Thursday, August 17, 2017

How to Eat

How to Eat

I recently looked on the internet for information about my plantar fasciitis. One article says it may be caused by inactivity, and the suggested treatment is rest. It pretty much cured itself while I was puzzling out what to do, but this is nevertheless an indication of what it’s like to get answers to health-related questions.

Kim and I have been trying to figure out how to eat in order to control, if not cure, her cancer. We are convinced that diet is important. There are ways to make your body an unpleasant host for cancer cells – much the way a heavy metal concert makes me feel. While the trifecta of surgery, radiation and chemo are vitally important, it’s also important that we play an active role – more active than just lying there to be almost but not quite killed by the treatment. We need to do what we can. Within reason.

We have read a few books on the subject of diet and cancer, and we’ve done some searching on the internet, all of which resulted in a few clear steps and a lot of confusing contradictions.

            What is clear?
·      Avoid sugar – not just added sugar, not just high fructose corn syrup, but also sugar that occurs naturally in fruit juices. This sugar point was made dramatically clear to me when Genne’ explained that PET Scans work by injecting you with a radioactive sugar solution, and the sugar goes right to the cancer tumors to feed them. I’m reading a book now about the way cancer cells metabolize glucose, and that’s what defines them as cancerous. Unfortunately, alcohol has a lot of sugar in it. To offset that, one of my doctors grudgingly admitted that people who have a drink or two a day tend to live longer than people who don’t. I’m just sayin’. . ..
·      Eat fresh vegetables, especially those in the cruciform family that includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and other veggies that lots of people don’t like. Fortunately, Kim and I like them, though not for breakfast.
·      Avoid white flour. In fact, avoid most carbs, as the body quickly converts them to sugars. In fact, avoid pretty much anything that is white, from rice to potatoes to vanilla ice cream. (White Supremacists take note.) The jury is still out on milk and yogurt. Some sources say to avoid all dairy, others say dairy is OK if it’s grass fed, and that probably means if the grass is organically grown and the cow shit fertilizing the grass is also organic.
·      Avoid nasty chemicals, which means most processed food, and probably anything that is not organic. Read the labels. Of course, none of this applies to the chemicals that make up your chemotherapy.
·      Water is good if you are not drawing well water from a source near a farm. And don’t drink from the trough the horses drink from.

After that, it gets a bit murky. Some say eggs are good, others say just eat the whites, but others say just eat the yolks. Butter is OK as long as the cows from which it is derived were grass fed. Grass, apparently, is good.  It’s pretty much OK to eat fruit, but some fruits are naturally less sugary than others, so eat raisins in moderation. Our new doctor, an M.D. specializing in alternative medicine, suggested the Paleo Diet, which basically removes all carbs, and so suddenly brown rice and oatmeal are bad for you. Meat is OK if it is grass-fed. Fish OK if they are not farm raised but caught (humanely?) with a hook or net, and if they are low on the food chain (e.g., sardines) so they don’t contain much mercury. Nuts are good for your health, but peanuts are not nuts (nor are doughnuts). Vegetables are good for you, but not beans. I’m reminded of a Monty Python routine where John Cleese says, “A whale is not a fish, you know. It’s an insect.” So much for common sense.

We were pleased to learn from one book that red wine is good for fighting cancer, especially Pinot Noir from Sonoma county. When I learned that wine could be a health drink I sent in an insurance claim from the liquor store, so far with no success. Same for intense dark chocolate, which I bought without a prescription.

News Flash: Bacon is now OK.

Of course, the key to the success of any diet is that people will actually follow it. I’m fond of the “moderation in all things” approach, attributed to the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod. Follow the rules, but when Kim bakes a cherry pie, eat a piece. Or finish off the pie to protect Kim from all that dangerous sugar, a sacrifice I made out of loving concern. A few days ago we went for our daily walk around the building, about a mile, finished off with a climb up the back stairs – about 4 long flights. All good. Before the stairs we stopped at Cuppa Joe to share a treat that may have had a bit of sugar in it. Moderation. We were celebrating whatever day of the week it happened to be.

I actually choose to follow a variation on Hesiod: Moderation in all things, including moderation. Sometimes you just have to be immoderate. If you have tasted Kim’s scones, you know what I mean.

NOTE: Despite the sometimes humorous tone here, this is deadly serious business.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


            Nothing like a grammatical term to get a reader to keep going, right? But the subjunctive mood (yes, “mood” is what they call it) is something special.

            I recently heard a TED Talk by the Vietnamese/American tattooist/classicist, Phuc Tran. (How he got through high school with that name is beyond the scope of this post.) He argues that the grammar of a language strongly shapes the quality of the experience of people who think, at least in part, through a filter of that language. The theory is debatable, and some discount it altogether, but this is my blog, so I’m going to go with it, at least for a while.

            What is the subjunctive mood? Wikipedia says, in part, “Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that have not yet occurred; the precise situations in which they are used vary from language to language. The subjunctive is an irrealis mood (one that does not refer directly to what is necessarily real) – it is often contrasted with the indicative, which is a realis mood (used principally to indicate that something is a statement of fact).” The alternative to the subjunctive mood is the indicative mood.

[Insert comment about President Trump here.]

            Tran’s point is that the Vietnamese language of his father lacks the subjunctive mood, and this dramatically alters his interactions with reality. He lives within the indicative mood. He cannot express or experience what might have happened if his family member had not stepped off the bus that was bombed, and he could not tell young Phuc that he wishes his son had studied engineering rather than classics. I wish that my memory of these details were clear.

            Tran’s talk, however valid or invalid his assumptions, led me to speculate about what it would be like to live only in the indicative mood. What thoughts and experiences would be removed, and what might replace them?

1.     If only Kim’s tumor were detected sooner.
2.     If only Kim and I were ten years younger.
3.     I wish that Kim’s cancer were a bad dream.
4.     I wish that I could awaken from the nightmare of Trump’s presidency.
5.     If only I were a better cook!
6.     What if Kim were paralyzed from her spinal tumor?
7.     My dentist recommends that I floss more deftly.

            Living only in the indicative mood, I have a different attitude and approach:

1.     We will eat less sugar and processed food, and even stop drinking bourbon, because Kim’s treatment has not removed all of her cancer.
2.     We exercise daily (pretty much), avoiding the elevator whenever possible, and hang out with young people, even if they are as old as we are.
3.     I wake up every morning glad to share a gentle morning hug with Kim, sometimes searching for sore spots.
4.     I wish that I could awaken from the nightmare of Trump’s presidency. (Sorry – I can’t move out of this wish.)
5.     My cooking skills are slowly improving. I have learned to make coleslaw involving two (2) kinds of cabbage.
6.     I love walking up the stairs behind Kim.
7.     I don’t floss very deftly, and google is not much help, but at least I put string in my mouth every day.

            See how it works? No more “if only” mind games, no more regretful wishes or “if onlies,” no more woulda coulda shouldas, no more fewer evasions, and more focus on the realis.

This morning I awoke in the indicative mood.

Thursday, August 3, 2017



Bright fox with rag of rabbit
dangling from jaws trots
clear of woods into space
between feeder and house.  Head
up, healthy, hello brush! he
flashes past our big windows.
We rush to bedroom to see
him pass, to see him pause
at head of path, but no,
it's under fence and across
meadow, out of sight behind
trees and winter grass.
                                          O fresh
fox, give us your clear light,
jaws and feet rabbit swift, fast
food held heading home, alive
and sure this cold morning.

The song says I've got you under
my skin and there you entered a spider
bite or maybe poison ivy laced buckthorn
I was clearing, a black spot on my left
wrist surrounded by red swelling, tender
balloon of heat and itch soon taking over
my forearm with harbingers streaking
up past the inner elbow toward lymph nodes
in the armpit and beyond to the heart.
Surely it would pass because I'm so
reasonably healthy, but as with poetry
and love, my immunities and pure intentions
proved insufficient. Smaller water blisters
flowered beside the black spot, and soon
a swath of red across belly and chest
where I anointed myself in the shower.
I showed my proud wound to friends, who
murmured appropriate concern. The black
spot wept, blisters broke, and I badged
my spider kiss with gauze, took huge red
pills at conspicuously inconvenient times,
exaggerating the danger by mentioning
intravenous antibiotics. I rejoiced the itch
on my chest which I refused to scratch
with patience sublime and somehow Christian.
But under the ministering of time and pills
the red recedes to a sane domestic disturbance,
the kind that could happen to anyone, though
the rich purple of skin in the cold, the
lingering black heart scab and surrounding
volcanic skin scales make a pleasing story
of how deep and beautiful such wounds can go.


People who believe in God think I don’t understand,
but something must have sent us the startling blue
of an indigo bunting: a chip of light on a hickory
whose leaves are emerging from yellow-green pods,
then a swoop closer to the feeder where it pauses
to be photographed, though my religion says it’s blasphemy
to fix on film the radiant face of God. The same day
a scarlet tanager appears for one brief visit, outshining
the sun and the fierce beauty of blue jays and cardinals.
Then a summer tanager, with first year parrot-like reds,
oranges, olive greens and yellows. And eastern orioles
arrive, like Job’s messengers in reverse, bringing news
of blessings, riches restored, families united. The hand of God
reaches deep behind the cushions of His couch to bring us coins.

We fasten orange halves to the deck to lure these shimmering
visitants. Meanwhile, our regulars become angels: rose breasted
grosbeak with its bib, woodpeckers downy, hairy, and red bellied,
the ruby throated hummingbird this year more and brighter red,
the green back iridescent, the dartings random as grace. Even
the stupid mourning doves in all their clumsy dignity cull
the spectrum for hues to pay homage on this sacramental day.

It may be that third cup of coffee or the early flowers at last arriving.
None of this matters. Is this God or only like God? Does the Holy Spirit
flash and move on just outside my window, or does my caffeine jag
create a Ghost of serotonin? Paraclete or parakeet?

People who believe in God think I don’t understand,
and they are right, for who can fathom the appearance

of an indigo bunting one Sunday morning?