Several weeks ago in August this year 2021, I celebrated four years on this journey. As it turned out, it’s been as much about mental health and well being, as it has been about the physical aspects of cancer.
Time Line of This Chapter:
This is where the chronological style of this tale now deviates briefly into about four years of reflection. And what manifested!
- Celebrating four winters of cross country skiing, (while dealing with the Unknown for the first three).
- Reviewing the above mentioned winters 2017 through to 2021 – each an anniversary of sorts.
- Looking down is not cool
- Finding assurance while being photographed.
- Meeting my oncologist, and nurse for the journey
- Art in hospitals
- Introduction to the art of diagnosis and my first “clinic”
- Urgency… what urgency! A change of pace, and it’s challenges
- Rushing then Waiting and Watching
- Back to the drawing board and the gift of time
The journey into the metaphysical begins…
- The role of creativity – recommended read. And a dive into art…
- Attitudes to explore
- On going decisions
- Some church humor
My favourite winter place/activity, is the Snow Farm cross country skiing area. It’s in the nearby Cardrona Valley, and has been at the center almost, of each pivotal stage of my cancer journey.
The Snow Farm has been a 20 year love affair. Great snow, learning new skills, mountains, and especially there is a nurturing component. Mountains gift me this! Hanging out with the same people every winter is very special as well.
Reflections on the theme of each winter since 2017…
2017: It was in the car park four years ago, that I phoned my local doctor for my first appointment. A lump in my groin being the motivation!
Then that same winter the place where I came to terms with mortality. As I worked at regaining my mountain mojo post surgery.
2018: I toured about less with less energy than normal. Enjoying my usual catch up with friends of various nationalities was on track though. This winter became the time to see what I could handle during waiting and watching.
The disease seemed to be taking hold though!
2019: it was “game on”. Orchestrated to perfection! What better time than early winter to begin treatment. The whole of the ski area became my place of refuge and escapism. I experimented with what was possible during treatment. I skied about four days out of every seven. Weather permitting of course, and between monthly visits to Dunedin.
Please don’t get the idea I was pushing myself a lot during treatment. I’d decided on the exact opposite. I’ve seen other people’s attempts to do what they’ve always done. And noted they end up looking like death warmed up. Being blown over by the merest breeze, came to mind. No, I listened to my body.
I recommend never going far without a break. Eating well, honoring hydration and keeping warm, must be priorities. Be grateful honoring the body, and especially morale!
Mary, one of my good friends noted that I spent a lot of time looking at my ski tips while skiing (or rather shuffling under the influence of treatments).
This has never been good for balance. Try walking and balancing on a single railway line, while looking at your feet!
I was very grateful for her observations. From then on I endeavored to look into the middle distance. At where I wanted to go to!
2020: was all about seeing what I could do. Treatments continued but in a milder form. Timing of trips to Dunedin Hospital, and snow/weather conditions were in conflict. I missed the best of the skiing. Except for a full-moon solo ski tour in Sept.
2021: This winter past. A time of celebration. I went for it early!
“Good thinking” I thought. As NZ’s second covid lockdown occurred. Exactly when the snow conditions were perfect. Groan! Wanaka skiers (and businesses) went into mourning!
A few weeks later when I met Mary again we had time to talk. I brought up the topic of how while skiing I was looking down at my feet. I made the comment that during the treatment time I’d realised I did not want to look very far into the future!
Now it’s time to continue the story chronologically…
At times I do a lot of photography trips with a very close doctor friend in Invercargill. For sometime he’d expressed an interest in doing my portrait.
He rang me a few days before I was due to visit the oncology unit in Dunedin again in 2017. My first clinic was pending with the specialist oncologist who was going to look after me. He suggested we meet for the day in Arrowtown’s historic Chinese gold mining area. An hour’s drive away.
< The restored Arrowtown Police Hut, built in 1863. It is a couple of minutes walk from the Chinese settlement buildings
I had a good chuckle at his suggestion, and accused him of hurrying it up, before my hair fell out. There was every possibility that chemo treatment was pending.
Well we met on the appointed day, and had a good session. Afterwards over a coffee nearby he looked me in eye, and after a well timed delay said, “you’re going to be OK”. This coming from a very experienced physician meant the world to me. And I realised I was on the road to learning about the multi faceted art and science of diagnosing.
Two days later I was on my way to Dunedin. To find out what was in store for me, in regards to my upcoming treatment options.
It was to be the first of many clinics with my lovely oncologist (I thought of them as meetings until I knew better!). Things were about to get real!
How did I feel during my first REAL clinic:
The Crossing of the First Threshold! The realisation dawned; everything up to this point had been a fulfillment of preliminaries.
The waiting room was something else, e.g. there were about a doz. distraught looking people coming and going over 20 minutes or so. It must have been my timing on the day, but I seemed to be the only well and fit person present. Relative to the occasion! Or was it that I was having a “poor me/why me, when I’ve lived well” moment. Either way I banished that thought. But there was a lot of evidence of obesity.
The admin team were so welcoming. I felt like royalty – a red carpet rolled out feeling. They were very “present”!
My oncologist appeared smiling, from around a kink in the corridor. While walking down it 20 meters to her office I knew I was in the best of hands. Refinement of my diagnosis was in the air. Starting with my gait and general demeanor. Up until this moment it had been only in digital form hearsay for her.
A deep questioning regime followed as soon as I took a seat in her office. My cell phone accessible nurse was present too. The more the merrier for now, I thought – it’s easy to miss stuff in the heat of a (first clinic) moment.
I felt totally acknowledged and listened to. And looked after!
I love their philosophy of treating the patient’s personas; spiritual, emotional and physical! And of course, lets not forget the other visitors, such as family and loved ones. People waiting for news and giving love and support. A positive environment is of benefit to all!
via a Google hunt for researcher Roger Ulrich >>>
The British Medical Journal says, “Art is able to provide solace, exhilaration, and satisfaction in a huge variety of
different forms. Above all it is able to humanize a building, infusing an often soulless and impersonal environment
with affirmation…many critical moments in our lives occur there—from birth through to death—and they ought to
take place in surroundings which honor their true significance.”
The effect of the art resonated with my beginnings of a plan. A several points path to wellness (see below)!
The nitty gritty of my first clinic:
🔬 As mentioned above I was under a new microscope!
I had my story prepared. I’d been texting my nurse that I was seasonally engaged cross country skiing. There was a hint of fitness inherent. I got to speak of my fun time follies.
When the words had landed and the snow flakes settled. Then it was time to listen to MY specialist.
“Why would I recommend an immediate start. It would involve putting poisonous chemicals in your body”, she said. “Lets wait and watch”. That was my understanding of the conversation!
Knowing of the pressure drug companies can exert, I felt relieved and delighted with her advice. Research into lifestyle/alternative treatments is slow. There is no money in it for them.
A new concept dawned. My disease might be one I die with, rather than of!
And it was at this clinic when she first said, “The Power of the Mind…”. In a voice that got my attention. It was an open statement, with a tone of fact. Something worthy of detailed examination.
I was on my way! 💗
The concept however of suddenly going from a sense of urgency (for treatment, and/or tidying up one’s affairs) happens in various fields. Rush, rush, rush, and then wait was no stranger…
Whenever aircraft are used in mountains for dropping off, picking up, or re-supply, it is very common…
So back to the drawing board!
That I had time to “wait and watch” surprised me. This led to a whole new level of perception. And so my fledgling plans were waylaid.
I don’t know if it was a coincidence or that my whole energy changed. Within days, I felt deluged by loving advice from various friends, e.g. “Donald you must see so-and-so”. Or do “such-and-such”.
The realisation dawned! Even following a few leads would be beyond my energy and time capabilities.
The gift of time on a cancer journey is precious. This was my second dose – the first being the tumor removal surgery. Taking a long and deep breath I decided on, broadly speaking, three courses of action:
- Embrace the health system and the science
- Tend the decision making away from the logical intellectual mind a little bit (more). Take the advice of the professionals, while developing a parallel course towards what was ‘heart-felt”. While never entertaining fear!
- Keeping the above in mind, construct a plan comprised of about 10 points. And aim for a full ten percent of quality for each.
Creativity was the obvious first candidate (ramp up the power of the mind!). I started thinking, “it’s at about six percent of capacity, so get it up to ten”!
We all of course have more than one creative avenue. But having a head-start I went with photography. (Noting here that this blog also fits!)
Which of course ties in with doing more in the great outdoors! Another point to aim for a full ten percent in.
< My above mentioned doctor friend using my camper Turtle, for his tripod base. Near Poolburn Dam/Reservoir in Central Otago
“Art is the set of wings to carry you out of your own entanglement”
Joseph Campbell (acclaimed mythologist and author).
Meaning that an illness can mean we become entangled with it. Identify with it. Where it becomes our all dominating story.
Very useful and fascinating information for the beginning of my wellness journey! And written only for eBook (as far as I know), in his 80th or so year. Shortly after he passed.
I first came across him as a teenager when he was the subject of a TV doco series. Then more recently, his teachings, on a writing course.
His chapter on art is fascinating. And concepts of mythology can help us predict our future even.
< Available at Apple’s iBook and perhaps for Kindle (no I’m not on a commission!)
The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and The Hero’s Journey, are two of his most well known works.
“Living in the Sacred” is one of my favourite and most intriguing chapters in the above book. He makes some fascinating points about the relationship between art and illusion.
An aspect that works for me, is the first feeling I have when I’m exposed to great art. He describes it well.
You may have experienced it on seeing one of the above photos. It would be great if you have. If you’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in some of the worlds great art galleries I’m sure it’s a certainty.
It will have been a split second long experience. A moment of “arrest” before your mind starts to interpret what you’ve seen, or heard, or felt. It’s the reason we value great art!
A moment where language fails us. In fact it’s not even present!
The useful aspect is that it bypasses ingrained beliefs. It fosters a revealing of reality, divorced from our thinking mind. The awareness moment can be learnt. In an unlearning (of ingrained beliefs).
A sense of tension in the composition may manifest also. And endure even, when we interpret what we see/hear.
Googling a phrase like: “photography + tension + composition”, has not enlightened my understanding. And least of all, how to learn the technique. But no matter – it’s the split second moment that I always want to experience. Not the subsequent tagging.
- From now on please keep in mind that the below is new territory for me. Work in progress on how to recognise the phenomena, and what to do about it.
There is the flip side though to the “arrest”. I’ve never been prone to hosting anxiety in my persona for a period of time. Yet I do find that I can experience the negative side of an arrest too, for the same split second.
It can be a phone call, or email subject. For example a grumpy client, or an unexpected expense. Or from the other side of love (being fear), and directed at me from a loved one! And I experience scarcity. From anything from 1 second to 60. Every so often for much longer (less and less as I age)
Such brief experiences release chemicals that compromise our immune system. The old flight or fight reaction that we have inherited from our cave days.
Trouble is our modern world often denies us a release of the flight or fight chemicals.
For me nullifying these quick gut reactions is ongoing work. I am blessed to know the value!
RIP! With a sad Sayonara
If we dwell on the above!
I want to be clear here though.
Positivity is no guarantee of survival!
But it is known to make us happier.
An uptick of self awareness – an engagement of the executive brain that brings balance to the lower reptilian primal urges will serve us well!
This is very important to keep in mind – it is too easy to have an apocalyptic vision of the future. This type of unhealthy fear (unhappy even), be it even of a split second’s worth of residency has consequences! Cortisol is ever-ready to rev us up. Which in turn mobilises an immune response – when there is no need!
An adrenaline deployment is better suited to the surprise company of a grumpy dog with rabies.
The Unknown will probably start out in the guise of fear. Then progress to an uneasy acceptance. It will be your friend once it is welcomed. Then it becomes a place to store processed thoughts, and dreams – letting them go. Once there in the company of infinite probabilities, sooner or later one of them will ultimately slow down in frequency as energy…and come back into three dimensions as matter.
Anyway back to decisions I thought I had to make back in 2017:
How much time daily to devote to examining options, and which to discard. In a daily time-table that now had to feature distinct periods of relaxation.
What should my ten point plan feature?
How to mentally handle waiting and watching!
Lastly perspective born of history can not only teach us valuable lessons. Humor is inherent in everything…
Cost £100. Contributed by the diggers.
It stands at an altitude of 3100 feet – when built the highest church in New Zealand.
Summation – my “take home” points at the time:
- Seek the company of positive and reassuring friends, over those not so inclined. Continually focusing solely our own levels of positivity maybe the less productive use of those sort of energies.
- Trust professionals – this frees up energy.
- Look around at the hospital environment, considering how to engage the potential for wellness that is inherent.
- Learn how to leverage the power of the mind.
- Dare to dream! That rushing will slow down. That we can develop a set of wings and enter the (flight) path to wellness.
- Monitor self thoughts – be an eagle on the shoulder watching, and whispering wisdom in our ear. Or a butterfly! Or a ruru/morepork. Work our imaginations!
- Look for humor. Find it everywhere, rubbing shoulders with gratitude.
The next post/chapter will be titled something like, “The Long Night of the Soul”
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The content presented on the site is in no way intended as medical advice. Or as a substitute for medical treatment. Guidance from your doctor or other health care professional should always be sought. Be involved with them on all levels.
All photos on this site are my own. With the very odd exception, and attribution is acknowledged on them where possible. To see/ purchase photos from my wanderings, they’re at PicFair >>