I've been going through this whole cancer treating process focusing, as much as possible, on simply getting through each day, one at a time, facing the challenges as they come up, and trying to find the funny in decidedly unfunny situations.
I think, by and large, that I've been successful. There have been plenty of days, plenty of specific parts of my treatment that were difficult to face and difficult to get through. But I have gotten through and moved on, getting ready for whatever comes next.
We came home the other day after almost a month in Boston. in which we took the final steps preparing for, going through, and beginning recovery from my bone marrow transplant. All of which happened and all of which we got through day by day.
But this was different in a way that took me completely by surprise. Yes, we got through each day and moved on to the next. The whole thing sucked, don't get me wrong. I was nauseous every day, and still am. I was so tired, but couldn't sleep and still can't. I went days without eating hardly anything. But, I knew I could endure anything for a day, which all I was really being asked to do. And I did.
It wasn't until we got home that I was able to look at the almost-30 days as a whole. It was.... a very difficult process to go through. Physically? Yeah, it was hard physically. Constant fatigue and nausea were difficult for me to endure. Mentally? Aye, there's the rub. I can't think of anything I've gone through that was a tougher mental battle than this.
When my Boston oncologist was first talking to me about a stem cell transplant, one of the things he said was that it was going to be hard to endure, on every level. He said there were going to be good days and bad days and days where I would want to give up. But, he added, as long as I was able to see each day as just one day, I would be very successful.
Both my daughters and my grandkids have played, and in some cases still play, youth-level sports. Regardless of what the particular sport may have been, in each they had the equivalent of a Slaughter Rule. I doubt that it was ever called that; more likely, good sportsmanship rule, or if we don't have a rule like this we're going to be here all night rule. The point was, of course, after you're being beaten badly enough, there's little left to learn. Your ass can only be kicked so bad, before it becomes abusive. So when one team got far enough ahead, they were usually ruled the winner and the game was called.
I confess there were times after my transplant that I wanted to invoke the Slaughter Rule. It's not that I wanted to give up, but my ass had been kicked enough. I was in the same room for 17 days, isolated from just about everyone. The masks the staff, Sheri, and later my daughter Alison and friend Donna, had to wear added to the feeling of being cut off.
Every day seemed endless, just like the one before it. It would begin around 6 am with a check of my vital signs. (The first of about half-a-dozen such checks throughout the day.) Then there'd be my early morning medication, followed by a sporadic stream of nurses, staff and members of my transplant team doing the same things and asking the same questions.
I had plenty of toys with me. I had my laptop, my Nook, my iPod and the hospital provided some sort of ersatz cable television. I had a terrific book Alison had given me for my birthdayabout Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the song “Hallelujah.” But none of it was much use. I simply couldn't focus long enough to become engaged with any of it.
I was given a variety of drugs to help me sleep and with the nausea, including low doses of morphine. I still couldn't sleep. After the two doses of chemo that killed off the remainder of my immune system, I had a difficult time maintaining a level of potassium in my system that would meet the doctors' standards. So there were many nights where the nurses had to administer bags of potassium by IV just about every hour.
God bless those nurses. They would creep into my room like ninjas in an effort to let me sleep, but I was invariably awake. There were times when they were able to stay and chat with me for a while, and those times were great. I was going to be awake anyway.
As the days ground on, surprisingly, invoking the Slaughter Rule become less of an option. Why? My wife and kids were there with me every day, in the room or by phone, encouraging and supporting. There were my friends and all of you: people I either don't know or barely know, who have been encouraging since day one.
Then there was my friend Cindy. I've never met her, but I don't need to. She is in a situation similar to mine, only about six months further down the road. Neither of us are crazy about using the phone, so we email a lot. When I was hardest on myself for not being strong enough, admiring her strength, she reminded me that she had been exactly where I was. The strength and courage I was seeing in her was because she had gotten through the things I was struggling with and come out the other side. She was also able to convince me that I would too.
As I looked back over the months I've had cancer, I realized that faith has allowed me to face my fears and that courage was the reward for having done so; faith always came first.
So, Sheri and I are home and loving it. If you see her, ask her about the Boston drivers and Boston traffic she had to fight, twice a day, every day. Just make sure there are no children nearby. I feel crappy a lot of the time. I still can't really sleep very well. Mentally, I feel like I could put my brain in a scratch and dent sale, but I continue to work on that as well.
I have my first doctor's appointment since leaving the hospital in a couple of days. It will be in Augusta, rather than Boston, back with my team there that has been with me since the beginning. Obviously, I'm hoping that everything is fine, but here's the truth: the thought of getting outside, taking a ride in the car and actually being around people who, except me, aren't wearing masks and gloves... pretty exciting, boy.
Thank You note: We wanted to thank all of you who have shared and/or donated to the Go Fund Me site our daughters, Alison, Jennifer and Kristie, have established. If you would like to see photos of us and our family- and maybe even make a donation :)- visit www.gofundme.com, 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.”