Wednesday, June 02, 2004

June 1 Day 1 Blog

Yesterday (June 1) was my first day of radiation therapy. I am
continuously grateful for how many people are praying for me. The
variety of people is astounding. I want to tell you about today's two
extreme examples, a retired priest with a thick Irish brogue and a very
nice black man who begs at the 101 North freeway entrance on Oakland Road.

Around 2:30, as I was getting ready to go meet my son at CISCO and ride
with him to Palo Alto
Medical Foundation for my first radiation appointment, I got a call
from a retired Irish priest from the archdiocese of San Francisco. I had interviewed
Father Gerry O'Rourke a few times in February for an article I wrote
about a Sacred Space Exhibit in the Presidio, since he was the Catholic
representative for Interfaith dialogue and had been one of the
consultants for the exhibit. He had called me and left a message last
week to say hi.
So I told him via email and a phone message what was going on with me.
Yesterday's call was the first time we'd talked since I left him the message.

First he advised me to receive the Sacrament of the Sick (formerly
called Extreme Unction). I told him I'd already done that when a friend
had brought me to St. Nicholas Church in Palo Alto for a healing
service last Wednesday. He said, "Good," and then, "Do you want to do
a process about this?"
Right on the phone, he led me through a series of exercises that
included asking my body to forgive me for whatever I might have done to
bring this on. Even if I was totally innocent, he said, we don't give
our bodies credit for how much our bodies do for us. "And when your body
forgives you, as it always does," then he told me that I had to be open
to whatever the doctor's are going to do to try to fix this thing. I
told him that made sense. It reminded me of the "discovery" in the
LaMaze writings I read
in the 60s that women who breathed into the pain of childbirth had less
pain. "That's right,"
he said. He ended with asking me to lay my hand on the area that was
giving me the most
trouble, and led me in a prayer to the Trinity, first the Father, and
the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

On the way onto 101, I saw a man I used to see almost every morning at the
freeway entrance on my way to work. I had given him two bucks each time
I saw him, because
I'd been given that as a penance one time after confession. And I keep
it up for selfish
reasons: The Bible says that almsgiving covers a multitude of sins.

I think the neighborhood homeless guys work out among themselves who gets
to beg on that median which hours of the day. Each of them seems to have
a shift. I don't envy
them, standing on the median on busy Oakland Road with the smell of
exhaust and the broiling hot midday San Jose sunshine baking them. And I don't
envy where they sleep. There are a couple of seedy motels on Oakland Road,
one called the White Way Motel and the other the Ooh La Lodge, and maybe
some of them stay at one of them. But most likely they sleep under the
Coyote Creek overpass
near the golf course. I took a long hike one day up Oakland Road and
when I
walked down to the creek, I saw the kind of litter that indicates a
homeless encampment.

One day in November, I saw him, gave him his two bucks, and I told him,
"I just got laid off." He looked genuinely concerned. Then I didn't see him
for four months, because the times I would be driving were not on his shift.
About three weeks ago, I happened to see him, and he got very excited.
It felt
like a reunion between old friends.

Then yesterday, as I took out his money from my wallet, I said,
"Remember I told you I got
laid off?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Now I've got cancer. How about that? First
I lose my job and then my health." He said, "Oh no," and he clutched my
arm in sympathy where I rested it in the rolled-down window. He looked
closely at me.
His face was all concern. He said, "This ruins my day."
His eyes are cloudy (from cataracts maybe?) and
they were filled with tears! I said, "I'm sorry."
The light changed; I said, "I have to catch this light," and I drove
away. He
said, "I'll pray for you dear." I'm always affectionately
calling people honey, and I said, "Thanks, honey. God bless you."

Many people reading this will think me a kook perhaps, thinking I have a
friendship with a beggar, and exchanging endearments. I don't know
what to say in my defense. You're probably right. But I was very, very
affected by that man's offer to pray for me.

After the radiation session, the top of my mouth felt like it does if I eat
something too hot. You know how the skin on the top of your
mouth loosens when you burn it and then quickly
heals? Sort of like that. This morning when I woke up my taste
buds seemed to be affected.

Today I go to the chemo treatment center in Sunnyvale
for five hours of IV fluids and chemotherapy with one
drug called cisplatin. Before I go to the radiation appointment
at the end of the day, I will be hooked up with a fanny pack
for 5 days of another chemo drug, 5FU. My dear, motherly, patient
friend Annette is going to sit with me the whole time.

Another little story: while waiting for a chemo teaching session
with the oncology nurse yesterday morning, I saw a little woman
with her bald head covered with a little hat come to the desk
and find out that even though she had been called by one
of those automatic phone notification programs to come in that
day, her appointment was written down for the next day. She
sounded like maybe she was retarded, because she whined
as she talked. I talked to her after she sat down while they
waited to see if they could squeeze her in. I think now that she
was simply overwhelmed, deeply fatigued, discouraged, and
in pain.

She said, "I cannot come back tomorrow. I don't have anyone
to drive me. I have to drive myself. It is too hard." I am very sorry
for her, and sad at the difference between our situations.
I have an immense number of resources at my
disposal compared to her. It is very hard for those
who have no one.

Thanks to you all, I have many "ones." Let's all try to remember
the ones who have no one .
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