Life in the brain cancer cloister (again)


I wrote some time ago that a friend who went through treatment for cancer said it was like “living in a black hole,” in the sense that while the world goes on around you, and people are helpful and kind, you’re really isolated by the intense and exhausting journey you’re on.

That’s how life feels to me right now. Even though we’re surrounded (literally and virtually) by people who love and care for us, and who help out in so many ways (thank you all!); even though Salida in summer is a crazy busy place with events from FIBArk and its weekend of whitewater in mid-June to the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge in late August; even though our guest cottage calendar has already seen a string of back-to-back-to-back vacation renters, friends and family; even though life hurtles on at what seems like a breakneck pace; our intense focus on Richard’s health and well-being creates an oddly peaceful space around us.

“Oddly” peaceful because I never imagined that this all-out effort to help my love survive a glioblastoma that has fingered throughout his right hemisphere and required four brain surgeries in less than two years would allow us such a relatively quiet existence. It’s like being on a spiritual retreat: we’re both focused on creating a nurturing life, and our days follow an ordered routine.

Here’s how a day in this particular brain cancer cloister goes: Richard takes his first meds at about six, before the sun slips over the rim of the Arkansas Hills. We snuggle in bed for a bit before rising. I head to the kitchen to make his four-grain, three-fruit hot cereal (recipe in a future post). Once it is soaking, we do half an hour of yoga, our spiritual grounding time.

Then it’s time for breakfast, and afterwards, I make my daily dose of hot chocolate and settle into writing . Richard often works on a Sudoku puzzle, a sequencing exercise for his recovering brain. About the time I finish answering emails, Facebook messages, writing my daily haiku, and journaling, he heads off to meditate, and I turn to whatever writing project is top on my list. After meditating, he often naps while I write.


We convene for lunch at one o’clock. While I prepare his anti-cancer meal of fresh veggies and fruits (many from our garden) plus an open-faced sandwich on organic–and local–whole wheat bread slathered with pesto (also from the garden) and yogurt cheese (made from our own yogurt), we trade events of the day.

After lunch, I finish my writing while he naps or works on a project. Around three-thirty, we walk hand-in-hand to the Post Office, five blocks away, chatting with friends and acquaintences we meet. Back at home, he naps again and then suits up for his daily ten-minute, Nordic-Trak “ski,”, part of our effort to keep his muscle and bone mass from wasting away.

I make dinner, another meal high in the kinds of plant chemicals and other food components that help prevent cancer and keep us both healthy. I aim for easy and appealing to the eyes and taste buds. Tonight we ate a mess of freshly harvested garden greens–chard, collards, and red mustard–sauteed over chipotle salsa and olive oil with an egg, also local, poached atop the greens. Definitely yummy.

After we eat, we settle in for a quiet evening. Sometimes friends stop by, or we talk on the phone. “Quiet” for me may mean working, as in writing this blog post and the column for Colorado Central magazine that’s my next deadline, or it may mean reading or preserving garden bounty. Richard helps in the kitchen, picks up his sudoku, reads, or naps.


If this sounds like a pretty peaceful existence, that’s the rainbow in the storm of this grueling journey with a truly scary form of brain cancer. There’s a transcendent kind of grace that comes from building an ordered existence even in the most difficult times, a life that nurtures body, mind, heart and spirit–and our ties to community and place. It shouldn’t require a serious slap in the head like getting brain cancer to remind us that what matters in life comes from that sort of deep connection. But so often that’s exactly what it takes. Still, that grace we acquire at such price may help carry us through any terrible time with our love, and our souls intact.