Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!

The very GOOD news is that Brian and I just got back from the hospital and blood test results showed my CA-125 at 4.61--- well within the 0-35 normal range!!!!! Red and white blood cells were also back in normal range. Dr. Rajan says I can now say that the cancer is in remission. I can't express how happy this makes me! It’s like the parol board just let me out of jail— only better! Life extension, how very very nice.

Am still experiencing light-headed-ness which Dr. Rajan says is likely due to low potassium level-- gave me a supplement to fix it. Also, still struggling a bit with the sinus/cough/chest thing-- we’re working on that and it has, in fact, been improving with all the arrows pointed it’s way. He also is treating the lingering neurotoxicity in my hands and feet with a new medication. These things I can deal with! Ding Dong the witch is dead- the witch ol witch- the wicked witch... (Please feel free to sing along.)

All that said-- Dr. Rajan made it clear that we cannot, because of the recurrent nature of the illness, use the word ‘cured’ and that I’ll need to continue monitoring my CA-125 levels every so often (at this point every 2-3 months). He reiterated the benefits of exploratory surgery at this juncture but accepted my decline-- and my reasoning—that I would like to try working on my immune system and hopefully it will fight off any possibly remaining ‘cancer seeds’ as he calls them. He also acknowledged that the surgery is still an option if the cancer returns. I am scheduled for an appointment on August 29/30 for an additional blood test and CT scan. It’s sooner than he would like but I felt it was important to do while I am still here in India and have available the affordable services of Dharamshila Hospital.

Again, I need to thank all of you, my very dear friends, for being with me through this extremely difficult time. This will take a very long time and so I hope you don’t tire of my gratitude. Without you, sending encouragement and support (physical, emmotional, spiritual, intellectual, as well as financial) I would not have made it through this dark tunnel. I was truly stunned and needed all of you-- to help me believe that surviving this assault was even possible. Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you! I say it every night and every morning.

with love and gratitude,

p.s. more good news on same day— SPAN magazine is featuring my road-collage work in the current July/August issue. It will be available in English, Hindi and Urdu. The writer, Daniel Haber, an Asia based travel-writer, who I first met in Dharamsala in 2002 and then met again in Kathmandu and again in Bangkok in 2003-- approached me with the idea in March 2003-- We finally got to it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Margi in the flesh in the clouds

Monsoon clouds in Mcleodganj -- on the rooftop of the Him Queen Annex.

I’m sitting in the middle of a cloud, completely surrounded by opaque air, and the sky beyond is a mystery. The rains fall intermittently. Occasionally the cloud gathers itself in varying degrees of density and brightness — until the mood shifts and the veil becomes completely uniform. A blank slate, soft and fluffy, with no clues of what lies beyond.

Tonight I head back down to Delhi for my blood test and check-up 4 weeks after chemo #6. Brian will accompany me on the train and help me cope with the jitters that come with the hospital visits. Hopefully, it will be a short visit — no more chemo is scheduled and this thrills me to the core. Also, according to the Delhi weather report, the temperature has been hovering just above 100 degrees, with humidity in the high 80s. The monsoon has not yet graced Delhi. So I hope to zip in and back out in just a few days time. As long as my CA-125 level remains low, I won’t need another check-up for another month or so -- when I’ll return for a fresh look inside my body with a CT scan.

Here in Mcleodganj, I have started seeing a Tibetan doctor, Yeshi Dhonden, former doctor of the Dalai Lama, in preparation for the end of chemotherapy — to ward off the return of any cancer demons. He has worked with cancer patients around the world and particularly in San Francisco in affiliation with a Cal State University program that focuses on breast cancer. (You can google him for further info.) He has given me a course of pills that look like polished balls of dirt and also taste like dirt. His translator tells me the pills will keep the cancer from returning. A week’s supply costs 60 rupees. There is no charge for the consultation.

My most immediate concern is to drive away a creeping sinus and lung infection — it would be a shame to succumb to a cold after surviving all that chemo. It’s the same bug, I believe, that hit me in Delhi just before chemo #6 — that Dr. Rajan gave me antibiotics for-- which I had to quit too soon because of the rollercoaster-sledgehammer effects of chemo #6 (just couldn’t keep things down). So now I am coming at it from all angles: back on the antibiotic from Rajan as well as some Tibetan medicine (more dirt pills) from Yeshi Dhonden and some effervescent Airborne tablets from Penelope and Deane and colloidal silver sinus spray from Susan and QX from Carolyn and of course, ginger tea from the Hakeem brothers at Him Queen… That should do the job.

On a more important note -- I read today that the Dalai Lama is currently suffering from fatigue and lung and chest congestion. He was admitted to the Tibetan hospital here 2 days ago, just after his birthday. The doctors have prescribed 10 days of complete rest along with Tibetan herbal medicine (dirt pills) and they have canceled all of his current engagements, which included lectures in Europe. He had just completed 10 days of intense 'teachings' here in McLeodganj. They attribute his fatigue in part to his hectic schedule. No doubt -- there were people from around the world here to attend the 10 days of teachings. I wish him well.

In the meantime, I’m here in the cool monsoon clouds of the Indian Himalaya, alternately working and resting. My monsoon cloud has thinned a bit and I think I can make out some shapes of things I already know are out there. A first-time looker would never know about the expansive valley below or the high mountain peaks above. Time seems suspended in this no-sunrise-sunset and so-very-still atmosphere. For the moment, there is no hurry.

(email from Margi, received by Penelope - she asked me to post it, as she was too tired Sunday night to post it herself)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

in Los Angeles

No goodbyes; Margi's rule. She sends me off, at 7:00 am Wednesday, with plenty of hugs and radiant smiles. Give everyone my love, she says. I awaken in Los Angeles at 5:00 am Friday, lost in my own studio, thinking I am still at the Him Queen Annex.

After two days of traveling, (all Wednesday to get to Delhi, and my midnight flight to the US) I arrive home in Los Angeles to very sad news. My cousin Renee lost her own battle with cancer and died earlier that Thursday morning. She had only been diagnosed a few weeks before I left for India with 4th stage cancer, but had been very ill for the last year and a half without any conclusive diagnosis. I visited her before I left for my trip, and, characteristically, she wanted to know absolutely everything about Margi and asked what she could do. She and my mother grew up together in NY, and after my mother moved out to California, they once again became as close as sisters. So, my mother has lost her oldest and best friend.

I have been asked to speak at the funeral tomorrow, so I am doing my best to write down the stories that best describe my own relationship with this remarkable woman. Which of course, brings me right back to Margi. Every day that Margi can slowly drink her morning tea while gazing out on the "Pong" wetland valley below, eat her carrot cake, chew those Tibetan dirt pills, and assemble those snakes for her fall show, is a gift, and I am very grateful.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Time to go.

Tomorrow morning I begin my long journey back to the US. It is early evening, Tuesday, and Margi and I have just finished a lovely dinner at Chonor House.

Leaving Margi is more difficult than I could have imagined. She says that the good days outnumber the bad, but sometimes it is a mix. She stayed in her room all day today; we did some fun photography of her bald head, and laughed a lot.

This trip meant more to me than I could possibly describe; and I am grateful for every minute spent in Margi's "bubble." Every moment was precious, and sometimes wild. There are no goodbyes, she insists, and I am content to trust her judgement on this. I will miss the daily "check-ins" around 12:00 or 1:00, and leaving carrot cake by her door in the morning. (she likes it for breakfast) She made it all very easy for me; answering questions, giving advice. She didn't mind when I would go off every day for a few hours to draw or paint somewhere, and always asked to see the day's work. I would leave post-it notes for her in our "mail box" (and she would respond) between our 2 rooms so that we could stay in touch without intruding on one another's space and time. It was a very gentle way to communicate, and we had fun with it.

Tomorrow, I take a taxi to Jammu, and fly to Delhi from there. I will see the Himalayas from above and that should be quite a sight. When I arrive in Delhi, I will have a few hours before I need to be at the international airport for my flight home, supposedly to shop, but might just find somewhere cool to sit and have dinner.

And I really, really liked India. Wonderful, kind people.

Time to pack.

Tashi Delek.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Monsoon and Tibetan medicine

The Hakeem brothers, who run our modest guest house, say the monsoon is coming, but I think it has arrived. Thunder, rain storms have become daily affairs since last Saturday; just watching the clouds move in is a visual delight. Margi loves it; (it does interfere with my outdoor painting a bit so I am learning to find shelter wherever I go), tells me that she loves weather.

One morning last week, we brave a morning storm to visit a Tibetan doctor. Margi says that she has done her 6 rounds of chemo (the sledgehammer) to reduce her CA-125 levels to single digits; now she would like to try something else. We arrive at the doctor's office; it is jammed with patients. Margi is about to turn back; it doesn't appear likely that she will be seen, and the concept of being around all those other sick people is very discouraging. But we stay a moment; I notice that most of the crowd is now receiving medicine and paying bills; maybe it is not so crowded after all. Margi braves it; walks in, tells someone she has cancer, she cannot wait, and she is immediately ushered into the office, past other waiting patients.

After a short while, she emerges, prescription in hand. The doctor is none other than Dr. Yeshi Donden, formerly the physician of the Dalai Lama, and professor to the other doctors at the Tibetan Institute of Medicine. We both examine the doctor's writing, trying to de-code it. We give up. So does everyone else in town Margi asks. For comfort, or entertainment, we decide that the curly marks above his writing are birds; this makes us both smile.

So here is her routine: she takes 4 different medicines a day. We tease her that all the round little pills that she must chew look like dirt. She claims they taste like dirt as well. But, nothing can be worse than chemo, she reminds us. Her appetite is very good these days. She had a very rough morning last Wednesday, and that seemed to be the "inspiration" she needed to follow through and see this doctor. She has a follow-up appointment for next Thursday (with urine sample!) Dr. Donden has treated other women with ovarian cancer before; this gives Margi some hope. She has now had 3 good days in a row, and that makes us both happy.

Margi's future plans (as far as I, or anyone else, could possibly know):
She goes to Delhi for a check up on July 11. Her appointment is for the 12th, and her good friend, Brian, will accompany her for the journey. They will be in Delhi for at least another day to wait for the lab results, and then return to Mcleod Ganj. Margi may then stay in Dharamkot at her friend Angus' place for a few days; he leaves for a long trip back to Australia, beginning today.

Margi has two exhibitions scheduled for Los Angeles, so she will be back in the states through November. (ok, as of this writing, this is what she has told me) She has been working out her opening dates; one will be on a Thursday night, the other on a Saturday night; about 2 weeks apart. For the non-profit venue, she is thinking about installation, photos, an artist's talk, readings, etc., so it is going to be quite an event. They will both be great celebrations; be sure to invite everyone you know!

I see monkeys every day, everywhere I go, it seems. They walk by me when I sit and draw, and steal my left over lunch (ok: that was more of a bargain: lunch for photos) I have, unexpectedly, grown very attached to this place. I love the mountains, the forests, the waterfalls, the mix of Indian, Tibetan, Israeli (I call Dharamkot "ittle Israel") and Kashmiri cultures, and the friends of Margi's that I have met. I am even beginning to love the monsoon.