treatments as medicines that ultimately come from him. All those special medical specialists have been amazed when I've defied their expectations again and again.

But last week's Brain MRI scan wasn't what would usually be described as good. I'm getting closer to my actual "expiration date." Mostly things are headed downward, probably faster than in the past. Happy to supply details if you want them and I can (increasing brain problems have prevented me for updating you as often as I'd like).

Please think especially of R, who is so important to me, in far more ways than I can describe here. It's easy to see the karma in his connection to me. After all, no normal  person would be spending so much time with me, over years and years : )
He has it much worse than I do: I'm like the person going on a trip, having to leave other loved ones at home.
Only this time, in a while, you won't see or hear me again in this form. I'm like that actor playing a role for a time, then moving on to another role, on a different stage - hopefully the gorgeous one of a heavenly place, such as Keajra, where there is no suffering, only goodness for all.

I'm in a good place, deeply grateful for all the kinds of support. Glad to know that my body (including my brain) has a relationship to my mind, but that my heart (or "soul" if you like) will be going onward. Again, I'll say that Buddhist ideas are deeply comforting to me. Notably karma and death, of all things!



Peace. Love and Compassion to All,
Mimi