Saturday, November 26

Turkey Mountain

I'm sitting at the table on a Saturday night, as Kate is stir frying leftover turkey. We traditionally cook a large turkey on Thanksgiving. This year a 23 pound turkey for the four of us. So there was a mountain of leftover turkey.

See. I wasn't kidding. Well, our next turkey-based meal is ready.

Sunday, November 20

Lucky Seven

November is a special month for me. I was diagnosed with a tumor on my spine on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving seven years ago. Seven years. Madeline and Peter were 13 and 10. Now they are kind of like adults. Just like me. I don't know if I will ever reach full adulthood. I don't know if I want to.

I thought at the time in my steriod-induced way that it would be a good idea to get a little tattoo to remind me of the cancer experience. Nothing big. Just a little mnemonic on my chest where the radiation target was. I am not normally fond of tattoos, but it could have been kind of a cool reminder of the joy it is to be alive. As time passes I have come to realize that such a tattoo is unnecessary. The experiences of that time seven years ago are with me every day. But not in a bad way (for the most part). If you can keep your mortality in your mind just enough, it really helps keep things in perspective.

I had my routine quarterly oncologist appointment this past week. An unusual one, since my oncologist of the past seven years is nearing retirement and no longer comes to the Saint Paul office. I decided that since in all probability my life expectancy exceeds his expected work life, this would be a good time to change oncologists. Last week was the first appointment with my new oncologist. He's great, and I quickly felt a rapport with him. I'm in a new set of good hands. And I always feel blessed that my "regular" doctor is also my neighbor and friend. A good, logical, well thought out decision.

But there is a part of me that is quite superstitious when it comes to cancer. Am I tempting fate to think that I'll be around for a long while? Should I change doctors when things are going well? Odd thoughts pop into my mind. The one bad blood test I had was the one I worried least about. So part of me views worrying about the results of a blood test as the "dues" that need to be paid for a good result. But it all worked out fine. The blood tests came back with perfectly normal results. I feel great. My back feels better than it has at any time in the last seven years (knock on wood - there's that superstition thing again). Some of that I attribute to good regular exercise. And the passage of time.

Seven years. Who needs a tattoo?

Thursday, November 10


Yesterday we had gale force winds here in Minnesota. In the morning there was a steady 25 mile an hour wind from the Northwest. Since my bike ride to work is pretty much Northwest, this is not day-brightening news in the morning. And somehow the tailwind I had on the way home didn't seem nearly as powerful as the morning headwind. Some of that was real. The wind did drop a bit during the day. But most of the difference I experienced was due to the fact that I get much more fixated on the wind when it is impeding my progress. When it's helping me, I tend not to notice.

I think that for me and for many if not most of us, biking in the wind is a good metaphor for life. We notice the headwind. The little problems and issues and difficulties in our life. We forget about, or ignore, or undervalue, life's tailwinds.

And this is my answer to the question "what is good about having had cancer?" For me, and for many others who have been touched by cancer, you do at least a little better at remembering the "tailwinds" in your life. Your family. Your friends. Who you always thought but now know will be there for you in good or bad times. My family and friends are a huge tailwind that blows constantly in my life.

When I was sick I "forgot" how to walk. How to climb stairs. How to control the movements of my legs. To this day, seven years later, it is a joy for me to climb stairs. When I climb up stairs I remember to appreciate the fact that I can do this simple thing I took for granted for so many years. I make it a habit to climb two at a time. Why? Partly because I can. But mostly because it helps me remember how blessed I am (though after a couple of flights sometimes it just reminds me that I need to get in better shape).

I don't want to get too sappy about this. But Thanksgiving is coming up and we have so much to be thankful for. Sometimes we do face headwinds. But the tailwind is blowing too. More than we sometimes notice.

(I realize lots of these entries emanate from things thought about on bike rides. Bike rides make up two quiet half-hours of my work day. Maybe because you never forget how to ride a bike, it's a time where I can let my mind wander. And I haven't figured out how to drink wine or watch television or read while I'm riding. I don't think there is a deeper explanation than that. But I'll think about it.)

(I learned about bike safety from my father - who was, and even after his death continues to be, one of my "tailwinds".)

Tuesday, November 1

Strange Interlude Number 2

I had another strange experience on my bike ride home tonight. I was riding along as dusk was finishing turning into dark when I passed (yes, passed!) another cyclist. The reason I was passing him was pretty clear. He was biking along with his son in a bike trailer. As I passed, the son asked the cycling father - "What does refrain mean?" As I pulled away into the night, I heard him reply that it is "something you sing over and over." But as I rode on I began reflecting that it also is something you avoid doing. Such a confusing language we have.

As I said, I'm a fairly slow biker. A mile or so later the father and son team passed me - singing away. Clearly, the father was teaching his son the first and most important definition of refrain. The child has plenty of time to learn to refrain from doing things. Especially things like singing in public. Sadly, the odds are overwhelming that he'll learn that soon enough.