Not everyone lives happily ever after...and that is fine!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Two weeks ago I heard from a friend of mine who I had met about thirty six years ago. When we started teaching, we sort of bonded at the hip. We both loved the children and teaching; we both loved laughing and playing bridge. And we definitely both loved life. We were twenty-eight and we thought that everything would play out the way it did in the best romantic movies --- "And they lived happily ever after." This belief was fully nurtured by the age of our students (seven years old) and the books we read to them that always had happy endings. Who were we as adults to question that our lives would be charmed like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty?

After my friend got married and had her first child, things started to change and I noticed that we were floating apart. She was very involved in her married life and in her roles as wife and mother. My life allowed me to have more freedom and time for myself. I tried to hold on tightly to this friendship and to this person who I loved as a sister but time, distance and circumstance kept separating us until we were no more. I didn't notice at the time that I was working very hard to keep the friendship alive while she was just being herself. One day her telephone calls just stopped. We would not see each other for the next twenty two years.

In 1995 as I was sitting in a cafe in Norwalk, Connecticut, I remembered that my friend had moved to this area. I asked the staff of the cafe for a telephone directory and started hopping from one location to another. Eventually I found her name in Westport, CT. I hesitated about calling her. Who would I find at the other end of the telephone? What did I expect? Eventually, I picked up a telephone and called her. She sounded just the way I remembered. An immediate connection was made and I jumped head first into the friendship.

For the past twelve years I have tried to be a part of her life. It didn't matter if she was a part of mine. I adjusted my life and appointments to fit her schedule. I was so honored that she still wanted to be friends with me. I can actually count the times we got together and believe me it was usually in CT. doing things she wanted. I traveled. I drove. I was interesting. I was involved with her life. And one day this Sleeping Beauty woke up. I was doing all the work and she was just living her life. .

I was notified by the doctor that I had metastatic cancer and I told my friend this. I didn't hear from her for the next six months and telephone rang. She said "Hello" and I almost didn't know who it was. This was a defining moment for me. Was I going to pick up where she left off? This time I opted out and I put my needs first.

Friendship is amorphous. But there has to be substance regardless of how often I see or talk to someone. For me I need to feel loved..and cared about. I do need some contact because with time we can all become strangers. First it was twenty two years... this time six months. I did not ask, "So, how have you been?" Instead I said some parting words and we parted. I felt a loss but also a gain. I found a way to put my needs first. I hope I can use this experiene to strengthen my own self worth. I DESERVE TO BE LOVED. God bless us all. AMF

6-mile manda for St. Ignatius

Saturday, December 15, 2007

manda [mahn'-dah], f. 1. Offer, proposal. 2. Legacy or donationleft by virtue of last will.
-- Velazquez Spanish and English Dictionary

I did a 6-mile ride for St. Ignatius this afternoon. My body is sore, but I feel very relaxed. The afternoon air is crisp despite the desert's evening freeze. Coffee and afternoon tea make a big difference here.
My pilgrimage was a manda i made with St. Ignatius, part of the cadre of saints i prayed to every night during chemotherapy and since. I realize some of my readers are unfamiliar with Spanish and Latin American Catholic tradition. so I'll explain a manda real quick before I return to my story.
A manda, as I understand it, is a promise you make with a saint, the holy trinity or even god itself. typically it is made out of desperation or fear. sometimes prayer is all you've got. For example, Mothers pray to La Virgen asking for fertility and in exchange they'll promise to name their child Guadalupe.
when it was discovered there was a tumor in my right testicle, a few mandas were made for me and for my health.
personally, I don't entirely like the idea of making mandas with the spiritual world. not for any existential or logical reasoning. very simply, I think there's plenty of other problems in the world that need attention and mine feel very minuscule in comparison. nonetheless, every night, when i pray, I invoke several saints: St. Francis, St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, Saint Peregrine, San Martin de Porras, St. Michael, St. Judge and La Virgen. People who have asked me to pray before a meal have heard my litany and sighed in exasperation. Anyway, during chemotherapy I would pray and ask for strength, not only for myself, but for those who were by my side, physically and emotionally. i also pray for my father and lately I've added a new name, Henry Ortega, Jr., the nephew of a Loyola classmate and young cancer patient.
So, as i previously wrote, when I had the chance, I visited the basilica in Mexico, D.F., and thanked La Virgen for her support during chemotherapy.
This week, as I was looking up mass times for the feast of our lady of Guadalupe, I stumbled across this address: 785 W. Sahuaro Street, Tucson, AZ 85713.
It was the address of a capilla, or chapel, of St. Ignatius of Loyola. that night, after work, i drove to the capilla, which was adorned with flowers and portraits of La Virgen. unfortunately when I arrived, they were locking up the folding gates placed at the entrances of the capilla. I promised to return.
the capilla is in the heart of Old Pascua and on the grounds of the Old Pascua neighborhood center.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Yaqui community has a capilla dedicated to San Ignacio.
A brief history lesson: the first known Europeans to wander the southwest were Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and three others, shipwreck survivors from a Spanish expedition in 1528. One of Cabeza de Vaca's companions, Esteban the Moor, as he is called, later led the Franciscan Missionary Fray Marcos into the Southwest. Marcos' reports led to the Coronado Expedition of 1540, which was the first major European excursion into the Southwest. Disappointed that there were no obvious resources to appropriate, Spaniards left the area and its inhabitants alone (well, lets just say they didn't rape, pillage and decimate, like they did in Mexico, Central and South America) for nearly a century, until mineral wealth was discovered and mines created in Sonora. the new found source of wealth prompted a Jesuit mission in1686, which was lead by Father Esubio Francisco Kino, who is buried in Magdalena de Kino, south of Nogales, Sonora. The Jesuits helped the Spaniard government colonize the area until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from the new world by the Spaniards.
The effect of the Jesuit missions were long lasting, physically evident by the missions that dot the Sonoran landscape and metaphysical, by allowing the Yaqui to mix their own religious practices with Catholicism. Pascua ceremonies, and I'm extremely simplifying things here, are an amazing mix of the two.
Now back to the twenty first century: I am the product of Jesuit education -- Loyola High School class of '97, University of San Francisco class of '01. I am interested in the history of the Jesuits and the personal journey of St. Ignatius. To be honest, I often thought about his own convalescence and conversion during chemotherapy.
I've prayed to him for many years and this one was no different.
So I awoke this morning, had breakfast, took care of some bills and paperwork and a little after noon made out on my bike for a my own small pilgrimage to la capilla San Ignacio de Loyola.
It was my first long bike ride since before chemo. and I gave myself a couple hours for the ride. I didn't know what I'd be capable of.
with helmet and yellow safety jacket on, I pedaled my rebuilt JC Penny cruiser north up Park Ave., about a mile and half, to Grant Road, where I turned West. As the traffic wizzed passed me and a few cars and trucks encroached a little too much on the bike lane, I continued past First Ave., Stone Ave. and eventually past Oracle Road, and down south into Old Pascua.
My calves burned at first, especially on the slight inclines on Park Ave. just north of the University of Arizona. But the ride, from my apartment to Old Pascua, took only about thirty minutes. It's a little more than three miles, according to mapquest.
i dismounted my cruiser, chained it up at the Old Pascua Community Center entrance and walked across the dusty, dirt courtyard to the entrance of the capilla. The front gate remained locked. Adornments from the feast of La Virgen were still out. So I kneeled on the concrete, up against the gate, said a prayer and thanked St. Ignatius.
The ride back was peaceful, going slow through Old Pascua, looking at the architecture of the homes and trailers, the corner stores and warehouses. I stumbled upon Esquer Park, 1331 N. 14th Ave., a large, green plot of land in the shadow of Tucson's downtown.

first post-chemo. appointment

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Along with the feast of la virgen de guadalupe, yesterday was my first post-chemotherapy appointment with Doctor Ahmann.
the streets of Tucson were layered with a thick fog in the early morning like I'd never seen. You couldn't see more than a half block away. it reminded me of northern California.
not long after I arrived and checked in with the front desk staff, i had my blood drawn. When I sat down and the nurse found my vein, I remembered how i got a blood draw every week for two months. i had forgotten about my regular trips to the sonoran quest labs and how i'd become a regular with the staff at the office off 6th St.. not to sound cliche, but it feels so far away now.
about twenty minutes later, i met with Doc. Ahmann.
He was glad to see my hair had grown back so thick. He gave me a general checkup, poked around my body and asked the usual questions: pain, discomfort, energy level, etc.
I mentioned my finger nails.
Last time I was home, Bean freaked out about the dark streaks across my finger and toe nails. They occured during chemo. but didn't cause me any pain, so i paid no attention to it.
Ahmann said the streaks were a result of the bleomycin and should be considered a normal side effect.
While looking at my back, he said the acne was drying up like it should. that's nice.
it was too early to get the results from my blood draw, but otherwise, he said everything looked great.
after the appointment, I wandered over to the elevator to visit everyone up in the infusion pod. i ran into an elderly gentleman, his wife and a young lady I assume was his daughter. he was thin and walked slowly. i noticed the blue bandage on his right hand. it was his shunt.
i remembered how adrian told me its important to talk to other patients and survivors, even if it might seem awkward. in my mind, I could picture adrian talking to the others in my pod when he came to visit.
so i asked the gentleman how he was holding up. we spoke for a bit. he had a positive attitude and sounded good. the gentleman said he started chemo. around the time i left the clinic. I told him he could do it and that I'd been done for about two months now. i tried to give him what encouragement I could. I noticed the ladies eyes widened when I told them I'd gone through two and half months but was doing better now. I embraced all three of them when we got to the second floor and went our separate ways.
among the pods, I ran into shelly, estella and another nurse, whose name escapes me for the moment. we caught up, albeit briefly. they asked about my parents, work, gave me props for my coverage of TUSD and laughed about the TB incident. apparently shelly dealt with the patient.
i also ran into Selena, who everyone up there knew as Maria. She's a local churchgoer and our families ran into each other often at the clinic.
it was nice to see everyone. but I needed some time away before i went back to say hello. they understood.

The Miracle Maker

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yesterday, December 10, 2007, I went for my follow-up visit to MSKCC pulmonary specialist. I had a CT Scan one week ago to determine if the nodules on my lungs had changed sinceSeptember, 2007. In medical vernacular, had grown. Unfortunately, the miracle I had hoped for had not occurred. Out of five nodules, two had grown from three millimeters to five millimeters.

When I asked the doctor what would happen next...we simultaneously answered, "Wait and see." In three months the CT scan would be done again and if any nodule had grown to eight millimeters, a biopsy could be done to see what was going on. This post is not about, "Do I have cancer or don't I?" It is about, "How will I make my miracle happen during the next three months?"

You see, when all of this started on September 11, 2007, I just thought that wanting a miracle was enough. I really didn't do much to cause or welcome one. Now I am ready. In re-thinking the past three months I know that I have changed some of the things I do and my emotional life is getting better. However, I have done little to improve my spiritual life.

I grow spiritually when I dance. I love to belly dance or just move to all types of music. I have even tried Hip-Hop, and I am not too bad. Dancing is so special to me because I leave my body and feel connected with the world as a whole. I feel a pulsation in my body and I believe that I can use this to connect with the Creator. I will use music to move my body and mind to a healthier place, taking along with it my spiritual self. I also love to listen to music and sing along and this joins me with the world of creation. A personal favorite is John Denver. His words and music are so moving to me. You might want to listen to him, sometimes to see if his music and lyrics speak to you.

I also will meditate. This will help me to stop ruminating, something I am working on in therapy, I really didn't know what ruminating was, but I was good at it! I was surprised to find out that I was using past hurtful events to entertain myself. I am going to move past all the negative things in my past and present life and focus on what is positive in my life NOW. This is what really matters. When I meditate I am calmer and more focused on what is good in my life. I am peaceful and prayerful - something I could use. A strong belief in someone or something will help me to open my soul and heart to God.

When I do these two things - dance and meditate for the purpose of healing myself physically, emotionally and spiritually I WILL HAVE made MY MIRACLE and then I will be one of the miracle makers who exist all around us. Haven't you ever felt the effects of these people - the feeling of peace, joy and calm just radiates from them?

The miracle I am seeking is not about the nodules disappearing or the nodules not being malignant - although that would be great. This miracle is about making my life better for myself each and every day I have. By doing this, I will impact on myself, others and the world. I will be creating a purposeful life and living the life I was put on the Earth to have. You see I really believe that all things happen the way they are suppose to happen. God bless us all! AMF

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was in Mexico City the weekend after Thankstaking.
The documentary was entered in Mexico City's first ever Chicano Film Festival, la 1era Festival de Cine Chicano en México. The event was a historic bi-national discussion on Chicano and Latino identity. Though attendance was sparse, it was still a great time. A few hours after I arrived on Friday, I had breakfast with Guadalupe, Julie, Jose Luis Ruiz, Robert Young and Edward James Olmos. Pretty Chingon, eh. Later that night we had a formal dinner with all the folks involved, including a bunch of heads from Tucson.
Saturday morning, Julie, Guadalupe and I made a pilgrimage to the La Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When mom found out I was head to D.F., she told me visit la Virgen, as did a ton of other folks. I know there were many Catholics praying to la Virgen for me during my surgery and chemotherapy. A visit was the least I could do.
I'll spare you my critical thoughts on Tepeyac hill and the Basilica that is constructed in plain view of Aztec ruins.
We first went to the new basilica, which has the shape of a UFO. There were hundreds, if not a couple thousand people, on the grounds, praying inside the basilica, making a manda and taking photos. After a prayer inside the basilica, where I was able to see the tilma of Cuauhtlatoatzin/Juan Diego, we walked up the hill to the teocalli built in honor of La Virgen. Outside the small chapel, I light a candle in her honor and went in with the other pilgrims and guadalupanos. Inside I knelt at her altar and prayed a bit of the rosary.
On our way down, i snagged a Bougainvillea for my own Guadalupe. Apparently that's forbidden in La Virgen's garden.
I felt something at the basilica. The sacredness of the site was strong, but the feeling was human. what I meant is I've had spiritual experiences, experiences that don't make sense if you are not spiritual. sensations from another place. but what I felt there, on that hill, was the energy that all the pilgrims brought to the sight: joy, sadness, hope and despair.
and that's what made the site holy, to me.
by the way, we took the best documentary award.

happy holidays -- tuberculosis

Monday, December 10, 2007

(Loyola High School Class of 1997 Reunion: Julia Beaver, Matt "Grandpa" Wells, El Saladito, Guadalupe Chávez, Sarah Canepa Pastran, Armando "Fatty" Pastran, Jr.)

so it has been quite a while since I've updated my share of the blog. i've been busy, to say the least. expect a few posts this week.
so the first update...i went back to Los Angeles for thankstaking. the evening after turkey day, my family hosted a thank you party for everyone that prayed and thought positive things. Thank you to everyone that came. I met a ton of new people that night and must have introduced Guadalupe to at least 50 people.
That Saturday, Nov. 24, was my 10 year high school reunion. The following night I flew back to Arizona, where I had to drive two hours from Phoenix to Tucson. It's cheaper to fly out of Phoenix, I've discovered, but pulling into town at 2 a.m. is kinda ' harsh.
So upon returning home, I found a stack of mail on my desk, including a letter from the Pima County Health Department.
It starts: "Dear Patient: We are writing to inform you that you may possibly have been exposed to tuberculosis while you were at the Arizona Cancer Center from January through August of this year, 2007."
Apparently there was a patient who had an active case of TB during treatment. The signs weren't caught because the symptoms are the same as chemo. -- weight loss and a cough. Our health and medical reporter told me it's usually not until people lose 20 pounds and cough up blood that its caught.
i wasn't able to get tested on Nov. 30 as I was in Mexico City (more on that later), so I went last Friday.
The clinic was really well organized for mass TB tests. It was a three part process: register, follow the nurse, and get injected. As ever, the needle freaked me out, but I kept my cool. I was in and out within ten minutes.
The injection spot is then re-examined 48-72 hours later to see if I've got TB. I don't.
I chose not to write about this until now because there was no need to worry anyone.

Susan and me and Mom made three...

Friday, December 7, 2007

I have never seen a photograph of my family together - my mother, my father, my sister and me! I never even thought to wonder why. I saw photos of my Mom and my Dad or my Mom and my sister Susan and an endless number of combinations but never the four of us together!

My heart has always felt the pain of being a family of three, not four.
My friends thought that they knew what my tears on Father's Day meant
Cry for the father I barely knew, cry for the emptiness that I always felt
No, I cried my mother who did not know how to make a family of three.

All his pictures were removed, no clothing, jewelry, nothing of his remained
To remind us of the man who once had made us four, my Dad!
Then there were Susan and me and Mom and that made three
Why no photos to show my family? One, two, three, four.

I looked at photos of each of us and yearned for something different
With scissors, papers, glue and a picture frame I bought
I cut each one of us out of photos that I loved
And placed us together in the frame the way I had seen us in my mind

It took some time for the pieces I made to fit together
I now have the picture frame with my family of four
Placed on my dresser for me to view each day
As I pass the "photo of four" I sometimes stop...

I place a kiss on the glass and feel complete... finally. God bless us all! AMF

I Believe In Santa Claus...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Every year when December comes around, I gasp. Do I really have to buy all these gifts for people who have so much? How will I pay the bills when they come in? Is this what Santa Claus meant when he said, "HO, HO, HO"?

This year I tried to close my eyes and remember what the most important thing about the holidays was to me when I was a child. And to my surprise I found out that as a child I was most excited about Santa Claus coming to my apartment. It sort of felt magical- such a big round man getting into my apartment where there was no chimney. I had to suspend reality and believe in magic. I always left him cookies and milk. He wasn't very demanding. I did want presents under my tree...but Santa Claus' visit was the highlight of the holidays for me.

So, this year I have decided to give away things, wonderful things I love, as gifts to people I don't know and a few to friends. I will wrap the gifts and the card will say, "LOVE, Santa Claus". I went through my closet, jewelry box, and drawers and found many great things I haven't worn or used for some time. Why hold on to what I don't need? Everything is in great condition and looks almost new. In some cases the items are new. Consumption at its worst...I never used what I purchased.

Yesterday I went around my apartment building and wherever someone indicated that they celebrated Christmas, I left them a gift. Some got door knob bells; others got decorations added to their wreathes. You may feel this could be intrusive, but remember - the power of magic and surprise. And each person is free to remove their special gift. And for residents who celebrate other holidays, I left cookies, and books. Don't you just wonder what they thought when they got their present?

I feel more childlike and happy helping Santa Claus! Hopefully, people will feel the intense emotions that exist only in childhood when very little is questioned and a lot is enjoyed. I do hope that they were able to get in touch with these emotions. For the first time in years I feel giddy and excited. I am wondering what I will do next. Ho, Ho, Ho! Enjoy the holiday season. God bless us all. AMF

December December, remember the 4th of December

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 is very bittersweet. Today is the day i was discharged from the Navy 5 years ago. And for the past 3 of those years, Ive thought long and hard about those last few weeks. There isn't a day that goes that i don't regret coming home. I think about it a lot...What were my options? Get my chemo in Evanston, get better, graduate, get pushed out the fleet, stand on the port side of some ship...over looking a port-of-call in some far land. Or come home...what makes some angry at myself...i ran. Thats one of the reasons i left for the Navy. I was running from the Paul that i was. I wanted to get as far away from everything as possible. Start a new...not be me. They funny thing is, when life...through me one fucked up curve ball, and i folded. I failed. One thing. One fucking thing....I couldn't deal i ran home. Up to that point in life...ive never been one to finish anything. The one thing i tried, worked..fuck, damn nearly made myself pass out for, i caved. I caved at the first real obstacle. I resorted to what i knew best. Running. Looking back at it. Not only did i let myself down, i let everyone down...though some may have a different opinion. I tired so hard...tried to prove to others that i can do something worth wild. Not just be, but be...something.

There were nights drinking with the lads, id drink myself retarded. And one of those nights, i had a moment of clarity...i realized i wasn't happy being home. I was bitter, angry, down right mean. And why? Well...i realized that i wasn't man enough to face a fear...and in doing so...i ran back home. Facing something Ive tried to deal with for a long time. Hmmm.

Like i said, there inst a day that goes that i wish i could have done things different. But like i also said...its bittersweet. I wouldn't the person you're reading about now. Its funny how a failure makes you a better person. I didnt tell anybody id come home for a few weeks.

Two days later, on the 6th, my Godson was born. He's 5 on Thursday...and he likes the Ramones. After nearly a year of not working, i went back to school, got hooked with a nice girl, job a decent job, did stuff, moved on, watched my friends piss on my car, toss beer cans out the windows on the 605, get a degree, start life all over again, 9 to 5, gain weight, wear Khakis and dress shirts to work, meet some new and good friends, watch my niece and godson grow, play Star Wars Galaxies just about everyday, hook up with a really hot girl, fall into depression, lose a best friend over something lame, meet an ogre ...and tell to fuck off, get a new job, start what looks like a long career, buy a motorcycle, watch my godson watch his first Ramones video, start a blog about my cancer story, miss old friends, look to the future.

Ultimently, did i make the correct decision coming home? Yes. Am I better person because of it? Yes? Do I still regret? Yes

Ive had this song in my head all day...

Cheers lads!