Life and Mental Health - May 30, 2010

If you visit this blog a few times, you can see that the day to day updates appear at the top of the column to the left, while research, medical details, and "deep thoughts" are presented as blog posts. The latter were quite frequent early on when medical interference was also commonplace. Having "graduated" now to the post-two-year cancer free status, my urologist decided to back off a bit. Clear cystoscopy and 3 BCG treatments in March, then no more visits to him until September 9. April-August created a five month window, the longest time I have gone between medical things since all this started over two years ago.

For the past two years solid my primary focus has been doing research, doing medical treatments, changing diet, lifestyle, and supplement regimens, and even some hated exercise. I even devised a logic chart for a multi-modal attack on any type of cancer. Many good things have happened in addition to the cancer-free status - I have lost weight, my complexion has cleared up completely, my hair is growing back (filling in a male pattern bald spot, NOT from having been killed by chemo or radiation), I feel great, and I even look better. My own father did not recognize me when I accosted him in a crowded room a couple of weeks ago. Having five months now free from all this focus is entirely new territory. Now that I feel and look better and have nothing binding me to focus fully on health and medicine, I must admit that I was fully unprepared to deal with it. I suppose an analogy might be to put a lot of effort into climbing a mountain - so much effort and focus that, upon reaching the top, the climber is at a loss for what to do next. Take photos? Jump for joy? Have lunch? Open champagne? And so, nonplussed, our climber just stands there.

And that brings us to today's topic. I had steadfastly refused to plan beyond the next cystoscopy for over one year, and only cautiously planned things a couple of weeks beyond for the past year. Four times we planned big vacations just before the next cystoscopy Judgment Days (two to Mexico and two 10-day motorcycle trips), just to get what might potentially be one last big trip before any bad news. Having "stood motionless on top of the mountain" for nearly a month, it is now time to focus on mental health in addition to physical health.
To be sure the two are linked, and I have been maintaining a positive attitude. But this new approach goes beyond - it takes me to a place to begin to visualize NOT dealing with cancer, but to LIVING with cancer. Realizing and internalizing that BLADDER CANCER IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE. While there is still a high probability of recurrence, I am doing everything I can to battle it, and any recurrence should not be much more than a nuisance.

So what does it mean to begin LIVING again? I decided to start small. At the beginning of May we joined my parents for a few days of rest and recreation in Las Vegas. It is a 6 hour drive from here to there, and we had a great time dining, going to shows, relaxing, and even a modicum of gambling (I was a net winner at that). So what to do next? It had been my habit, pre-bladder-cancer, to take my birthday off work each year and go for a motorcycle trip by myself. This trip refreshed my spirit and made coping with the aging process easier. As an introvert I become energized during times spent totally alone, and motorcycling is a perfect hobby for me. I don't have a Harley, and I don't go to Sturgis or any other pack-mentality type of gathering. Instead I have a Honda ST1300, and I tend to ride alone, or alone with my wife as a passenger, or maybe on occasion with one or two other riders. But the birthday trip is always a solo trip - the first of the season.
Over the years it had expanded from one day to a long weekend. And I had skipped 2008 and 2009. And my birthday is in late May, making the ritual bike trip a perfect next step to begin living life again. So four days were set aside with destination to be determined on a daily basis, driven primarily by weather factors. This is difficult to explain to those that don't have the bug. A circle of friends of mine who have the same kind of bike developed a term for a fictitious drug, motorcyclene, which is akin to the endorphin high experienced by athletes. While not physically difficult, motorcycling demands intense mental concentration and tight control of fine motor skills for long periods of time, leaving the rider both exhausted and refreshed. My friend described it like this:

On the open range the road, the landscape, and the machine all provide an experience that is for me soul centering. The rhythm of the ride is at once calming, reassuring. It is rarely achieved until more than a hundred miles have been traveled. This period of lonely introspection and intense observation yields a sense of appreciation and perspective of life that I've never experienced in any other endeavor. It is like meditation, but perhaps a little more like worship. The intensity of concentration required is at once enormous and yet completely liberating*.

And so it went. Four days, 1,800 miles (almost 2900km), 3 nights in hotels, meals ranging from fine dining to a burrito at a roadside picnic table, and weather that was less than cooperative, I have returned - relaxed, refreshed, revitalized, and ready to consider LIVING again. Whatever you do for fun, be assured that the day will come, given hard work on your part along with your doctors, that you can consider living again.

This birthday was #51 for me. I have discovered through a friend that in Brazil the 51st birthday is always called "A good idea!" It seems that the national alcoholic drink, the caipirinha, is made with a distilled spirit similar to rum, called cachaça. While I have not tried either the drink or the ingredient, there is some appeal. As it turns out the most popular brand of cachaça in Brazil is Cachaça 51, and their advertising catch phrase is, "uma boa idéia." This translates to "a good idea." So like Coca-Cola is "the real thing," 51 is "a good idea." So my good idea to celebrate my good idea birthday was to go on a long motorcycle ride. Details with 25+ high definition photos and NO MEDICAL CONTENT whatsoever may be found on a separate page,linked below. Have a virtual slice of my 51st birthday cake and follow along by clicking on the photo or link below...

A Good Idea!

*Warren C. Harhay, June 1, 1999


Mike said...

Steve, It looked, from the pictures and commentary, that you had a wonderful trip.I have traveled some from South Carolina.We have been to some places out that way but Oklahoma was as far as we got when we had to return with a emergency stop at the Hospital in Menphis,That was the beginning for me. I went back to my doctor Friday and he discovered I had a bladder infection. He changed my medicine and now says it will be July before he will check my bladder inside.That will be six months for the first check and has said nothing about any more BCG treatments. Mike

TK said...

While I wish the wind didn't take you away from ABQ this year, the pics and comments documented a great road trip. Thank you for sharing and 'taking' us on the journey with you...