Richard and I just returned from Denver and two days of appointments at the VA Medical Center. Yesterday was his neurosurgery check-up with the folks who removed most of his tumor-ridden right temporal lobe three weeks ago. The news there is very good: The backwards-question-mark incision that decorates the right side of his head is healing well, there’s no sign of abnormal swelling, and the neurosurgery docs say that swelling around a cranial nerve that is creating the skewed and doubled vision that frustrates and exhausts him will recover in time. Patience is in order there, and we’re both working on that!
After the neurosurgery consult, we gave ourselves the treat of spending the rest of the afternoon at Denver Botanic Gardens. The Henry Moore sculptures still grace the gardens, and we walked by a few, including the haunting female form in the photo above, reclining next to one of the waterlily pools. But we were looking for quiet, not an easy thing to find in the popular gardens. So we ducked into the shade garden, a woodland grove that’s off the beaten path and has long benches perfect for our agenda: picnicking and napping (Richard), writing and participating in a conference call (me).
After that lovely quiet time, we met friends at Lala’s Wine Bar & Pizzeria, a touch of European sidewalk cafe comfort in the city, for an early and delightful dinner (thanks, Dave and Nancy!) and then headed out to the VA’s Fisher House for the night.
Today was Richard’s oncology consult, which meant seeing one of our favorite doctors in this crazy journey with brain cancer, Dr. Klein. She got the short straw this time, the responsibility for delivering the news we had hoped not to hear: the tumors removed along with much of his right temporal lobe were definitely cancer. The pathologist determined that they were Grade 4, a step worse than the original tumor removed last fall. Huh. What does that mean? It means the survival statistics are worse, but Richard’s himself, an individual human being–still refusing to be a statistic–so we’re not going to let statistics spoil our outlook. It also means that it’s critical to prevent the tumors from returning. Beyond that, what it means is not so clear.
One thing is clear: chemotherapy is out, since he was taking intensive doses of the most promising chemo drug when the most recent tumors appeared. As Dr. Klein said, “If the chemo drugs aren’t going to work, there’s no point making you miserable with them.” As for more radiation, she’s got a call in to his radiation oncologist to see what he thinks, but that may not be a very promising option either, since too much radiation is bad for your brain.
So what do we do? Build on our strengths, which as Dr. Klein pointed out, include Richard’s generally great health and his amazingly positive attitude. People survive brain cancer, even Grade 4 Glioblastomas. “We tell people that we can’t cure diabetes,” she said, “or heart disease. But we can manage them. So too with cancer.” So we’re going to focus our energies on bolstering his health, not only his recovery from brain surgery, but his general health on all levels, body, mind and spirit. (Hence the photo above, which shows Richard studying fringed gentians, one of his favorite wildflowers, on in our drive home across South Park.)
Cancer, as neuroscientist, MD, and brain cancer survivor David Servan-Schrieber points out in his book Anticancer, A New Way of Life, is not primarily a genetic disease: it’s incidence is closely linked to diet, environmental chemical exposure, and lifestyle. So in the coming weeks, we’ll learn all we can about ways to prevent brain tumors from returning. We’ll look to western medicine for applicable clinical trials; we’ll look to research on diet and lifestyle choices and their affects on cancer. We’ll make sure his meals are filled with foods known to prevent cancer; his days include body-mind-spirit health-enhancing pursuits like meditation, exercise, yoga, bodywork and soaks in nearby hot springs; his creativity and intellectural hunger are nutured with sculpture, economics, and whatever else makes him feel useful and inspired.
We’ve lived in the cancer-treatment cloister during our “residency” near the cancer treatment center where he received daily doses of radiation and chemotherapy last winter. Now we’ll turn our lives into the cancer-prevention cloister, honing our days to the essentials that keep both of us happy, healthy and fulfilled, like taking the time to stop and admire the fringed gentians along the way (both real, like those gorgeous blue ones in the photo above, and metaphorical, like all of the caresses we exchange over the course of day). After all, that’s really what life is about, isn’t it?
Thanks for pausing with us and cheering us on.