The Absurd Epistolary Adventures of the Astonishing FartMan chronicles the amusing escapades
of the lovable, stinky, and obnoxious Cape & Tights Super Hero, and his maudlin Alter Ego, W____,
as they learn to cope with Stage IV colon cancer, each other, and their annoying fellow human beings.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Created to Create

FartMan recently posted the following comment on ZoomberGirl's cancer-fighting blog.

TheAstonishingFartMan (unregistered) wrote:

Hey ZoomberGirl,

By way of apology and reparation for my last, perhaps disconcerting, comment, of which not all might appreciate the humor, may I gently philosophize? (And who's gonna try to stop grumpy little ol' me?)

One of my silly theories is that human activity can generally be divided into two categories: creating and acquiring, giving and taking, producing and consuming.

As I began, or rather I should say, as I begin, to acknowledge my own mortality, which is something we all must do sooner or later whether or not we happen to have cancer (as I do, Stage IV Colon Cancer with Liver Mets), as part of that process of wrestling with my mortality, I discovered within myself an impulse, a compulsion, a yearning, to create.

I'm no artist, but suddenly I wanted to make art. I'm no cook, but suddenly I wanted to fix dinner for all my friends. (And now I understand better why my dear mother-in-law would slave for hours every Sunday to make a meal that we gluttons would consume in less than thirty minutes.) I'm no musician, but suddenly I could not stop myself whistling with the birds during my walks around the neighborhood. I'm no carpenter, but suddenly I found myself spending way too much time in my garage making strange little pieces of furniture or other odd wood objects.


Is that desire to create merely a vain wish to "leave something behind that they will remember me by"?

Yes, to some extent, that rather selfish motive cannot be denied.

But the impulse to create is not essentially selfish. Quite the opposite, the desire to create is essentially generous. It is a desire to give of oneself. But along with that, more than that, the desire to create is a yearning to follow The Divine Example, to participate in and join with The Eternal and Divine, through the God-like act of creation.

I think this creative yearning is one of the many meanings we can find for that glorious, generative, and comforting tidbit of Biblical information that tells us we are all created in the image of God. We are created in the image of The Creator! Thus, we are created to create, which means we are created to give and to share, most especially of ourselves.

Your paintings, into which you pour your heart and soul, will eventually turn to dust or ash. They cannot last. Michelangelo's dome cannot last. Our bodies cannot last. Yet I do believe eternal the creative giving acts that brought these things into being.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Whiners: 5FU You, Too!

A comment The Astonishing FartMan recently posted to ZoomberGirl's cancer blog:

TheAstonishingFartMan (unregistered) wrote:

Hey ZoomberGirl,

Here's a funny thing—well, not ha-ha-funny, but curious funny: We seem to be on the same chemo schedule.

That's right, even as I write this, I'm stumbling around with my ultra-fashionable butt-bag full of devil juice just like you are. (Did they tell you why our main chemo drug, fluorouracil, is abbreviated as "5FU"? It's a reference to the average number of times fluorouracil will majorly "F U up" during a typical treatment cycle.)

My big surgery, a right hepatectomy--removing 3/4 of my liver along with a couple of nice-sized mets—was a few weeks before your HIPEC procedure. Since you are younger than me, I guess they let me have a head start. And man-o-man, I am so impressed with the way you are sailing through your recuperation from the HIPEC, which, if I had to face something that big, would have scared the holy beans out of me.

(Speaking of holy beans, I now refer to myself as "The Astonishing FartMan," which is kinda like that other super hero, "The Amazing SpiderMan," except that SpiderMan's special super power, induced by radiation exposure, involves arachnid gossamer, while my special super power, induced by a repeated fortnightly exposure to chemo drugs, is of an even more ethereal, silent, and deadly composition.)

Another funny thing: Like you, I happen also to be a lawyer at a big fancy firm, which shall remain nameless, lest something I write hereinabove or hereinbelow (lawyer talk) reveal a career-ending political-incorrectness. And yet another funny thing, and this is actually ha-ha-funny from my point of view: My one and only major victory as a courtroom litigator, a form of practice I have happily renounced, came at the expense of an O'Melveny lawyer almost twenty years ago. Okay, maybe I shouldn't brag because I had better facts, better law, and a prettier client, so even I couldn't 5FU it.

So anyway, we are almost like blood-brother and sister, except whereas you are of the cheerier and spunkier type of cancer patient, I am of the grumpy and obnoxious variety. Cancer is a boon for grumpy people like me. You would not believe all the obnoxious behavior I can get away with now, behavior that heretofore would have gotten me disowned, arrested, fired, ostracized, or sent off for remedial sensitivity training. But now people think, "Gotta cut him lots of slack, 'cause the poor guy has got Stage IV cancer." Yes, cancer is the ultimate trump card, and I'm milking it for all it's worth. (It even gets me off the hook for mixing my cliched metaphors.)

The way I see it, ZoomberGirl, I have had a classically bad attitude since the day that mean bully kid told me there wasn't really a Santa Clause, and my bad attitude hasn't killed me yet, so I'm gonna stick with it. I ain't the least bit worried about dying of a bad attitude; but I am just a little worried about dying of cancer!

I do so enjoy my obnoxious attitude. I specialize in black humor, and savor a delicious guilty pleasure in watching healthy people squirm, when they can't tell whether they're supposed to laugh or cry when I quip out some especially cutting gallows humor. When they tell me--as they all invariably do--how good I look, I tell them to "just be patient." The sad fact is, I never looked good a day in my life, and I rather doubt having cancer has improved my appearance. Silly me, I prefer compliments directed my way to be colorably believable.

Yes, ZoomberGirl, all the stupid healthy people mean well, but meaning well is an excuse just one notch above the dog ate my homework. Really, sometimes I get the feeling that certain healthy people think it is my duty to make sure they aren't the least discomfited by the happy fact that Yours Truly, if you believe the stats, is highly likely to croak out in a decidedly unpleasant manner sometime in the next three or four years, give or take a half-dozen months of "chemo-enhanced" additional survivability. So I guess my cancer "trump card" doesn''t work all that well with certain people, and here's an interesting example:

I have a certain "friend" who complains constantly--every waking hour to anyone who will pretend to listen--about all her numberless unbearable troubles, a dodgy new cellphone and some mishandled dry-cleaning being two of the most recently insurmountable difficulties in her life, utter catastrophes that supplied her with material for six days of non-stop bitching. When I had the insensitivity to interrupt her latest gripe-a-palooza to mention that, "Hey, everybody's got problems and so do I," this "friend" got indignant and said I was "always throwing my cancer up in her face." She further informed me that I, The Astonishing FartMan who has taken an oath always to fight the good fight, am an evil person who doesn't care about anyone's problems except my own. Having put me in my place, with her nose upturned she stormed out of my house (where she had been living rent free for the last several weeks due to her ongoing "employment problems" that just might be related to her incessant grumbling about trivial matters), taking only the most necessary of her personal effects, but vowing to return at her convenience to remove the remainder from the guest room closet they presently completely fill. But, really, how can my "friend" be expected to cope with hearing me talk about my cancer when she can't get decent tech support for her four hundred dollar cellphone, her laundry is a spotty, and her new job is slave work?!?!

Yes, some people seem to think it's my obligation to help them forget I have cancer. Forgive me please, but that work is not billable, and I don't do pro bono.  (But I can refer them to you, ZoomberGirl, if you want to take on the (mis)representation.)

And when it comes to doctors, don't get me started. Most of them these days have less bedside manner than a cheap digital alarm clock. Excuse me, doc, you are supposed to be caring for me, but you seem to think you are supposed to be caring for my disease. So, doc, let's get this straight:

I am your patient.

The cancer is not your patient.

The latest battery of lab tests is not your patient.

My MRI Scan is not your patient.

My body is not your patient.

I, The One and Only Astonishing FartMan, I am your patient.

So, all you doctors, you can start by paying some attention to me, and can begin that process by contemplating the strange possibility that I might be able to give you some useful information about what's going on both inside and outside my body!

And all the other healthcare providers and health care bureaucrats are not much better than the doctors, although there are some happy exceptions (my infusion nurse, M______). But I excuse most of them because they, like me, are victims trapped in the medical bureaucracy: If filling out forms were therapeutic, I'd have been cured on the second day after my diagnosis. One time, ZoomberGirl, I kid you not, I filled out a three page form that asked for my home address nine separate times! I suppose it is possible--because I am, after all,  the One and Only Astonishing FartMan--that I could have relocated my entire household during the seventeen seconds that have elapsed since I last answered that question on your stupid form.

I would not mind so much filling out the dern forms, if somebody actually bothered to read them. But they don't hardly read them at all, except for the section with the toll free number of my health insurance company.

Whiz. Moan. Whine.
Whiz. Moan. Whine.
Whiz. Moan. Whine.

There! I got that out of my system, and boy do I feel better!

Speaking seriously (well, as serious as I can be), ZoomberGirl, if you ever do feel really down in the dumps, and need someone equally bleak and blue to commiserate with, you can count on me, assuming of course that I am actually still haunting this earth. Yes, a messy commiseration, slathered with tear-snot, is not something a tough gal like you ordinarily wants to partake and is somewhat contrary to the job you've taken on as cancerland's most exuberant exponent of positivity. But in case you ever feel that your dedication to that good and noble duty limits your freedom to interact with other people in crude reality (a reality that can be "positively" brutal sometimes), please, please, feel free to email me any time at astonishing-at-att-dot-net.

I hear it sometimes makes people feel better to learn that someone else is more miserable than they are, so you can always rely on me to fill that role. And if I'm not available, you can always call my "friend's" broken cellphone number. (That's a joke, in case you were wondering. )

But don't feel obliged to email me, now or ever, as I am sure you have more than enough admirers to contend with already.

I do apologize for this overlong comment. If I wanted to rattle on forever, I should probably start my own blog instead of monopolizing yours. And maybe I will start my own blog someday, and include this comment as an entry. (I could title it "ATale of Two Whiners.") But if I did have my own blog, some idiot would probably want me to turn it into some kind of cancer-diary book. Just more work. Like I don't have enough crapola to do already.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Amaryllis Finis

From: W______
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 1:38 PM
To: V_______
Subject: Amaryllis Finis

Dear V______,

I hope you’re doing okay. Write if you feel like it.

I just wrote you a poem about a picture I just took for you.

It all happened very quickly.

Here’s the silly poem:

Amaryllis Finis

The amaryllis
Is almost finis

And here’s the picture that inspired the poem, exactly what my eyes, with a slight upward glance, would look upon this very moment as I write this:

(Please don't let FartMan see a copy of my stupid poem. Even though it's only two lines, he would tear it into a thousand pieces.)
Thinking of you!


I Hope This Doesn't Cheer You Up

From: W_____
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 6:40 PM
To: Undisclosed Recipients
Subject: Fwd: I Sure Hope This Doesn't Cheer You Up

Fellas and Fellows,

Forwarded below is a troublesome message T. A. FartMan sent to our online cancer support forum today.

He thinks it's hilarious.

But I think it's totally inappropriate for him to be sending this kind of purposefully confusing message to a support group for us cancer patients who are desperate for clarity and certainty in our sadly discombobulated lives.

If FartMan doesn't stop posting this kind of stuff, I'm afraid he's going to get us banned from the group. He acts like he's some kind of super anti-hero who can fly above it all, looking down contemptuously at all the mushy online kisses, hugs, and handholding. FartMan really does think he's above it all, but I think he feels that way only because he has never really accepted the fact that we have Stage IV colon cancer. And that's fine if denial allows him to cope. Whatever works. But interaction with the support group is important to me, and I don't want him to ruin it for the both of us.

The truth is, I think FartMan spends way too much time sitting in his Throne Room, feeling superior, and writing this kind of crapola, while fumigating his brain with his own percolating gases.

Anyway, FartMan has been avoiding me all day, because he knows I'm seriously pissed, so if any of you happen to see him out farting around town, I would appreciate it if you would tell him to cool it with the confusing contrarian messages he keeps sending to our support group.

But I want you to judge for yourself, and that's why I'm sending along FartMan's latest obnoxious message which you will find below my signature. Chuckle at your own risk.


From: The Astonishing FartMan
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 4:20 PM
To: Online Cancer Support Group
Subject: I Sure Hope This Doesn't Cheer You Up

I think all these so-called "
studies" about how attitude affects health and life expectancy are just plain silly.

But it sure can be a lot of fun to pretend to take them seriously.

So if you would join in my child's game of pretend, you might imagine how I—being crotchety both by nature and by training—could not subdue the warm uplifting feeling suffusing body, mind, and spirit as I read about a recent study confirming (exactly as I have always believed) that "
Cheery people die sooner."

Yes, that's a direct quote from the headline of a media report you can read at the following link:

The suggestion that ornery old cranks like me might outlive all those impossibly annoying cheerful people, especially the young ones, well that thought positively cheered me up, to an extent that some might consider shamefully schadenfreudeish-- . . . . . . until I realized that by allowing the study to cheer me up, I had thereby forfeited the expectancy of several precious years of my formerly purely and uncorruptedly crabby life.

But then the prospect of this loss of life expectancy restored my native emotional dispostion--angry and depressed--and, thereby, one hopes, also restored to me the expectable years I feared were lost to my one careless lapse into cheeriness.

And now I hesitate to permit myself to contemplate my emotional reaction to that reprieve, lest a feeling of the mere mildest complacency again subtract numberless years of expectancy from my sourpuss life and render its remainder a Permanent Catch-22 maze befuddling even
Mr. Heller.

Needless to say, these rapid psychological reverses, re-reverses, and re-re-reverses have left me ridiculously confused, not knowing whether to feel happy or feel sad, most particularly about whether I will live forever or drop dead before I finish writing this sentence.

So now I think we need a double-blind randomized study to determine whether confused people live longer than people who aren't confused.

I would vote for the confused, and, while we wait for the rollcall, will remain . . . .

Your Melodious and Malodorous

Super Pooper Hero,
The Astonishing FartMan

Friday, April 15, 2011

Clomping and Slobbering All Over Each Other

From: W______
To: Undisclosed Recipients
Subject: For Your Continuing Entertainment and Edification
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 12:25:11 -0500

Fellas and Fellows,

For your further edification and entertainment, and by way of catching you up on my own saga, and in a foolish and vainglorious attempt to wrench the beautiful and the sublime from the morbid and the mundane, forwarded below is a message, slightly edited, from me this morning to one of the pals I met on my online cancer support group.

I should warn you right off the bat that this stuff is probably pretty hard to read and even harder to think about, but does supply, even for me, an enlightening instance of the old cliché that there’s always someone worse off, so we should all learn to be thankful for just how good we have it.

My support group addressee, V________, is a single woman around my age, apparently pretty much all alone, whose situation just breaks my heart. She’s been coping with colon cancer for five years now, during which time she has had three or four big operations and many rounds of nasty chemo. Recently things took a bad turn, when during a surgery and related procedures to remove new tumors from her bladder, the doctors found additional tumors on her uterus. To make things worse, her bladder surgery incision has become infected with staph, and requires all sorts of constant gross attention, such as draining and packing the surgical wound. When she recovers enough from the bladder surgery, V____ is going back on chemo to try to shrink the tumors.

Now you would think that in her present condition V_______ would be completely bed-ridden, but actually she is up and about, going from doctor to pharmacist to clinic, helping her visitingg nurse with her own wound care, and looking after herself, as I said, pretty much all by herself. V___ is, I think, the bravest person I've ever known, but she won't even let me tell her how courageous she is. In our email exchanges, V______ and I have joked a few times about our misspent youth during the 70’s, so in her message to me this morning, which covered a number of topics of mutual commiseration, she asked me to tell her "something good (old from from the 70's)."

My reply to her is reproduced below, and it sort of involves a few of you.


From: W_____
To: V_________
Sent: Friday, April 15, 2011 9:26 AM
Subject: Re: Arrgghhh !!!! Part 2

Dear V_______,

They say misery loves company, so if you are suffering now, you might enjoy mine. (But I should tell you, there are happier words further below, something about good times in the 70’s, so don’t stop reading.)

Yesterday and last night were in some ways my worst since I got diagnosed. For no apparent reason, my liver and the incisions from my liver resection (which was three months ago) began to hurt like heck, and I began to feel really, really, really puny. I spent all day yesterday in bed, mostly sleeping, and then slept through the night. Yesterday was day four of my 4th post-liver-resection chemo cycle (unhooked from the pump on Wednesday; only 2 cycles more to go), and the 4th day is usually the worst so that might explain my symptoms. Doesn’t help that the peripheral neuropathy from the oxaliplatin is raging worse every day, too. I haven’t been given oxali since Nov 1, but the neuropathy continues to get worse. My feet are two bags of tingling rocks! Hands not much better.

Whiz. Piss. Moan. Whine. Whiz. Piss. Moan. Whine. Whiz. Piss. Moan. Whine. There! I got that out of my system!

And this morning I seem to be better, the liver hurts less and I don’t feel so tired as yesterday.

You said you want me to tell you something good from the 70’s? Hmmm. My old joke is, when it comes to the 70s, I can’t tell the difference between a memory and a flashback. Yes, I can barely remember the 70’s, but I will try to tell you something good from then. So here goes.

I remember back in, I guess it was summer of 1979, but it might have been 1980, I had just moved to Houston and made a lot of new friends. There were at least twenty of us in a group who hung out together all the time, going to clubs to hear folk music, going together on camping trips in the Austin Hill Country, going to music festivals, going on road trips, having big dinners at each other’s places, philosophizing naively about life, staying up all night listening to music together and dancing.

We made a happy fun party wherever we were and wherever we went. Lucinda Williams was a big part of our musical scene, as she was friends with some members of our group and lived for a while in our Montrose neighborhood in Houston.

It was all so happy and innocent. As time passed, our group did produce several marriages (of various persistence), but at the beginning, during our beautiful happy innocent summer of 79, the group wasn’t really paired off into couples. It was just a bunch of silly kids hanging out together. Imagine a pile of fresh 20-year-olds lolling through the days in a platonic scrum of young bodies and you will get the idea. We were like a big litter of puppies, eyes barely open, clomping and slobbering all over each other, and suckling endless joy at mother nature’s seemingly ever-overflowing, seemingly infinitely-numbered, teats.

A memory, or flashback, of the group of us on a baking summer day eating ice cream at a street fair in Austin sticks in my mind. It was one of those rare moments when you realize with serene clarity, “I am happy right now,” and you know you will carry that memory to the grave. (Okay, I guess my life has been pretty boring if eating ice cream on the street on a hot day is one of my most precious memories.)

Yes, we absorbed a few mind-altering substances and drank a bit of alcohol, and I suppose there was some good-spirited, well-meant, clumsy sex going on—which I seem to have missed out on, dern it—but really the experience was being together and sharing our lives in complete good will toward each and every one. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Of course, it couldn’t last.

Within a year or two, life's realities began to separate us, for various reasons, jobs in other towns, personality conflicts, married life; the necessities of maturity can be avoided only so long. But although some of us now only intermittently weave through each other’s lives, most of us have managed to stay in touch. Even today, several of our dearest friends are from that silly group of kids. I’ve managed to stay in especially good touch with one member of the group, my wife of twenty-seven years. On May 7th, we are maybe going to have a little mini-reunion at a Lucinda gig in Austin. It will be fun to see who all shows up.

So that’s my good 70’s story.

By the way, my amaryllis on the back patio have opened and are gorgeous. They’re about three feet tall, the blooms are about eight inches across, and I exaggerate only a little. As promised, here’s a picture, taken just this morning especially for you, V_______.

Thinking of you!