Thursday, March 27, 2014

The colander's place in the history of radiation treatment

Certificate X.

If you don't know what it is, it sounds slightly ominous, right? It isn't really, but I lay my lack of understanding about radiation right at the feet of said certificate.

When I was growing up in Scotland, the cinema ratings carried certificates. If you watch some of the older British movies on TV, you can sometimes see the certificate at the beginning of the film. It is an actual certificate complete with verifying testifying, mystifying... all your important -ings, plus a letter. and X meant the movie could not be viewed by anyone under the age of 16.

By the way, if you have the feeling, way back in your brain, that you've heard of certificate X, and you are of a certain age, it may be because you heard the song “Lady Godiva,” by Peter and Gordon, waaaay too many times in the mid-60s. The lady in question, after her famous ride, ends up in the movies with her director: “He directs certificate X, people now are craning their necks to see her.”

Anyway, seeing a film bearing a certificate X, most of which were science fiction or horror, at my age was out of the question. Imagine my surprise, then, when we came to America and virtually all the films I remembered as certificate X were now being shown on Monster Movie Matinee. Seriously. The originals of “Frankenstein”, “Dracula” were X. But mostly X was saved in Britain for any film that featured a giant anything, usually exposed to... right, radiation.

What I can't figure out is why British censors would try to protect Britain's youth from these decidedly unscary films. For example, have you seen “The Killer Shrews”? They're dogs with crazy-looking hair stuck on them!!!! “The Amazing Colossal Man”? Hard to be scared by a grown man in a diaper, no matter how big he is. “The Attack of the Puppet People”? They are not puppets and they do not attack. They mostly just climb over everyday items built really, really big to foster the illusion.

And then there's on of my personal favorites: “Bride of the Monster,” directed by Edward D. Wood Jr., once voted the worst director in movie history.

In “Bride” we get to see Bela Lugosi, by this time addicted to morphine and methadone, just about year before he died, match acting chops with the one-of-a-kind Tor Johnson, a former professional wrestler with a huge gut, bald head, and dialogue limited, usually, to variatons of the expression, “Ugh.” As the movie climax nears (the heroes observing an atom bomb blast from about 500 feet away; a blast that doesn't even muss their hair), Lugosi straps Tor to a table and exposes him to massive doses of radiation delivered by a colander hung upside down from the ceiling. I don't mean something that look liked a colander. It was a colander! To Tor's credit though, his “ugh” variations certainly made it seem as though the colander was delivering serious pain.

Which, more or less, brings me back to what I wanted to write about- radiation treatments. They were something I knew about, of course. I even knew people who had them. Other than those former certificate X films, my knowledge was lacking. I didn't know what a treatment looked like for example. I was fairly sure it didn't involve a colander hung upside down from the ceiling, but that was about all I knew. Did you actually see rays coming out of the radiation machine? Didn't think so, but I was less sure of that than the colander thing.

Of course, the equipment turned out to be the very latest in radiation technology managed by three accomplished women; there were no kitchen utensils anywhere.

The radiation was to be of my fractured clavicle and what I have come to call my “bee ribs,” which were what got me to the doctor's in the first place. Radiation as I was exposed (har har) to it, can now be pinpointed to an exact area, of any given shape or size. Only the areas to be treated receive radiation. That certainly seemed to lessen the chance of becoming the Amazing Colossal Man. Whew.

Once the areas to be treated are properly defined, the technicians then put tattoos at key points. Now, I assumed “tattoos” was a casual term for one of those lick and stick kind of tattoos, or a “tattoo” written with a Magic Market, or something like that.

Surprising as it may be, I was wrong again! Tattoo meant tattoo, which meant being stuck by a very, very sharp, really, really pointy needle which had me using “Ugh” in ways even the great Tor Johnson had never considered. And, oh yeah, they're permanent. I considered being outraged at this defilement of the temple that is my body, but... Since my body is more like a 7-11 than a temple, and the tattoos were so small I had trouble seeing them even when they were pointed out to me, I decided to leave my tongue in its sheath for once.

I guess I had always thought you would feel the radiation somehow' just as I thought I'd feel cancer cells eating through my body like Ms. Pacman, But that isn't the case. The procedure was quiet and painless. I couldn't help but think of poor Tor Johnson being blasted by the Cancer Care Colander.

One thing I did learn, though, that I would like to pass on to you: watching science fiction movies from the 1950s is no way to prepare yourself for radiation treatments in 2014. Seriously. Even a great one, like “Attack of the Giant Leeches,” brings more confusion than clarity. I just thought you should know that.

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.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

The well-tempered clavicle (with apologies to J. S. Bach)

So, we visited the radiology oncologist the other day, mostly to determine if myeloma had already damaged my right clavicle, which I subsequently fractured during one of my recent weather-related falls.

Mind you, the fracture was causing me no pain whatsoever. My ribs and sternum hurt a lot, but the x-rays showed no breaks and the oncologist chalked it up to severe bruising that would eventually heal. Good enough.

However... He's fairly sure that the myeloma had already caused damage to the clavicle and so we are returning for another cat scan to help him define the area that he will apply radiation to so that the myeloma cells will be killed dead, dead, dead for a ducat (with apologies to William Shakespeare). If possible, he will also look at the initial rib damage suffered during the wasp attack to see what's up with that.

He assures us the radiation treatments will be zeroed in on a very small, very specific area, and will not go especially deep. I will actually have one treatment a day for five consecutive days and that should be that. Again, good enough.

All this work will be done in Augusta, which is about 25 minutes from home; an obvious plus in having such a renowned cancer treatment facility nearby, especially one that works so closely with my support staff at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's in Boston.

Once again I find myself wondering if these falls, as much pain and misery as they cost, weren't actually a blessing in disguise. If multiple myeloma was, in fact, chewing (oeow) on my clavicle, without the fall, how much damage could it have done before it was discovered? Instead of an incomplete fracture, couldn't any subsequent fall have been far worse? Just askin'.

Earlier in this journey, I wrote about bucket lists and New Year's resolutions; the thought being that instead of putting things off to a list, you ought to live each and every day to the fullest. I still believe that, maybe more than ever.

But here's the thing, at least for me. Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman wrote Tim McGraw's country hit song “Live Like you Were Dying.” It's a great song sung by a great singer and I loved it long before I got sick. But, right now, when my reality runs up against the song's inspirational lyrics, my reality gets its ass kicked.

I think there are probably hundreds of you reading this right now who know exactly what I mean. Right? My living life to the fullest doesn't involve sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, or two point seven seconds on a bull named fumanchu. It doesn't mean going to Nepal to stare at the Himalayas, or finding people from my past that I know I hurt so that they can see how much I've changed; how I wouldn't hurt them now.

My living life to the fullest means staying as strong as I can and filling out the next form, making the next phone call, applying for grants to offset the cost of my principal chemo treatment. It means staying as positive as I can, while realizing that some days that's not going to be very positive.

Sheri and I both need to let people help us with tasks, mundane and major. Be it positive or negative in the grand scheme of things, if we'd called someone to drag the 60-pound sandbag down to the cellar door, I wouldn't have fallen and so on.

I guess now would be a good to remind myself, and you, that dying does not appear anywhere in my treatment plan or prognosis. Yet again, good enough! However... let's face it, my life has been unequivocally altered by all of this. How could it not be? When The Beatles pondered “When I'm 64,” they didn't mention cancer, chromosome damage, radiation treatments or stem cell transplants, did they? Right, and I don't think it was because they couldn't come up with rhymes that worked.

Live like you were dying? Live like your life has been unequivocally altered? Who knows. As time goes by and the amount of paperwork diminishes... when we don't plan our days around clinic visits, treatments, and phone calls... maybe we can do some of the cool things. The drawback to that, I guess, is that Sheri and I consider few things cooler than enjoying each others company and making each other laugh. I'm able to share how I feel with my daughters Jennifer and Alison, and my stepdaughter Kristie, rather than do the crazy cover-up dance my parents always did when there was bad news in the air. And from what you tell me, I'm able to speak for a lot of you when I write. So, I guess my life is pretty full at that.

I actually did want to ride a bull- not necessarily one named fumanchu- at some point, but a bull nonetheless. Now, when I even think of it, I hear entire staffs of medical professionals screaming, “Nooooooooooo.” OK, myeloma, you win this one, but you better enjoy while you can.

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.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Born under a bad sign?

We've all known people who have had periods where they have had more bad luck than the average bear. Right? Sure, it happens with good luck too, but when has too much good luck ever been an issue?

So, our friend goes along being hit with one misfortune after another and we express the correct amount of sympathy. And it's genuine. We feel bad. During these times, it does feel like our person has suffered more than would seem necessary.

But after a while, doesn't something change in your approach? Come on, you think, no is ever THAT unlucky. Then, unbidden, the word “jinxed” enters the arena. Once that happens, it's only human to want to switch from concerned, sympathetic friend to jinx avoider. I mean, people weren't exactly lined up on the dock waiting for the Ancient Mariner to arrive, were they now?

There's also a subtle shift from our hapless example being a victim of a cruel world to questions about what he did to bring this latest thing on himself. People will support a victim; they want to avoid a jinx.

All this came to mind when I was trying to frame the latest incident that has been added to my list of whoas. One of the things about myeloma that has been made abundantly clear from day one: falling down is bad. Because the disease can cause lesions in my bones, thereby weakening them, it is much better to not fall down and put added strain on them.

Well, after having made it through almost the entire flippin' winter without incident, I fell down not once, not twice but three times last week, within a 12-hour period. Our cellar was flooding with snow runoff, for the second time in a couple of weeks, and Sheri was doing her best to stop it. I just couldn't sit by and watch any more and so I tried to move a 60-pound bag of sand into place to help her. Besides, what could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turned out...

... An incomplete fracture of my right clavicle, terribly painful bruising to my ribs and sternum, and a bump on the back of my head, along with various and sundry other bruises and scratches. The clavicle fracture limits my ability to use my right hand and arm, while the pain in my ribs makes it very hard to take a deep breath, or even a shallow breath at times.

There are longer term consequences as well. I'm supposed to walk with a cane to help me with my balance. I can't use my right hand to pick up anything heavier than a soup can. I'm not supposed to walk and... do anything at the same time. Really. My physician's assistant was almost as serious giving that piece of news as she was in her admonition, repeated at least six times, that I could not fall down again... EVER. I thought about protesting that one since I hadn't planned to fall down even once in the first place. She was giving me very serious eyes, however, and I thought it might be better just to say okay, which I did.

The walking thing, by the way, means no talking on the phone, no texting, no reading the newspaper, no conversations with other people etc., etc. It seems that if I'm going to walk, darn it, I better give it my full attention. Chewing gum and walking at the same time was not specifically excluded, but why take the chance? And I have to practice going up and down stairs. It seems the two chemos I'm taking can interfere with my ability to use stairs.

On top of that, I now have to see a radiology oncologist. In addition to attacking my blood cells, myeloma also causes the aforementioned lesions/holes in my bones. That's how the initial diagnosis was made, through x-rays after I had hurt one of my ribs. The radiology oncologist needs to see if my clavicle had already been weakened by the effects of the myeloma prior to snapping when I fell.

And... in the midst of all this, I had to notify human resources at Maine Today Media, that I would not be returning to work. I guess we all knew that was going to be the case, but now it's official, and it sucks. I really liked working for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and I liked the people I worked with. Realistically, though, returning to work hasn't been in the cards for a few months, especially since the stem cell transplant entered the picture.

I've already been away for six months. The lead-up to the transplant would keep me out for weeks, and recovery from the transplant would mean even more months when I couldn't work. The decision itself was easy enough, I guess, but I hated to make it; hated to leave.

But here's something that has occurred to me since I let the company know. Before going to work at MTM, I had been out of work for almost two years. In that time, I interviewed for numerous jobs that I was supremely qualified for but did not get, for a variety of reasons, mostly my age, I believe.

When I interviewed at MTM, I had not worked for a newspaper in 13 years. I had never used the design software they employed and I had always worked on PCs, while they used Macs. I got the job anyway, and I came to believe that there was a reason for that. I have no idea what it was, but I'm just as sure now that there is a reason for leaving the company and moving on to whatever's next; sort of like Mary Poppins or Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name.

I don't know what that next thing might be, but I remain willing and open to whatever it is. Since I'll still be writing my blog, we can take this latest part of the journey together and see how it unfolds.

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.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brother can you spare a dime? Just kiddin'

Treating my cancer is not just about good doctors, good nurses and support staff, excellent facilities and the right mix of medicines and procedures. It's also about money, about cost.

Let me make this perfectly clear: I have no complaints about what things cost. I look around me when I'm at either of the facilities that are providing my treatments and I see how much has been invested in order for me to receive the terrific care that I do.

Not that we don't bitch about it, which I suppose is the same as complaining, actually. We do. But it isn't about the cost, really, it's about what we have to do to meet the cost. Sheri and I have both been on the phone for hours in the past few days talking about prescription costs, trying to find lodging for the four to six weeks Sheri will have to stay in Boston, and so many other seemingly minor details that each afternoon has ended with us emotionally overwhelmed and in serious need of naps.

I must confess that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a details kind of guy. I've been more the “I'm gonna blow this off because it makes my brain hurt” sort of person. Since I have generally surrounded myself with excellent people who have accepted this about me, and taken care of the details for me, I've had a fair amount of success throughout the years, despite myself.

This cancer fight, though, is different. Yes, there are plenty of resources to reach out to for help; more than I would ever have imagined. But details are where they live. Forms, paperwork, telephone interviews, questionnaires, surveys... aaarrrgh. Sheri took care of much of the initial grunt work, but there's just too much.

I am currently taking 15 medicines, not counting the chemo for my chromosome deletion and the bone densifier to repair the damage done by the myeloma. Only the acetaminophen and St. Joseph's baby aspirin (yeah, I take baby aspirin. Wanna make something of it?) are non-prescription. We have had to call numerous sources to try to determine how much each of those medicines will cost once we switch to Medicare; me in April, Sheri in May. You would think the answers would be easy to find, we did in what we refer to as our naïve period.

And none of this is blow off able, or blow-offable, or blowoffable. (I have editors, known and unknown, who read this and I have to at least act like style is a passing concern.) It all matters because this is my life, we're talking about. Is it overwhelming? You bet. Is it emotionally difficult? Uh huh. Do we wish it was different? Every day.

Sheri and I are in this together. You who are regular readers know this. We have been since the night my GP told me he thought I had multiple myeloma when I thought I had suffered minor rib damage. But let's face it, when people ask us about my cancer, the chromosome deletion, how we are dealing with it, they don't always know what to say, but the genuine concern and support they show, spoken or not, is an important part of this journey.

But the financial matters have been something we've just been dealing with on our own. Honestly, who ever wants to hear anyone bitch about money? Not me.

Now, I realize that I have pretty much blown that approach by blabbing about it here. But I have always tried to write about what is happening right now; what twists and turns our journey has taken. The past few days have been about the financial aspects and they have truly sucked, but that doesn't diminish its place in this journey.

I watch my wife make phone call after phone call trying to arrange lodging for herself, trying to nail down costs for drugs, filling out applications for grants to help defray expenses, and there are times I just feel bad for being the cause of all this. I know I know, that makes no sense. I didn't ask for this. I didn't cause this. But there you are. Think it I do. Well, doesn't that sound just a little Yoda-ish?

Like most things that enter my brain, that thought doesn't stick. Not only does Sheri never complain (about this), she continually reminds me that we are working at saving my life, so why wouldn't we work so hard at it? Well, sure, when you put it that way.

Most of the work has paid off, by the way. There are details to be completed, but we'll manage. Sacrifices to be made? Yes. But they are sacrifices we can make, and willingly. When all is said and done we still end up with a tremendous amount of gratitude. There are so many people in our situation who are just lost in this financial swamp. They've already sacrificed so much, and it isn't enough.

As for Sheri and I? This situation makes us uncomfortable, with a side order of worry. But discomfort doesn't kill you and worry doesn't last because it's exhausting. We don't have to have our friends organize fundraisers for us. We just need them to continue doing what they've been doing. Show their love and concern for us every day. Me and Lou Gehrig baby- the luckiest men on the face of the earth.

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.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Courage is in the eye of the beholder

I know I've said this before, but it makes me uncomfortable when people mention how courageous I am to be writing about my journey through cancer. I even feel pompous saying that. Yet it happens almost every day. I run into people I do not know who read my columns in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and they talk about it. There are comments on Facebook that mention it. I get letters and emails from wonderful people I've never met saying the same thing. All that alone sounds crazy to me. I just started to write a blog about what it felt like to have cancer. I even got a postcard from an Augusta woman who was vacationing in St. John's to thank me for thanking her for a previous correspondence. Is it any wonder I have so much gratitude?

But about the idea of courage: It must seem almost arrogant; like I'm saying, “But wait. You people don't get it.” That's not it at all. Obviously that's what you see when you read what I write and I am so grateful that you do. Because the same people almost invariably mention how it helps them and that's one of the reasons I started writing in the first place. Any courage I have facing this illness I get from God and from you. Who said irony was dead?

Here's the thing, though. Almost anything I write is like a... I hate to say snapshot, but I guess that's what it is. It's how I feel at the time I am actually writing. I try to be honest about my feelings, and I think I am. But they tend to be tempered by my love for writing, and in truth, trying to be at least mildly entertaining, no matter what.

But there are truly dark times that sometimes Sheri doesn't even get to see, times when courage is nowhere to be found. Those are times I am incapable of writing. I am completely blocked off. Hell, I don't even like to consider what goes through my brain, never mind write about it.

In the early stages of this journey, those times would come and go so fast, they hardly registered. But now that there have been numerous complications, and it has became obvious that I truly am fighting for my life, they tend to linger. Yes, the truly black thoughts generally disappear fairly quickly; it would be impossible to go on, after all, with blackness as a constant companion. But they leave behind a residue of... despair? Sadness? They temper the joy that is such an important part of my life right now.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, despite all your prayers and support, I find myself feeling scared. I hate the feeling, but so what? I don't like fear getting the upper hand, for even a day or two because... what if it doesn't leave? It always does, but suppose this time it doesn't?

What am I scared about? Not sure. It's not dying, because there's a lot of fight before that even enters the picture as a real possibility. Probably the lack on control is part of it. My oncologist at the Alfond Center told me I was one of them most willing patients he had ever had. That was good, since rarely in my life have I been described as “the most” with something positive at the end of it. Annoying, sarcastic, rude...these are my mosts, so it was nice of him to say that. But, my truth is... why would I be anything else? My doctors say “do this,” and I do it. Simple as that. I have complete faith that they know what's best for me, so of course I'm willing.

Sure, I may wonder, for example, when the bone densifier aimed at filling the holes in my bones caused my the myeloma makes my bones ache so bad it wakes me from a sound sleep. But they did tell me that would probably happen, so...

The BIG trust, though, comes with my stem cell transplant. I don't like to talk about it because it can easily sound as though I'm not grateful that I am strong enough to have it. Believe me, I have plenty of gratitude around it. It's just that it is a long, and to me, drawn out process that from all I have read, even from the Dana Farber Institute itself, says it could be a year, or more, before I get back to my pre-transplant energy levels.

In the original version of this blog/column, I described some of the detail of the transplant. Reading over it, though, it just seemed unnecessary. It felt like when your uncle comes up to you at a family event and starts to tell you all about his colonoscopy: “Really, Uncle Harry? I'm trying to eat over here. Besides, I think Aunt Esther is looking for you.”

The transplant is very serious business, obviously. A year or more seems like a very long time. So why do it? I'm willing, remember? Besides, without it I would be a lot worse off. The chromosome issue alone cuts your life expectancy, or length of remission, in about half. Since everything we are doing in this fight involves buying me time while doctors and scientists work on finding a cure, half is a lot to lose.

So I get scared. You talk about courage, and I think of the times I just want to curl up in a ball and suck my thumb. But, I guess we've all gotten it right. Any journey is going to have highs and lows; thumb sucking and displaying courage, and everything in between.

I think it goes back to a Jason Mraz lyric I have used before, from The Remedy (I Won't Worry): “I say the tragedy is are you going to spend the rest of your nights with the light on?” I guess my answer would be, “Not yet.”

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.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stages of grief? Seven dwarfs? You decide

I've been thinking about a previous column where I described myself as weepy. Which, of course, got me to thinking about the Seven Dwarfs. (Don't they call them dwarves anymore? Or is that a British thing?) It's the “-y” ending that does it, of course: Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful-y, Lumpy. I hear you say Lumpy wasn't a dwarf. Well, maybe not in this country my friend, but he certainly was in the Scottish version, though I think they actually call him McLumpy. But I digress.

Each day, concerned people ask me how I'm doing and I usually reply with some variation of “Good days and bad days,” which is true enough, as far as it goes. I try to be as honest as possible, while trying not to bore people with too much detail. I recently realized that I've developed my own equivalent of the Seven Dwarfs to help provide a simple answer to the complex question of how I feel on any given day.

I suppose that put into a particular order, they could also correspond to the Seven Stages of Grief. But let's face it- I'm much more a dwarf kind of guy, hence: Weepy, Grumpy, Happy, Funny, Yucky, Lucky and Perplexed.

I already wrote about Weepy. There are times when I just start weeping. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I can tell you, though, that on Weepy days I avoid cute emails or Facebook posts featuring cats. Also any recent Budweiser commercials featuring the Clydesdales. Also the Sarah Mclachlan commercial about abused animals.

Sheri and unwanted telephone callers are usually the only ones to run into Grumpy. On days when I really am not doing very well, Sheri is generally the only person I see. So she's the one I snap at or am snarky towards. She doesn't deserve it, but... Interestingly enough, when the strain of watching someone she loves deal with cancer on a daily basis (that would be me) gets to be too much, she will give me some snark back. Good for her.

As far as unwanted telephone callers... Really? I have to explain that?

Most of the time, I choose to be Happy. I don't mean village idiot happy, but simply happy. My wife is very funny, and that helps. My life right now is good, and that helps. Happy can sometimes release endorphins which is a good thing; grumpy never does.

People tell me I'm Funny. They mostly seem to mean funny ha-ha rather than funny odd. When I had a thick accent attending a very tough high school, making people laugh made it harder for the bad guys to beat the snot out of me. Seems it's hard to beat someone up who was made the people around you, even fellow gang members, laugh. I'm just glad it didn't take much to make them laugh: A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says, "You've been brought here for drinking." The drunk says, "Okay, let's get started." (rim shot)

I still use being funny as a defense mechanism, or so numerous counselors have told me, numerous times. But, as the late Henny Youngman used to say: “A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn't pay his bill, so the doctor gave him another six months.” (rim shot)

I do feel Yucky quite often, truth be told. Given all the medicine I dump into my system each day, plus two types of chemo, plus a bone densifier... I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are times when I feel yucky and/or nauseous.

Given all that has happened, I feel really Lucky to be where I am today. I have a support team second to none and some of the best medical staff in the country looking after me. Back in the earlier days of this blog, I said something about being lucky, but not ready to start quoting from Lou Gehrig's farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. Well, now I am: “You have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Amen, brother. I have an incurable form of cancer. I have an extremely rare chromosome disorder and yet I know exactly what Lou Gehrig meant. I wouldn't trade places with anyone in the world.

And yet I remain somewhat Perplexed. It doesn't happen very often, in fact it's rare. But once in a while I do wonder: What happened?!?! Six months ago I was wandering through life where my biggest care was the new system I was going to have to learn at the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel. Now I have two extremely rare health conditions, a wobbly prognosis, and facing a stem cell transplant. Whaaat?

One Sunday morning back in the day, my daughter Alison (age 3 or 4?) and I were watching a terrible Czechoslovakian version of You Know Who and the Seven Dwarfs. I didn't think she was paying much attention. Then six of the dwarfs fell down a hole and Alison nonchalantly said, “Oh well. I guess it's Snow White and the One Dorf.” Her lack of concern for the other six “dorfs” was actually a little chilling.

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.”