Category Archives: Somewhat spiritual thoughts

Why I haven’t blogged in a long time

So, the reason I haven’t blogged in a long time is that, in early December, I found out that my inpatient chemo had failed and that current medical science offers no chance of curing me–sometime in the upcoming weeks or months I’ll die of leukemia.

Well, ok, there is a super long shot chance of remission–I’ve joined a clinical trial, which has put a few people into remission for some period of time. But the odds of that are very, very low–single digit, in my guesstimate based on the nurse’s guesstimate, although my dad and boyfriend persist in being more optimistic. My main reason for participating in the study is that I just really hate leukemia, and what to do what I can against it in general. I can’t deal with the emotional whiplash of getting my hopes up about what the study could do for me–I’m sure if it puts me in full remission, I’ll cope with it just fine without extended preparation.

Anyway, facing very likely impending death, I decided to shift my focus to communicating with my friends individually, telling them how much I love them, and saying goodbye. It’s hard because I do have a lot of fatigue and a lot of friends if you count every era of my life, but I’ll do what I can and just count on the fact that, for those I miss, my friends already know I love them.

I’ve also been focusing on trying to think about Heaven, which is a bit hard because “what we will be has not yet been revealed,” but my sisters found some Bible verses about it for me for Christmas.

So, not much blogging likely to happen here for a while, except I do need to put up that design for a no-sew blouse you can take on and off while attached to an IV pole in the hospital. The world needs to know about that.

Peace and blessings!

 

I am getting my bone marrow transplant right this very minute

Wow, this is probably the only transplant experience which one can actively blog through! Even corneas, which might be done under local anesthesia in some cases, don’t leave you sitting around free to use the wi fi.

Life-giving cells wend their way through tubes into my bloodstream!

Life-giving cells wend their way through tubes into my bloodstream!

But here I am lounging on this gurney like Cleopatra on her gilded barge, typing away on my ipad. Also, the gurney head goes up like a deck chair, and my non-donor sister is at hand to fetch snacks.

They run the marrow through a tubes using gravity alone,  to keep the cells from being tumbled about and mussed. This leaves me plenty of time to meditate on how much marrow they got out of my donor. They are putting 1.5 liters into me, and very little of that is diluting stuff. How big are hip bones anyway? Family report says she is resting comfortably with no pain.

Because my donor was getting prepped for surgery this morning, she wasn’t there this morning when my caregiver sister, our dad, and I all got communion from the Weinberg cancer center chaplain. I really feel like I’m having my own personal secular Easter–lifesaving blood shed for me.

p.s. Dr. Concerned stopped by to say hi while I’m here too!

Copyright © 2013 E. Palmberg. All blog content guaranteed 100% brave and freaking noble.

Biopsy Wait Hymn Sing

Did you know that the median wait time for biopsy results is all eternity? Ok, technically that’s the subjective wait time, but still and all. I noticed this most recently late last month when waiting for my bone marrow biopsy results to come back.

Obviously, they came back good enough to go ahead with the transplant, as I just got day 3 of chemo in preparation for my transplant Friday. At the time, I was in the throes of packing for two and a half months (and also attending Holy Week services), so I didn’t get to share the following insight:

When trying to get to sleep while waiting for biopsy results, it is obviously a bad move to lie there thinking about your biopsy results. One (not completely obvious) way to possibly avoid this is to go over hymn lyrics in your head. I found the following hymns helpful:

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
I Want Jesus to Walk with Me
It is Well with my Soul
Amazing Grace

Basically, something that can have a slow tempo and that you know the words to is good. If you are not into Jesus you could try other songs, although presumably, say, metal might be less likely to work.

Content copyright © 2013 E. Palmberg. Guaranteed 100% brave and freaking noble.

Take this cup. For real, TAKE it.

So you’ve heard the flu shot is somewhat ineffective this year, and, though you have a normal immune system, you don’t want to take the Eucharist from a common chalice.

Part of me kind of wants to slap you.

Eucharist,  Laurence Gough/ Shutterstock.com

Obviously, that’s not what Jesus would do. We know what Jesus did  — he offered you his lifeblood, saying “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Ever after, Christians have taken wine and bread, a sacrament which binds us together in communion with other Christ-followers around the globe and through two millennia.

For the last few months, because my cancer treatment had decimated my immune system, I haven’t been able to drink from the common chalice (or to eat most raw food, go to the movies, or get on the bus without a face mask). I really miss it. So I want to share two key insights I’ve had about the common Eucharistic cup.

1. Chalice-sharing is safer than touching a doorknob, because people’s lips are WAY cleaner than their hands. This is born out by various medical surveys, like this one or this one or this microbiologist, who points out Communion is as safe as “standing in line at the movies.” (And it’s a lot better for you spiritually). People tend to ignore this reality because they assume that, as lips are a more private body part than hands, they’re more likely to spread illness. While this private-equals-contagious idea is true of the very most private parts of your body — having sex can give you HIV — it’s just dead wrong when it comes to lips. Even when my immune system is down to 10 percent of normal, I’ve been allowed to kiss my boyfriend, as long as he isn’t sick. In contrast, we both have to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds before touching anything I’m going to eat (otherwise, it would be like licking every doorknob we’d touched recently).

If you think about it rationally, you will observe that your Episcopalian or Catholic friends don’t get sick noticeably more than anybody else. Priests in some traditions routinely finish off wine remaining in the bottom of the chalice after everyone has drunk, but you’ve never heard anyone use the saying “sickly as a parish priest” (at least, Google hasn’t). But, actually, thinking about this rationally isn’t where you should stop, because:

2. The Eucharist is supposed to be in your face. When Paul told church members to greet each other with a kiss and to throw away their society’s entire class hierarchy over the Lord’s supper, that was pretty in your face. Even if you’re not one of Jesus’ original disciples, for whom blood would have been the least kosher thing you could possibly put in your mouth, you are still drinking human blood. Whether you take that with a side order of transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or just deep symbolism, if this sacrament is not a little edgy, you may not be doing it right.

So sure, use reasonable precautions against illness. Wash your hands before you eat (antibacterial gels like Purell are not certified against viruses such as the flu), especially if you’ve touched a doorknob or your keyboard or money. Get a flu shot. And for Pete’s sake, cough in your sleeve rather than on your hand (unless you want a germ-spreading method more efficient than spitting on each individual doorknob). If you have a compromised immune system or are in an area with cholera or something, do take precautions about the Eucharist.

But don’t let the mold of this world, or an unexamined culture of fear and separation, pressure you into needlessly separating yourself from the blood — and Body — of Christ.

This post reprinted with permission from the God’s Politics blog.

Photo: Eucharist,  Laurence Gough/ Shutterstock.com

The Marrow Road

[I just got around to asking Sojourners’ blog editor if I can reprint here blogs I post there… here’s something I wrote last December. In the meantime, I found out that my bone marrow donor *will* have to have the donation taken out of her hipbone–turns out that’s how they roll with haplo transplants at Hopkins, at least in my case. So I was wrong there.]

Photo: Jesus healing, © V. J. Matthew / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Jesus healing, © V. J. Matthew / Shutterstock.com

I’ve been thinking, as Advent goes on, what it meant for God to lay aside infinity and put on a body that was not just tiny, inarticulate, and helpless, but also already marked, to the marrow of its little bones, with the seeds of death.

He must have felt in his own flesh this dramatic comedown — from omnipotence and omnipresence to a being that had about threescore and 10, max, even if it hadn’t going to be cut off halfway by self-sacrifice and Roman capital punishment. And that must have given Jesus infinite tenderness and patience towards the waves and waves of people who, during his short ministry, were always coming up to him and asking, directly or just by their presence, for him to heal their bodies. In Luke, the Gospel focus of the new liturgical year, there are more than 20 healings by my count, compared to two times when someone asks Christ how to get eternal life (and only one of them actually wanted to know).

Those healings of all those bodies matter, millennia later. One big reason they matter is because healing matters. Another is because, by showing God’s power over death as well as by going through death ahead of us, Christ teaches us not to be dominated by fear of it.

All this is very personal for me. Nearly seven years ago, in April 2006, doctors gave me super-intense chemotherapy to cure my Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To help me survive the process, first they froze some of my stem cells (essentially, bone marrow, except that they filtered them out of my blood — actually drilling into bones is so 1990). Then, after the chemo and three days after Easter, they re-infused those cells back into my body to restart my bone marrow. I remember watching the tiny pink bag dripping through the IV, through which the seeds of survival would swim back into my veins, and then into my bones. Day by day, those cells moved invisibly inside my body, to grow and thrive.

Thanks be to God and to a lot of great nurses and doctors, they did cure my lymphoma. But now, as a late-breaking side effect, I have a different kind of cancer. (Yes, this sucks, but I’m still better off than if I’d died of the original cancer several years ago). So now, if all goes well, next year I might be spending another Easter in the hospital getting my own personal immunological rebirth. This time the point is to give me stem cells from a relative — cells that, Lord willing, will have an immune response that kills my cancer.

In my case, I have two siblings and a parent who are close enough to be stem cell donors — but there are many people in my shoes who don’t. That’s why, this Advent, I encourage everyone between the ages of 18 and 44 to consider joining the national bone marrow donor registry. It only takes an online survey and mail-in cheek swab to join. (Notwithstanding the name, in the unlikely event you’re matched and get the opportunity to donate, there’s usually no bone-drilling or anesthesia — just a series of shots to make your marrow overproduce into your blood, and then sitting next to a machine for a few hours while it filters out those lifesaving extra cells. I did this for myself back in 2006, and my main symptom was boredom).

As we prepare to celebrate God’s arrival in human flesh, as we start the liturgical year’s journey through a ministry in which Christ heals people’s bodies as well as their souls, there’s no better time to sign up to offer others the gift of life.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.sojo.net.

Handwashing to the O Antiphons: King of Nations

stained glass by transguyjayOk, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” doesn’t even mention today’s messianic title, “King of Nations,” in its paraphrase of the verse. That’s kind of egregious. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, nineteenth-century Anglican cleric and hymn writer John Mason Neale!

According to that random Catholic website I have not fact checked, the original O Antiphon is:

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man: Come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Whereas “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is:

O come, Desire of Nations, bind,
In one the hearts of [humankind];
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
And be thyself our prince of peace. [Protestants rinse]
Rejoice! Rejoice! [plainsong users rinse]
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The “desire of nations” part is actually heisted from tomorrow’s O Antiphon, and the “king” part is gone. While I love me some Biblical references to the prince of peace, I think “desire of nations” is a bit iffy to begin with. I’ve seen lots of people desire God, but most nations’, or at least national governments’, desire for God seems either entirely absent, or a thinly disguised desire for God to be on their side, which is not at all the same thing.  I do want to emphasize that my enthusiasm for viewing God as King sure doesn’t mean that I think political rulers should be required to be of my religion, or to answer to it rather than to their rule-ees. I just mean that God > nations, and that, though I love my country, my primary loyalty is to God. Same reason why I don’t think national flags belong in churches.

[Yes, while I’m critiquing paraphrases, I’ll cop to doing my own paraphrase, above, of Neale’s “all mankind” to “humankind,” but that’s just updating to modern English–today “man” means “male,” i.e. I’m not invited to walk into the men’s bathroom. Also, I used brackets.]

Happy Advent!

All blog content copyright © 2012 E. Palmberg. Guaranteed 100% brave and freaking noble.

Handwashing to the O Antiphons: Dayspring

Today’s messianic title is “Radiant Dawn.” I never did understand what “dayspring” meant, singing this verse growing up. Now, I do! And in addition to knowledge, and immunological prudence, I’m getting a sense of moving forward through Advent.

O come Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight. [Protestants rinse]
Rejoice! Rejoice! [plainsong users rinse]
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

It’s enough to make me think I should actually get up and view the dawn sometime…

Advent blessings, everyone!

All blog content copyright © 2012 E. Palmberg. Guaranteed 100% brave and freaking noble.