Monday, November 16, 2015

Ten Days In and This Blog's Name is just doesn't appear that way*

It has been less than two weeks since I was first diagnosed with cancer and I know for certainty two things. I am surrounded physically and virtually by an incredible amount of love, well wishes and heartfelt offers of help. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. How overwhelming can be measured by the fact that I have shed far more tears of gratitude than I have of fear. The second thing I have learned in the past ten days is that time really can slow down, and shift and become totally confusing. So at the same time I am having to wrestle with cancer I am confronted by a heavy course in the metaphysics of time.

On Saturday afternoon, we went to see a movie on the big screen. Debi and I both find that the theatre allows you to get lost for a couple of hours in a way that is just not possible watching a movie at home. Getting lost isn't the best coping mechanism in the world, and it should never be a steady diet but it can and does lift our spirits. The movie we saw, Bridge of Spies did so in a couple of ways. I am a bit of a sucker for Tom Hanks and Spielberg is always good for a big screen extravaganza. I loved in particular the way they were able to recreate late 1950s and early 1960s Brooklyn and East Berlin. But what most pleased me about the film was the reaffirmation of a life lesson.

It has been too much a whirlwind. We saw an oncologist on Tuesday: he had me doing a form of radiation therapy on Wednesday and Thursday and put weight on getting a cat scan done on Friday. And if the speed with which the folks at the Juravinski Cancer Centre stays steady, next week is going to be truly intense. I don't mind the intensity but I am eagerly looking forward to the day the oncologists sit down and draw the road-map in greater detail. As a friend wrote earlier this week, one of the great eases of anxiety is a sense of action. And while that is very true, I also need to wrestle with the idea of anxiety.

And that's where the life lesson from Bridge of Spies comes in. I have always loved the Dalai Lama's explanation for why there was never a need to worry. In short he says there are only two types of things that happen. There are things you can control and things you can't. If it is the former, don't worry, just do something. If it is the latter, there is no point in worry. In the movie, Bridge of Spies, based on a true story, an accused Russian spy, Rudolph Abel is being defended by an insurance lawyer, James B. Donovan. If convicted he could be executed. And everyone wants him convicted even if rules need to be broken to do so. At several points, Donovan delivers bad news or potentially bad news to Abel and Abel just nods. Donovan at one point says, "Don't you ever worry?" and Abel replies, "Would it help?"

Of course there are some significant differences between a man being accused of spying and a person talking with doctors about cancer. For the spy, so much is out of his control, for the cancer patient there are second opinions, advocating, decisions to be made so it is not a complete parallel but it does somehow speak to me.

So do I worry? Of course I worry. Does it help? Of course it doesn't help.

I am learning Not to Worry about things beyond my control, all the other issues I am tackling head on.

* It is harder than I imagined to change the name of the blog but I am working on it. I will plead being distracted by other matters.


  1. My husband believed very strongly in this: "There are things you can control and things you can't." Certainly, how we spend our time is absolutely under our control. xo m

  2. It's an 'easier said than done' situation to be sure Peter. My wish for you is two-fold - that the roadmap becomes clearer very soon and that you are able to release the anxiety revolving around the things you cannot control. Also, when I had to change the name of my blog years ago, I managed to do 90% of the process, but the last 10% had to be done by someone at Wordpress (or in your case BlogSpot). Might be worth heading to their support forum and asking them to to their part because I'm guessing they have a part to play.

  3. Hello Peter, this is Muna from WUSC. I am sorry to hear about this difficult diagnosis. I was at your home for dinner early 2009 when you shared this philosophy; "There are things you can control and things you can't. If it is the former, don't worry, just do something. If it is the latter, there is no point in worry" and it has stayed with me since. It is a brilliant way to think about things and I just shared it with my younger sister a few weeks ago. I am sending you, Debi and Jane my prayers and good thoughts for this time.