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.”