Smoke Signals

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was going to write about my love of food and music and the healing powers of both. I will save this for another time as I compile notes of my thoughts and small, fleeting moments of inspiration – a mess of chicken scratch written on Post-It notes, recycled paper from trash bins and even inked on my hand. Every thought is so ephemeral as my mind has been on hyper-drive and nearly every sound, sight and moment resonates with new meaning. It’s as if someone changed the wattage of every light bulb and my vision has been corrected. My sleep is still off and I await the so-called “new normal.” I carry a tiny 2″ x 4″ Moleskine notebook everywhere I go.

Getting back to work today was perfect as it allowed me to focus on something else for a change. The fellowship of Planet Putney is a balm, a salve, and the excitement I feel for the tasks at hand carry me down a road I enjoy.

The above clip, from one of my favorite films, Smoke Signals, written by Sherman Alexie and based on a short story contained within the collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, captures beautifully both the visual and lyrical movements of what has been burrowing into my body: thinking of my parents and how they must feel. While the film addresses primarily the love and tension between child and parent, son and father, there is a deeper resonance which reflects the fundamental need for love from the person or people who brought us into this world. Parent-child conflict will metastasize into fear, pain, loathing, and violence. A house filled with love will stand against any storm. I am fortunate to have been raised in such a home, one filled with warm embraces. In the clip, the raging waters, the brutally beautiful force of nature, represent so much more.

Such waters so witnessed and experienced with great tragedy these past few days from the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. Vermont was hit exceptionally hard and made international news. Neighboring towns were devastated. Lives were lost, including, as I found out today, the father of a boyfriend of a dear student I know. He was trying to secure his boat and was swept away. I watched industrial-grade propane tanks being carried down the torrential, brown waters, bobbing like an unmanned canoes. Pieces of homes. A car. A house in nearby Grafton disappeared, leaving nothing but the concrete step where the front door once stood. Roads washed out. In one painful, chilling clip, a historic bridge in Lower Bartonsville, where my veterinarian lives, slipped away, carrying memories and history downstream in splintered pieces. The cries of bystanders wailed into the wind.

Smoke Signals helped me understand and appreciate more deeply what I have. Yes, my parents have had their share of issues. They have, like so many couples, been through struggles and growing pains. Their temporary separation when I was young is as clear as if it occurred today. I recall the carriage house my father stayed in at a friend’s farm and the new sheets he bought me and my sister, in a loving gesture, to make a new home. I had owl-print sheets, my sister had cat sheets: black and white cats wearing red sneakers. I think they still reside in the lake cottage in Pennsylvania where I spent my summers. I recall the single tear, resting at the end of his nose, not falling, as he sat on the edge of the bed sobbing as things were crumbling around him. My mother throwing herself, crying, on the red shag carpet, next to the wrought iron bull on the Mediterranean-styled coffee table and the plastic plant. God the 70’s were ugly. Somehow they endured. They were young. The era was adrift in post-Vietnam bitterness. Group therapy, Silva Mind-Control and Gestalt must have done something right. My parents, worthy of their own sit-com, are still together. And they are beautiful.

I imagine their frozen, stunned, deer-in-the-headlights numbness which comes when your own child is faced with a fate that might precede your own. It makes my own bones brittle. This is all still too raw to digest. My mother, a writer and reader she, has not touched this blog. My father, also good with the pen, has been able to climb over the fence of despair and dig in. Mom has shared that she is sorry, but she just cannot. Not now. I told her that it was absolutely OK. That I understand. I know they are there for me every hour of the day. And I for them.

I tell them “please Mom and Dad, do not blame yourselves. It was nothing you did or did not do. It just is. This tumor, this cancer, just is.

An update: my visit Monday went exceptionally well. Neuro-Oncologist extraordinaire, Dr. Fadul, with his warm, calm and highly astute demeanor, laid out the plans for radiation therapy following what will be a second surgery next Tuesday. There is indeed residual tumor left and removing all of the tumor is essential, critical, to keeping the devil at bay. Why didn’t they get all of it the first time? Many reasons among which include the fact that the doctors do not know at the time what kind of tumor they are dealing with (benign, malignant, aggressive, passive) and the err on the side of caution lest they damage healthy brain tissue and cause unintended permanent damage with life-altering results. Dr. Fadul was pleased that things went well in Houston and knows Dr. Gilbert.

After a few weeks of healing, I will receive intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) for six weeks, five days a week. I will feel tired, will appear to have a bad sunburn and lose what little hair I have left. My beard, I am told, will likely remain. Nausea will be treated with medicine. And then we wait, embrace the unknown, laugh, love and live.

After Dr. Fadul, we met with Dr. Erkmen, the neurosurgeon and his compassionate nurse, Amber. Dr. Erkmen, a pleasing, kind, expert in his field, had already come highly endorsed: two friends had already been his patients and came out of the procedure 100% intact and functioning beautifully. He is an artist and a master physician. The prep for the surgery will begin at 8:00 AM and the surgery itself will happen around 2:00 and last for about two hours barring any complications. I find it both jarring and comforting that just thinking about another brain surgery has become routine, no different from repairing a torn medial meniscus. But more jarring is the immediate realization that this is, in fact, significantly more critical. The brain, an essential organ, is not your knee. I write this with all due respect to the many incredible orthopaedic surgeons who have sewn my medial menisci (plural Greek for “crescent”) and ruptured bicep tendon back together. There is a reason the phrase “it’s not exactly brain surgery, is it?” is right next to exclamations of “it’s not rocket science!”

“You should go clubbing- the pink light might come out of your ears and nose” shared Eric A. when I shared that they will be injecting a fluorescent pink dye into my veins as part of a process called 5- ALA. “It is used to visualize tumorous tissue in neurosurgical procedures.” As far as I understand, my brain’s cancerous tissue will glow with a phosphorescent pink hue, helping Dr. Erkmen identify what is left. I am told that I will need to be in a “dark place” for a few days as sensitivity to light is quite high. Oooh boy. A dark place…my favorite!

After surgery, I will rest, do my best to obey orders and recuperate from having my head re-opened once again. Lord knows what else Dr. Erkmen may find in there. After a few weeks, when the swelling resides, it’s radiation time.

Beverly Sharon Bennett Green, of the tiny upstate New York town of Narrowsburg, and Stephen Howard Green of Philadelphia lovingly brought me into this world on August 18, 1967. My sister, Kerrin Melissa Green followed in 1970. Cancer be damned, love conquers all and I have wheelbarrows full. Thank you Ma, thanks Poppa, thank you sister. I love you.

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About moosevt

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3 Responses to Smoke Signals

  1. Ellen says:

    All the best, Mark! I’ll be thinking of you next Tuesday and in the days to come as you fight this monster.

    Take care,
    Ellen

  2. Vicky Riley says:

    Mark,
    Your strength inspires. I think of you every day. Now I understand your birthday was August 18, along with my closest frind since 2nd grade and my partner, Geoff. There must have been a cosmic force showering intelligence, creativity and love on 8/18 folks.

    I missed you the other day. Drat! Please know your bracelet is with me and you are in my prayers.
    Fondly,
    Vicky

  3. Howard says:

    Go Moose!!!

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