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Saturday, October 31, 2015

SEP Field

Somebody Else's Problem field, or SEP, is a cheap, easy, and staggeringly useful way of safely protecting something from unwanted eyes. It can run almost indefinitely on a torch (flashlight)/9 volt battery, and is able to do so because it utilises a person's natural tendency to ignore things they don't easily accept, like, for example, aliens at a cricket match. Any object around which an S.E.P. is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else's. An object becomes not so much invisible as unnoticed.

A perfect example of this would be a ship covered in an SEP field at a cricket match. A starship taking the appearance of a large pink elephant is ideal, because you can see it, but because it is so inconceivable, your mind can't accept it. Therefore it can't exist, thus ignoring it comes naturally.

A S.E.P. can work in much the same way in dangerous or uninhabitable environments. Any problem which may present itself to a person inside an S.E.P. (such as not being able to breathe, due to a lack of atmosphere) will become Somebody Else's.

An S.E.P. can be seen if caught by surprise, or out of the corner of one's eye.
-- Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything


When a cancer diagnosis comes one of the first things to go is the SEP field hiding the fact that you don't control much of anything. Maybe it's a Western thing, or an American thing, I don't know, but we pretend like we control the outcome of things. I mean the big, important things, like Life. But we don't.

One of the very few assurances of Life on Earth is that one day it will end for all of us. I don't know what your existential outlook is, and I'm not going to address the subject here, anyhow. We exist on the Earth as biological entities, and it's for sure that 1 out of every 1 of us will die.

I don't write this to try to shock you, or to be "dark" or morbid. I just see now that I spent a lot of time in Life ignoring this fact of Life. Surely it was pointed out to me at some point, and I knew it was true, but only from afar. It's probably some evolutionary thing, since (we think) we're the only beings that consciously contemplate Death. In case you missed what I meant, I mean consciously contemplate, not the innate sense that all things biological have towards preserving self. That is, we know it's coming, we understand what's going on at funerals, etc... It's a dark, upsetting, scary thing, and (understandably) no-one wants to think about it, or when it will happen.

So most of the time we go on our way w/o thinking about it, I still try to. Cancer, among other things, can jolt you away from this. So what are we really avoiding? We're assuming that's it's not coming today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or until we've lived to our full life expectancy, as computed by the most liberal and understanding actuaries. I think that even if we get that far, the dream might fade, but it's still there.

In large part I think we're avoiding the fact that we don't control the outcome of much. Sure, we can hover over our kids, make sure they get a soccer scholarship starting from when they're 2. Or otherwise act like we're the real deal in carpool line. But that doesn't fall under what I'm talking about. We avoid the fact that there's a non-zero chance that we'll cease to walk the Earth on any given day.

One thing that illustrated the point to me clearly was the following. When discussing with someone the fact that Myeloma is not curable, and I was struggling to accept this because it meant knowing it was coming back and would almost certainly be the end of me. It felt like it was stalking me, like some apparition, the Grim Reaper himself with a scythe and everything. "Well," she said politely and cautiously, "no-one knows what's going to happen tomorrow. You could get hit by a car."

It's true: I could (still) get hit by a car, or bus, or asteroid. Getting into a fatal car accident is probably much more likely than getting Multiple Myeloma in a lifetime. But here's the difference as far as I'm concerned. These other things are theoretical risks: statistics or tables created by some dumb-ass actuarials. Myelmoa does have a risk profile for recurrence, but eventually it is for sure. So, yes, I could get hit by a car, or get a different cancer, or, ... whatever. Maybe. These things, I think, are somehow easily relegated to the back of our minds as not really possible. I mean, yes, they happen, but of course they always happen to somebody else. It's somebody else's problem.

Seriously consider it this way. Rather than, "you could get hit by a car", suppose someone who knows such things said instead, "you will get hit by a car within 5 years." That changes things, doesn't it? I mean I assumed I was going to live to at least 87.5 years old!? I did all the back-of-the-envelope figuring, took into account my parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents; optimistically figuring in a few bonus years due to good behavior and the rounding down of figures actuaries round up (the bastards!) and convenient memory loss when it comes to not exercising, over-eating, and too much drinking. Who the hell moved the goal posts in? That. Is the Upsetting Thing.

I struggle with those real risks, and those theoretical ones, just like anybody else. Seems like no matter how old you are (I'm 48), it seems like it's not old enough to think about these things. I do feel lucky in some sense; some people don't make it to 48.

I hope you have stayed with me this far. The real point of this post was to call attention to some things that I wish I had done (or done more of) prior to last year. Hopefully, you will seriously consider them, and take some action, and not delay long. We can't control everything, but we can control some things. These are not somebody else's problems.

  • Review Life Insurance. Review your coverage amount and terms. Make sure you have something, especially if you have a family, to provide for them. Re-up, renew, increase. How much do you need? You can cover your end of life expenses, and provide for your family for years. How much depends on your situation, so check. Once you get cancer (or other things), obtaining life insurance can be prohibitively expensive if not impossible. Can your policy be converted to whole-life later?

  • Review beneficiaries. Do you have retirement savings or other accounts with beneficiaries? Make sure the information is up to date. You can name your spouse, or a trust set up in you will, etc. Review all your accounts and make sure it's all up to date with your wishes.

  • Get a will, or review it. My wife and I set up wills not long after our first child was born. We wanted to make sure our kids' financial needs were met (via a trust), and that their custody was specified in the event we both died. Your situation might be simpler, or more complicated. I was not comfortable doing it back then (the SEP field was flickering, you know, I mean, there was nothing to worry about, right?), but I'm glad we did. If you have a will, how long has it been since you reviewed it? Maybe it's time.

  • Review medical power-of-attorney, living will. If you have specific desires for end of life, prolonged care, what to do if you become a vegetable, etc., review these, and get them in place. I can tell you hospitals ask for these documents when you check in, so they're taken seriously. Think about it now, before you need it, and get the documents drawn up. Make sure your spouse (or whomever) knows your wishes.

These are just a few things, and frankly they're man-made things; but they're important. As always, its easy (even for me) to relax back into the day-to-day and worry about it later. Sooner or later, though, it's later. I mean, it's on you before you know it. You could get hit by a car tomorrow.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Here, hold this....

One of the things I most wanted, and many times still want, was for someone to be able to help me carry the burden. The burden of knowing I have cancer, my kidneys have failed, my need for dialysis, the fact that my life was forever changed. These things take a toll on me; and they never go away. Part of getting through this was learning to bear this burden. It's something I never wanted to carry, never imagined I'd need to.

I wanted help, and I receive help, but ultimately the burden is mine.

People rally around, and provide a lot of support. I get support from our local cancer support group. I get support from my family, friends, and church. But each of us has to bear his own burden.

One of my favorite movies has this scene at the beginning that illustrates burden, how we cling to things from the past (or material things), and ultimately how it can be disposed of. You have to watch more of the movie to really get it. Here we have a man risking everything to carry that burden up the falls. To us, on the outside, it seems simple: just drop it, why are you carrying all that "stuff"? But for him it's unavoidable, he must cling to all that stuff of his former life. Out of the blue a would-be victim cuts that burden free. And you can see the result, his reconciliation. It's that kind of relief I seek, but who can cut the ropes I have, and how?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28



Looking back, some of my old burdens have been cut loose. My priorities have been changed: some shifted, some old ones lost, some new ones gained. I think these changes are all for the better. The reduction in my physical abilities can only be helped so much. What's left is part of the burden. I only have so much strength, so carrying something like this leaves less room for other "stuff". For example, things that are petty or self-important people just have no place to ride on me any more. My tolerance for these things used to be low, but now it's almost non-existent. The difference now is that rather than being angered or annoyed by these things, I just don't consider them any more. These things don't matter, so I'm not carrying them, nor am I worrying about them. I only carry the things of real importance to me, love for my family, my faith. And these things are light.


Burden like mine is impossible to just put down. You can't take a weekend off from it. No matter where you go, it is also there. Seems like with time, though, the burden gets lighter. I think as we learn to accept it, as we define it and carry it, we get stronger. We see the burden for what it is; it is lighter than it was, and we're stronger than we were. It just becomes part of us, and I hope eventually I can walk around without noticing it. I can just put it down and move on, or just carry that part of it which must be carried.


So, as I struggle up my own waterfall, I ever hope to find those places to sit, rest, and consider; leaving the old, worn-out burdens behind to wash and fall down behind. I am starting off again, ever upward.