email sent February 24, 2015

Subject:  The Future Is a Dream of Confidence…

… or, Thank You All for the Humbling Connections

I won’t have more CT scan results to report on for another month or so. In the meantime, fodder for the next email has been accumulating, so I’ve opted to send an interim update. I’m doing great. Still no side effects. My breathing is better than it’s been in a long time. Even the lingering neuropathy is less bothersome. Steep, narrow stairs are no longer daunting. Suffice it to say that I’m finally at the point where I believe that my credit cards will expire before I do. That’s it for the clinical update.

Oh yeah, I just started receiving electroacupuncture treatments at CTCA for the neuropathy. Why not give it a try? It’s one of many services that the center provides. Every visit includes nutrition and naturopathic medicine follow-ups.

You may recall that I wrote of do and don’t do new years advice back in January. I received the following in response.

Do: Remember. Everything as much as you can, it will be the good stuff.

Don’t: Forget.

Do: Carpe diem and trust my process and everyone else’s.

Do not: Do not think I know, because I actually know nothing!

Do: Absolutely to make gratitude an integral part of my life, as well as, to always be kind – it costs nothing and we never know what others are going through themselves and who might need that kind act or behavior.

Don’t: To not think that things stay the same and despair as a result.

Two more friends noted that God creates rainbows for a reason.

Terminal illnesses evoke the best in humanity, both from the afflicted and from their close friends and family. Randy Pausch wrote his book, The Last Lecture, as he was dying from pancreatic cancer. Among his insights were, “No matter how bad things are, you can always make them worse,” and “When we’re connected to others, we become better people.”

Oliver Sacks recently wrote an essay entitled, My Own Life, which was published in The New York Times in which he addressed his response to the diagnosis of incurable liver cancer. You might recall that he is the neurologist who wrote the memoir, Awakenings, which described his treatment of encephalitis survivors with the drug L-dopa, who after many years of living in catatonic states were temporarily restored to normal lives. Here is an excerpt from his essay.

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

“On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.”

I can share a poignant encounter that occurred very soon after my diagnosis with two Germans who had recently befriended me. They surprised me by visiting me at my Flagstaff office. I hadn’t even known that they were in town. A few days ago I wrote this to one of them… “I can never express to you how much it meant and continues to mean to me for you to visit me when I was first diagnosed. When you visited, I had no expectation of surviving for very long, only that I was determined to give it my best shot. Few seek out people who they think are dying. I completely understand why. I’ve been there. But you [both] exhibited remarkable compassion and courage that inspired me even more to achieve what I have. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve seen you both at my office doorway.”

I might add that you learn where you stand with people by their immediate reactions when you inform them that you’ve been told that you have weeks to months to live. Their responses are contagious. And unforgettable.

Some corollaries to the words of Randy Pausch and Oliver Sacks can be found in these quotes from Kahlil Gibran and Susan Bachrach, respectively. “When you reach the heart of life you shall find beauty in all things, even in the eyes that are blind to beauty.” “You always have no, you can try for yes.”

A very good friend sent me the poem, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass, by Mary Oliver. The poem ends with…

“I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,

I have become younger….

… And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?

Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.”

I also recently mentioned that I might be in a commercial for CTCA. Well, that has not materialized, but I was interviewed and photographed for a press release and other promotional materials intended to spread the word about the wonders of immunotherapy and to assist in the recruitment of patients. I very much appreciated that some of the photo setups included both Dr. Weiss and Lisa. After all, we’re in this together and have been for a few years. One of the shots of me is intended to be used internally along with a statement I made during the interview in response to being asked what is the biggest change in my life as a consequence of this treatment. I responded with something on the order of, “Now we can again plan for the future.”

I wish to wrap this up with what Vicki inscribed in one of her Valentine’s Day cards for me:

“There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

This quotation from Lord Byron warrants rereading.

With ever-deepening love and gratitude,

And may rainbows encircle your life,

Jim

 

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