Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Other children get cancer, Jim Arnold doesn't get cancer


There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”

My older daughter, Jennifer, is now 44. From day one at school, she was driven to succeed. The drive didn't come from me. I was, at best, an indifferent student. If I was interested, I did well. If I wasn't, well... C is passing, right? Her mother was certainly a better student than I was, but whatever it was Jennifer had inherited must have skipped a generation.

Anyway, one day, when she was about 6, I came home to find her sitting at the dining room table, a crumpled school paper before her, head in her hands, tears rolling down her heretofore lovely carefree face. It didn't take long to put it together: Jennifer, schoolwork, tears. Oh oh.

What's the matter?”

At 6, she didn't have much of a chin but what she had she definitely stiffened.

I got a C on this paper,” she said, having moved on to the anger phase, tossing the offending document to the floor. As upset as she seemed to be, I did figure that laughing out loud wasn't the supportive response she was going to need. I could not, however, be completely serious.

What happened? You color outside of the lines?”

"This isn't the least bit funny. Other children get Cs. Jennifer Arnold doesn't get Cs.” Honest, she talked like that at 6.

When my primary care physician told me about four weeks ago that the pain in the ribs I was enduring was not, in fact, mild cartilage damage, but, rather, appeared to be a rare form of bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma, the one crystal clear thought in my head was: “Other children get cancer. Jim Arnold doesn't get cancer.”

Well, a few more tests, including a bone marrow biopsy and, what do you know... Jim Arnold does get cancer. As it turns out, a particularly aggressive strain of a disease that represents only one percent of all cancers. How did I get it? Good question. My oncologist tells me a number of theories have been investigated, but proved to be dead ends. So, how did I get it? The best answer for now is that I picked up one malignant cell from somewhere and it divided to become two, then four and so on and voila! Jim Arnold has multiple myeloma.

How we discovered I had it is a more interesting story, one that has at least a touch of the miraculous to it.

Over Labor Day weekend I decided to move some of bags of desiccated leaves from under our back porch to the garden to decompose. One bag, two bags, and on the third bag... wasp attack. I'm here to tell you that you need to take everything you've heard about how aggressive wasps are in that situation and multiply it by a lot. You swat at them and they come closer. There were dozens and dozens of them, maybe hundreds. I did get into the cellar, which was right there. My wife Sheri counted 27 dead wasp bodies, inside. She also counted my stings- 15.

Needless to say I felt pretty punkie for a while. On the Friday of the following week, the pain in my ribs was really bad, hence my visit to my doctor. He's something of an anachronism these days in that he gives his patients his full attention, answers all your questions, and doesn't let his ego get in the way of his diagnosis. He only knows what he knows and doesn't feel threatened when he has to admit he's not sure.

He ordered a CAT scan to be done that night with the results to be given to him immediately He's so thorough, I didn't think too much of all the urgency. Well, you know the rest I guess- multiple myeloma. The details are boring I think, unless it's your bone marrow that's infected. It causes your marrow to produce way too many proteins which then get into your system which create quite a bit of havoc. It also creates lesions/holes in your bones which is what showed up on the scan.

It is incurable, but most cases respond to treatment and 60 to 80% go into remission with 4 months. We don't really talk about that because my cancer is my cancer and my treatment is my treatment. Sheri and I are travelling this road together and he has told us both to call 24/7 if we have any questions, which is what we've done.

So, the journey begins. I'm hoping for a pony, but prepared to deal with whatever it turns out to be. This blog is to help me. I have always found writing the way to deal with things, be it journaling or writing newspaper columns. I hope you find something in it to help you, but I need to do it anyway.