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."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Working on Another Comeback

I am still on a break from chemo, having had a "stable" brain MRI a couple of weeks ago. Over the last 2 months off chemo, I've noticed improvements in my brain, such as better memory (a small notebook helps with that too). I also have more mental energy to be able to work on more than one project a day (whoo hoo - amazing, huh?). After a bigger day, I know I'll need to take off the next one. I continue to hope & pray that this improvement continues, until at some point I'll be back on chemo. Probably that will be the same chemo I was on, which didn't have too many side effects, but did add to the cumulative effects of chemo over 6+ years. That chemo, called Gemzar, was helping, but it didn't put me in remission - I'm only off chemo because my oncologist recognized I needed a break. I expect that when I'm on chemo again, in the next month or two or three, it will cause a bit more "brain damage", as one of my MDs called it. But my brain will be starting from a higher place.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Interdependence Day!

In the U.S. the 4th of July holiday celebrates the new country's independence from England, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776. That document has the memorable line, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (Note that it doesn't say "happiness," only the seeking of it.)

Interdependence is worth contemplating. I know it's profound, but don't ask me how.

In the spirit of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, I'm plagiarizing myself with the text of an email. Apologies to those who've already read this.

For years now I've been thinking about how to rely on Sangha. Of the 3 Jewels, I found that one the hardest to understand in a day-to-day way. A Sangha member used to say, "How can you rely on Sangha when they're so unreliable?" - as all of us are to some degree. I've thought about that a lot and asked various Teachers about it. Gen Samten of KMC NY told me in a notably short but meaningful answer, "with wisdom - not like a child with a parent." Unpacking the depth of that takes years.
As Americans we typically don't want to ask for help, as it seems like weakness, and our pride does not like that. You have to give up the idea you are an independent entity who can take care of her/himself. Needless to say, I am happy to ask others for help.
I deeply know how prayers help. I believe in them. I don't think I would be here without them.
Prayers are the best way to support me.
In addition, I may ask you for other forms of support. For example, if I haven't already asked you for a ride, I may ask sometime in the future ...  just to show an example of reliance on Sangha : )
How do you rely on Sangha?
Good to think about and talk about with others, or even reply to in email. That itself is a form of reliance.

Friday, July 3, 2015

I Had the Best Dream

In the dream, a bunch of Sangha friends came to my house and sang chanted prayers and recited the Heart Sutra. It was glorious. Obstacles were definitely removed, blessings definitely received.
A person called Mel had apparently organized it all and played DJ.
All the Buddhas were there, with the female wisdom Buddha Prajnaparamita in the starring role.
It was powerful, like sweeping with a broom rather than just a single broomstick.
Even though it was hot, everyone seemed to go away even happier than they arrived.

A normal person would say that really happened.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Mind & My Brain

Executive Summary: My mind is good, my brain not so much.
An aside: Does that make you think about the relationship between the two? I believe I've written about that subject in a previous post.

Narrative: My tumor marker has been in the normal range for a few months, which made me hopeful that my CT scan (which my oncologist kindly scheduled 2 months from the previous one, whereas usually all my scans are 3 months out) would be so good that I could be off chemo for the summer. The CT was not bad - there are no new tumors - but a few existing ones have gotten slightly larger.
However, my brain has not been working well in various ways for some months now, and recently dipped below the line where I feel comfortable driving.

Upshot: My doctor recognized that, between the 20 whole-brain radiations I got in 2011 and all the chemo I've had over 6+ years, my brain needed a break, even though there's a higher risk that the tumors will get much larger or even metastasize without chemo. I'll be under close monitoring and will get my brain MRI in another month (3 months out), as usual. I'm very comfortable with this plan. I was already hoping the CT results would be good enough to get a bit of a break, even if I wasn't completely "clean." It would have been a much tougher decision if the results were worse.

I am still happy with the treatment decisions I've made, feeling they've helped keep me alive. For example, you don't get whole-brain radiation unless there are no other good options. My approach to the cancer has continued to be a combination of Eastern and Western medicine. As you have read here in the blog, none of it is separate from my Buddhist practice. When off chemo, the alternative options open up; for example, antioxidants and other naturopathic remedies can be taken, more acupuncture points become feasible and more parts of the body are safe for massage.
I have a bunch of appointments that I previously didn't have the time or energy for. After a long time I want to the dentist and found out I didn't have to pay a high price for taking poor care of my teeth: No cavities! Today I am getting the eye exam I haven't had in years, and a kind Sangha member is driving me there and back. Tomorrow is my naturopath/acupuncturist, and I have more massages in my future ... and more rides with Sangha.
To lessen the burden on them, I'll take the bus when the route isn't too complicated or long.

There have been times I've felt like I had "brain damage," but that seemed exaggerated until a brain doctor used that very term. My thinking is slower and sometimes seems to slow to a halt: I find myself "zoned out," staring at a landscape as a stone would. (Not being able to react as quickly as usual is one of the reasons I don't feel safe driving.) Whatever few navigational skills I had seem to be gone. My memory, which has never been a strong point, is worse than ever: I'll find myself in a room but forget what task I'm there for, from just a moment before. Anyway, I could describe my brain deficits in more detail, but I am hopeful a month or two or three off chemo will bring my brain closer back to where it was. Acceptance was a main practice, as I was recognizing I was no longer who I thought I was. I was pleasantly surprised that transition didn't take nearly as long as I thought it would. Part of my self-image was a certain level of intelligence. Imagine what it's like to lose let's say 20 points off your IQ. (I have no idea what my IQ is or was.)

... which partly explains why it has taken me so long to post this update.

Have a good Summer.

Monday, June 22, 2015

This Is Not a ...

When I was at US Festival this year, I woke up thinking about that Magritte painting known as "This Is Not a Pipe" in English, which includes its caption as part of the picture. When it is pointed out, we think, "Of course, it's not a pipe - it's a painting of a pipe."
Most Magritte works I know of play with appearances.
But that image does remind me of the assumptions I make.

Do we have that recognition of the ultimate nature of the things we see or perceive?
I decided to take that painting as a teaching on emptiness, trying to recognize every form I saw as a hallucination: This is not a pipe, it is an illusion of a pipe; this is not a park, it's a hallucination of a park, etc. I find that a new and fun way to remind myself of emptiness as I go through my day.

This weekend, at the Northwest Dharma Celebration with Gen Rigpa, he used the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle, where KMC Washington is, as an example of emptiness, by asking, "Where is Ballard?" Which worked really well for me, in part because people have different ideas of its size: for example is the Sunset Hill area a sub-neighborhood of Ballard or a stand-alone neighborhood?
Also, driving around Ballard, you'll see cars with a "Free Ballard" bumper-sticker, because Ballard used to be its own town, before being annexed by Seattle. Ballard's character has also changed a lot from those days. When I arrived in Seattle 20+ years ago, Ballard was known as a place of Scandinavians and seniors. They don't recognize it anymore: That's not the Ballard I know. Now it's getting tall buildings with expensive rents. With all the construction, it's become prohibitively expensive for many current and would-be residents.
Where does Ballard end and Fremont to the SE begin? I remember when we were looking to buy a house, and the fuzzy area in between those two had nicknames like Fre-lard.
Rigpa also noted that some people would point to a place on a map, but he said, "That's not Ballard - it's a map of Ballard!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Drafting My Obituary

We know we're going to die but believe it will be in the distant future. In truth, it may happen much sooner. It may seem harsh to bring up that reality - I'm not trying to ruin your day - but it's one of the main way Buddhists make their lives meaningful right now, and overcome our procrastination, waiting for retirement to do the things that are important to us. In meditation, after repeatedly considering "I may die today," we focus on the feeling that arises. As with all our Lamrim (Stages of the Path to Enlightenment) meditations, we carry our sitting meditation into our daily life.

Some of you have heard me suggest one meditation-break activity for this meditation is to write a will and an advance directive. It's a kindness for those you leave behind, whether you have a lot of resources or not. You can spell out all your wishes about what kind of medical care you want or don't want when you're "actively dying," as well as what you want done with your body after you're done with it. More importantly, that activity shows you have more than an intellectual understanding that something could kill you today, even if you're young and healthy. Think of a car accident or a natural disaster, for example.

I wasn't going to have an obituary, but now I'm thinking that composing one would be another meditation-break practice, whether it's published or not. I often read the obituaries in our local paper, particularly for younger people, as another way of remembering death. Writing my own forces me to think about what I've done with my life.

I don't want the usual format. You know the one I mean. For fun, I made it into a kind of MadLibs (MadObits?):

_________ [full name of person] who was born in _____ [4-digit number] was _________ [3 superlative adjectives]. She attended _________ [President's name, of any country] High School, then _________ [name of state, in any country] University. _________ [first name of person from line 1] went on to become a _________ [adverb] _________ [job] and raised _________ [number] of kids, some of whom were named _________ [noun] and _________ [noun]. She was _________ [past-tense verb] by all who crossed her path, unless she was in a _________ [adjective] mood.
In lieu of flowers, buy yourself something _________ [adjective].

I do want people to hear how much Kadampa Buddhist teachings and meditations helped me in my adventures with cancer. I'd like to add the URL for our local Temple.

R and I recently saw a exhibit called "Terminal" where some of the photos of dying or deceased people were washed out or blurry. I wasn't planning to have a photo with my obit, but I would consider having one like that, or a blurry  black and white drawing of me.
I'm also tempted to say I'm "survived by friends and family ... and you."

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Cancerversay

Today I'm celebrating living 6 years with advanced cancer, and even a brain metastasis. I like to think of it as an adventure.
As this blog documents, practicing Kadampa Buddhism has made an enormous difference. (I was supposed to be gone a while ago.)
I deeply appreciate your prayers for me. You can see that they work. Makes it so easy to have faith.

You may recall that I was on the targeted drug, a non-chemo delivered like chemo, called "Avastin," for about 9 months. Since it stopped working this Feb, I've been on a gem of a chemo called "Gemzar." (It is actually pronounced like the word "gem.") It's working: My tumor marker has plummeted!
Its main side effect has been fatigue that often causes me to sleep 12 hours a night and to lie on the couch for my waking hours. My "commute" these days is mostly from the bed to the couch. The fatigue is mental as well as physical, so even talking takes a lot of my energy. It's like having just a few drops of gas in the car: Most days I have to be very careful how I spend my limited energy.

A huge Thank You also to Richard, who does all kinds of things to make my life easier - too many to list here. He has great patience for me when my brain damage manifests as stupid thinking or memory lapses.

I have plans to be at US Festival later this month and hope to see you there.