Where I’ve been for three weeks – backstopping my brother

Richard Smith, June 2009
Richard gets a kick out of his T-shirt with the Monty Python line.

Clarification: the blog entry title is actually a stretch of the time frame of my visit with my brother, which was six days. What I meant was that the trip occupied my mind and energies for about that time, preparing for and then recovering from the trip, both ay work and home.

I went down to Dallas, Texas, to spend a week (June 24-30) with my brother, Richard. As some may know from reading this blog, Richard has been fighting lung cancer since December 2006, as well as the consequences of treatment. I could have blogged about my time with Rich and his wife, Susan, but it was far to raw to register in daily entries. I twitted a few times just to update where I was.

The last time I went to Dallas was for his wedding in 2005. Now, my brother is fighting for his life. With his cancer now in stage 4, he is undergoing maintenance chemotherapy to slow down the growth of his tumor and prolong his life. So far, the results have been good: the tumor have not grown. Of course, he’s down to 103 pounds, skin and bones. He’s fought off multiple infections, which have weakened his defenses further, on top of what the chemotherapy does to his metabolism. But despite his plight, my brother demonstrates amazing courage, fortitude and perseverance. He’s my little brother, but he’s big in so many other respects.

Richard in his shop
Equipped for hard knocks and saw dust, Richard works in his shop.

While I was there, I focused on doing tasks that were too demanding physically and energetically for Richard to undertake. I helped clean up his garage and woodworking area, which did not benefit from air conditioning in Dallas 100-plus temperatures, though it did have shade and a couple of fans. I also helped reorganize his home office so he could tackle his paperwork. Since I am the geek of the family, I next took on the two computers in the household, requiring two days of steady work to get them into shape because they had not been downloading MS updates and were running really slowly and crashing. One was infected by a virus.

Over the course of Richard’s illness, we’ve often spoken over the phone about how yoga, meditation and other methods could aid him in his struggle. I wanted to follow through on that. I got in contact with a great group of people at the Yoga Bear Foundation, which provides cancer survivors with more opportunities for wellness and healing through the practice of yoga by connecting them with local yoga centers. The idea is that Richard would benefit from free or minimum-cost classes. I got in contact with Kelly Hollis, who’s been coordinating activities in Texas. She suggested I contact the Ananda Yoga Center in Dallas to arrange for yoga classes. As it turns out, my brother had actually gone to Ananda Yoga Center for several years and felt comfortable in going there.

Logo: Yoga Bear Foundation
Yoga Bear Foundation aids cancer survivors.

On Thursday evening (June 25), we went to a class. Sue, the woman who runs the center, remembered Richard and proved to be a conscientious lead in the yoga class. Four other people attended the class. Sue made sure that Richard did not try to do too much, and gave modifications in practically all the poses. My brother has a torn rotator cuff and could not raise his arm above his shoulder. At one point, Sue helped him by positioning blankets to support his shoulders and legs in a prone twist that that might have stressed him too much. In one of the pose, his joints all popped in unison and he thought he had disrupted the class with the noise. Sue’s class was very serene and contemplatively paced so it was within his reach.

Now, it’s in Richard’s hands as to whether he wants to continue. The center is a good 20-minute drive from his home in Garland so it will require some effort to make it to classes. He certainly does not feel like doing yoga after taking chemotherapy. A few days later, I accompanied Richard to his physical therapy session for his shoulder, and the staff said that his shoulder had improved substantially. This was not due to the yoga, but rather the slow accumulation of therapy, treatment and rest over time.

In addition to the Ananda Yoga outing, I introduced Richard to yoga nidra, giving him Richard Miller’s CD on the approach. This is definitely something that he could use on a regular basis. But I didn’t want to insist too much because Richard has to decide how he spends his time and energy.

I flew back to Washington on Tuesday, and have been trying to catch up with what’s piled up at work and at home in my absence. Now is the first opportunity to put together some thoughts about the experience.

5 thoughts on “Where I’ve been for three weeks – backstopping my brother

  1. Dear Michael,

    I was browsing the internet and by chance I came across your blog. I was particularly inspired having read about your Brother Richard and his immense courage.

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  2. I appreciate the encouragement about Richard, and especially the gesture from Sue Chadwick at Ananda Center. I expected no less. I told my brother about the offer and he was extremely pleased, though currently dropping a couple of pounds more due to post-chemotherapy stomach ailments and the heat in Dallas.

  3. It was an honor to have you, Michael, AND Richard in the yoga class @ Ananda Center. I sincerely hope a friend or relative will bring Richard again to practice yoga @ no cost to both of them.
    Namaste',
    Sue

  4. Jai Richard! Jai Michael. My thoughts are with you both, as I hold you in my heart.

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