A Lesson from the School of Life

A new chapter in Pat’s and my life began on Friday, May 11. In the morning I had my annual physical, complete with the normal blood work. I was looking and feeling fine – weight just below 160 after our diet program in January through March, etc. Of course the normal issues came up: too-high cholesterol (285) followed by my unsuccessful arguing against the doctor putting me on Statins; oh, and a too high white-blood (WBC) count that I had prior to my dieting program but something that the diet folks thought was not a big enough deal not to do the diet, the elevated levels probably due to a steroid nose spray I had been using they surmised. So back in January and now in the doctor’s office in May I did not concern myself much with what came up regarding the WBC. The doctor, however, seemed more concerned and said we would look at the WBC in our normal panel of blood tests that I would get performed after my exam.  I left the doctor’s office, got my blood drawn, and thought no more about my health.

Then around 9:00 PM on that same Friday, while Pat and I were working on moving our MACs to iCloud, I got a phone call from the on-call physician at the practice where I had my physical. The on-call doctor’s instructions: “Get to the emergency room.” What!? Why? He said because my white blood count that is supposed to be between 5,000 and 10,000 was now 75,000. It was not clear to me why this was a crisis that required an ER visit at 9:00 PM on a Friday night when I was feeling absolutely fine, but, after finishing what we were doing, Pat and I dutifully went to the ER of Bethesda North, about 15 minutes away.

The on-call doctor had called ahead, so the nurses at the ER were expecting us. I had to put on a mask – to keep germs out they said – and then Pat and I were put in a positive-pressure room where a very kind nurse began drawing five or six tubes of blood. Yes, the 75,000 WBC was correct. The question on the table was whether or not I would be admitted. Pat and I looked at each other, perplexed. The possibility of being admitted to the hospital was very confusing and disorienting to us since I felt 100% fine.

Then, after several hours (I suspect after having looked at some of the blood results) the doc came in and said they suspected that I had something called CML – Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Leukemia. Cancer. The words hit us out of the blue. OK, you have our attention! With this news we began to take in why this was serious.

It turns out that CML is asymptomatic and not discovered until, like here, someone has routine blood work done that reveals an extraordinarily high white blood count. While of course the word “leukemia” was scary, the doctor concluded that I could go home and then see my doctor or oncologist early the following week. This would not have been the case had they suspected an acute form of leukemia for which all the precautionary procedures (mask, positive pressure room, etc.) had be set up.

So Pat and I sat with this tentative diagnosis and prognosis and uncertainty over the weekend. On Monday an oncologist/hematologist office called me to set up an appointment – not immediately but on the following Friday, May 18th. When I met him on that Friday he said that with today’s medicines, if what I have proved to be CML I would die with this disease, but not from it. This would not have been true 30 years ago before they had discovered the proper chemo treatment. He would do the blood work that day and get back to me next week. They did not even think they would have to do a bone marrow biopsy to make the diagnosis – something often done with leukemia. So this first visit lessened our shock about the nature of my disease, and we could settle into this new chapter of our life: living with cancer.

But I had travel plans to consider. On the following Monday, the week the lab would be doing the additional blood work and before we would have results, I was going to leave for a week of vacation, time with my Pathwork buddies Jenny and Mary, at a cottage on Topsail Island off the shore of North Carolina. We three had really been looking forward to this rich Pathwork-oriented time together, so would this trip be OK? The doc checked my WBC – now up to 85,000, up from 75,000 the week before – and gave me the green light to go with my friends.

I shared my experiences and tentative diagnosis with Jenny and Mary, yet I found I was relatively relaxed in the cottage on Topsail Island. Then on Wednesday I got a phone call from the pharmacy connected with the oncologist’s office. The woman in pharmacy was trying to get financial aid for me since the co-pay for the medicines for my particular leukemia was going to be several thousand dollars per month. Several thousand dollars per month! This truly caught me by surprise. While I usually am not one to worry much about financials, with this news I felt real shock set in.

I slowed down and let the feelings register. I found that I could be with these feelings of shock and helplessness, and I could share these disturbing feelings with Jenny and Mary. Strangely, by experiencing this fear even for only an hour or two, and by sharing with Mary and Jenny my fears about the potential impact on Pat’s and my life that such a financial outlay would have, an unexpected but profound calm came over me.

It is now July 1, seven weeks since my trip to the ER. The financial piece resolved itself for which I am grateful. I have been taking Sprycel for nearly two weeks and have experienced no appreciable side effects of which I am aware. I am told this regimen could go on the rest of my life and would not impact my physical lifestyle.  On this coming Tuesday I go in for my first round of blood work since being on Sprycel – this will reveal how effective Sprycel has been in lowering my WBC, side effects with platelets and red blood cells, etc. Then on Wednesday, the 4th of July, we leave for Toronto for our intensive with Sage Walker and Anthony Wilson. From Toronto we travel around Northern New York and Vermont before returning home on Sunday, July 15.

Soon after I got my diagnosis, Pat shared our situation with her Sangha (spiritual community) and her teacher. Quite to my surprise we got well-wishes from Pat’s spiritual teacher, a woman whom I highly respect both from my own work with her six years ago and also from how beautifully Pat has grown through working with her. She was moved to send Pat and me a note of encouragement and prayer. While I knew Pat’s teacher (I had worked with her for a year myself before returning to Pathwork as my path), I was so pleasantly surprised by her care and concerns for us.

This gave me an excuse to ponder where I have been in this experience thus far. Perhaps it is time to share where I am in this blog entry. So here is part of what I shared with her…

I have experienced some of what you mention: the shocks, followed by acceptance, followed by a mysterious calm that has come over me at times. And as calm in such matters comes over me I notice, later, that it brings a profounder Calm in so many other areas of my life. Life itself shifts. Perhaps a deeper consciousness arises. And, eventually, perhaps, compassion, as you mention.  It may not happen this way each time or quickly, but having tasted some of this encourages me to enter the Mystery of Life and Death.  May this Presence arise in me, in us (Pat and me), through this new chapter of our process. 

This experience has also brought me face to face with deeper patterns in me that at first scare me — such as noticing that a part of me does not want healing, or even help from others, or happiness in a long life, as you wish for us, feeling myself undeserving of love and undeserving of a long rich fulfilling and happy life. And further, noticing my being “comfortable” in that defended place of feeling unworthy, not wanting to grow out of it, not wanting to be happy if it requires growing up into a new space. A fairly complex and pernicious web of patterns here!  

As aspects of these web areas in me get uncovered, often in my meditation, work with the Pathwork Lectures, work with my Pathwork helper and friends, and others, and especially my precious coffee time with Pat, again I notice that a calmness comes over me — perhaps the truth of where I am (rather than where I think I am or want to be) is setting my soul free to be real, to be in my truth, even when my truth is pretty challenging to face, like my negative intentionality around hiding what is really true for me in a given moment. But when I can see these self-destructive patterns, the patterns seem to lose some of their heretofore unconscious grip on me.  A kind of freedom arises. 

And yes, this experience deepens my relationship with Pat, taking me to places I did not realize existed, places of connection and love that I long for, though unconsciously, for the love space is unfamiliar to me. And yet in entering these unfamiliar places of love I feel my fear arise — fear to enter more fully into such deeper reality of love within and between us.  All of this seems to be setting up our intensive with Sage Walker and her husband Anthony next month. The perfect timing of Spirit!

Thanks, too, for all that you and AIP (Awakening Into Presence – Pat’s spiritual program these past six years) mean to Pat. Both of us feel blessed as she brings the results of her practice to our evolving relationship.  …

Shared with love, Gary