“Not all who wander are lost” – J.R.R Tolkien
When I was around twelve or thirteen, I placed a map of Alaska from an issue of National Geographic next to my bed. Pinned through the dark scores between the faux walnut paneling, the map, along with that issue became a dreamscape of grizzly bears, vast terrain, soaring snow-capped peaks, and salmon-filled rivers. I imagined planes equipped with pontoons landing on remote lakes or planes with skis gliding onto the frozen tundra. I had delved into what became one of my most memorable books during those formative years, John McPhee’s Coming into the Country. I knew then that I wanted to become a bush pilot. Reading his other books equally captivated and inspired but this one left me hungry. I’ve always been hungry. And restless. And now with another lightning bolt hurled my way (damned you Zeus give me a break!) my hunger for life and living has only increased.
Tuesday was a rough day. Aside from the usual bother of the early morning commute to Dartmouth for a 6:00 AM MRI (a necessary lifesaving device of aural claustrophobic torture) and the din of hospital life I was told soon after that the scan showed “significant” tumor growth and that they were not going to administer chemotherapy as the Avastin/Carboplatinub combination was not having its desired effect. The tumor, a unique grade III mixed glioma with astrocytic and ependymal cancer cells is now being treated as a GBM, a glioblastoma multiforme. “It’s time to get your affairs in order” I was told. My hourglass suddenly needed more sand.
It was timely then that I happened to visit a therapist just two days later whom I had not seen in awhile. A cancer survivor herself and one learned in the ways of Buddhist practice, we shared moments deep and light. “Cancer is a great opportunity for spring cleaning” we laughed. At one point, when speaking about being or doing something audacious, I said “so little matters now” to which she replied “you can’t even impress yourself.” She went on to share “you are free to experience life without the burden of needing to build something, you are just experiencing.”
The day after I learned of the results I put my beloved Dartmouth made-in-Maine carbon road bike up for sale as my balance had deteriorated too much to risk a fall on a skinny-tired bike with clip-in pedals. For the moment, thankfully, I can still use a mountain bike. The week prior I had attempted to telemark ski at Stratton Mountain. Telemark skiing, another love, in which the heel is not fixed to the metal-edged ski but is used for backcountry or lift-service skiing, requires balance and strength I no longer have due to the cancer’s insidious effects on my right parietal lobe. Same goes for skate-skiing, a form of nordic cross country in which the skier skis in a skating fashion. So hang up my skis I must lest I meet my demise to an immovable object such as a tree or boulder. That said, I can still snowshoe and cross-country ski in the traditional “classic” fashion. I continue to work and my passion to raise maximum funds for Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure has only increased. Our largest event, held on Sunday, May 4th in Washington, DC, stands to raise over $2.5M for brain cancer research and I myself, along with my colleagues continue to reach out to those touched by this disease who may wish to support our initiatives.
Tuesday I head to Massachusetts General to see my neurosurgeon and another accomplished neuro-oncologist for consultation and within the next week or so I will fly down to Duke for another consultation about possible enrollment in clinical trials perhaps involving immunotherapies which uses the body’s own immune system to fight the spreading cancer. I must also seriously eliminate or significantly reduce sugar and carbohydrates, something I have already been doing but can do better, which help feed the cancer.
I will continue to fight the fight and not just for myself but for my friends and family. Holding on to hope. To exceptions to the rule. There are many examples of those who far outlived any prognosis. Cancer, or any calamitous health event, impacts, like a meteorite, not just the afflicted but all of those in that orbit. It’s a scorched earth affair. The steady drum roll of cancer beats on as I continue to learn of others being struck. Without fail, every time I have gone to Dartmouth I run into friends who have just been hit. In one instance I even shared an infusion suite (a misnomer if there ever was one) with my dear, sweet, former uncle-in-law. At the very moment, thinking of the drum metaphor, the insanity of this unfortunate card we’ve been dealt is best captured by the mayhem of the Muppet “Animal” with apologies and in remembrance of Keith Moon. Stupid cancer.
“What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?” – Rumi
Fly I must and fly I will.