Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jim and Sheri attend a happypalooza

One of the quirkier things that seems to be happening as I go through this fight with cancer, is that moments from my past pop up at the strangest times.

Quirky, I think, because of what my memory chooses to cough up. Has it really hung on to this stuff so it can bring it up now? Really?

Look, I don't remember how we ate supper at my house... ever; lights on, nobody home eating. What was my room like? No clue. Don't remember having one until we moved when I was about 11. You would think, in the grand scheme of things, those would be the things your brain might want to hold on to. Or maybe tender family moments like you used to see on TV when everything was in black and white.

Not my brain. My brain says, “Hey! Remember this? Looks like it's comin' around again, don't it?” and out comes the memory of me, Ian Fisher and Richard Wagner's “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.”

Ian Fisher and I were best mates when we both were in 1a2 of the First Form at the John Nielsen Institution in Paisley, Scotland, circa 1961-62. We were a bit of an odd couple in that Ian came from money and I... I came from parents who wanted to provide me with a better education. But we became best mates anyway, which in a class conscious cauldron like our school in our country at that time was no small feat.

So, Die Meistersinger: Ian, myself and a few other 11-year old boys from the First Form were loaned out to the Senior Choir because we could sing first tenor and the Senior Choir tenor section desperately needed some help. We could sing first tenor, by the way, because our voices hadn't cracked yet, late bloomers that we were.

I know we sang only a selection or two from the four-hour-plus opera, but I couldn't tell you what it was, what it was about, or even how long it lasted. What I do remember is that voices started cracking almost immediately after the first rehearsal, and continued cracking until the performance date loomed and Fisher and Arnold were the only First Form tenors left.

Our choir director got it into his head that the entire evening would be a success if we nailed one particular moment. I couldn't tell you how it fit into the grand scheme of what we were singing, but the entire John Nielsen Institution's Senior Choir's selection from Wagner's massive opera would be a rousing success if we sang two words with tremendous passion and maximum volume, with in key as a bonus: “AT LAAAAASSSSTTTTT!”

During rehearsals, we repeated that “At last” over and over, I have no idea how many times, but it was, in memory, a lot. Since neither Ian nor I knew exactly how much control we had over the whole voice-cracking thing (seriously), we thought we might be well served by not going full volume EVERY time, in case... you know. But the choir director would invariably notice and chastise us in such a smarmy, sarcastic choir director way, that we ended up just pushing the voice-cracking envelope..

Yeah, it seemed a little wacky to us at the time too, but every thing about that night became secondary to making sure our voices didn't crack. They didn't and huzzahs filled the performance hall. “Jolly good show chaps” and all that.

Now, the five weeks since my last face-to-face meeting with my oncologist have seemed excruciatingly more than 35 days. As Dec. 4 came nearer, I began to hear Wagner's “AT LAST” playing in my head. At first, it played sotto voce, nice and quiet, but over the last couple of days had the roar and passion that would have made our John Nielsen Institution Senior Choir director proud.

Obviously it would have been better, probably, not to put that much importance on one appointment, one stop on the journey. But try telling my brain that.

But AT LAST we met with the oncologist and were able to talk about results rather than the disease.

The chemotherapy is working! The biggest marker of progress, as he had said it would be, was the number of proteins that my bone marrow was putting into the rest of my system. The first time it was measured the number was 4,800. It's supposed to be zero. This time it was 700. Still a significant number, but... The doctor was happy, our nurse was happy, Sheri was happy, I was happy. It was a regular happypalooza!!

We thought the treatment plan might change, but after seeing the results, the doctor decided to put me back on the drug and dosage that I had been on, the same as had caused me to suffer such a terrible rash. He pointed out that the rash was a side effect, and all treatment had its side effects. Overall, I guess the rash, while not very pleasant, is nowhere near the worst. However, if I develop large water blisters as part of it... that would move it up the bad scale considerably. Good to know.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I spent a lot of the afternoon/evening feeling confused. It seemed like I should have been happier. Well, that's not quite right. I should have been more demonstrably happy, maybe. Sheri was the only one to see me, but it seemed like I was sending an unclear message. Kind of a reverse, “If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.”

But as I processed what was happening, I realized that I was used to setbacks and dealing with them. The good news left me with all this leftover anxiety and worry and I had no place to put it! This cancer thing is really tricky, boy.

Of course, I still have cancer. I'm still taking medication that will most likely cause a rash that will keep me awake nights on end. I still have pain from the lesions in my ribs and the fight is far from over. I'm going into the new year with a new oncologist, when I loved the one I had.

But you know what? That's for tomorrow's big think. Right now, Sheri and I are just basking in the glow of the good news before we start basking in the glow from my rash.


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.