Saturday, December 15, 2007

6-mile manda for St. Ignatius

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.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

first post-chemo. appointment

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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

La Virgen de Guadalupe

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.

Monday, December 10, 2007

happy holidays -- tuberculosis

(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.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December December, remember the 4th of December 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!