muzzle of bees

Muzzle of Bees- Wilco

There’s a random painted highway
And a muzzle of bees
My sleeves have come unstitched
From climbing your tree

And dogs laugh, some say they’re barking
I don’t think they’re mean
Some people get so frightened
Of the fences in between

And the sun gets passed from tree to tree
Silently, and back to me
With the breeze blown through
Pushed up against the sea
Finally back to me

I’m assuming you got my message
On your machine
I’m assuming you love me
And you know what that means

Sun gets passed, sea to sea
Silently, and back to me
With the breeze blown through
Pushed up above the leaves

With the breeze blown through
My head upon your knee
Half of it’s you, half is me
Half of it’s you, half is me

As of this evening at approximately 11 o’clock or so, it will be exactly one year since I nearly slid into the abyss…the dates are etched in memory. July 31, 2011, month-long headaches devolve into calamity. 12:05 AM August 1st, I am admitted to Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, NH and later rushed to Dartmouth-Hitchcock. August 2, 6:00 am, my first craniotomy. 4.3cm tumor removed. September 6th, second craniotomy to remove residual brain cancer tissue. 11/11/11, the end of 33 radiation treatments to my brain. This morning I went to get night crawlers and supplies for fishing. The receipt was for $11.11. It was just after 11:00 AM.

I am not very superstitious but sometimes one has to wonder about the “lattice of coincidence” as mentioned by Miller in Repo Man: “A lot of people don’t realize what’s going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don’t realize that there’s this like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. I’ll give you an example. Show you what I mean. Suppose you’re thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly, somebody’ll say like, plate, or shrimp, or plate of shrimp. Out of the blue. No explanation. No point looking for one either. It’s all part of the cosmic unconsciousness.”

The girls, my teenage daughters and two of their friends, are slowly waking after a whirligig ride of a weekend consisting of sailing on Lake Champlain, eating our way up and down Church Street, taking in the earnest, bohemian street performers, shopping, (of course, what with two daughters and two of their friends) attending a most wonderful Wilco concert and camping out at the North Beach campground. Populated mostly with Quebecois young and old, we were in the minority, reminding us of our ski trips to Quebec City and Mont Sainte-Anne. It was a great weekend of just being a dad to my fantabulous daughters and enjoying all that the great state of Vermont has to offer. After closing out with a sumptuous brunch at the Skinny Pancake we set off for Pennsylvania, traveling through the lush pastures and apple orchards of Addison County with the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west. To my parents summer camp we drove, where I now have a moment to breathe deep and pause to write. Nothing like a near death experience, nor continuing to live with a deadly disease to further deepen an appreciation for all that surrounds. Carpe diem indeed.

Last night, as I slipped into the dark, warm waters of this glacially formed, spring-fed lake, the hazy moon casting a soft glow on the lily pads, I felt a great sense of calm with the usual current of fear, humming steadily, but softly, like the hum of an overhead power line, inside the porous marrow of my bones. What a year it has been. What a year it has been.

The headaches continue, my moods are not always steady and my memory chip often feels as if it has been placed too close to a magnet, scrambling things up a bit. This reminds me of a great scene in a recent Breaking Bad – spoiler alert- where Walt and Jesse attempt to erase a laptop stored in the evidence room by loading a truck with a high-powered junkyard magnet and driving up to the building causing a maelström of everything metal to attach to the adjoining wall. (for a debunking of this myth-making scene PC-Mag has a great essay)

It was last July I started a new position at Putney School after a wonderful albeit brief stint (again) at Dartmouth. As rewarding as it was and as wonderful as I found the Dartmouth community, the commute was becoming unpleasant and expensive to my wallet, my body and soul. And my love for Putney has always been strong. It was last July that I failed, feeling weak and out of sorts, to complete the century ride for the Prouty, as I had done the previous two years. Two weeks later “it” all happened.

This year Barb and I rode the Prouty, bicycling 50 miles (her first 50!) and helping to raise funds for cancer research and care. It was a moving, shared experience, brought us closer, I believe and was a symbolic event in many ways. Friends joined The Blue Lobsters, a team formed by Tamra Mooney. Fellow cancer survivor and most wonderful friend Jerry Evarts rode as well, with his entourage as he always has. Tamra made great shirts which we all wore with pride. Her young, highly athletic son Scott raised over $3,000 alone. My eldest daughter Hannah, interned this summer for the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, working to help get the Prouty, which has raised millions over the years. And Libby shared with great poise and beauty, her moving experience with all this at her Bat Mitzvah this summer, lending further strength and support with her words.

This year I wore a “Survivor” bib. It was an odd feeling. While I have certainly become a brain cancer evangelist, the “survivor” moniker always make me uncomfortable but I know at the core is that such a nod might inspire others, no matter their ailment, to do what they can to help advance the”cause for cure” as it were. Awareness is tantamount.

Words and gestures seem too thin a response to thank everyone for the love and support: Barb, Hannah, Libby, parents, sister, extended family, friends, family and communities all. I can only hope that my expression through words will serve a greater good while continuing to serve as a salve for my heart, brain and soul.

One could argue that any expression of art, be it music, writing, painting, sculpture, theater, or sport ( yes, I see sport as an art form) requires a dash of self-indulgence. Sometimes more. But as many in the cancer community have expressed, there is a river of guilt which sometimes exceeds its banks, particularly when hearing of other trauma via natural or man-made disaster. The urge and need here is to give back and find your own heroes.

One hero is an old friend, someone I knew when he was a student at Putney School over twenty years ago. Neil Taylor is now not only a friend but a comrade. Before we reconnected, I had partied with him at a local annual barbecue – softball party in Westminster West. A kind, strong young man, with a great family, Neil’s presence would guarantee that the softball would be hit with such force that it would nearly hit the roof of the local elementary school across the road. One would almost expect to find the ball deep in the woods, the leather stripped from the core, seams torn apart.

Then, as it always seems to happen, Neil’s life was hit by the lightening bolt of cancer. Brain cancer. The surgery to remove the tumor, the size of a grapefruit, left him permanently blind and with some paralysis. A young man, in his prime, a life changed forever. Yet Neil’s strength and courage continues to triumph three years later.

While we have shared private conversations about the devastation from brain cancer and his unfortunate aftermath, the isolation of being blind and all that entails, he has also been an inspiration. I, along with the many friends and acquaintances, watched Neil’s rehabilitation unfold, often on the streets of Brattleboro and back roads of Putney and Westminster as he had to re-learn, in ways unimaginable to most, the contours, sounds and smells of his environs. He then became a licensed massage therapist and is now living in his own home, unassisted where he practices his craft. Last week I finally signed up for a wonderful massage. Neil has spoken to area schoolchildren to great reception and the buzz is out about “The Blind Masseur.”

We spoke of our wonderful shared oncologist, Dr. Camillo Fadul and the team at Dartmouth. The MRIs, the fears, the challenges. When we spoke of blindness, I said something, I don’t recall what- I think it was about connections with other blind or visually impaired people, to which Neil replied “you know, what most people don’t realize is that there really aren’t that many blind people out there, at least not what you might think. Think about it. Aside from me, who else do you know or when was the last time you saw a blind person?” Food for thought.

In another moving moment, we compared our scars. After he worked on my aching muscles, he moved to my scalp. With great sensitivity, he asked about my scar, as his scar remains tender to the touch. I said “no, it’s ok, you can work on that too” as his hands moved across the indented seam which runs across the top of my head.

“Mark, you’re my tumor twin!” he exclaimed joyfully, as he first did when I spoke with him about my “situation.” Yes, I am Neil. Yes I am. And you are also my hero. Thank you Neil. My tumor twin.

Neil Taylor, The Blind Masseur


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5 Responses to muzzle of bees

  1. Ellen says:

    I’ve been thinking about you a lot these days, as I realized that you were rapidly approaching a milestone anniversary. Your blog while expressive, honest, and quite beautiful can only really give us all hints of your experiences over this past year. Thank you for your willingness to share so openly. I look forward to continued posts and seeing you and Barb again in Portland soon.

  2. Mark Drexelius says:

    Great post Mark. Thanks for sharing. I am looking forward to reading your blog for many years to come. Have a wonderful day!

  3. Patrick says:

    Beautiful post! Congrats on the bike ride and inspiring words, thanks for sharing them. Hope you are well, carpe diem.

  4. Wendy Brennan says:

    Hey Mark~ I have been thinking about you this month and recalling the evolution of events and the revelations of a year ago. I continue to be blown away by your incredible writing and your incredible family and friends. Happy August, friend!

  5. Dani says:

    Oh Mark…your posts never cease to amaze me. This one, too. How inspiring. My hat is off to you, Barb, Hanna and Libby – and all the others who share it with you. As I recall, we were a little bit “ahead” of you on this journey. My husband has had recurrence, and we are struggling with choices, all which seem somehow short of what is needed to cure this disease. Luckily for me, he, like you, is grabbing life and living it with no chips left on the table. I watch you both with amazement and gratefulness. Continue the fight, Mark. Somewhere a scientist is having an “aha” moment. I just know it.

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