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."

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!"