Tuesday, July 08, 2008

a cheerful mind

Late yesterday morning the surgery to remove the ingrown toe nail was done. Still swollen somewhat from the localized anesthesia, my right big toe is wrapped neatly in bandages worthy of the pharaohs. Surprisingly, however, my big toe feels fine. I was given a prescription of pain killers, but if it continues to feel as it does right now I may not need to take any.

On my way back from a couple errands that I had to run downtown, I noticed that the haze had lifted and the blue sky that had been missing for days was appearing once again. Feeling like the conditions were such that I couldn't pass them by, I decided that I should go on a brief shoot that evening. For perhaps two weeks, I had contemplated about how cool it would to be get a long exposure capture of the traffic on and around the Alexander Hamilton Bridge. From the Bronx side of the neighboring Washington Bridge, one can imagine how at night the labyrinth of lanes around and under it could make for a terrific shot of flashing streaks.

So, I went ahead and tried.

The traffic was lighter than I hoped. I thought that although it was about 8:45 at night, this is a city and the traffic would be fairly strong, but it wasn't. Nevertheless, for my first time it's not bad. But I think it can be a bit better. It's not uncommon for me to go to the same location a couple of times before I feel like I've captured it just right. I'd like to try this exact shot again in the winter when there's no haze and twilight coincides with rush hour. So far in my experience, that seems to be ideal time for these types of shots.

This Friday evening I'll have two photographs for sale in an art exhibition in the City Island section of the Bronx. Here they are:

Lorelei Fountain

Bronx Stars

This will be my first time exhibiting there and only my second time exhibiting anywhere. It should be fun. I look forward to meeting the other artists participating in the show and seeing their work. Though it would be great to see someone purchase one of them, I'm really interested in hearing feedback from the people in attendance.

Finally, thanks for your thoughtful and encouraging comments regarding Sunday's post. I feel like I'm in a period of transition that's strange and uncertain but also hopeful and restorative. Wondering about the outcome of the transplant during the weeks before I was admitted, the anxiety was more stark: life or death. Will I make it out alive? And if so, to what degree? Will life ever be "normal" afterwards? A little secret of mine that I haven't shared until today is that amongst the various reasons (some foreseen and others not so) for why I created this blog (almost three years ago) is that if I died, I wanted there to be a written record of my own story . . . of a my own journey. The prizefighter's journey. Death's presence is still there, but isn't it for us all? That is the impermanence of life, all life. I don't think about it nearly as much as I did eleven months ago, but I do think about it from time to time.

It is fair to say that so far in my recovery I've done exceptionally well. At almost eleven months post-transplant there remains great hope that I will beat this sucker for good (finally) and this upcoming trip of mine is a celebration of that.

But as I expressed a bit in my last post, recently I've gotten down on myself, mired in my thoughts, as I feel like I should be doing this and that, but I'm not and so, I feel frustrated. My concerns aren't circling around life or death like before, but rather are focused on where am I today. Where am I going? What do I want? And who the hell am I after all this cancer shit? Am I the same person or am I different and if so, how? What needs to be changed? What can't I tolerate any more? What can't I live without? I'm trying to process all of this, which is a lot and can't be done in a day. My therapist and I have spent significant time addressing these feelings.

I'm 28 years old. I've been home living with my folks for over a year now after a year of living on my own in Chicago. For most of the past ten months, I've been locked inside, finding an escape through photography and trying to keep myself busy with other hobbies, while waiting for the day when my doctor gave me the green light. Missing the intellectual stimulation of school, I've tried though at times unsuccessfully, to keep that light aflame. Most restrictions have been lifted now and I'm well enough to travel. It's amazing really. That green light is almost before me. Yet I remain unsure and perhaps somewhat frightened by the next move. Like a child, on many matters I've become used to the passivity of being told what the next step is by others, but if my recovery continues to improve I'll be the one who will obliged to make that next big move. This realization is both liberating but also scary. I have no idea what I'll be doing when I return from the West Coast. I'm still clueless as to what I want to do. But I need to remind myself that this sense of misdirection is ok. If I wish, I could harp on my restlessness about the future or I can choose to look at this as a coveted opportunity. I'm blessed with this luxury of time right now and choices about what the future may be. Cancer sucks for many reasons, but if there's one good thing it is that it has given me the space to take stock of where I am and where I may want to go. In addition, I'm fortunate that I have parents, who have had no problems whatsoever with me staying home as I've recovered and who have encouraged my explorations into photography and other activities. They haven't rushed me to leave the nest (yet). At a time when I'm not working or in school, this is indeed a fortunate thing. Just look at the spike in last month's unemployment numbers to be reminded how so. This has been my sabbatical from cancer.

I'm so lucky really. I told this to someone recently and he scoffed at the idea. Knowing my long and difficult treatment history, it's no surprise why he cringed. But when I described myself as lucky, I wasn't thinking about the cancer but rather how well my recovery has gone. When I think about the people, whom I know who have passed away during the past two years following transplantation or more generally, cancer, I know that it is a remarkable thing that I'm alive. When I also think about those, who have had such a difficult time following their transplants, I'm reminded again of how fortunate I have been. Like me, some of them had relapsed twice and had allos. I have no misgivings about the possibility that my situation may turn for the worst in an instant, but so far everything has gone very well. It is this keen awareness about how fragile life is and the hope that the worst is behind me that I decided to make this trip a reality now and not later.

There's so much for me to be thankful for. Note to self: keep a cheerful mind.


Comment Blogger Carlos ("Carl") said...


You capture so vividly the ambivalence of being a cancer survivor. Once we get over the initial terror, and the long slog of treatment, many of us end up feeling that we've been changed by the experience, somehow, while not being entirely sure what that change is going to look like. We're works in progress, yes indeedy.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your blog, particularly your unusually extensive links list.

Carl Wilton
"A Pastor's Cancer Diary"

1:54 AM  
Comment Blogger Kevin said...

Man, I hear you...I don't what it is about an allo, but the heat is suddenly hell for me, too. Hang in there brother...you're still moving forward, and the west coast is much cooler! I loved the "Bronx stars" photo, especially. I'm glad to see you embracing he ambiguity and openness of your position, even as you worry about it. A very Watson-y perspective....

10:02 AM  
Comment Blogger Veronica said...

Wow, Duane - what a powerful and beautiful post! I would say that you are one of the most remarkable men that I know - you have been through so much and have maintained so much dignity and courage throughout.......WE are fortunate and lucky that you choose to keep this blog as a record of your journey.

Having followed your story for some time now, I would say that your mind is cheerful for pretty much most of the time - considering everything you have endured, I think you are perfectly entitled to your days of self-doubt, frustration and depression...the amazing thing is that none of these feelings last long and you keep smiling that incredible smile!

And for the record the Bronx Stars photo is absolutely STUNNING!

Thinking of you, my friend........xx

5:06 PM  
Comment Blogger Bekah said...

Dearest Duane,

I would have to agree with our lovely Veronica on this post. You, my love, are one of the most positive, upbeat, young men I know that have endured such treatment.

At this point in my life, I am struggling as well -- trying to give myself room to be frustrated and fearful of the future a bit. Yes, as survivors we are all thankful, I think you, even a bit more than most! But, let yourself breathe, and feel your emotions.

Do not beat yourself up over not being cheerful 24/7. There is no handbook to how a 20-something year old should rebound after such trauma. But you, lovely, are doing an excellent job.

Sad that I missed your face in Boston, but happy that you were able to enjoy the company of so many wonderful people.

Keep, being, you ;)


9:32 AM  
Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think -- cancer or not-- these are feelings that we all have as we realize we're feeling more and more in charge of our lives than we did or felt we could be before. The fragility of life and its balance with death is something many people avoid thinking about. You on the other hand, my friend, address these concepts gracefully and with a diplomacy I find hard to imagine possessing.

I feel like I understand this challenge you're facing, because we are all facing it in a way. Making life decisions, deciding where to go, who to be now, how to be. It is normal to not always feel thankful, to get frustrated with yourself because you don't know what to do or how you feel, and to want to run away when you know you're facing something scary. You've just stared down something not once but multiple times, and I'm sure I know at least one person who would have given up.

Choices, like cancer, are scary things. At least in this case you have a say in how things go. You, despite your awesomeness, are still human. Just like the rest of us. :P

I'm keeping you in my thoughts. Let me know if you ever make it to D.C.

~Sarah formerly up the street~

7:51 PM  
Comment Blogger Candace Kuchinski said...

A very nice post from the heart, Duane. Different from your other posts. Very personal. Thanks for sharing your innermost thoughts, emotions, frustrations, and revelations. It's certainly okay to have confusion and as you move forward into the future you will make decisions one at a time. You don't have to know everything RIGHT NOW. Your path will unfold and I hope you bring us all along with you. Good advice for all to keep a cheerful mind and remember to have fun.

10:19 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home