Death and I Get Re-Acquainted

At this very instant, as I peck out my initial words one-handed (because I have a Vitamin C IV dripping into the other arm), I await my doctor’s appearance to discuss some “concerns” about my latest blood work.  It’s never an easy wait for a patient who has had cancer.  Every time more blood is drawn, a clock starts ticking.  A couple of weeks for results, more or less: that’s what you expect in the US.  (At Dr. Carlos Bautista’s Immunity Therapy Center in Tijuana, I never waited more than 48 hours.)  So how will it go this round?  Will you roll another seven… or has Destiny decided to send you Snake Eyes?  Will the hammer click harmlessly on an empty chamber again… or has your spin of the pistol’s cylinder found the bullet today?

Meanwhile, Burl Ives is crooning, “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” somewhere down the hall.  And out in the parking lot, sitting alone in a cold car, my wife awaits the return of her awaiting husband, the quiet caboose in a train of tension and misery.

Can you understand why it pisses me off so much that my fellow citizens readily surrendered our republic and our personal freedom over their fear of a damn flu virus?  They’re so very afraid that they might die—that if they were among the millions to be infected, they might also fall among the .3 percent of the known infected to perish.  (About 40 percent of the infected never know bout it, since they have no symptoms.)  Meanwhile, as these panic-moths hurl themselves into the flame to escape a disease indetectible almost half the time, I play Russian Roulette every few weeks with a blood test.  They can’t crawl out from under their beds in their terror of a bad cold, but every day of my life is lived in the shadow of a tombstone.

One thing I know to be amiss with my blood (though I dare not take anything for granted: must keep myself prepared for the worst) is the effects of overdosing on Firmagon for six months.  Almost unique among the drugs I was administered in Mexico to be accepted by mainstream American medicine, Firmagon dries up testosterone—and testosterone is the favorite food of prostate cancer.  This is, indeed, a major ground of optimism about the “mystery concern”: I’ve been shooting myself so full of the drug that cancer would have to overhaul its menu to make a comeback.  Interesting, isn’t it, that ITC so grudgingly supplied me with additional boxes of the stuff while, as it appears, having reached some international compromise to permit the shipping of substances disliked by the FDA.  Could it be that American distributors want exclusive dibs on Firmagon—that the FDA is far less alarmed at the prospect of a witch’s brew entering my system than it is at that of US doctors and drug companies not carving maximal profits out of big-ticket items?

All I can say is, Firmagon is one hell of a torment even to some who consume it in recommended doses.  Chills, dizziness, soreness at the site of injection, joint and muscle pain… I came to know all of these thanks to overdosing; and the last, it occurs to me, is probably routine in anyone who leads an active life.  You need testosterone to stimulate muscle repair and recovery after a vigorous workout.  I wrote of this weeks ago.  I’ve been aware for some time that I couldn’t tax my body as I used to on a regime of hormone-suppressants and plant-based proteins.  I learned my lesson as a result of a couple of hard take-downs and their aftermath.  As I would try to ease my incidental tears and pulls back into shape using a tried-and-true pattern of stretching and “nudge” exercises (the kind that refuse to let the sore spot flee all pain and go slack), I would find myself merely re-aggravating old problems—maybe making them worse.  I couldn’t demand anything of my muscles at all, it seemed.

It’s not like the last six months have given American constitutionalists no other cause for distress… but I began to grow downright depressed.  Finally, last week, as I prepared my monthly Firmagon injection, a chain of thoughts began to close its links which was to pull down my vast wall of error.  I was dissolving the powder in distilled water from the ampule.  (I won’t give you a step-by-step account: every Firmagon kit has over half a dozen components, and the procedure for using each in proper position and sequence is tortuous.)  I knew that the box containing two kits was marked dosis inicial, and I knew that each hypodermic of the two contributed 120 milligrams to the 240 total.  (A single shot of that magnitude in one spot would make the first-time user’s tummy swell up like a watermelon.)  I knew that each booster, of which this was my fifth, should be 80 mg.  Therefore… therefore, I would need to squeeze out approximately 33 percent of my preparation before injecting the remnant.  I say “approximately” because the ampule had no calibration.  The only way that I could reduce 120 mg. of Firmagon to 80 mg. was to “eyeball” it.

This I did, though deliberately underestimating the ejectum.  (The stuff is expensive!)  For some reason, I still needed a few more mental links to close.  I think it literally occurred to me between sleeping spurts that night (the muscle pain doesn’t allow steady sleep) that I’d never squeezed out any “extra” from the previous shots.  Not only that… but the first supposed booster, administered on my last day at ITC by a couple of novice nurses—it was a Saturday, and the duty roster was pretty thin—didn’t feature any expulsion of excess in its preparation, either.  None.  I would have noticed, for I knew I’d have to imitate the procedure.  Every booster of Firmagon I’d ever received was a 50-percent overdose, except the one I’d just completed.  That one was probably just a 10-percent overdose.

….

The doctor came, and we had our talk.  He’s a sweet guy.  I haven’t seen that degree of caring among very many Americans in this profession.

My PSA is up from nearly dead zero three months ago to 42.  A huge leap over an incredibly short period.  We’ll retest it next week, we’ll schedule a bone scan, we’ll plan for contingencies… maybe I’ll go back to Tijuana.  I would, in a flash.  I’d stay there, if I could.

So… Death and I are chained at the ankle once again.  We always were, of course… but now I get to see his leer whenever I take a careless peek.  Everyone is saying, “Oh, this is just a setback!  We’ll figure it out!  Everything will be fine!”  Actually, I—the lowly patient—am the only one who seems to have a coherent theory of events.  Firmagon caused my muscles to bleed without mending; inflammation (as an independent professional confirmed for me just now) can severely elevate PSA scores; thus my tests are going to show high numbers as long as the poison in my system continues to keep my triceps and gluts and thighs from sealing up.

And, just to add a personal speculation… why wouldn’t genuine cancer cells rally and multiply when the body is over-strained in the simple matter of repairing leg muscles after a walk?

Firmagon was the most “American” of my treatments, and I never really liked its m.o.  Annihilate your adversary by annihilating one of your own battalions… how very like the American medical establishment!  I guess this present challenge, as my son calls it, is an opportunity to form a better battle plan.  Everything seemed day-to-day before.  Now we can go long-range.

All the same, the ultimate in long-range thinking is recognition that one’s body cannot function beyond a certain point.  It’s understanding that life in this world doesn’t have a ticket for infinite trips up and down the track. My own destination cannot be so very far up the line.

As my wife drove me home through the maze of backroads where the GPS led us, I studied the mowed green farm lawns, the fields now stripped of their cotton, the horses blanketed for one of our first sub-freezing days… and the small new subdivisions of young professionals fleeing Atlanta taxes, above-ground swimming pools for toddlers dryly weathering the winter, Christmas lights making candy-canes of columns here and there, mansards and bay windows and railed porches or broad decks proposing scenes for private domestic celebrations….  It was beautiful.  It was all beautiful, including the “bourgeois domesticity” (words inevitably sneered by the mortal enemies of families).

And yet, if I was supposed to mourn silently, “Please, God!  I’m not ready to leave all this!  Please let me live a while longer!”… well, I thought no such thing.  I thought of my own special places where I was a child, and how much more beautiful they were to me than these, and how I could walk right into them and see all my lost people, never to be parted from them again, on the day when I broke through the barrier.  I’ll stay for now, all right… or I’ll try.  I’ll tolerate Death’s cold breath down my neck as I gaze at the sun’s afternoon scythe harvesting a tawny field.  But when I finally pass through, the chain that bonds my clammy companion to me will break forever, and he will be left behind.

I began writing this page last Tuesday.  On the calendar day when I post these words, December 4, I have reached my sixty-eight birthday.  Will I see another?  If I do, it is well… and if I don’t, that is well, also.  I don’t like to mar my plateau of peace by adding that the cowardly traitors sure to make this world so much more challenging for my son will be a pleasure to leave behind, but… well, so it is.  I tell you, I pity grown human beings who so fear my dark, mute companion that they will sell their souls for a pair of blinders.

Is Fretting Over Politics Worth Shortening Your Time on Earth?

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I don’t know where my cancer came from.  To be clear, we all have cancer cells circulating within us like so many little time bombs… but a healthy person’s immune system is up to the task of diffusing them, or at least sand-bagging them.  Why did my system fail?  I didn’t drink or smoke.  I never ate junk food or sweets (well, hardly ever), and I worked out vigorously for an hour a day.  Why me?

Genetics?  Prostate cancer is particularly hard to trace in that it only affects males, of which my mother’s side of the family featured very few to study.  I was under the impression that my one uncle died of a cancer first appearing in the prostate… but my big brother says “no” to that (and big brothers are always right, you know).  So… who’s next on the suspect list?

Could it be stress?  I’m hearing more and more about that culprit, and he has no alibi in my case.  I “stressed out” horribly at times during my academic career.  I walked away from all three tenure-track appointments I once occupied, not because I was facing release or dismissal, but because I couldn’t stand the steady onslaught of back-stabbing.  (At one institution, a dean urged me to stop publishing because I was making my colleagues envious; at another, I was told—oh-so-confidentially—to cast my vote at departmental meetings in conformity with the subtle hints of our Buddha-like chairman.  At all three jobs on occasion, my schedule was deliberately arranged to keep me yoyoing to and from campus from early morning to late evening, a tactic deployed against no one else around me.)  I had all the signs of clinical depression numerous times over these years.  Could I have been incubating cancer over that span because my immune system had been worn down?  Were my ruthless “scholarly” superiors planting my future road with deadly mines?

Whatever the truth may be, I’ve certainly chosen “stress reduction” to be a prime objective in my overhauled life as a “cancer survivor”.  (I’m using too many quotes; but honestly, all of us who survive in this life are cancer survivors, whether we know it or not.)  I haven’t entirely given up social media, though one social medium has apparently given me up: several Twitter friends are no longer receiving my posts after my five-week hiatus at Tijuana’s Immunity Therapy Clinic.  (No, nothing to see there: move on.)  Nevertheless, I’m very consciously awarding a lot less attention to politics.  I know we’re supposed to be activists, to get off our fundaments and mobilize, etc., etc.  Daniel Horowitz’s interview of Shannon Joy last week (Episode 686 of Conservative Review) left me blessing young people with confidence, energy, and appropriate poise.  But I’ve personally never been able to take the field for a few downs without transforming into Cu Chulainn during one of his supernatural distortions.  I get too worked up.  The younger and more stable of you will have to play this game without me.  (Seriously, when I did indeed play high school football, my classmates remarked upon my fearsome, homicidal transformations into a fireball of hatred.  I quit the game and detest it to this day because I could never regard it as “play”.)

If what I’m about to write strikes some of you as quietism, I apologize.  It’s not my intent to endorse the attitude so common among my wife’s Appalachian relatives: “You can’t do nothing about nothing in politics.  Why vote for any of ’em?”  This is not unlike the attitude I discovered among the good people of Tijuana—and many who crossed my path were truly good people, by my estimate.  They cared about me when my own countrymen crossed to the road’s far side and hastened their step, leaving me to bleed out like the mauled traveler in the Good Samaritan parable.  I had to fight down tears when I left the nurses who had attended me.  They knew—every one of them knew well—that their nation rested firmly in the squalid hands of hooligans and shysters.  And there was nothing they could do about it, so they just got on with their own tiny bit of existence.

Down the backstreets surrounding our hotel, my wife and I would take occasional walks.  Empty storehouses and busy repair shops would alternate with ornate residences guarded by high fences and vicious dogs.  All of it cheek by jowl.  Strange.  But that’s how people live, in Mexico and in most of the world outside the U.S.  You cling to your bit of turf and try to keep it safe.  What goes on beyond the reach of Massimo’s canines is none of your business.

Defeatist?  Quietist?  Yes, indeed… but more and more, this attitude is also survivalist in the U.S. of A.  Just one very brief illustration.  Jeff Sessions, one of the most principled men in politics over the past couple of decades and perhaps the most coherent, consistent advocate of maintaining our national sovereignty over that time, recently lost his seat to an “I’m for Trump” cheerleader whose position on border security might as well be Chuck Schumer’s—or Thom Tillis’s, or Kay Granger’s: all three of them (I mean, including Tuberville) ostensibly opposed to Trump on his signature issue yet endorsed by him because they stroked his ego.  The “Trump base”—disappointingly, but not surprisingly—cannot distinguish between the positions championed by their superhero and the superhero’s charisma.  They will follow him to their own destruction (and quite possibly to his own destruction, as his impulsive reactions shred his message) rather than measure every local candidate against the Constitution.

And that’s what’s happening on the law-and-order side.  On the other… chaos, tear-it-all-down, helter-skelter—“anywhere out of this world” (in Baudelaire’s immortal phrase).  While the Republican, self-styled “conservative” punditry derides Biden’s dementia and indicts CNN’s mendacity, educated, middle-class white folks (some of them in my own family) draw all their information from… CNN, and also grow weary of masks, quarantines, and Armageddon without any speculative genius for tracing our national lockdown back to root causes.  They just “want it to stop”; and the Man doesn’t help them figure out where it started because he can’t admit that Anthony Fauci’s canonization was a gross lack of judgment (any more than he’ll concede that Jeff Sessions’ self-recusal was not responsible for the Mueller witch-hunt).

Average citizens won’t unravel this tangle; and even if they do, the President himself will continue to foul his lines even without a shamelessly lying mass media to sabotage the ship.  Our future isn’t going to be rosy.  It’s going to be a Mexican prickly pear.

But we’ll survive somewhere in the cracks, most of us.  The Pat Buchanans and Diana Wests who warn that the republic will be destroyed forever if Donald Trump isn’t re-elected have assigned death to us if we don’t get chemo.  I figure I could hunker down and live in Mexico 2.0 if I had to, though—and I figure I’ll probably have to.  (Hell, I’m already there: my government just bled my wife and me for over $300 to get a passport in case I have to return to ITC in Tijuana… and kept our birth certificates lest we try to travel on those again, and keeps all we paid into Medicare for forty years, and refuses to pay out a dime of it for the medical strategy that saved my life. Is this Mexico… or the Soviet Union?) If my future neighbors are people like the ones I met in Tijuana, then they’ll be much truer to me in our common misery than the elitist medical mandarins north of the border who left me to die as they hazed an ailing herd into costly, toxic treatments.

For that matter, Pat and Diana, what I consider most dangerous about the Left is its utopianism: i.e., its conviction that an inspired few can play God and make the world perfect.  When we of the Right, in turn, lament the passing of a Shining City on a Hill, aren’t we falling for the same mirage?  The corporatist state that birthed the Medi-Pharm Complex, you know, was a cancerous by-product of Mom-and-Pop Main Streets horribly mutated (at the expense of Mom and Pop) into ravenous wealth engines.  We lost our own way, and now the vultures are gathering around a corpse that has rotted from the inside out.

Mend your fence, grow your garden, and keep your head down.  Build locally if you can: stop letting pseudo-messiahs insert themselves into your hometown politics.  That’s my advice… and, for that matter, it’s Horowitz’s and Mrs. Joy’s.  Yet I need peace: I personally need a lot of it right now. There’s no live grenade I call fall on to save the rest of my squadron, so… so I’m not going to blow myself up in the garage. Why should you die before your time, asketh the Preacher?

Live what years God has given you on this earth.  Stop trying to make earth into heaven in your impatience with heaven’s hazy plan.