Race Sherpa Rises

Race Sherpa Rises

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Where I Am Now

"If you know me, then you know that I do my best to not waste the currency of the present value of life on the high cost of future scenarios that may or may not happen. It's a bad exchange, and you lose too much in the process. The life that you are living, right now in front of you, is not only the most precious, but really the only life that you have. There very well could be some not so great days in the future, but until those days arrive, I will continue to live with as much happiness and kindness as I can." - TJS, Facebook post, 5/28/15

The reason for such a long absence is that "the life I was living," the one right in front of me, involved work, appointments, and then moving out of the house I have owned for eight years. It was a long, hard push to get through all of that! Then I took some time to get settled in at our new (house sitting gig) place, and then I left town for four days. Just now re-acclimating to the next stage.

There have been two medical appointments since I last wrote.

The first one was with Dr. Ong, the surgeon who specializes in this kind of stuff. One of the first things he said when he came in to the room was, "I don't know what you have." He also seemed to be almost humored by the fact that I have no "symptoms" (related to what they think I COULD have). I really liked him. Nice guy. He seemed smart, and he had a nice way about him. And he is clearly a visual learner/teacher, as demonstrated by what he scribbled down as he spoke to us:

Like the oncologist, Dr. Ong is not clear about what is going on, exactly, but they both still addressed the "worse case" scenarios...as if they were the only scenarios possible. I don't know if that is because they really think there are only two to three possibilities, or if it is just their job to approach this AS IF these are the only possibilities...until ruled out.

I continue to hold out for the latter, because as I have mentioned before, as long as there is uncertainty, there is a chance for something that is better than worse. :) I chuckle at myself from time to time about that thought. Is it just being hopeful, or is it being in denial? Either way, it seems to provides the best bedrock on which to live in the present; one based on the moment in front of me rather than one based on the fear of a possible future.

As an intellectual exercise, I do struggle with the idea that denial could be a favorable/desirable path. I suppose the optimal case is that one can be expansive enough inside to hold it all; to hold all of the potential outcomes while still maintaining the mental and emotional equanimity to live consciously and with intention, unhindered by the fear of "what if" scenarios. It seems to be the nature of human thought to dwell and inhabit, however. And where those thoughts choose to take refuge becomes our experience. So I don't know, perhaps "optimistic" and "denial" can both work for us in some cases.

The second appointment I had was a colonoscopy. The night before my test some labs were posted to my on-line chart. They were cancer/inflammation markers, and for the first time, I felt a little negative. All of the markers were elevated. It was pointed out by two friends, however, that a) the markers are, for the most part, not specific, and b) while my numbers were elevated, they weren't really elevated as high as some of the ranges that signify not so great things.

The results of my colonoscopy showed that my colon was in good shape (a huge relief), and that there was a tumor on my appendix. A biopsy of the surface of the tumor showed normal cells. While good news, we still don't know what is happening inside the tumor.

On Tuesday, 6/30, I have a laparoscopy to remove the appendix (and tumor) and to take some tissue samples from other areas of potential concern. So, obviously, I am hoping for the best news possible.

If you know me well, you know that I am equal parts "woo woo" and "critical thinker." These polarities are not always easy to reconcile in the mind and life of one man. Rather than seeking one true balance point, I find it more helpful (and practical) to shift across the spectrum, allowing both my intuition and intellect to guide me in the moment. I think we all do this, by the way, we just don't all acknowledge that we do it.

So this Tuesday, let us let the woo woo reign supreme. I am accepting all prayers, petitions, mantras, healing vibes, positive thoughts, and, well, maybe no animal sacrifices, please....that doesn't feel quite right.

Also, recognize that this is a big Universe, and I am not the only person in it seeking these soft, warm fuzzies. So after you cast some out in the Universe for me, please be sure to throw a big handful out for everyone else in need as well!

Until then, go on a rampage of appreciation.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Self-inflicted Suffering

"I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
- Rainer Maria Rilke

As I mentioned on my Facebook post after my oncology appointment, I can't say that I am "loving" the questions right now. But I am accepting of them. At least right now. One of the first things I learned many many years ago about managing stress is: don't worry too much about the things you can't control. We could really extend this thought further, however, to: or to things that might never happen.

Think about how much of our internal stress is due to thinking about things we can't control and/or to things that might never happen. Imagine the ease you would feel if you could eliminate those two categories from your daily mental load. Of course, actually eliminating them completely is difficult, if not impossible. We are emotional beings, and we have deep, built-in biological responses. These responses are important and can serve a very useful purpose. But even taking those in to account, it's probably safe to say that for most of us, a large share of our daily internal suffering is self-inflicted.

Again, this is not to discount the real pains and sorrows of life. Not at all. When talking to others about the idea of self-inflicted stress, it's interesting to me how some people immediately seek out counter examples; life in a war zone, losing a spouse or child, discovering that you have a terminal illness; as if they are somehow compelled to justify their own mental/emotional processing. I am in no way suggesting that there aren't "real" situations and scenarios worthy of the full spectrum of the emotions we are heir to. What I am saying is that there are many more examples in our daily lives that do not demand that mental/emotional response, but we give it to them anyway.

And for what? What do we gain by holding on to fear (or anger, or resentment, or...) over things we can't control or things that might never happen (or things that have happened in the past)? What would we lose by letting them go? I think if we all took a hard look in the mirror, we would find that we are all holding on to things. Things that don't truly serve us, or those around us.

How you choose to respond is up to you. It is not for me to judge. We are the result of our own experiences and choices, so it is not my place to say what is right or wrong for you. But for me, I don't want to hold on to unnecessary negative emotions. For me, they take away from my ability to be present with myself and with those around me.

But let's save the development of this idea for later. I have more things to say on being present, the hypnotic quality of language, and the power of our thoughts. :)

A number of people have written to me saying, "Oh, it must be so hard to play the waiting game and not know..." Well, on one hand that might be true, but frankly, as long as a specialist in oncology remains unsure, I see that as an opportunity for things to be better than worse.

It's not that I am in denial (I don't think), it's that there is not enough diagnostic information available yet to be sure of anything. So, as I have written to many of you...I choose to remain positive until there is a reason to not be. And even then, I will remain as positive and as upbeat as I can. Even if further information turns out to be in the "worse" category, I can feel good about the fact that I have not wasted the last two weeks of precious life by being mired in negative thoughts about what might be true. I have been present with life, with myself, and with others.

I do not say all of this to boast. There are times when I have not been, and will not be, as successful. I say this as a pat on the back to myself, and as an encouragement to keep going.

I have not mentioned yet that the oncologist told me that the only reason I was sitting in his office last week is because I was aware enough of my own internal "sensing" to know that something unusual was going on. He said that for many people, it's likely that it could have taken another 5-10 years before they would have come in. Rose and I both laughed (a little), knowing that I had written the post on the importance of paying attention just the night before. Whatever is going on, I am glad that we found it now.

So, the journey continues. I have an appointment with the surgeon in two hours. And, I continue to pack up a house I need to move out of next weekend. Everything marches onward.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Trust Your Experience

Many people who knew about my on-going breathing issue (or who read it about it here: http://mydharmadays.blogspot.com/2015/02/i-know-why-race-sherpa-sherps.html), have asked me how, in the process of figuring out what was wrong, we arrived at doctors discovering concerning issues in my abdomen. It's a good question, and the answer lies in a theme that I am going to hit on over and over and over: awareness.

I guess I could begin by attributing it to the body awareness that comes from being a life-long athlete; but really, it was my years of yoga, pranayama, meditation, and martial arts, that refined my "body sense." When you become attuned to the slightest changes that are happening...in your body, in your mind, in your environment...you can start piecing together information way ahead of most people. And when you get to the point where you can trust it, you become very self-empowered.

I have gone to a number of doctors in the last three years. The first one thought my symptoms were due to age, the next one thought it could be my heart, the third one investigated mold and environmental allergens. I understand why they were each looking at those particular things; I don't fault them for that (too much). There was one sensation, however, very subtle, that I had noticed and hadn't been able to account for. I had this sensation that my diaphragm was restricted in some way. That something was "off" just a little bit. That the "path" my breath took was not the "usual path." And it seemed like part of the reason why I couldn't breathe well at high intensities was because I couldn't get a normal inhale.

So when I went in to see a new primary doc, I went through the "story" that I had told over and over, but this time I made sure to mention this sensation around my diaphragm. I mean, I really emphasized it. So much so that even though he got me started on some things to see if I had reactive airway issues going on, he also scheduled an abdominal ultrasound. The ultrasound was mostly normal, but it showed some free fluid. My doctor said he wasn't sure if it had anything to do with my breathing issue, but now that we saw that it was there, we had to investigate it further. Thus, the abdominal CT.

Last week it occurred to me....had I not been so attentive and aware, or had I not been used to a certain fitness level, I could have easily just written it off as "getting older." (If I had stopped doing an activity every time someone said I was just "getting older" in response to a pain or symptom, I probably would have stopped most activities before I was 34 years old. Don't do it. Ask questions! Research for yourself!) How long would it have taken to discover this?

My take away is this....develop, fine-tune, and trust your experience. You don't need to go the hypochondriac route and assign fearful narratives to the things you notice, just notice. When you go in to see a doctor, yes, they are the ones educated in medicine, but you have your experience. You know you better than anyone else...if you are paying attention.

That is a precious gift, my friends. A gift to yourself. Take the time to develop it.