This is the kind of post no blogger ever wants to write and these are the words that no person ever wants to find themselves saying: I have cancer.
Yep. The Big C. Liver cancer to be precise.
About fifteen or so years ago, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a chronic virus that affects the liver. I have no idea how I got it. HVC is spread by blood-to-blood contact. I didn’t shoot up drugs, I had no transfusions or surgeries, and it’s doubtful I was infected from a sexual encounter. The one likely suspect I can come up with is a tattoo I got in the late 70s (maybe the needles were dirty), because once you’re infected it’s supposed to take HVC about 15-30 years to show up and then an additional 15-30 years for it to kill you. The tattoo fits the pattern.
Not that I have spent a great deal of time trying to figure it out. It’s like the story the Buddha told about the arrow. Does knowing who made the arrow that pierced you relieve the suffering?
The doctors told me at the time I had a very mild case and not to worry because any number of other things would probably get me before HVC did. Looks like they were wrong.
Last year, an MRI revealed some lesions on my liver. It’s taken them quite a while but finally they have diagnosed it as cancer and now, barring any unforeseen developments, I am on the fast track for treatment. Later this month I will go into the hospital for a day or so to receive an intra-arterial chemotherapy treatment which involves inserting a needle into the artery of my groin and placing a catheter there to supply drugs to cause the cancer cells to die. Sounds like real fun. I am so looking forward to it.
Needless to say, I probably won’t be blogging for a few days.
The good news is that it’s pretty much a one shot deal. If the chemo does a good job, they might repeat it again in a few months, but it won’t be a regimen I’ll have to go through like other chemo treatments.
Nor is it a cure, but it might stall the progress of the cancer and keep the tumor small enough so that I can qualify for a liver transplant, which will cure the cancer . . . but then the new liver will just get infected with the HVC virus, taking me back to where I was 15 years ago. A vicious cycle, but it beats death by a mile. Maybe two miles.
The Buddha taught that there is birth, old age, sickness, and death. This is the cycle of existence that no one can get out of and it is often characterized by suffering, usually of our own making. This is my suffering. I have skipped over the stages where I look for someone or something to blame, or questioned why me, and this I think has given me an advantage because the conquest of suffering begins when we accept the truth of suffering.
I believe, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, that “We should look at our suffering in such a way that the suffering can become a positive thing.” In Japanese Buddhism, this is called hendoku-iyaku or “changing poison into medicine.” I don’t know what this positive thing, this medicine, will be yet, but I feel confident that in due time, it will manifest itself.
Fortunately, I have been able to keep my spirits up and have this wonderful sense of humor that has endeared me to millions world-wide to help see me through. I’m sure that in the days and weeks ahead I will have more to say about all this and perhaps I will be able to share the “medicine” that comes from this “poison” with you.
For today, I will close with more of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote. I find it inspiring. I might note that when he says, “go to the Buddha,” he is referring to ‘going for refuge.’ But he is also speaking figuratively. To for refuge, to really go to the Buddha, you have to look within because that is the only place where true refuge and the Buddha can be found.
Thich Nhat Hanh:
The Buddha said that if you have not suffered, there is no way you can learn. If the Buddha has arrived at full enlightenment, that is just because he had suffered a lot. The suffering was the path that helped him to arrive at full enlightenment, at full compassion, at full understanding. If you want to go to the Buddha, you need your suffering . . .
Suffering is the path . . . By true suffering you can see the path of enlightenment, the path of compassion, the path of love. According to the teaching of the Buddha, it is by looking deeply into the nature of your sorrow, your pain, of your suffering, that you can discover the way out. If you have not suffered, you cannot go to the Buddha. You have no chance to touch peace, to touch love. It is exactly because of the fact that you have suffered, that now you have an opportunity to recognize the path leading to liberation, leading to love, leading to understanding.
Don’t be discouraged when you see that in the past you have suffered and you have made other people suffer. If we know how to handle the suffering, we will be able to profit from our suffering. It is like an organic gardener. If she knows how to handle the garbage, she will get a lot of compost for the growth of her vegetables and her flowers. It is with the compost of the suffering that we can nourish the flower of understanding, of peace, of love. That is why we have to learn how to manage our suffering, how to cherish our suffering, how to transform our suffering.”