Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Wilson Once Removed

February 14th
Can’t really think what to write about but I know it’s an important thing to do in my condition – to write something. It’s supposed to be therapeutic. I’d rather talk about this stuff, but frankly finding experienced ears is not something that comes easily. It just becomes yet another thing I need to talk about.

I’m 61 and going through a health scare. My MPI (Motion Picture Health Insurance) was running out. I hadn’t worked enough hours to qualify for the next coverage period. So I inked in a visit to the Motion Picture Hospital in Calabasas. I told my Nurse Practitioner, Linda Abrams this and she went into action mode – taking advantage of my MPI up while I still had it. She ordered an EKG, gave me an inoculation for something I can’t remember and a chest X-ray.

That was a Monday. The next day NP, Abrams called and said she didn’t like my chest X-ray and was going to fill up my week with appointments while I was covered. Wednesday I had a chest CT scan done, Thursday I saw a pulmonologist, and on Friday a Thoracic Surgeon at UCLA Medical Center. Whoa, things were moving fast.

Turns out I have a mediastinal mass - pretty big too. In a few short days I will be able to refer to it in past tense and say, “I had a mediastinal mass.” I can’t wait for that day to come. Not in the lungs thank God, but it found a comfy spot in front of my heart and windpipe just below the sternum.


Silent Heroes
Every day, heroes walk among us and we are totally oblivious to it. Anyone who knows me will concur that I am an avid appreciator of life and people. Nurse Practitioner Linda Abrams is one of these silent heroes. I wrote her when I realized how easy it is to get wrapped up in your own pity party. All I could see was my struggle and I forgot why I now have a chance to go on living on this planet: because of someone’s heroic actions. This was my email to NP, Abrams.

“I’ve told my "MPI running out" story a lot of times now to people and several have corroborated that you went above and beyond the call of duty ordering the chest X- ray. If I may be so optimistic, and I should, you saved my life. I know I thanked you once but this is big. Thanks again, and I owe you one, maybe two. :) xo ~ Michael”

She called me 3 hours later and told me that my email made her feel validated and it was so nice to feel that all she does is so worthwhile. She genuinely thanked me. That made both of our days I think. I’m so glad I stopped down and did that – much deserved.

Although I stressed over it, my biopsy was a breeze and I expected something entirely different. The Doctor staff was nice too – all positive experiences in a sea of fear that surrounds me. This is day six waiting to hear something, anything, but nothing comes – it’s just me, alone, floating in this small wooden boat, far out at sea, with hundred foot waves surrounding me on all sides. Oh, and it’s raining.

The biopsy came back positive and I’m spiraling. Thymoma. Now they want a full body Pet CT scan, labs, heart stress tests, lung tests, more labs, ugh, and all I want is Valium, edibles, scotch, marijuana, you name it. I want as far away from this as I can get.

I finally got an appointment with a therapist. He was ok, nothing to write home about. He got right into it and understood who I was early on and seemed to understand the breed that he was dealing with. But he didn’t follow-up with me until 2 weeks later when my insurance didn’t pay the full amount, so my take on him was not too far off.

However, I did come away with a couple of things: the phrase, “cognitive thinking” stuck. (It actually seems to come and go) And, at that time, I was dealing with a lot of anger issues too, so he said, “Well, I live by the words of that musical guru, Elvis Costello.” I looked at him quizzically as he quoted the lyric from Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes - the lyric was “I used to be disgusted - now I’m just amused...” That worked for me, too. It stopped the barrage of feelings that made me want to escape anyway.
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I was coming home from a walk the other day, moving through the courtyard as a much-needed rain began to fall. The concrete pathway beneath my feet became bespeckled with dark, moist raindrops and was rapidly becoming wet. Then something, flat-out stopped me. For some unknown reason, surrounding me on three sides were areas of dry concrete. The rain wasn’t falling in these places as if they were somehow shielded from above, but they weren’t. As the rain continued to fall, I just stood there, watching the concrete. As the outlined shapes became more and more delineated, I could now see the dry shapes of three angels surrounding me on all sides. Although I’m not a real religious person, I was moved to tears. Maybe I wanted to see what I saw. Maybe it’s my melodramatics, I don’t know. But it messed with my brain and as I ascended the stairs leading to our loft, it has never left my mind since. I want to believe that they’re here to protect me or maybe it’s just that the angels just want to wear my red shoes - but alas, I don’t own any.

Now, it’s been almost 3 weeks since I went to the doctor and found this thing living in me. Cognitive thinking has failed me off and on. I’ve actually been a baby - I just want to be taken care of. My messed up logic tells me I’m the one with the condition and that’s bad enough, now someone needs to take care of me.

“Get real,” I thought, as my cognitive thinking surfaced again. It’s up to no one else, just me. I have to take on this maverick wave and I have to ride it or let it crash down on me. My very close and wonderful friend, Jim told me, “The mighty wave I thought would crush me, turned out to be the wave that God sent me to ride.” Good words Jim. Big wave, big wake-up call.

The fact that I began writing makes me feel good. According to the Psychologist, it’s what I should be doing. So far I’m doing everything already that he would have told me to do. The writing, finding forgiveness with people in distressed areas of my life and also my visualization work. I’m doing it all already. I thought, jeez, he should be paying me.

Anger was brewing again. It built to a crescendo. I was blaming everybody - my brother, my father, I think I even blamed it on my landlord - for living so close to the busy train tracks and the train’s black exhaust fumes that we somehow accept into our daily lives. Mind-boggling what we’ll sacrifice for a nice view.

But the point is I wasn’t getting the point. I was still very angry. Then, I think it was my ex, Jan Bayouth and our close and dear friend, Susan Wynn who said something that pulled the rug out from under all my anger issues. They said, “don’t forget to be compassionate to yourself.” Wow! - Amazing advice from amazing people who know from their Spiritual Psychology training how important this is. Have compassion for myself! Whoops, I forgot about that. I’ve had a lump in my throat ever since - remembering that has really quieted me. Huge. Thank you both so much!

February 26th
The results of my full-body CT scan were good. Just the tumor basically showed up hot and yes, it is malignant. (Actually I’m calling it ‘Wilson,’ for now because I don’t like the label, “cancer or tumor”) At least I’m not a lost cause and thankfully still a candidate for surgery - that’s the GOOD news. But this thing is 10.5 centimeters and too risky to go in with robots. They will extract Wilson on Tuesday, March 1st. This is open chest surgery - the real deal. I will be in hospital 5 - 7 days and in recovery for 4 - 6 weeks. The healing process will be dictated by what happens during surgery. The Doctor says no chemo and only radiation, maybe, will be needed.
Being a storyboard artist for the movies, it was very easy for me to understand the steps and clearly visualize the operation and it’s possible ramifications as Dr. Lee so expertly explained it to us. And because I could see it all so well, at first I was terrified - then I remembered - I’m in the hands of the greatest Surgeon, surgical team and medical staff in the world – which makes me grateful beyond words. So now I’m counting my lucky stars - but I have to admit, I’m still trying hard as hell to stay present and not let my mind drift into the “what if” scenarios - not a good thing to do - because this really can be terrifying.

The other night I looked at Kim, my significant other, sitting there at the island counter, finishing her dinner alone because I had abandoned her to the couch again. A subliminal moment took place. For a fraction of a second I saw this amazing, strong woman - afraid like me. I said, “You must be holding on for dear life, trying to keep it all together.” My answer came as a tear rolled down her cheek. At that moment I realized how strong she’s been for me – how much she’s done. I’d have caved-in long ago I think, but this woman has the courage of ten cancer patients - holding fast and not letting her guard down for a second. The truth is, she is taking care of me – and her daughter who’s pregnant in Portland, not to mention being left with all the responsibility at her work. Sometimes the biggest blessings are right under your nose. Thank you Kim. I love you.

You should read Kim’s blog entry, Some Idle Wednesday - it’s a birds-eye-view into what her reality was like dealing with this. ... so beautiful Kim - so moving. Thank you my sweet. Below is one more of Kim’s writings. This is a tough on for me. It tore me up when she read it to me. She wrote it after I was diagnosed with cancer. Taylor, Chelsea and Ben had come to visit me for my birthday and to spend the day with me. Kim insisted on not being here. She knew I needed family time with my incredible kids. Here it is.


A Prayer
I find myself this afternoon, sitting at the same Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Montecito that I spent many days sitting in about 4 years ago. Then, I was writing about my experience and feelings as the newly torn-up half of a tarnished and trampled relationship, working on blogs and trying to write a screenplay. Today, I seek refuge here, writing. But I’m writing to give someone time. Someone space. Someone some much needed love - a few hours to spend alone with his children. 

They found the large mass in his chest last Thursday, and already in just over a week, several tests have been performed. But it feels like months, and for him, I’m sure, like forever. Biopsies are scheduled for this Monday, more ultrasounds on Wednesday, and God only knows what kind of treatments, procedures and tests lie ahead in the days to come.

He is terrified. He is in shock. This doesn’t feel right. Once again, it’s that “life isn’t fair” thing thrown in your face. No one ever said it was. But this man loves people, he loves experiences, he loves life, like no one I’ve ever seen.

Every sunset gets a call to action. “Oh my God, Kim, come here, you have to see this amazing sunset.” I begrudgingly get up from the couch, or sometimes I just glance over, “Yeah, it’s beautiful.” Back to my computer or to my making tea or cooking some sorry excuse for dinner. But he is amazed. He is moved. And he videotapes it to share with the world. He wants everyone to feel the same awe at this breathtaking sight that he does.

He has ideas, he has plans, so many that it makes my head spin. And while I use to try and corral him, now I just wish it were up to me to grant him the time he needs to execute them all. Because, he really, really, really, loves life. All the sights, smells, sounds, textures, colors, diversity, opportunities, oceans, skies, stars, sand, trees, fireplaces, snow, cabins, fishing, Colorado, his children, his granddaughter, his friends. Laughter. Love.

So, this is my prayer. Give him the time. The time someone with this kind of love for the gift of life should be given. That’s all. My coffee cup is empty. I think his kids have gone and now he’s alone. I’m going home. Amen.
So very moving. Thank you Kim. Thank you for these very special words.

My children have been amazing - so wonderful, concerned and supportive. I can only imagine what they’re feeling about all this. I will try to be strong for them first and for me, second. It’s usually such a helpless feeling when someone you love is hurting. I’m sure they all wish they could wave a magic wand and make it all go away. I have many reasons to want to go on living, but nothing tops being here for my kids and my grandchildren. I love them all so very much. Every day for the last several weeks now, since I found out, I’ve been doing a lot of visualization work while I’m in the shower. Then, several days ago, during my visualization in the shower, something so completely cathartic and amazing happened to me.

But before I explain it, I want to go back.

In the 70’s, when I was working at the studios, I met a man who befriended Jay Silverheels, the Native American actor who was well known for his role as Tonto in The Lone Ranger TV series. His health was failing him and since I worked at NBC graphics, I was asked to make a plaque for Jay with a loving message and his classic leather headband attached.

This man, who was helping Jay told me about a visualization treatment method Jay was using that was self-healing. He explained the process as a movie you make in your mind. A detailed movie about getting rid of the illness or cancer – it could be anything, whatever you want it to be - like little workers inside your body clearing out the cancer and somehow doing away with it. And the idea is, the more the detail, the more effective the treatment.

So since I want to do everything I can to increase my odds of surviving, and making and storyboarding movies is something I’m pretty familiar with, I tried it. As I mentioned earlier I chose the shower for the water aspect of it. I could pretend the water was anything I wanted and that gave way to a lot of possibilities.

This is what happened.

Every morning, after my traditional wash and shampoo, I moved in close and faced the showerhead. I’d position the showerhead to spray in the general area on my chest where Wilson was and with eyes closed, I would begin to breath very slow and go into my movie, much like a guided meditation.

My movie started by me imagining the water was penetrating my skin and spraying into my chest – on Wilson. This was beautiful; blue glowing Electrolytes, as I called them. The true meaning of the word was superfluous to me, but I liked the sound of it. In my movie it meant eradication liquid – a very powerful liquid meant for just this process.

I could see each frame of the storyboard unfold every day – the blue, glowing Pandora-like water detaching Wilson from his surroundings in my chest, bit by bit. And watching pieces of him flow effortlessly away. My subjective mind’s camera even followed pieces of Wilson down inside my body eventually to breach the epidermis around my ankles and swirl down the drain in a true Hitchcock fashion.

I remember remarking to Kim after I first tried it, “I really felt like I’ve been through something.” Anyway, it felt good for me so I kept doing it.

After about a week and a half of doing this, in my movie, I had really finished with the blue Electrolytes and Wilson had been washed away with the very same water he had floated onto my island with. His company was no longer needed. He had awoken me to many things - but mostly to life’s abundance of love – and now it was time for Wilson to go.

In subsequent shower movies I now began to imagine green water streaming into my chest – some kind of healing agent. I imagined the surrounding areas inside me were now raw, red and irritated from Wilson having been removed. So this healing agent was creating a new, pristine surface. It felt good and logical and so I did this for several days to come, replenishing the entire area with the showerhead spray pounding down into my body cavity.

In the shower that next morning, it happened. I’m going to break it down for you into frames because that’s how I remember it best.

1) In my subjective mind I wondered if the healing, green elixir was getting to places underneath, inside my body’s cavity. In my mind’s eye, I began to follow the green replenishing elixir down into my body cavity, and eventually looked up. That’s when it happened.
2)  To my surprise there were groups of people there who immediately saw me and were waving to get my attention, shouting over to me, “we aren’t getting the healing water – over here!” But this was not in my film! How was this happening in
my movie?! Someone else was directing now or some revised pages had come in for the script and nobody gave them to me. 
3)  I repositioned myself, moving away from the showerhead and changing the angle of the water. For weeks I had been in the same proximity to the head and now, at this very moment of adjustment, I heard
a crowd of people cheer. This was not in my movie either! 
4)  I panned over and looked down. Inside my body cavity, to my amazement, a stadium full of people cheered and cried with joy as the green, healing rain had finally come to them. The throng cheered like a mass of dustbowl farmers, experiencing a cloudburst after a long drought. At first I just stood there, eyes closed, drenched and dumbfounded. 

5)  Then instantly I became overwhelmed with emotion - outwardly crying and sobbing at the cathartic experience I was having. Maybe someone was showing me how much so many cared about me – I actually don’t know what it was. But the love thing, I think
that was the thing that hit me so hard. Love. 
6)  I watched as the green, healing rain now fell on areas that had been deprived for far too many showers. They were all so happy. I watched with eyes closed as my invisible tears mixed with the green, healing shower water. 


All this was NOT in my movie – and yet, is was. But I can truthfully say is that I had no conscious planning of any of this shower’s events.

Whatever this is that I’m going through, it has to do with more than just health - it has to. My good friend and spiritual mentor, Jason McKean said the heart chakra is radiant Green light ... Onward and Upward!

My good friend and amazing writer, Richard Christian responded by saying this: You are clearly melding with the transformation of energy; a high calling and the realm of true healers. I hope you will publish this when the time is right; so many can benefit. A few thoughts for your ongoing movie:

Green: is the color of life and healing. It is profoundly beneficial in all healing situations. Its aura signifies balance, peace and often extreme ability as a healer. When winter ends, green begins to appear again. It is also thought to trample any threats to life and banish enemies under our feet with its inextinguishable powers of renewal. Its chakra is located in the heart and its most undeniable theme is love and forgiveness.

Blue: represents the cleansing, refreshing waters of life. Also the river that flows through our veins which are blue and carry our poisons away. Blue washes our spirit and is associated with spirituality, intuition, inspiration and inner peace. It is used in healing for calming and cooling both physically and mentally. Its aura indicates serenity and spiritual development. Its chakra is the throat and its most undeniable theme is communication and connection.

Water: the source life. It represents renewal, depths of meaning and the subconscious flowing into the conscious, bringing purification and clarity. We are all made largely of water. Thus, we are it... and it is us. It brings interconnected flow of energy between all living things. All relationships, no matter how weakened by drought can be renewed by its pristine simplicity. Taoists believe in its wisdom and powers of transformation and revitalization. It is also associated with dreaming and powerful visions. It symbolizes things deep. The wisdom of water is infinite.
Here's to more miracles. xoxo RC

This moved me so much to read. I had no idea what I was doing; yet I guess I did. Kim says the Buddhists believe we are born “full” with all the knowledge we need. But tapping into our intuition is up to each of us to do for ourselves.


Day Before Surgery
These past 3 days before my surgery I have used to move myself into a place of calm. Terrors still arise from time to time when my mind drifts and I begin to think about what will be happening to me. But I am in control of my thoughts so I pull myself back. I’m trying to stay away from sensory and loud noises or movies. I’m relaxing and eating easy-to-digest foods. Preparing my body for this repair process and then into recovery.

Tomorrow Wilson will be gone. Kim and I keep finding positives to cling to - like they’re just removing something foreign that doesn’t belong there. It’s not like I have a failing heart or other organ - I’m actually healthy otherwise.

But, like my visualizations, even such awareness is difficult to control. For example, I wake up sweating profusely in a panic at night. It amazes me how my subconscious mind can still be terrified while I lay sleeping. It seems that parts of this process are out of my hands completely. Interesting how the mind sometimes works independently of our conscious endeavors.

So now I have embraced the inevitable and I have a much less horrific and clearer mental picture of what will happen to me. However, after learning of the size and positioning of Wilson, I am now physically aware of him. I actually feel him in my chest. They say that the body can only experience what the mind can comprehend. The moment I knew about Wilson I could then feel him there. So weird.


Love
Love is the one thing I’m taking away from all of this. Love and forgiveness has cut through all the trivial upsets in my life that were bugging me like a hot butter knife. The thing I was getting wrong was that forgiveness is for me – not something I expect from others who have wronged me, but for me. When you go through something like this, I think you almost have an “It’s A Wonderful Life” experience - at least I did. The overwhelming unconditional love of my children, friends and family has left me a changed and humbled man. I’m feeling like this awakening to love and forgiveness is almost a prerequisite on how to live life.

I just got the call from the hospital. I go in at 5am tomorrow morning. If you remember the movie, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character was very stressed about his future and the only sound he would often emit was a small squeak from his suppressed anxiety. So, this is me, signing off with a squeak or two. I will recover and the next time we speak - Wilson will be a thing of the past. 


Pre Opp - Getting ready for surgery


Post Opp - Popsicle tasted so good.

(Below) Walken on Wilson
video


March 13th
I’ve been home now for a week now after spending five days in the hospital. I’m looking down the center of my chest at this huge incision. I also see three small red slits on my abdomen that indicate where as many quarter-inch, clear tubes, protruded into drainage tanks. I had to wheel these tanks around with me on my daily ambulation around halls of the hospital. It was awful.

But, I will say this. UCLA’s sharp-as-a-tack, staff of nurses were amazing - it was no time at all before I realized my care was in the most capable hands out there. That having been said, things did happen that I didn’t see coming.

I think it was the second or third day, they removed my catheter. I held on to the bedrails, tried like hell to breath and looked away - and voila, it was out. That was a breeze compared to what happened two days later when it had to go back in.

Kim was gone for the evening. The straight-cath procedure occurred at night when all things of real horror seem to happen. For a handful of excruciating and very painful moments, I experienced a very real pain.

At first blush my hospital, private room was nice and comfortable. The room itself was modern looking, yet the furniture appeared more like early Hub. I found I was more comfortable in the broken down recliner chair on casters than my hospital bed, which was too short for me - some reject from Children’s Hospital I assumed. But the recliner chair was just as bad. I’d have to slam my heal into the ottoman to get it to fold in so I could get up out of it – it took some practice to get it just right and made a hell-of-a sound when I did it. Here’s this guy with tubes sticking out of his zipper chest, slamming his foot into a chair to get up. The nurses watched me do it and would cringe. It was just pitiful.


Taking Out The Tubes
I never thought about how these tubes leading into my body’s cavity would come out. It turned out that the procedure was not a very sophisticated one – they simply pull them out.
What? Really? Are you kidding me? How far do these tubes go inside of me? I asked. The nurse cocked her head and looked at me. Do you really want to know the answer to that? Hmmm. You’re right, I said, don’t answer that.

So, with much trepidation, I submitted to the Doctors who have supposedly done this a thousand times. It was to be on the count of three - I would hum and exhale while they would simply grab hold of each tube and yank them out.

This is crazy - like frontier medicine, I thought. But that’s exactly what they did – on three, all eighteen inches of tube inside my chest cavity came whipping out. Good Lord, I almost fainted each time. What a topsy-turvy ride this was.


They discharged me after five days and Kim took me home. Not directly home however. I was craving flavor like nobodies business. The hospital food was like a form of tasteless glue that balled in my mouth and couldn’t be consumed. I was starving so we stopped at a Fatburger in the Valley on the way home and Kim got me lunch. That may have been the best meal I ever ate, no kidding.

Richard Christian responded to an update from Kim on my progress about our Fatburger stop and said, Hi Kim, Wonderful to hear Michael is home and you can both more comfortably rest and he can heal in the serenity of your seaside retreat. Most importantly, Fatburgers are the first step toward true recovery. Thanks for keeping us all up-to-date. ~ Much love

I had a good laugh that hurt a bit but was well worth it.

Being home now is good. Baby steps. Hints of normality peek through every now and then. I’m off my pain meds now and feeling stronger every day. A phone call came in on Tuesday from NP, Linda Abrams about the results of my pathology report on tissue and nodes surrounding Wilson: negative – non cancerous. Phew! Dr Lee said radiation was up to me. However, microscopic cancer cells were found in the lining of the tumor capsule so technically it was stage two cancer.  I'm just lucky they got it all and it didn't seem to get out - but no one can be absolutely certain. Every six months I'll be getting CT scans just to be sure.    

Kim and I cheered and hugged then sent out the news. Chelsea texted a picture of herself crying with tears joy. But for now, I will take this news and run with it - or slowly walk with it anyway.

For now, I close my eyes and tilt my head back - a sigh of relief to an answered prayer. Did a miracle just happen? Pay attention, I say to myself, this could have gone very different. As soon as I am recovered, I’m getting a colonoscopy.  
Check out my interview on Contact Talk Radio