Cancer Again (Naturally)

In December, I started having knee pain. I didn’t think too much about it, even though the pain was intense at times. I’ve had intermittent knee problems for some years, and figured it was probably arthritis or age. It went away after about a week, but then it came roaring back in January – deep throbbing pain that would not go away. I went to a couple of orthopedic surgeons and a rheumatologist. They discovered a lesion in my left femur. Possible cancerous. Possibly not, said one orthopedic oncologist.

The only way to know for sure was to do a biopsy. Last Wednesday, they drilled a hole in my bone, went into the left femur, removed tissue from the lesion, and the pathologist on hand during the surgery declared it cancer. Metastasis, to be exact, cancer that spreads from one part of the body to other parts. We, meaning I and the doctors, thought all the cancer was removed when they took out my old liver and gave me a new one.  But, I’m not getting that easy.  There must have been some cancer cells hiding somewhere, perhaps in bone marrow.

Needless to say, having a hole drilled in your bone is extremely painful.  They put a rod in to prevent fractures and make the leg weight bearing. Still, it hurts like hell and pain medication does not provide total relief.

Next is to get with the oncologist I worked with before and decide how to start fighting this thing. From what I understand there are three modes of treatment: radiation, chemotherapy, amputation.

And two battlefronts: the external one, involving the treatments I just mentioned, along with any others that might be available, and there is the inner front, the battlefield of bodymind and spirit. In future posts, as I did before, I plan to share a few of the highlights of my wayfaring through these stages of cancer.

I do have mixed feelings about putting my personal business in front of the public. But, ancient Buddhist texts describe two kinds of illness: those of the unenlightened, and those of the enlightened. The latter are for the purpose of providing opportunities to teach. I would never claim to be enlightened (I can pretty much guarantee you I’m not), nor am I egotistic enough to think I have much of anything to teach anyone.  Yet, if sharing more of my healing journey can be of benefit to others, so be it.

My approach to inner healing is centered on the Healing Buddha (whose image appears in the new header above), and my way is a bit unorthodox. In Tibet, Medicine Buddha is among the Highest Yoga Tantra. I received a Medicine Buddha Empowerment from Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche in 2002, but I am not convinced that such empowerments are necessary.

In Teachings from the Medicine Buddha Retreat (Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 2009), Lama Zopa Rinpoche says that in Healing Buddha teachings, “The person has to practice Medicine Buddha and have a good heart, with a sincere wish to help others.”

That is the only requirement, and this sentiment fully captures the essence ofBuddhist practice. Just do it. Try to help others. All awakening stems from that.

Now, for some reason, the song, “Alone Again (Naturally)” has been in my head lately.  There are some nice versions available (Sarah Vaughn, Diana Krall) but I chose the original because I liked it when it was first released and it has a beat.  Since I started letting folks know about this new development, the most frequent response I have received from family and friends has been, “I am so sorry you have to go through this.”  I’m sorry about it, too. It’s a real drag, and I am very tired of the pain, but what can I do? I got it. It’s mine.  I own it. I have to heal it.  Actually, that makes it sound as if cancer were something completely external.  It’s not.  I am the cancer.  I have to heal myself.

I have to admit, though, there are times when I feel downhearted.  So, dear readers, here is about the only self-pitying you will get from me, and it will be over in three minutes and forty-two seconds:


19 thoughts on “Cancer Again (Naturally)

  1. David, I don’t know very much about Buddhism, but I do think a huge part of inter-connectedness is allowing those who care about you to do just that. Why should anyone have to suffer alone? Grief is a part of life, and no one is exempt for experiencing it. Nobody is brave and noble all the time. And why would you be egotistic if you thought you had something to teach? We all have some thing to teach, and everyone we meet has something that we can learn from. Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us.

    1. I’m just naturally a humble, unassuming guy. Maybe false modesty is a bad trait. I don’t know. I actually believe that everyone has something to teach someone else and that everything can be a teacher to us.

      I am not going through this completely alone, it’s just that I intended to title the post “Cancer Again” and every time I thought of it, I couldn’t help but add the (Naturally) because that song was rolling around in my mind

  2. Hang in there, David; thinking about you (and your post, which was a real “presence” and “perspective” wake up for me today). And I’ve always liked the (admittedly quirky) original version too…

    1. Thanks, Mark. As I said, one reason I like the original is because it has a beat to it, and songs about suicide definitely need a beat. Actually, I had heard the song about 20 times before I realized what he was saying in the first verse. Those were the days before we could look up the lyrics on the Internet.

  3. Hi David,

    I have been reading your blog for a few months. I am new to the practice of Buddhism. I am also a cancer survivor, whatever that means. (I never really liked that term….I think of myself as surviv-ing, the word survivor sounds too much like it is over and done with. I won’t know that unless I die of something else. And in the end, what does it matter what we die of? What matters is how we live until then.)

    Anyway…we are all alone, and all not alone, you know? And self pity is okay sometimes, too…it’s all part of it….however you deal with this at any given moment is just part of the journey. That you are sharing some of the experience will help others, no doubt. You are a brave and good hearted person.

    I am sorry you are facing all of this. I will be thinking of you and wishing you well.



    1. Thanks for your nice comment, Karen. After my liver transplant I felt proud to say I was a cancer survivor. Now, I’m feel like you do. “Surviving” is a much better way to put it. Last year, my dear cousin thought of herself as a cancer survivor, but it came back and ravaged and killed her. Even then, long before I had any idea that my cancer would return, I knew that when it comes to this deadly disease, you can never say never. Best regards.

  4. David, I can only imagine what you are going through. Recently came across a person with cancer who shared how he feels. They teach us a lot. Thank you for sharing with us.

    there is probably no better “coping tool” than Buddha’s core teachings, in this world.

    Driven only by fear, do men go for refuge to many places — to hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines.

    Such, indeed, is no safe refuge; such is not the refuge supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one released from all suffering.

    He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths — suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering.

    This indeed is the safe refuge, this the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering.

    — Dhammapada 188-192

    Not even close to what you are going through, but the teachings helped a lot particularly when it comes to any sort of suffering. They talk about the concept of “taking refuge” in buddhism, usually meaning “buddha, dharma, sangha”…but to me all 3 are one and the same – accepting/surrendering/being-in-control. Being intimately one with suffering.

  5. Hello David, hope your feeling better. I’ve reading your posts since 2011 and really enjoy it.
    Iwas happy for you when you got your liver transplant and now this. The cancer’s back. usualy
    the prognosis is pretty grimm once it has metastasied.
    I suggesr youstart making preparations for your imminet departure from this Saha World.

    But not to worry the true entity of our existance in eternal and we will all meet again “some sunnyday”.

    1. Hi! One of the few benefits of this deal is getting to learn who some of the long time readers are. I must say, though, you really didn’t need to add the bit about the grim prognosis . . .

      Now, everyone join in!
      We’ll meet again,
      Don’t know where,don’t know when,
      But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.
      Keep smiling through,
      Just like you always do,
      Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.

  6. Hi David, the downside of having your on Blog is that you get to hear from insesitive cynics like me.
    Sorry for my callous comment about your prognosis. I’m not a cancer specialist and know nothing about
    your paticular prognosis. Do not abadon hope and keep fighting the good fight as you’ve done till now!
    And keep posting , you are teaching and helping more people than you think. Thank you!!!

    1. The downside of being a smart ass with a dry sense of humor and your own blog is that sometimes folks don’t always recgonize when you are just trying to be humorous. After I posted my remark, I regretted it because I thought you might take it as a criticism, instead of friendly ribbing. I know you meant well.

      But the truth is, that it is a grim prognosis, and to paraphrase Paul Simon, I will not give in to false hope on this strange and mournful day . . . the challenge is to carve hope out of what is true and real . . . oh, the mother and child reunion is only a motion away.

      Thank you.

  7. Please continue to publish and share this part of your journey, David. It’s one way we can be with you despite the distance of a continent between us. We’re never alone — we are practicing with all beings, with all Buddhas, past, present and future, with all mountains and rivers, and with all friends and readers. I, for one, want to grieve and rejoice with you. Many blessings on this next “leg” of your jouney!

  8. Hi David:

    Seth Segall’s words perfectly say what I would have liked to say; as such I can only second them here and to let you know that I send caring thoughts your way.

    Thank you so much for your efforts here!

    With Gratitude,

  9. I am sorry about your battle with cancer. I know that you are not into Pure Land Buddhism, but many Cha’an practitioners have recited the Nembutsu on their deathbed. In the very least, it gives a sense of peace and calm that one needs to face death by helping to focus one’s mind on the peace and calm of the Buddha.

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