Quinault Forest, Olympics
Photo @ Providence Cancer Center 7 North

The prompt for today’s writing assignment was: “Pay attention to the messages from your body. Ask your body – ‘what do you want?’ Write about the experience of tuning into your body.” This is what I wrote:

“The body knows,” writes the author of Radical Remissions.

My  experience is that while the body may know, the mind is inclined to doubt. This is especially noticeable during this week when I’m due for a CT scan to check disease status.

I spend several minutes each day listening to my body speak to me in the language of notable physical sensation: tension, pain, discomfort, fatigue, heaviness, breathlessness. I’m listening for reassurance that T-cells are winning and cancer cells are losing the epic struggle for an average lifespan. But the body is seldom capable of giving an unequivocal message that all is well.

I think the problem is partly attention bias. My body listening tends to ignore long periods of painless and carefree existence and then over-dramatize unpleasant sensations.

Writers Group

men with cancer writing group
OHSU Men with Cancer Writers Group, May 2014

Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) offers several valuable alternative-health programs for the public. Following my diagnosis of metastatic melanoma, I joined a Men with Cancer Writers Group, which meets weekly on Friday afternoon. The mens group, facilitated by Ryan Voelker, is one of several groups for writers developed by Dr. SuEllen Pommier. 

OHSU writers groups are based on the Amherst Writers Method. At each meeting we write from two to four stories in response to a prompt offered by the group facilitator. Following each writing exercise, we have an optional opportunity to read our writing and receive comments regarding what group members appreciated about our story and writing.

This group helps me explore dormant and present thoughts and feelings–a helpful exercise that will contribute to my healing. I find the experience feels encouraging and safe.

This is Doable


The prompt was: “Write a piece where nothing takes place outside of a small room. Describe the interior, and it’s occupants but don’t go outside the room.” This autobiographical piece is what I wrote:

The sign on the wall reads “This is Doable” in calligraphed letters decorated with colored pencil filagree. A hospital bed surrounded with medical paraphernalia: monitors, drip cart, oxygen, and hospital work station dominates the floor space.

The man in bed has a tube running from an infusion pump to a portal inserted at a vein between neck and chest. He is resting as an exorbitantly-expensive liquid laced with Interleukin-2 is pumped into his bloodstream. He looks pensive, but not appear to be suffering pain.

A woman stands by his bedside. She is slender, maybe thin, and the lines on her face seem to say “Yes dammit, I am worried!” She fidgets and says, “Are you feeling OK? Can I get you some tea or more water?”

Without waiting for an answer she hands the Starbucks cup and says, “Here take this water; you need to stay hydrated.”

The man is thinking, “Amazing that getting medicine by infusion doesn’t hurt. I cannot even feel it. Thank god for small blessings. I’m not thirsty and don’t want this water — best to drink a sip and set it back on the tray. I wish she wouldn’t worry about me so much.

A week in a small hospital room for IL-2 is like that: Full of tiny interactions and non-events. Minutes go by so slowly…

Cancer is a Titan

Stephens Creek Crossing construction in progress
Stephens Creek Crossing construction in progress

Recently Ryan gave us the following prompt for the men’s with cancer writers group: “I want you to humanize cancer. What would it look like? Would it be male or female? Imagine meeting cancer on the street — what would you say?”

This is what I wrote:

Cancer is a Titan. He owns a large fraction of humanity’s health, but always seeks more. His motto is: “Our business is growth and more is never quite enough”.

Cancer dresses for his part in a variety of costumes and guises, often looking very sinister and greedy, like Snidely Whiplash on steroids. I’m walking down the street of life, minding my own business, walking a healthy walk, avoiding trap doors and other risk factors. I’ve heard of this guy Cancer but never expected to meet him on my street.

“I’ve decided to develop some real estate in your chest; we will be building several condos and a strip mall,” Cancer says.

I say, “This real estate is not for sale, at any price, and the right of ownership is enforced by the Rule of Law, according to the Constitution of this Body. I will fight this development of yours to my very last breath.”