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, December 16, 2010

Not for the Fainthearted

If you want to know what end-stage cancer is like for a particular person, there's a very brave woman with ovarian cancer who has a candid blog that includes photos.
It can make your death awareness very specific and help you value your precious human life.
"As for this journey of mine, they (social workers, nurses, doctors, health care workers) have all told me since I started my hospice care that I would start to notice my body shutting down. The last couple of days we have seen some really rapid changes in me from my weight to much extra skin and no muscle tone?  Where did all my muscles go?   I am starting to look like this skeleton with skin on it?  I used to be so muscular, strong, and so very athletic; now I can't really lift much and have officially hit the double digits as far as my weight is concerned (98lbs).   I was thinking that I might survive into next year but now it's seeming like Christmas might just be a  real miracle for me. ... "

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Poof! Cancer's Gone!

I was reflecting on the post an info/support ovarian-cancer website I read where a young German woman was told she had very advanced ovarian cancer, there there was nothing the doctors could do . . . and they determined the post was a prank!
Of course, my first thought was, "Who would do that? Why?"
But my next thought was that the cancer vanished! I had this sense of it just disappearing into emptiness.

We hear of spontaneous remissions. Years ago my mother was headed to surgery for a tumor in her lung, and it simply disappeared, never to come back.
We hope for cures to arrive, not without reason.
A good friend had a father with end-stage cancer; he met a doctor with an experimental treatment; and now, decades later, he's expected to die of something else.

I'm not planning my life around that scenario, but I pray for it, and it could happen - for all of us!
When you add in the power of prayer, who knows what could happen?

I am keeping this in mind this week during my Vajrasattva Retreat. If I could purify all my negative karma, the cancer would disappear. Of course, I'm not expecting that to happen in one week of retreat : )

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chemo Schedule

My first chemo treatment, of Cisplatin and Taxol, will be next Wed at the hospital. It's nice that my insurance is willing to pay for an overnight stay. Assuming all goes smoothly, the rest of the treatments will be at my oncologist's office 
I'm on retreat this week, through the end of Saturday - it's a good way to prepare. 
Obviously I'm online, and available via phone, in between sessions and work at the Temple if you can catch me. More later. 
Here's my treatment calendar online: 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Michael's Procedure is Tomorrow

Michael M is scheduled to have his promising but risky procedure tomorrow (Monday).
Please keep your prayers coming that everything will go for the best, for his sake and his family's.

Prayers for Jennifer's Baby-to-Come

Please pray for Jennifer in Florida, who's expecting to give birth in July but needs your prayers for the baby to survive.

Starting Chemo Mid-Dec

Just got off the phone with my Medical Oncologist, Kaplan, with the results of yesterday's CT scan.
The scan still showed a few small masses in my abdomen, which we already knew about. One had gotten a bit smaller, one a bit bigger - by a millimeter or 2.
We talked again about chemo, and I decided to start this month, rather than waiting until Jan.

Kaplan's approach is a bit more aggressive than my Gynecological Oncologist, Drescher. Don't take that as a knock on Drescher - I think he's an excellent doctor, with a deep understanding of ovarian cancer, and treating it with chemo. They're two different people - of course, they don't agree exactly on the timing of chemo.
Because I have a few small tumors in my abdomen that are visible on a CT scan, Kaplan is recommending starting chemo a bit sooner - although he said I could wait until after the Holidays if I wanted. I'm learning that it's one thing if your CA-125 tumor-marker blood test starts rising but they can't see anything on a scan (in which case they follow you closely), and being able to see some cancer through imaging. (We're still waiting on the results of my latest CA-125 .)

Kaplan is going to a big cancer meeting next week, so he recommended starting the following week. He said to pick a day for treatments but recommended again Fridays, because Christmas and New Year's are Saturdays. I'm guessing he was suggesting it would be harder to get hold of a doctor then if I needed one.

I'll have Cisplatin every 3 weeks and Taxol every week. His office will schedule those appointments for me.
The initial Cisplatin treatment will be given in the hospital - I'll stay overnight so that they can fill me up with fluids and monitor me. If I sail through that, the subsequent treatments will be outpatient. I don't mind going to the hospital and appreciate I don't have to fight with insurance to get that extra level of monitoring.

P.S. I got the CT scan on a Saturday, not because it was urgent, but because the office wanted the weekend business. For me, it was better to do it on the weekend than have to miss a retreat session this week. Likewise, Kaplan called me today because he's on call and wanted to get some work done before he has to leave for his conference.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More Prayers for Michael

Michael M is in the hospital - for 2-3 weeks.
His mind is peaceful. He's preparing for a procedure which could be risky. It may be tomorrow or Monday.
Please keep making prayers for him and his family: Eve, Lily, Polly and Nate.

Report from the "Tumor Spa"

Had my one radiation treatment today at a place many people compare to a spa. It was very relaxing.
Treatment room - nice, huh? (Radiation machine is out of the photo, at right.)
After the 2 Radiation Techs got me comfortably on the table, with my custom mask to keep my head in position and a nice warm blanket, they turned on Medicine Buddha so that I could listen to the prayers during treatment.
My Neurosurgeon checked the radiation plan again with my Radiation Doctor. 
The robot arm swung around my head in various positions, getting at the tumor site from different angles and distances - that part surprised me - I thought it would all be the same, but actually it varied from about 1-2' from my head. There was a quiet noise while the GammaKnife was running. Fifty minutes later I was done.

Their whole office is nicely decorated, which isn't the main thing, but it is something. The waiting room and the exam rooms are tastefully done - no sterile white here anywhere. There are even some Japanese accents. You can get a small sense of that from the photo above.
They also have an excellent selection of magazines in the waiting room. The staff is very competent and friendly. The nurses are excellent. Most of all ...
My radiation doctor is the best. I got to see her after the treatment, to talk about follow-up. I also asked her a few questions about chemo and genetic testing. At the end she gave me a hug. She could teach other docs on bedside manner. Even her "chairside manner" is very warm and positive. 
She welcomes questions and answers them clearly - I, who have many questions, really appreciate that in a doctor. In fact, I'd go to someone else if I wasn't happy with that - a luxury we have in Seattle because there are so many good doctors to choose from.

Normally they want to see you in a month, but she said if I'm doing well, a call is fine.
They'll track me every couple of months with brain MRIs (the noisy test).

The white machine at right is the the robotic GammaKnife that delivers radiation from all different angles.
Tomorrow afternoon I see my oncologist to talk about chemo. ...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gratitude and Generosity

Two of my favorite words, put together in my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.
Hope you all enjoyed your feast, in the company of treasured family and friends. I also hope you reflected on all the good things in your life and developed a wish to pass something on to others.

Now we're into the Season of Giving. Remember that you don't have to give an expensive present - you can give yourself. You can give your time, you can give your kind thoughts ...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Radiation Dec 1st Only

Got a call this morning from my Radiation Oncologist's office. My radiation will be Wed, Dec 1st, at 2pm.
It's "one-time only" - sounds like a sales brochure, doesn't it?
I'm surprised Dr. V was able to put together a plan so quickly. Maybe my case is quite straightforward.

On the Swedish hospital site, a patient referred to radiation as the "tumor spa." When I was there the other day, the tech said they have a lot of music, but I'm also welcome to bring my own. Think I'll have them play Medicine Buddha sadhana during the treatment.

Now I have to call my oncologist to plan my chemo ...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Face Mask

Before I got a CT scan and MRI of my head yesterday, I got a custom mask made. It's to keep my head in the same place for the radiation treatments.
(Please note that these scans were just for planning my radiation - the doctors were not concerned about anything new with my cancer.)
At the radiologist's office, in the same room where I'll get my actual radiation, while I was horizontal on a table, they draped a warm material on my face - it felt like rolled-out pastry dough. I read elsewhere getting it was "like a spa treatment," but I've never had a facial treatment at a spa. It cooled and firmed up very quickly, in just a minute or two, so that they could take it off and I could look at it. Because it was a lightweight, molded mesh, it reminded me of chain mail, like medieval knights wore with their armor.
Here's a picture:
When I looked it up on the Internet, I learned the mask is made of "thermoplastic."
If you want to read more, this webpage has especially good info about planning radiation:

When I got the CT scan, they put the mask over my face and attached it to a base so that my head position in the scan is exactly the same as my head position when I get my radiation treatments. (For some reason, I didn't need the mask for the MRI.)
The attendant who accompanied me from the radiologist's office to the scanning office carried my mask, attached to the board, under her arm. When I asked, she said I'd be able to take the mask home after my radiation treatments are done. Maybe I'll put it with the molds of my teeth. ...

Scans for Free!

Joke: Why do you need to pay for a scan when you can get one for free at the airport, asked a nun friend after I got an MRI and a CT scan yesterday? Ha ha ha. We're never satisfied.
a TSA photo that appeared in a NY Times article and this caption:
Body scanners using millimeter-wave and X-ray technologies have been installed in 70 airports around the country.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cancer as a Chronic Condition

Cancer can be a lot of things.

Thirteen years ago I had Stage 1 (early) breast cancer, with surgery and chemo, and it was like a walk in the park.
Before that, my Mom had breast cancer twice, then died of pancreatic cancer, which is very difficult to detect, and so it's quite deadly - they often don't find it until it's too late for surgery. Her pancreatic cancer was considered "Terminal" but obviously she survived her 2 bouts of breast cancer.

Those are two ends of the spectrum.
What I have is ovarian cancer, which is somewhere in between. People talk about it as a "chronic" condition - many women are on and off chemo - or on chemo - the rest of their lives.

You can read more about recurrent ovarian cancer here:

This is the first place I've heard the phrase "durable remission" - that would be something to wish for.

Recurrence - sometimes called "reoccurance" - is like an unwished for encore. (I didn't stand and clap for that. I was hoping it had made its final exit - those were my wishes.) To be more direct: I was initially diagnosed April of last year, officially went into remission last fall, and went out of remission this fall. Therefore, I currently have "recurrent ovarian cancer."

This blog is partly about teaching people about cancer. It used to be many people thought cancer meant death. Now more of us are understanding that's often not the case.
My Mom lost some friends because they thought she was terminal even when she wasn't - it was just too scary for them to deal with. I know that still happens to cancer patients, but I think a lot less often that it used to, now that people understand it better - not completely, but better.
Sometimes people need to be reminder cancer isn't contagious. Everybody knows that intellectually but not emotionally.

As we say in our prayers, "may we all live for a very long time."
I know I could use more time to improve my mind.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Airport Scanners - PHAIM!

In the new "full-body" scanners they're putting in at some U.S. airports, including Seattle and Houston (which we flew through to Brazil and back), they have you stand with you feet on your mark, (like in a play), and put your hands up above your head in the mudra (hand gesture) of PHAIM familiar to Vajrayogini practitioners!

Even though i have a port (aka "port-a-cath" - it's a port and a catheter, which means they can put fluids in and take them out) in my upper chest, and small plates and screws in my head (to hold a bit of my skull in place), I don't set off any airport screening devices because they're all made of titanium. Every cancer patient I've ever heard of who has a port loves it. My Mom also had one that she liked.

I've heard that the individual pat-downs they give you now can be very invasive - and that the scans are quite revealing. You can read more about that in lots of places. I don't want to turn this into a political blog. I will point out that there's better technology - developed by a U.S. company! - but so far only used abroad that is effective but less invasive: U.S. body-scan technology used by Dutch is better than ours.
And in searching for info on that, I found this piece, which made me laugh: "German body scanner protesters remove clothes at airport"- video too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More on Radiation

I have a bit more info about my upcoming "CyberKnife" radiation.
Monday morning I'll have both my planning MRI and CT scans.  I can't eat for 4 hours beforehand because they'll use contrast.
My radiation doctor will then take about a week, using those scans, to make a plan.

As always, you can see my Treatment calendar online at
(link is also in sidebar at right, underneath the Blog Archive links)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NPR: Origin Of The Word 'Cancer'

Found this interesting - maybe you will too.

"Dr. MARKEL: And he applied the Greek word karkinos, which means crab. A lot of explanations, all of them equally wonderful and all of them equally difficult to prove, but why did he use that? And if you examine a tumor, if you actually feel malignant tumor, you'll note that it's hard as a rock. And so some have explained that it reminded him of the hard shell of a crab. But others have said it may remind him of - may have reminded him of the pain that a malignant tumor induces. It's much like the sharp pinch of a crab's claw. And an even better version is that it suggests the tenacity with which, you know, a crab bites you..."

Another Excellent Writer on Cancer - Dana Jennings

For example, there's "With Cancer, Let’s Face It: Words Are Inadequate" from March:
"... I sometimes think of cancer as a long and difficult journey, a quest out of Tolkien, or a dark waltz — but never a battle. How can it be a battle when we patients are the actual battleground? We are caught in the middle, between our doctors and their potential tools of healing and the cell-devouring horde.

We become a wasteland, at once infested by the black dust of cancer and damaged by the “friendly fire” of treatment. And ordinary language falls far short of explaining that keen sense of oblivion.

As a patient, it’s hard to articulate how being seriously ill feels. In a profound way, we are boiled down to our essential animal selves. We crave survival. We long for pain to end, for ice chips on parched lips, for the brush of a soft hand.

It pays to have a positive outlook, I think, but that in no way translates to 'fighting' cancer. Cancer simply is. You can deny its presence in your body, cower at the thought or boldly state that you’re going to whup it. But the cancer does not care. You’re here, the cancer has arrived, and the disease is going to feed until your doctors destroy it or, at least, discourage it.

Then there’s the matter of bravery. We call cancer patients 'brave,' perhaps, because the very word cancer makes most of us tremble in fear. But there is nothing brave about showing up for surgery or radiation sessions. Is a tree brave for still standing after its leaves shrivel and fall? Bravery entails choice, and most patients have very little choice but to undergo treatment. ..."

If you like this writing, you can find more at

Religion Is Like Ballet

“Believing that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world   . . . is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.”

"Miss Manners and the Big C"

A new piece written by Christopher Hitchens, who can be very funny.

I think any patient who's ever had someone - a stranger, a family member, a friend - say something inappropriate to them will enjoy it and maybe even laugh. Hitchens is a very good writer - which isn't the same as saying I agree with him on everything. (He's very opinionated and very outspoken about his opinions.)

I'm tempted to quote the whole piece, to entice you to read it. Instead I'll pick out something short:
"I’ll do the facing of hard facts, thanks. Don’t you be doing it, too."

OK, and this too:
"It’s normally agreed that the question “How are you?” doesn’t put you on your oath to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like “A bit early to say.” (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, “I seem to have cancer today.”) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of “life” when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite; the equally nasty double cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose. Sorry, but you did ask ..."

Here's the main point:
"As the populations of Tumortown and Wellville continue to swell and to 'interact,' there’s a growing need for ground rules that prevent us from inflicting ourselves upon one another."

I started another periodic blog, at, to help suggest some "ground rules" (see the post titled "A List of Basic Do's and Don'ts") because people often mean well but don't quite know what to say or how to help.
The blog also has "Favorite Funny Films."

Don't worry about offending me - you can say whatever you like to me. I can deflect it if need be, but I don't expect the need.
But I have heard a lot of cancer patients talk about being offended, so if I can help a bit ...

P.S. As I was almost done with writing this, Richard came by and mentioned that Hitchens has written more about his cancer - including this: "Tropic of Cancer" at

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Body as a PET scan, MRI scan, CT scan ...

Going back in time, to things I haven't had a chance to cover yet ...

In Buddhism, as part of our meditation on emptiness, we do a search for our body. When we search with wisdom, our body disappears - but most of the time we search with ignorance. We think we've found our actual body, but we're only finding parts of our body.
It struck me when I was getting all these tests that these machines doing conventional searches for my body could only find parts of my body. For example, a PET scan can only detect metabolic activity.

Let's see if I can remember which scan was which ...
MRI Scan
An MRI is painless but noisy, even with earplugs in. 
But the noises! They're individualized for each person and each test. 
Imagine a minute or two for each mix of strange sounds. For me, there was a bit with someone knocking on a wood board, then a call-and-response bit, then an excerpt from a neighbor with a powerdrill.
If you've heard of anything by Philip Glass, put a bit of that in.
Here's a link to a picture of an MRI machine, complete with sounds:
Because it's so noisy, to say something to the tech (who's in another room), they give you a "bulb" with a cord if you need to alert them - the bulb is like the soft, plastic thing that a nurse pumps to check your blood pressure.
Here's a bit more about them: "Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and radio waves - the machine scans the body by turning small magnets on and off. MRI machines look like a big doughnut that has a large magnet inside a circular structure. You lie down face-up in your gown on a table that slides into the opening of the magnet."
MRI of my brain

Tumor is dark round spot at left (my right - you're looking at me from my feet)
PET Scan
Thankfully there's nothing to drink - but they inject you with a glucose "tracer" solution with an enormous metal syringe - which they bring in a metal toolbox(!); it goes into an IV line, not directly into your body. Then they rush you to the machine, because the radiative solution starts to decay as soon as it's injected.

When you're done, they give you a letter so that you can cross the border with radioactivity in your body.

A PET scan is very expensive, so your health insurance needs to OK it beforehand. (Must be that color costs extra - ha ha.)

In other ways, it's like getting a CT scan or an MRI - you wear a gown, take off your jewelry, lie face-up on a table before you're put into the device ...

PET scan of my brain
CT Scan
I've had a bunch of these ...
A CT scan "combines a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the bones and soft tissues inside your body. The resulting images can be compared to a loaf of sliced bread." according to the WebMD website,

For an abdominal CT, I couldn't eat beforehand.

They injected my port with contrast material.
You have to be still, but the tech talks to you between shots (there's a speaker in the "donut" where you can hear them, and they can hear you).

That open spot on the left is where my tumor was before surgery

I was originally diagnosed last year using ultrasound plus the tumor-marker bloodtest, a CA-125.
You may have seen ultrasounds of a fetus developing - it's like static-ky black & white TV, and you don't know what you're looking at if the tech won't tell you - which they don't usually do, but thankfully did in my case. ("See that spot - it's not supposed to be there.")
My pelvic ultrasound - who knows what it shows (do I see a cat resting? no, that can't be right ...)
Here's a webpage with good info about ultrasounds:
I liked this part of the explanation:
"Ultrasound imaging is based on the same principles involved in the sonar used by bats, ships and fishermen. When a sound wave strikes an object, it bounces back, or echoes. By measuring these echo waves it is possible to determine how far away the object is and its size, shape, and consistency (whether the object is solid, filled with fluid, or both).
In medicine, ultrasound is used to detect changes in appearance of organs, tissues, and vessels or detect abnormal masses, such as tumors."

I got CDs that have images from all my scans. What's really fun is to look at each loaf of bread, slice by slice, which the software that comes on  each CD lets you do - click the mouse to move from one slice to the next. These pictures are just the beginning of the fun you can have when you're a sick person - I mean, a patient.

NYT: When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays

I'm sure a lot of you have read about this recent research.
I like this particular article in the New York Times ( because of the accompanying art, as well as the writing ("Wherever your mind went — the South Seas, your job, your lunch, your unpaid bills — that daydreaming is not likely to make you as happy as focusing intensely on the rest of this column will." Ha ha.)

The conclusion is what all our meditation teachers have been telling us from the beginning: You're happier when you focus, and that we all have a strong tendency toward negative thoughts.

"'Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,' [one researcher] Mr. Killingsworth says, 'that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.'
Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing...."

Also note there's an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness that the researchers used.

Update on Radiation

I got a call this morning that the insurance approval came in.
Next step: Scheduling both an MRI and a CT scan for planning - they want "fresh" ones, even though I've had a bunch of them already.
Then I'll get a short series of treatments of targeted radiation - probably the week after Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"It's Not About the Bike" (It's About the Name?)

Several weeks ago I read Lance Armstrong's inspiring book about cancer called "It's Not About the Bike." Mostly I was impressed with his determination, not just to get well from advanced cancer, but even to ride competitively again. He's done a lot for cancer patients, cancer research and cancer awareness.

And yet, I couldn't help noticing the advantages of celebrity: Because of his famous name, doctors would see him immediately, even on weekends.
When I was calling doctor's offices and not getting appointments, I would remember that old joke:
You're at the front desk of a hotel that says there aren't any available rooms.
So you ask, "If the President came, would there be a room for him?"
The desk clerk says, "Yes, we'd find him a very nice room."
And you say, "Great, I'll take his room!" Ha ha.

I never said this - but was very tempted - to ask those doctors' schedulers who claimed there were no slots available:
"If Lance  Armstrong needed an appointment tomorrow, would you put him on the calendar?"
Based on his book and common sense, I imagine them saying, "Yes, of course."
So I say, "Great, give me his slot!" Ha ha.

In Buddhism, one of the ways we talk about reality is that it is "mere name," meaning that things exist through naming, through labeling by the mind. (If this is new to you, read Modern Buddhism by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, which has the clearest explanation of emptiness - or ultimate truth - that I have ever heard.)

Some of our names are more mere than others. (I'm not a "big name.")

P.S. My Skype name contains "Mere" (pronounced by non-Buddhists like "Merry).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Five Wishes

Speaking of dying ...
This is one of the best resources I've seen for considering and planning your death. Even though I have some legal documents, I haven't written down all my wishes.

Here's a 12-page sample of their doc
from their website,

As Kadampa Buddhists we mediate, "I may die today," but how many of us believe it?
I have to remind myself I'm not necessarily going to die of cancer - there are so many ways my bubble-like body can be pierced. For me, reading and thinking about the specifics of my death helps make it more real.

A Final Cocoon: Dying at Home

From the NY Times, a story about people dying at home, the importance of smells, art, control, and hospice care.
For those of you who work with art supplies, please note that one man profiled died of liver disease he attributes to chemicals he used on his artwork.
I especially like this part:
"She said to me, ‘I’m dying.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘How long can you stay?’ I said, ‘Deb, I’m staying till the fat lady sings, and she’s only humming now."

I hope reading this piece aids your death meditation, helping it sink in and contemplating your own death and dying, and for generating compassion.

Tomorrow in Seattle we have our monthly powa and will dedicate for everyone who died in the last month, including Eliott, the young Kadampa who recently died in the waters of Brazil.

Note also this article describes a man whose body stayed at rest in his house for 3 days, which is a very Buddhist way to pass. It's something I need to look into for Seattle.

The Big "C"

Ok - the title is a bit of a tease. Usually when people refer to the Big C, they mean Cancer. Here I'm talking about the common Cold.
Yesterday that's what I had - congestion in the front of my face and a sore throat - not even a particularly bad cold. I felt worse than I ever did from my surgeries, abdominal and brain. You feel lousy when your head is fuzzy. The sore throat I could deal with.
Of course, that's just my experience. I wouldn't want you to think no one with cancer suffers.
But I'd also like you to get a sense of how little pain or discomfort I had from my cancer treatment.

Mostly I don't want people to fear Cancer. If you have spiritual refuge, you will deal with it the same way you deal with the many other awful things that happen in samsara.

As Buddhist practitioners. Geshe-la suggests we should fear our delusions more than we fear cancer, because cancer is just of this life. Isn't that a wild concept? I'm not quite there yet, but I like to remind myself: You should  be more scared of your irritation, your annoyance, your clinging to people and things ... .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Radiation Plan: Cyberknife

Richard & I met with my Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Sandy Vermeulen to talk about what kind of treatment I should have. She took a lot of time with us, describing a few options and answering all our questions. In the end, it sounds like CyberKnife is the better choice, because of the size of my former tumor; GammaKnife was another possibility.
I'll probably have 3-5 treatments over a few days - the radiation team needs more info first.

If you're interested, there's lots of great info about the CyberKnife here, including a nice video:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Favorite Funny Movies

A while ago, I asked a bunch of you to recommend comedies that made you laugh.
Eventually I'll put together something more coherent, but in the meantime, the raw list is here:
Feel free to send more ideas.

When I have time, I'd like that blog to have more info about how to help a friend who's sick, whether they have a bad cold, a new baby or cancer.

My thinking on the movies was that if you'd like to help someone who's sick - even if you don't know them very well - you could offer to rent them a funny movie and maybe food. If you don't cook, you could ask them what they'd like for takeout. Sometimes calling just a day ahead with a specific offer is helpful.
More to come.

Monday, November 8, 2010

More Prayers Needed

Please continue to pray for:
* Kees, who is still in the hospital; but thankfully is out of the Emergency Room
* Michael M, who is home from the hospital, but the doctors don't know what's happening with him
* Sally C, who is in pain but the doctors don't know why yet
* Lekmo, who is visiting the doctor again about her infection
Elliot Deslandes, the Kadampa boy who was swept away by a wave in Brazil after Festival; for news stories, see 

Radiation in a Couple Weeks, Then Chemo

When I talked to my oncologist Kaplan last week, he said I'd have radiation first, then chemo later. He said it would take 2-3 weeks to get everything arranged for radiation - in part, because my insurance would need to approve it, even though it's standard treatment for any kind of brain tumor.
First I need to set up an appointment with a Radiation Oncologist, because only she'll be able to say how many treatments I need and whether to use GammaKnife or CyberKnife radiation technology.
Here's more info about radiation treatment, from the Swedish webiste: 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Navigating the Medical System

I found that trying to get an appointment at the University of Washington Medical Center, as a patient of the Swedish system, was like trying to visit a foreign country. It was slow and bureaucratic, when I needed to move fast to get my tumor out.
I'm not saying it's the UW's fault - I suspect people who are in the UW system have a similarly hard time trying to see a doctor at Swedish.
What happened was I was trying to get an appointment with a highly regarded neurosurgeon for brain tumors at the UW. I talked to the doctor's scheduler directly 4 times before he told me the doctor was out of town all week. The scheduler also said they needed my medical records before they'd even make an appointment with me; when I arranged for my oncologist's office to fax the records ASAP, he complained that they were sending too many pages!
I also tried to get a second opinion with an ovarian oncologist at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (which is a partnership of the UW and Fred Hutchinson Research Center) who was highly recommended by a friend of a friend. It is considered part of the UW system - that is, not part of Swedish. Again, they wanted my medical records, and it took them a while to call back. Again, I wanted to see one of their "top docs." She had a full calendar, so I was offered an appointment with a colleague, which I declined. Many days later I was offered an appointment with the top doc, by which time I didn't need it anymore.

If you ever need medical care, I hope this is helpful background for you. I feel as though I should give some tips but am not sure what to suggest. To get the fastest care, you'll probably need to stay within your "system."
What you really need is prayers - plus persistence.

I am very fortunate to have good (but expensive) health insurance with Regence. I know specifically that made a difference when I needed a PET scan, which needed insurance approval because it costs a lot of money. Someday healthcare in the US will be more like in Europe and the rest of the developed world, where it's not an issue what kind of health insurance you have, because everyone is covered.
At the Brazil Festival, English and German friends just shook their heads when I said something about the American health system - to them it seems so backward.

In Seattle we are very fortunate to have all these excellent doctors. You could say an "embarrassment of riches"; maybe I should be embarrassed at complaining : )

As it turned out, everything was good at Swedish. You could say I have karma with the doctors there. I'd also say everyone's prayers removed obstacles I had getting to see the doctors I was meant to see, in a timely way. Prayers to the rescue again!

Tumor Marker Down

Yesterday I got the results of my "CA-125" blood test, which is a marker for how much ovarian cancer I have in my system. 
It's down to 43.7, from 61. It's still above normal (20 or less), but much lower than when I was diagnosed (it was in the 900s), and I've read of many women with ovarian cancer whose number is in the thousands.
This is good news!

Later today I see my medical oncologist, Dr. Kaplan, who is going to coordinate all my care. My ovarian oncologist, Dr. Drescher, is both a surgeon and an oncologist. Now that I've had a brain tumor, and need some targeted radiation to the brain, I need someone more to help figure out all my treatment - not just chemo, but also radiation.

Dr. Drescher probably saved my life by sending me for a CT scan of my head, based on my report of a mild headache. I'm told it would not have been good if I had gotten on a plane with a tumor in my head, which I was scheduled to do Oct 16th. Drescher is the best ovarian surgeon in Seattle, and getting the best surgery is very important for treating ovarian. I am immensely grateful to him. 

When I was initially diagnosed with ovarian last year, my "regular" (PCP) doctor, sent me to Dr. Drescher, saying that he was the only doctor to see, even if I had to wait a bit, and that she would go to him herself. As it was, my PCP pulled some strings so that I could see him right away.

Dr. Kaplan called his friend, my neurosurgeon Dr. Foltz, so that I could get operated on in 2 days - which made it possible for me to go to Brazil. "Dr. K" is also my friend Uma's oncologist for a different cancer (Uma's also an MD). He is a great doctor, and very easy to get hold of too, via phone or email.

I believe all these doctors - as well as nurses and other "caregivers" - are emanations, and I believe that your prayers helped them appear for me. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prayers for Sally

Please dedicate for Sally in our Seattle Sangha. She has been having one serious health issue after another and now may be quite ill with an infection.
We know that prayers make a huge difference - please use your mental actions to help her.

NY Times Article: Cancer Sleeper Cell

Highly recommended if you want to learn more about cancer and the future of research; from Sunday's New York Times magazine section and online here - at least for a few days.
Trying to "attack the roots of cancer"and the "stem-cell hypothesis," which is a very different approach than the traditional one.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pray for Michael

He is in ICU at Swedish.
Please make prayers for him and his family.

Song Rinpoche

Info about Song Rinpoche (also spelled "Zong" sometimes) and a photo:
(The link to his bio is broken, but the video is still there.)

More Photos of Brazil

from KMC California's website:

Post Fest Retreat Teacher: Tessa

Another big reason to come to the Post Festival Retreat in Seattle this weekend - Tessa Logan, the Teacher!

In Brazil Geshe-la told stories about Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, who both helped bring Buddhism to Tibet from India; our lineage Guru, Je Phabongkhapa; Geshe-la's root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche; Geshe-la's uncle, the Kuten Lama; and Geshe-la's good friend, the Guru Song Rinpoche. Tessa was at Manjushri Center in England when Song Rinpoche visited a long time ago - there are not many people I know of who got to meet him.

Read Tessa's brief bio, from the San Francscico Center's website,
"Tessa Logan is a senior Buddhist meditation teacher in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT). After completing her college studies in Cambridge, England, she became one of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's first disciples. She moved to Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center (the Mother Center of the NKT) in 1977, when Venerable Geshe Kelsang himself moved there from India. Manjushri KMC in the UK is the largest Kadampa Center in the world, with over one hundred residents and thousands of annual visitors.

Over the last thirty years, Tessa has studied the entire Teacher Training Program, engaged in many meditative retreats, and developed a vast depth of Buddhist knowledge and experience. She has taught extensively at Manjushri Center itself, as well as at Chenrezig Buddhist Center in Lancaster, England for 15 years, and at both Keajra Buddhist Center in Blackpool, and Vajravarahi Center in Preston for several years. She has also worked at Manjushri Center in many different areas -- administration, book publication, and the education program -- and she helped to organize the large International New Kadampa Tradition Summer Festivals for 5 years."

I hope you are able to go to the retreat this weekend and hear Tessa.

Brazil Festival - again!

If you weren't able to go to Brazil to hear the teachings, and you live in the Pacific Northwest, come to Seattle to the Post Fall Festival Retreat at KMC Washington this weekend, November 5 - 7.
If you were able to go to Brazil, and you want to take it all in again more deeply, come to the Post Fest Retreat!
I'm planning to be there, as are many of us who were at Brazil.

Tessa Logan, the Resident Teacher at Saraha Buddhist Center in San Francisco - and a longtime practitioner -  will be leading a weekend retreat on the essential teachings.

For more information, schedule, registration, etc. see:
KMC Washington Website

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Photos from Brazil

Not artistic. but they do show a few pictures from the airport plus many from the Temple in Brazil - I hope they give a feel for what the Buddhist Festival was like:

Vote Tuesday

Pray for wisdom. Learn about the issues. Then cast your ballot.

I've heard - I think it was from a longtime Resident Teacher - that Geshe-la encourages us to vote, because it helps create the cause for there to be democracy.
He doesn't tell us how to vote, because our teachers do not do that, and our organization, the New Kadampa Tradition, is purely spiritual - it does not get involved in politics.

There are a lot of things that could be improved about our government and political process - for one, my opinion is that it would be better if there wasn't so much money in politics - but I don't think refusing to participate is helpful.


Richard, his Mom and I watched the World Series yesterday - lots of fun! We're rooting for San Francisco because it's the George's team (Richard's sister Sally, who lives in Sonoma, along with husband, Mark, and their 2 boys, Edward & Luke), but I'm glad the Rangers are in because there's a large Buddhist Temple in Texas right near Cowboys Stadium, which we're hoping will show up on national TV.


Texas Buddhist Temple website:

Look at all the classes and events! I rejoice!

Back from Brazil

Had a wonderful time there, and a smooth journey back.
Thank you all for helping me get there - it was so amazing, in so many ways.

Brazil photos, stories, more to come later.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Off to Brazil !

Out of the Office - far, far away from the office.
No phone.
No email.

More info:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Prayers needed for nun

She may not make it to Brazil if her terrible infection doesn't clear up.
Please dedicate for Kelsang Lekmo.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What I Look Like Now

The same, I'm afraid!

My Surgeon's Research Interests - Could Help Down the Road

Now that they have my tumor out, the doctors and scientists can do all kinds of tests on it, to determine exactly what it is and even what drugs it might respond to.

We know already that it's cancerous. We know that it's ovarian cancer (that it traveled from my abdominal area - it didn't originate in my brain). That's all from the preliminary pathology report. In a week or so, the docs will have the final "path" report with more info.

With a tumor in the brain, they try to use targeted radiation, so I'll get that, in addition to the surgery.

With brain cancer, they can't usually do chemo ... [blood-brain barrier, etc. - more coming],
...but they're giving me chemo anyway for my lingering ovarian cancer, so there's a chance my docs can give me something very targeted, just for me (lots and lots of different chemo drugs to choose from).

One of the reasons I chose this surgeon is that he is also into research. He's Greg Foltz at Swedish Hospital:

I asked Richard's brother Roger, who's a science guy living in Santa Fe to look at Foltz's research.
Here's what he said:

"Your surgeon's research looks fascinating and very much at the bleeding edge of what people are doing. The problem of sorting out the genetic and proteomic and genetic regulatory and cell signaling markers of all the different normal and abnormal cell types in human bodies is very much the longest march that medicine, or any other discipline, has ever undertaken. Every different somatic cell type has its own paths to going rogue, which are tied into the paths which led to it being different from other cell types in the first place, which is essential to us having bodies composed of so many different cell types all, at best, cooperating or, at least, coexisting together. It is a finite set of possibilities to be worked out, but a very large finite set. That your surgeon is so connected to the research means that your tumor's tissue will become part of the body of evidence that will eventually decide the correct ways to treat this kind of malignancy.

I hope your day's adventure went as well as four hours with a brain surgeon could go ... "

What My Incision Looks Like

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Home This Morning !

They're sending me home from the hospital today, as soon as they can get the paperwork done!
Surgeon was just here - he's done with me for now.
I'll see him on Wed to get my stitches out before flying to Brazil!

Thank you!

All Well - Brazil is On

Surgery went perfectly - recovering quickly.
All my visitors say I look "great!"

As long as no more obstruction appear, I'll be in Brazil with my Guru later this week.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Surgery is Straightforward - Few Risks

I've been told, If you're going to have a brain tumor, have it there, in the cerebellum ("the spare tire" of the brain), close to the edge, which it's easy to get at.
Also ask for an "encapsulated" tumor that is staying within its own borders.
None of the docs are concerned that I might lose any mental faculties short-term or long.
The risks are the same as for any surgery, mostly infection, and Swedish is all over prevention. For example, I am headed now for my 2nd Pre-Surgery Shower at home with Hibiclens soap.
Of course, anything can happen ... anywhere ... but prayers could help avert problems.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

surgery tomorrow - Brazil next week?

I'm scheduled for brain "crainiotomy" surgery tomorrow at noon, with a 9am checkin.
It's a 2-hour surgery; probably in the hospital for 3 days. Need prayers, not flowers.

If all goes well, my surgeon has no concerns about my flying to Brazil. (I'm very happy with the surgeon - not rushing into this - Richard's here to make sure of that.)
Prayers at work! The Buddhas are amazing.

Surgery is at Swedish - Cherry Hill (what used to be Providence Hospital) - a very nice facility - free Wifi, lots of nice spaces for sitting. A few Sangha friends are going to be with Richard to keep him company when I'm otherwise occupied.
550 17th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122

Thank you all.


Monday, October 11, 2010

What to Wish for

Before I started going to Buddhist classes, I didn't hear people asking, "What do you wish for?" "What do you really want?" "What are you looking forward to?" (One of my favorite conversation-starters, by the way. Try it at a family gathering.)

At the moment I'm wondering what to wish for at the PET scan tomorrow. Normally you'd wish that nothing else shows up, because that would mean less cancer and less complications with the treatment plan.

I mentioned the Brazil trip to the neurosurgeon today, and he said flying would be risky - the air pressure could cause my head to swell (insert joke here), and that would be BAD.

[An aside: One key difference between having cancer in your head vs. elsewhere in your body is that there's nowhere the swelling can go - it bumps against the skull and squishes things in your brain, which is why some of the common signs of a brain tumor are seizures, headaches, nausea & vomiting, blurred vision, personality or behavioral changes, confusion, loss of coordination ...
Whereas with ovarian cancer and others like it, the tumor can get quite large before you notice it's there, because it has room to stretch out - which makes it hard to diagnose until it's far along. With cancer, there's always a better prognosis when it's caught early - that is, you're more likely to be cured, to live longer ... so that something else can kill you.
Remind me to write some more sometime about differences between brain cancer and other cancers.]

So the neuro-guy said that if something shows up in the PET scan, they might just send me on my merry way. Brain surgery would probably be off the table. I suspect they might still do radiation, but it would be to alleviate symptoms - that what would probably kill me would be the "systemic" cancer in my body, not the brain tumor. So I could go see Geshe-la! Would that be better? I don't have the wisdom to know.

Or maybe the PET scan shows nothing else to be concerned about, and I travel overland to Brazil ???

Thankfully, gratefully, I am simply turning this over to the Buddhas, who know what is really best for me. I am wishing for whatever's best for my spiritual life. I rely on Guru Tsongkhapa / Dorje Shugden. Cancer helps you learn you're not in charge anyway.


Good News: Only 1 Tumor - Operable

Quick update:
Brain MRI only showed the one tumor that was on the CT scan.
Because there is only 1 tumor in my head, and because of its size and position, it can be taken out by surgery. Gamma-knife radiation is another choice.
This is all very good news.

What's next?
* PET scan tomorrow morning of my body from the neck down (everything else was covered by the brain MRI today)
* Oncologist #2 at 5pm tomorrow to go over the PET scan results and help plan next steps.

Thanks so much for your support

More to come later ...


Neurosurgeon today at 3

Head MRI today at 12:30, beforehand, so the doc has something to look at.
Neuro guy, James Raisis at Swedish, specializes in brain metastases - I've checked with various experts and online. Learned that there are all kinds of neurosurgeons, only some of whom deal with brain tumors, and only some of those who deal with metastatic tumors (as opposed to primary brain tumors - that is, brain cancer, orignating in the brain). One of my oncologists said I really needed a "met" specialist, which Raisis is of course.
More info coming.

Keep the prayers coming - without them I wouldn't have even had these appointments today.

Got to run - more later.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

This Time It's Personal

Aside from surprise - not shock, but surprise - one of my main reactions to a brain tumor is that "it's personal." I've had a couple of kinds of cancer where a key treatment was to remove parts - breasts, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum, part of my colon. When pressed, I'll say just get rid of them - I don't really need them. Who even knew I had an omentum?

Often ovarian cancer spreads to the appendix and spleen (I met a woman who's free of both of those now, and have read about several others in the same situation; some of them have also lost most of their colon). So I had already contemplated having them out too.

When I had breast cancer 12 years ago, a recurring analogy about the surgery was like a ship in a storm offloading cargo to stay afloat. Would you rather keep everything on board? Yes, of course. But if it could save the ship? That's what you'd have to do. So you check as best you can to make sure it's needed.

But they can't take out my brain, and much as you might sometimes wish it, I can't get a transplant (that's a little joke). Of course, we're hoping they can take out the whole brain tumor, and that will be the end of that.

This feels closer to home.
When I do a conventional search for my body, sometimes I cut off my arms and my legs and feel that the "essentials" are really my torso and head. Invariably I see that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail of the 2 knights fighting in the woods. Even after one of them has had both legs and both arms hacked off, he's yelling to his opponent to come back and fight: I'm not done with you!
In terms of a fight, this does take it up notch - my brain!

Thankfully the ultimate nature of my both is emptiness. I am going to try to realize that, and in the meantime to try not to grasp to strongly at any parts of it. It's just a collection of parts, labeled as body by my mind - thank goodness my mind and my brain are not the same thing. Dharma can be such a comfort.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gone to My Head

Yesterday afternoon I had a post-op visit with my oncologist, where mostly we talked about which chemo to do and when to start it. At the end I mentioned that every morning I wake up with a headache over my right eye, in the middle of my eyebrow, which goes away when I take 2 Tylenol. I rarely get headaches, so it was notable that I've had one every day for the last 2 weeks. He didn't think it was anything but recommended I get a CT scan just to be sure. They had an opening, so I got the scan right away. It showed that I have a metastatic tumor in my brain, which is very unusual for ovarian cancer - it tends to hang around the stomach.
Monday I'm supposed to see a neurosurgeon, who will probably recommend taking out the mass. At 2-3 cm, it's considered pretty small and thus fairly new. My oncologist thinks I should cancel the trip to Brazil. We'll see what the neurosurgeon says.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

At Home Already!

Don't try to visit me in the hospital - I won't be there. They discharged me, and I'm resting at home. They sent me home with photos of my insides too.
I'll get the pathology report in a week, but my doctor thought everything looked OK (he had been pretty sure the mass was malignant, but maybe it wasn't). What prayers will do.
Thank you all so much.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Surgery Tomorrow

My laparoscopic, robot-assisted surgery is tomorrow at Swedish Hospital on First Hill. My gynecological surgeon/oncologist, Dr. Charles Drescher, will do the operation; he's said to be the best in the city.
Today I'm doing the prep, which will be familiar to any of you who've had a colonoscopy.
I'm supposed to arrive tomorrow at 6:30am; surgery is scheduled to start at 8:30am and is estimated to take about 2 hours. Richard and I hope his sister Susie will be with me.
The hospital will keep me overnight.
You're welcome to visit - best to call first; (206) 386-6000.
There's useful info about visiting at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

And Another Acupuncturist

In case that wasn't enough doctors, I'm also planning to have a phone consultation with a renowned acupuncturist in the Bay Area named Michael Broffman. My acupuncturist said she'd go to him if she had cancer, and another friend highly recommended him. Broffman's assistant directed me to call back for an appointment after I had the full report from the surgery. He's at the Pine Street Clinic in San Anselmo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Another Naturopath

Monday, Oct 4, I have an appointment with Dan Labriola, a naturopath associated with Swedish Hospital who works with a lot of cancer patients. I met him when I accompanied Uma and liked him a lot.
Mark Gignac, the naturopath I saw a couple of times for the ovarian cancer, is farther away, in Renton, and I always seem to get lost when I go there. Labriola's main office is in Ballard, and he also has an office at Swedish on "Pill Hill" in Seattle.
Here's a web page about Labriola:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More 2nd Opinions

I also have an appointment at MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston - it's one of the leading cancer centers in the US and they see a lot of ovarian cancer. The appointment, however, isn't until Nov 9, and I probably need to start chemo before then. I'm also on the waiting list for an earlier appointment. We'll see ...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2nd Opinion

I have to choose a chemo regimen, and even after reading a lot of medical research online, it's not at all clear which to do. I need a 2nd opinion.
Today I talked to medical oncologist Dr. Hank Kaplan at Swedish Hospital here in Seattle. He has a reputation as the best medical oncologist in the city. (In email a few days ago, he told me my surgeon is the best for ovarian cancer. My surgeon is also a gynecological oncologist, which is apparently different from a medical oncologist.)
I called Dr. Kaplan's office today about an appointment; his scheduler talked to him as he walked by; he said he'd prefer to call me first this evening - which he did a few minutes ago.
He said it would be easiest for him to see me after my surgery: If they keep me overnight, he'll look at my surgery report and come to my room; if they send me home, Richard will call his office to let him know, and I'll get an appointment with him next week. Amazing!
I've met him twice, when I've accompanied a good friend named "Uma" who has stage 3 breast cancer. He first saw her on a Sat morning; even his staff thought Uma was mistaken about the appointment, because he rarely works weekends - she's an MD herself, so she got special treatment. But I feel like I'm getting special treatment too.
There's more info about Dr K at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Laparoscopic Surgery Thursday

I'm having laparoscopic, robot-assisted surgery Thursday, Sept 30th, then will have chemo in early Nov. Check out the video of the robot surgery - there's a short stretch that's a bit gory toward the beginning, but on the whole it's pretty interesting.
Thank you all for your support and encouragement.