Friday, May 29, 2009

Real Happiness

"Happiness is only real when shared." This past Memorial Day weekend was a beautiful testament to that idea for the Juricic clan.
The quote comes from "Into the Wild" - a terrific and thought-provoking film about an optimistic adventurer/fool who inspires many on his trip through life and up to Alaska. We finally got around to watching our Netflix choice – over the course of two nights, of course.
Appropriately enough, the simple joy began on Friday night in my pastors' backyard. I can't say that I grew up spending much of my non-Sunday time participating in church activities. But there we were, most contentedly kicking off the summer with our Church family. Kids of all ages sharing a pot luck, playing nice together, and singing on blankets and chairs for hours. We only went home because tomorrow was to be another beautiful day.
Saturday's gardening plans were trumped by a lovely afternoon of sitting under the awning with family and friends that had dropped by, mostly unexpectedly. We were sharing the backyard space with our new arrivals – Baby Birchie and Olivia - who had just fought their way out of their robin eggs a foot or two off of our back deck. By the end of the weekend, they were joined by their little siblings, Josie and Adam Tweetie.
On Sunday we hit the road and went up to the Catskills for the resumption of a Juricic family tradition. Sixty or so of the extended family and friends meet up in the "bosak" (or woods) to eat and drink and play all day. It's a crowd that might only otherwise convene for a wedding. Especially after a seven year absence, the opportunity for unstructured fun and interaction in the wide open spaces was particularly special. Ana got over her fear of (some) creepy creatures by allowing caterpillars to crawl all over her arms. Meanwhile, Noah barely stopped running around the field playing ball or Frisbee or whatever with whoever would engage him - or no one. We all slept well.
Back home- marching, motorcycles, flags and fire trucks - the kids loved our little town parade on Monday. The kid's naptime allowed us to finally get around to the yard work. Ahh…accomplishment! Then, a drive-by greeting turned into dinner with our neighbors when they stopped in to see the robins named after their two girls.
Maybe it is all too mundane to mention. Still, I wish for you that your weekend was as rewarding. Every moment of it made exceptional by the others present, sharing in it.

Another recurring theme of the weekend was the relationship between forgiveness, love and happiness. "When you forgive you love. And when you love, God's light shines on you." Into the Wild's protagonist, Alexander Supertramp, learned the lesson of the opening quote only belatedly. He never got around to the second. Thankfully, family (and other) reconciliations are still possible for each of us. This weekend, I saw - in my own family – the love possible when it does happen and the instances of where it still can. It's up to us to open those doors and let God's light in.

And my little lemonade journey passed another milestone with the completion of my radiation treatment this week. It only took 29 trips! I now have a couple of weeks off to regain my strength and then it's on to the home stretch. All I have left is one more month of chemo. I ought to be working my way back to my pre-cancer self in my post-cancer world by mid-July. Thanks for sharing in my trip.
May God bless you with the happiness of others to share your lives with.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Radiation can be your friend

I am in my last of five weeks of radiation therapy and thought I'd consider what that's been like for me.
Every weekday visit the radiation oncology department in the lowest depths (literally) of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Luckily, RWJUH is about 100 yards from the New Brunswick train station that I otherwise use to get to and from work. Logistically, it could only be more convenient if they came to my house to administer the treatment – except for the humongous x-ray machine that would be a bitch to get through my front door.
Other than Mondays, when I get checked out by Sue the nurse and Dr. Jabbour, every day is pretty much the same. I flash my membership bracelet to "Kelly Radiation" – that is after all how she answers the phone -who swipes me through the double doors. I grab my locker token and go into the changing room to put on my very flattering blue hospital smock. My appointments are generally 4 p.m. or later. I chose the afternoon because it interferes with work less; I have far fewer 3 p.m. than 9 a.m. meetings. The downside is that the days worth of delays often get compounded. It has allowed me to catch up on my pastoral care class reading or work stuff or news while trying to ignore the imposing flat screen tuned to Oprah or CNN.
Being a day-in, day-out thing – I've gotten familiar with both the other patients and the hospital staff. That, in of itself, is a bit strange because whatever acquaintance made is by it's nature brief if intimate.
Once I get in to the darkened room that is "LinAcc #1", I settle into the mold of my upper body that my usual and favorite techs, Kevin and Ann, have laid out for me. Basically, I lie in the exact same position with my arms raised over my head for about 25-30 minutes.
Kevin's good selection of 60's-80's classic rock plays in the background while a woman's voice instructs me to "breath in…breath out" rhythmically. First they use an x-ray to line me up according to the tiny tattoos and marking they made on my torso before the first day. The table jerks up or back, left or right to get me perfectly aligned. The rotating head of the machine spins the zapping head into place to begin the intensity-modulated radiation therapy. It makes seven stops in all – hitting the spot where the head of my pancreas was, from various angles. Each stop is hit in two half doses with the aperture adjusting accordingly. I can tell when the dose is being applied because the instrument clangs loudly, as if revving up. A box that they tape to my belly indicates when my breathing is at its' ebb. The radiation modulates and is delivered on each exhale.
It can be very relaxing and I have nearly fallen asleep a bunch of times, especially in the afternoon. Invariably, Ann will rouse me within a couple of too-shallow breaths. By the time my treatment time is up, my arms and shoulders are numb and I am only too glad to be sprung.
Otherwise, there is no pain involved in the treatment itself. Nor am I experiencing much in the way of negative side effects. Just today I jokingly asked whether I was in some placebo group because I doubted that I could be getting the full effect with so little in the way of side effects. All I have is a little bit of fatigue, especially in the afternoon. I wake up wanting to sleep more every day – but lots of folks experience that. I keep waiting to experience more pronounced fatigue, nausea or any of a number of other GI effects that I have been warned about…but, so far, I have been blessed to have nothing more than the fatigue.
My ankles have been swollen, to varying degrees, for more than two months now - but other than being a mystery, it hasn't been particularly bothersome. They suspect that it is a side effect of one or both of my chemo drugs. I take a mild dose (1,600mg, orally, twice a day) of Xeloda, a chemotherapy drug, that sensitize the radiation – making it work better. Before that, it was gemcitabine delivered via IV once a week.
So, assuming I finish up with radiation sometime next week, I should have a couple of weeks off before I go back to the chemo in mid-June. The plan right now is back to just one month of the gemcitabine chemo and then I will be all done – maybe around the 4th of July.
That's a good thing - especially since I have signed myself up to run the NYC marathon that I didn't get to do on my bday last November. To get ready in time, I need to be training in earnest come July.
On the other hand, completing the chemo/radiation scares me. Right now I feel like I am actively fighting the return of the cancer with these poisons. Still, I recognize that my fate ultimately lies in the absence of these extraordinary medical warriors. That is truly when it will be up to the grace of the Lord and the power of prayer. It is good to know that I won't be on my own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Infinite Love Through Prayer

A couple of months ago, I very nearly called off the prayers on my behalf. I felt that I had moved beyond the most urgently critical period of my cancer and recovery - into a (God-willing) steady state mode. I thought that the prayer energy could be directed elsewhere – towards others, where there might be a more pressing need.
I believe that the prayers of so many was/is an extremely powerful resource. I was also looking at it as finite. I saw prayer and the love that it expressed as a fixed pie that was not helping elsewhere if I was hogging it up. Now I see how wrong that is.
God's love is infinite. Our petitions for it need not be rationed. In being truly Christian, we are, in effect, creating love in the world. Prayer is one of the chief disciplines of that love creation.
Prayer is pure positivity. Prayer brings us closer to God and each other. "To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue that God uses to transform us." We pray because there is an inherent trust that God can intervene to make things/us better. There is so much that is wonderful in this world, but until it is truly "all good", there will be room for prayer.
The more that we pray – for each other, ourselves, in thanks, praise and hope – the more light and love we create in the world. There is nothing but the upside potential and there is no limit.
For me personally, I recognize that the more I am praying at random moments throughout the day, the closer God is to me. It is a virtuous cycle; when I pray I remember that he is with me, and the more I keep him next to me the more I pray.
I saw God this morning in the three teal robin's eggs nestled in the sparse little pine tree just off of our deck. Mother robin flew away startled as I rushed by on my way out to work. I prayed that my curious little "chicks" wouldn't interfere too much with her work tending to hers. But...I digress (only a little).
I have seen - and felt, literally - the power of prayer and all that it can achieve.
Thanks for all of the love. Keep spreading it. There is just no reason to stop. Ever.