Tuesday, September 24, 2013

four years in remission

As I approach my four year remission birthday (Oct 15),  I met today with my ENT.  All good news; he called me a "poster child" for cancer treatment and recovery.  Music to my ears.

This poem by Rilke holds a lot of personal meaning;  I commented on it today on a post on my other blog,  Deeper than Cancer.  The first line "I love the dark hours of my being" creates a new perspective for me when I think of painful or lonely moments in my past.    Read the poem here, and if you care to read my thoughts about it, click on this link:   deeper than cancer

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a grave site
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
embrace:

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.


               Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, October 15, 2012

Living unreservedly - I shouda gone for the three year subscription

I received a flyer in October 2009 for a subscription to New Yorker magazine - a magazine I had wanted to subscribe to for quite a long time. The rates were particularly attractive for the three year subscription option. At first, the bargain hunter in me was all over that little return card and postage paid envelope. I had some bills to mail as well, and took it with me when I was heading to run some errands. I never mailed that envelope; instead, I tossed it. The thought in my head was - Who knows if I’ll survive three years? In fact, even the two year, not-as-great-a-rate-but-still-a-pretty-good-deal check box was, I thought, too much of a stretch given my 15 days of survival post stage four cancer treatment. My dominant emotion in those days was fear; my dominant mood, dark and depressed. I was living tentatively, as if the next news broadcast on my life channel was certainly going to be bad… and it could come in the next few hours. Try as I might to put on an front of gratitude for surviving the treatment process, I felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually depleted.


Today (October 15, 2012), I am three years cancer free. Shoot…that label “cancer-free” is one I still sometimes have trouble with…the voice in my head still wants to say - “as far as I know” I am cancer free. However, today I can look three years further down the road and actually see myself still hanging around. It is remarkable to me that three years later, I often think of my cancer experience as one of the great blessings of my life. No…really, seriously…. not just cause it sounds right to say that. It’s like my own personal Beatitude…“Blessed are you, Steven, who has endured cancer, for you shall find a deeper reality.” It’s this feeling of being blessed, not just for surviving, but for the living in the whole of it as well. It was without a doubt the most frightening, painful, terrifying months (well, maybe more like a year) of my life. I have no doubt I had a year or so of PTSD and post cancer clinical depression. (After all, I am a psychologist, and I KNOW all the symptoms.) I am not sure exactly when the despair over cancer ended and my perception of being “blessed” began, but I think it has been present for several months now. I am really feeling like I am back now. I think for a while, I had doubts about being “back” that I didn’t want to acknowledge. But it is feeling genuine again. My life is back. I’ve never been a bubbly, “I freakin’ love life so let’s go celebrate” kind of person. But, generally speaking, I am in a pretty good place. I have days when my energy is poor, and my mojo just doesn’t feel right, but they are becoming less and less frequent.

I still love October mornings and a big breakfast and a solitary walk. More than ever I appreciate these things. Three weeks ago, I found myself sharing a meal at a Benedictine monastery with a Monk and talking about God. How cool is that? I’ve traveled a long distance in my life . And this blog business… I’ve been touched and inspired by several people who have dealt honestly with their cancer journey and have dared write about it. I was brought face to face with the fragility of life when an internet “friend” and blogger Diane died of Leukemia exactly one year to the day after I finished treatment. It was through stumbling across her blog that led me to write about my own journey. Looking back, the writing about it was hands down the most therapeutic activity I engaged in. I think it saved my life, at least emotionally. Recently, I’ve been touched and inspired by a blog writer named Ellie, who also is a stage four throat cancer survivor and has just celebrated one year of being cancer free and is sharing her journey of recovery on her blog at www.onecraftymother.com. Such an inspiration to me… Reading her posts have been like reading back my own experiences, expressed in such a transparent and eloquent way.

So, about that New Yorker subscription. I should have checked the three year box with reckless abandon. I would today. Was I afraid of dying, or afraid of living? I think both. There is no point in being tentative with one’s life. Fear is such a thief. One of my many favorite scripture passages is “Perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18) Yes, indeed, it does. It’s mysterious but I believe I experience God’s love indwelling in my spirit at the deepest core of my being. To be honest, there’s plenty ’o fear still ready to rear up, but a lot of it’s power has been broken.

This morning, I was doing 50 minutes (four miles) on the elliptical at my local gym. (There you go - how healthy am I - and I‘ve only gained back 20 of the 30 pounds I lost three years ago - I weigh a perfect (for me)150 pounds!) I was listening to a podcast from NPR (Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show). The guest was being interviewed about a film he made on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He stated this quote and I think it hit the nail on the head for how I am feeling today. Shortly before he was executed by the Nazis for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote: “I discovered… and am still discovering… that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint or a converted sinner…. By this worldliness, I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own suffering, but those of God in the world.” Thanks for reading this. I’ll be back again. In my own quiet way, I’ve come to freakin’ love my life!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Two years in remission

Today, October 15, 2011, I celebrate two years in remission from my stage four throat cancer. Yes, two years. My life is again full and busy and my energy is back. I taste food again, though perhaps a little less intensely. I've regained 15 of the 30 pounds I lost and I am now at a perfect weight for me. (All things considered, I'd have rather done weight watchers to lose that stubborn 15 pounds). I have a few lingering issues - I am hypothyroid (and on meds for that) and my salivary glands forgot to come back (I drink more water than my lawn). These are small things in the grand scheme of my life.

Here is what I want to say:

Cancer is such a hard journey. I have not the adjectives to describe the emotional, physical and spiritual difficulty of it. It leaves a hole in your body, your life. Rather, I should say, it left a hole in my body, my life. But looking back, I see that God was and is there...and in some mystical way, the ruins and ravages of cancer left more space for Him to fill and inhabit. I didn't always experience that filling in the moment... quite the contrary, in the moment of suffering, I was aware of little else but my pain and self-pity. I was so miserable (and, dare I say, cowardly) in my suffering. Nonetheless, I believe that it happened. I know it. And I believe I am on a journey home. If I am to linger here, I'm blessed. And if He makes a shortcut for me, I am blessed again. I may not always be so joyously positive; I know I was awfully depressed in the darkest days of radiation and chemotherapy... But this is where I am today.

There is much about suffering, there is much about gratitude, there is much about compassion that I have yet to understand, but I am still growing... there are vast oceans of growth yet to cross.

If anyone stumbles here and is on that hard journey, I am honored by your presence. If I can pray, encourage, listen... send me an e-mail: steveblum77@gmail.com. We are strengthened when we walk together. I am strengthened when I listen. And more than ever, I am learning to listen.

blessings!
steve

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Goodbye again... happy day... a good year

So... as I indicated somewhere, I think the profile page... I intended for this to be a year long blog, and here we are, exactly one year later. In a way... I must say... it's definitely time to bring this to an end. I'll tell you why soon.

But for now, let me comment with a restating of a phrase I quoted in my initial post to this blog on June 8, 2010.

My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.
(Chinese, Japanese or Taoist saying/proverb/poem, depending on who is quoting it.)

Here is why I chose to use that saying... to me, my life BC (before cancer) was the barn... that life is gone...in that life, I felt immortal and Peter Panish. The mirror said I was getting older, but I never FELT it. "The moon" represented to me what I wanted to make of my new life that took it's place. And I think I'm still reclaiming and discovering new life here. I've recently begun having more days than not of feeling well again... really, it's taken that long... in the past week I went for two one-hour bike rides, early morning, on a peaceful bike trail, and I was cognizant of feeling very much alive and full of life. I feel good often... I love my job (sometimes it doesn't feel like work anymore, it just flows with my day, and though I think about future retirement from time to time, when I really think about it, I think I'd prefer to just keep doing what I'm doing while I can... that's an awesome good feeling.) I feel I am still growing spiritually, still on a journey that I have much to yet learn and grow in. Oh, God knows, I am far from "mature" spiritually, but I sense His patience and grace with me more than His disappointment. In November, I will complete my Novitiate status and formally become a Benedictine Oblate... it brings a meaningful set of spiritual disciplines into my life, that ultimately, I find, brings me into closer relationship with God. I still struggle at times with some treatment related side effects, primarily the loss of a good deal of salivary function, but I think I am not as hampered by it as I was even a few months ago. I was told that after two years, what I got back is what I will get, and I still have four more months before that two year mark. I can live with this.

But, back to the blog. I don't think it's particularly meaningful right now, and so, I think I need to stop.

Here's several reasons why:

1. There has been no direction or "purpose" to whisper salad, and unlike the first blog I did, this one just seemed to be aimless... I felt it going nowhere. Truthfully, I am giving this blog a C- grade at best. When I read the posts on the Deeper than Cancer blog, particularly the five months of August-December 2009, when I wrote about the cancer treatment journey I was going through and the fears/depression/pain and finally early steps of recovery I traversed, it seemed there was a flow and a purpose and a connection happening. Not so much here. I'm disappointed with myself.

2. I'd like to work on being a better writer, but I can't seem to do that publicly; I am too aware that people (even if only a few people) are tuning in and reading. I think I need to spend some time writing in a more private fashion so I can focus solely on that.

3. After a break, perhaps for the summer... I may try this again, only this time... there will be some direction and cohesiveness. I've had several thoughts, but nothing definitive. I've thought about either keeping it related to the Benedictine Oblate journey I am taking, or keeping it focused on poetry, or, hell, maybe something related to turning 60 (this November) and trying to transform my 60th year into a year of creative purposeful living. I don't know. And I am not sure it's the right thing to do.

4. I have a website now for my Private Practice ( www.stevenblum.net ) and I have tried to keep this blogging separate and not accessible to clients (it's a little too personal), but Google has a way of linking things up... so if I do another blog, I might do it under an assumed name and identity...

5. Which brings me to this... if you are reading this, and want to be aware if I do start another blog in the fall... e-mail me and let me know (my e-mail address: steve@stevenblum.net or, the e-mail address this blog is linked to : steveblum77@gmail.com, that will work as well)... I will keep your name/address confidential, and will send you an e-mail if and when I start another blog... that way... I need not link it to this blog and can keep it generally anonymous, yet let you know where to find me.

Finally, let me say this... God Bless you for taking time to read... I really appreciate the comments and the number counter which says there have been quite a few "hits" to this blog... I hope to find you again down the road... or should I say... I hope you find me. In the meantime, to the friends I have and the friends I have made here, and the friends I have yet to "meet"... keep in touch via e-mail, and I will do likewise. Keep reading... there are some really good writers blogging and it's fun to find them. Every now and then... hit the "next blog" link at the top of the page... you never know when you will stumble upon a gem.

Have a fantastic, fun and meaningful summer... fill it with joy!

God Bless,
Steve

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Music and emotion

A song heard at the right moment can change your day, your night, your week. Isn't it something that one's whole mood can be lifted or dropped by a combination of melody, voice and lyric? It's true for me anyway. But it's not so simple. There are other variables operating, because that very same song can, under different circumstances, be just background noise. A song might bring out a variety of feelings depending on the context and mood one enters into the listening with, as well as the context and mood of the memories triggered back to when that song was first heard. Here is a song that never fails to brings out a complexity of emotions in me. Nostalgia, longing, sadness, hope, grief, excitement, despair, joy... how is that possible? If I want to know how I'm doing these days, I think I can play this song and the emotions elicited will inform me. Good grief...who needs the MMPI or Rorschach when there has been music like this out there? I know there is good music here and there coming out these days, but it takes so much time wading through all the crap to get to it... and with all the good ol'stuff reincarnated and uploaded on YouTube... it's nice now and then to drift back to those days. Some music ages like fine wine... some turns rancid. How could Leonard Cohen write so haunting a song? It's too much... It's almost unbearable! And his zombie-like delivery just makes it all the more intense. (Caution...if you are too young to be acquainted with this song... there were times in years past when I was on the edge emotionally that this song was just too dangerous to listen to... hmmmm... perhaps that's a reflection of my past angst and not the song...nevermind...)


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Night prayer

I recently discovered that a small chapel about a mile from our house has "night prayer" every night at 8:00 PM. Truth be told, at 8:00PM on weeknights, I am more likely to be sitting in front of my TV than anywhere else... and a mile down the road, in a beautiful and peaceful chapel that holds no more than about 40 people, and generally has an attendance of 15-20 people, a Compline service is being quietly conducted. I have made it a goal that this month, more days than not, I will be there for the service.

As I have mentioned before, I am in the Novitiate stage of becoming a Benedictine Oblate. One of the reasons I am drawn to Monastic spirituality is the intentional way that those in Monastic communities live with a certain rhythym and flow in the presence of God. With all the habits we develop, (being "present" for our favorite TV show - not so necessary anymore now that we have Tivo/DVR - having dessert after dinner, morning coffee, reading the Newspaper, etc.), there is no point to raging against the reality that we are creatures of habit. Even our pets have habits. Simcha, our last cat, had evening rituals... in many ways she was a creature of habit. Not so much our new cat Mishu, who is a creature of impulse. But Simcha had a certain order to her life that fascinated me.
But I digress. So, I've had enough of feeding bad habits, and I feel a certain desire to incorporate "habits" that acknowledge and honor God, and habits that feed my "higher" self with the time that I have left. And, I find that when I attend the Compline service, I enter the evening with much greater peace. Also, I am less concerned than ever about "denomination." I am not a Catholic, yet, I find a reverence and beauty in the Divine office. It is like poetry to God. I don't care what denominational language is spoken, if I am making music to God and honoring Jesus...

...it's good stuff!

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace. Alleluia.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's allright ma, I'm only bleedin

How many times must a man..... hear that Bob Dylan has turned 70?

If he is that old, what happened to time? Why do I still see him in my mind as about 25? I was 13 when I first heard Dylan thanks to my 15 year old step-brother, who hung out with an older crowd of New York City kids. I was quite early to the show. Dylan was not yet a household name. I took my stepbrother's Dylan album to my room to listen on my pathetic little record player and wore the grooves off the record. I had many dark moods as an adolescent, and listening to songs like "In my time of dyin" and "Baby let me follow you down" just resonated, as eventually did his protest songs several years later. For the next ten years Dylan was my main hero. Then, his music seemed to lose it's magic for me. He seemed to have sunk into mediocrity. In the mid 70's he released "Blood on the Tracks" which restored for me some of my admiration for him, but then he seemed to drift again. In 1979 I had a remarkable, overwhelming born-again experience, and became a Christian; and within a month, I heard that Dylan had converted to Christianity as well. I felt like I was right there with him again when he put out his next two "Christian" albums..."Slow train coming" and "Saved." My conversian happened independent of any "church" connection, so I was hungry for anyone who could relate to what was happening in my life, and he was speaking the language of my experience again. I have no idea where Dylan is spiritually today, and I haven't enjoyed any of his albums in the last decade or so.

One thing I give him credit for is that he has always said he is not a hero or out to change the world. He is right about that. I think Dylan the man is far more human, fallible, and perhaps materialistic than the ideals we held him and his music to in the 60's. He had some great songs and lyrics and some awful albums as well. I didn't bother getting tickets to the last concert he did here, as I was totally disappointed the last two times I saw him.

Oh, well, that's the way it goes with heros. They have nowhere to go but down. As Dylan himself wrote...

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their marks
Made everything from toy guns that sparks
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It's easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.


Oh, but he wrote some awesome songs. Happy 70th!