Friday, April 11, 2014

Shipping up to Boston II

Stop me if you've heard this one.

A guy walks into a doctor's office. He's been sick and is seeing this doctor for the final discussion on a treatment that will dramatically affect his health.

The doctor, as always, is pleasant, professional and encouraging. “We're going to go ahead with the stem cell transplant. Things look really good!”

The guy, of course, is very happy.

The doctor continues: “I know your treatment so far has caused you a few problems, but what comes next is going to be much harder. I don't want you to be shocked when it isn't as comfortable for you as it has been. In fact it will be quite uncomfortable.”

The doctor is so positive in his manner; is so focused on the outcome rather than the bumps along the way, the guy says, with no trace of sarcasm, “Uncomfortable? That's great doc. Let's get started!”

Okay. The guy is me and the doctor is my Boston oncologist. You got me. The rest of it's true, though.

Sheri and I had a 14-hour day when we went to Boston, including travel time. As if that wasn't challenge enough, Wednesdays are the days after I take my steroids, which means they are the days I CANNOT stop talking... at all. I try, but fail. So, Sheri had that going for her all the way there. Also, I drove. I guess I don't drive too well on steroids. Who knew?

Prior to going to the hospital, I had a bunch of tests done at the clinic here in Augusta that were sent down ahead of time. While I was in Boston, they drew 15 (!) vials of blood. I also had a pulmonary test. I got 100 on that one, but it was hard. It involved deep breathing, which is not my strong point right now.

We met with one of the charge nurses for my transplant who covered a lot of the details about the procedure. They had us talk to a social worker to make sure we had everything we needed to be in Boston for a month, and to make sure I was dealing okay with the mental aspect of all this, which we agreed I am. And finally we met with the oncologist who drew all of it together and told us everything looked really good!

I'm not kidding about the oncologist, by the way. He cares about me getting well. That's what he thinks about and, though he doesn't minimize the bumps, he knows they're worth it because of how much better I will feel and makes me and Sheri believe it too.

Now. Let's face it, the “bumps” include: doses of chemotherapy strong enough to kill me without having healthy cells to put back;severe nausea; possible mouth and esophagus sores; hair loss; exhaustion; and living in semi-isolation for about four months. Well, that's why we focus on the end result. Focus too much on the bumps, and I'd have to go back to the social worker and tell her I'd changed my mind.

Throughout this process, I've often felt that other people were more worried about what I was going through than I was. Yes, it had its challenges, but they were manageable. Well, guess what.... Yeah. Beginning in about a week, that won't be quite the case.

We start with a massive dose of chemo aimed at killing the myeloma, which also will destroy much of my immune system. During my education on this part of it, the nurse was perfectly frank- “Some people become nauseous during this. With the dosage you're taking, you will absolutely be nauseous.” I love that openness. Look, I can handle most things when I know they're coming- becoming nauseous is bad enough. Becoming nauseous when you'd been hoping you wouldn't? Priceless. No, not priceless. I mean terrible. Sorry. Damn you Master Card.

Again, I won't bore you with the endless details. Suffice to say, I guess, that we'll be doing a lot of knocking down and building back up, followed by months of caring and feeding my new baby stem cells.

Since the stem cell transplant will finish killing off what might be left of my immune system, we have to be meticulous in avoiding infections. There are many, many rules and directions around this. Usually, I'm not too good at rules, following of, but even I get how important it is.

So, here we are on the brink of another big adventure. Am I ready? Kinda. Is Sheri ready? Kinda. In this situation, though, I think two “kindas” equals one “you bet.” So, in the immortal words of David Bowie: “Let's dance.”

Jim's note: Our daughters, Jennifer, Alison and Kristie, have established a site through Go Fund Me to allow people to make donations to help Sheri and I with the costs of fighting my cancer. If you would like to see photos of us and our family- and maybe even make a donation :)- visit, and enter my name or Finding the Pony in the search box.

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.”