Oncological Musings

I was reminded yesterday that black ice can challenge even big, heavy, four-wheel-drive vehicles. The truck in which I was riding lost traction (at very slow speed) and slid off the road onto a slope that led to an ice-filled pond. Fortunately, we stopped sliding before plunging into the icy water. With time and some skilled maneuvering by the guy driving the truck, I made it to my chemotherapy appointment just a shade over an hour late. I am enormously grateful for the ride. If I had been driving my car, I suspect I would have abandoned the effort to drive over long stretches of black ice to make my way to clear roads.


Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.

~ Thomas Wolfe ~


The recent—and ongoing—cold snap illustrates how quickly and completely Nature can overwhelm humans’ capacity to cope with a changing environment. Frigid air coupled with precipitation stops us in our tracks; we cannot safely walk, drive, or otherwise traverse the ground just outside our abodes. While some places are more used to the brutality of winter than others, nowhere are even the most prepared able to overcome Nature’s ferocity. Watching the weather take command of our ability to move should give us humility; we should simply acknowledge that we are the weaker in a contest between humans and weather. But we don’t. We attempt to act as if we are in control. That is a silly mistake; sometimes simply embarrassing, sometimes deadly.


The time as I write this is 4:13 a.m. I woke around 1:30, expecting to be up just long enough to have a drink of water; that expectation dissolved as I became more acutely conscious. I cannot recall everything I have done in the nearly three hours since I got out of bed; odd, isn’t it, that time continues on even while one’s consciousness seems to stall. One thing on my mind during the last three hours has to do with the people with whom I spent time in the oncology treatment room yesterday. No matter how intense the treatments, some of the people in that room probably do not have much time left in their lives. Others will overcome cancer to live long, enjoyable, cancer-free lives. Still others will benefit from treatment to the extent that they will temporarily overcome cancer for a while; long enough to embrace the lessons that cancer gives: live your life to the fullest while you can. Yesterday, one guy who like me was there for his first treatment talked to another patient in a voice loud enough for all to hear. He said he put his full faith in God; whether the chemotherapy worked for him was entirely in God’s hands, he asserted. That belief must be soothing; otherwise, the reality of having cancer is bound to cause at least a little anxiety. But is that really true? Acceptance of human mortality—one’s own and others’—can reduce and maybe even eliminate that anxiety. The words of Lobsang Tenzin offer a wise perspective, I think:

No one can avoid death; it is inevitable. Therefore, I should create in my mind a kind of willingness and accepting for that event without any fear.

~ Lobsang Tenzin ~


I must return to the cancer center, either today or Monday, to get an injection intended to offer protection against infections (the chemicals used in chemotherapy can damage one’s immune system). The weather both days is expected to be a continuation of yesterday’s; maybe even more so. When I was treated for cancer five years ago, an automated injection packet (Nuelasta) was affixed to my abdomen so that, at a pre-programmed time, I was given the necessary injection. Since then, though, insurance companies have refused to cover that mode of delivery of the treatment, according to my oncologist. Damn. The prospect of driving in to Hot Springs is not at all appealing. The major challenge is simply getting out of the Village; the highways and roadways outside the Village are (or were yesterday) safely passable. Such is life; another challenge to face and overcome.


The time is approaching 4:45. I will return to bed and try to sleep some more. I am not going to place any bets as to the degree of success I will enjoy in that attempt. If nothing else, I can muse over these musings…that might well put me to sleep.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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