Thursday, September 4, 2014

Well, that was a heck of a year

Don't let us get sick

Don't let us get old

Don't let us get stupid, alright

Just make us be brave

And make us play nice

And let us be together tonight

Warren Zevon

September 5 will mark the first anniversary of my being diagnosed with cancer.

I know what you're thinking. Is it paper that you give after one year? I know it isn't tin... What? Tacky? Maybe. But if you've been following this for the past year, or even part of the year, you take offense at your own risk. You've certainly had plenty of opportunities to be offended and stop reading. Thank you for not, though.

How do I feel one year down the road? Good question. For one thing, I thought the road would be much more direct. I thought, “I have cancer and we'll come up with a treatment plan and follow it and there you are.”

Now, I look at that thought and wonder, “What in your life experience to that point could have made you think that could possibly happen?” Wishful thinking? Hopeless naivety? Blind faith?

Right at the very beginning, a friend of mine named Pinky... His name is John, actually, but everyone who knows him calls him Pinky, not sure why... A friend of mine named Pinky told me to be prepared for what I knew was going to happen because what I had no clue about would knock me on my butt. He would know. He and his wife both survived terrible illnesses and supported each other while they did so. It's certainly proved to be true in my journey..

Surprises have been more of a constant than... well... the constant. When all is said and done, though, none of that really matters. Damaged chromosome? Doesn't matter. Negative reaction to medications? Doesn't matter. Having influenza A and food poisoning in the same week, followed closely by a broken collarbone? Doesn't matter, doesn't matter, doesn't matter.

What matters is refusing to be defeated by any of it. So far, so good.

As part of “The Year in Review,” I've been re-reading the blogs I've written. There were some constants in the writing: my attitude remained positive; I was thankful for the medical staff who have been helping me; I have been buoyed by the letters, emails, Facebook posts and so on from so many of you; wishing me well, offering prayers and so many of you I didn't know when the journey began; the love and support of my wife and children.

In regards to my wife Sheri- in the beginning I said I felt that it was We who had cancer, not just I. That has certainly proven to be the case. We have gone through a lot together and continue to do so.

In my early writing, optimism and positive thoughts seemed to be easier to come by. There was a clean feel to the writing, uncluttered by random feelings and emotions. The path was clear and we were on it.

With time, though, the writing seemed to become less so. Fear, anxiety, extreme fatigue, persistent pain and discomfort, nausea, all took their toll. Neither my writing nor my mood became particularly dark, but there was more of a sense of what the stakes were. I was literally betting my life on all this stuff and I had moved all in.

Multiple myeloma is incurable. It doesn't really go into remission, my doctors tell me. It sneaks off and hides, but there is always some of it in my system- though we don't know where- waiting to come back and ruin an otherwise lovely day.

Looking over the past year gives me a headache, and we still haven't discovered anything about my constant stomach pain. There's another thing- If you'd told me in October that I would do all the right things, take all the right treatments, have a tremendously successful stem cell transplant... and still feel this lousy because of a stomach ailment most likely unrelated to my cancer? Well, I don't know what I would have said, but it wouldn't have been fit for your kids to read, I can tell you that.

My scheduled colonoscopy was canceled when I threw up all 64 ounces of pre-procedure liquid the night before the event. I would have to reschedule. All the fasting, liquid diet and bland food were for naught. We are still trying to reschedule. Pinky's admonition came to me again. I've faced what I was prepared for, but tossing up 64 ounces of anything wasn't in the plans and my butt is starting to hurt.

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.”