Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good night, my friend, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest

So, my friend Cindy passed away a few days before Christmas.

My copy editors at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel were absolute in their insistence that when people are no longer among the living, they are dead. Not passed away, passed over, gone to be with the Lord. Dead. And I pretty much agree, and it isn't meant to be as harsh as it might sound.

But my friend Cindy... she passed away.

We both had stem cell transplants, hers was done a short time before mine. There are two basic types of stem cell transplants: autologous, which uses the patients own stem cells; and allogenic where they come from a brother, sister or parent, though they may come from an unrelated donor as well if they meet a set of strict criteria. I had the former, and Cindy the latter, her cells provided by a donor in Germany. Because of how so many cities in Maine are named, I should point out that he is from Germany...Germany, not Germany in Aroostook.

Though they were used against different diseases- she had leukemia and I have multiple myeloma- there were a lot of similarities in what we were going through.

Now, I'm not good at talking to people I don't know very well, and certainly not about something like this. But her brother, who lives in Clinton, insisted both Cindy and I would benefit from talking to each other. I dragged my feet, called a couple of times, but it was not going well. Her brother simply would not let up... at all. Oy. But, thankfully, once we realized we both preferred to use email- problem solved, relationship begun.

From the day of our first email in the fall of 2013 until our last in early December of this year, we shared just about everything that related to our health. When we were afraid, we told each other so and if it meant crying together, we did. We also laughed at the absurdity of our situations. We used a few curse words here and there (her more than me- just sayin') and didn't shy away from the seriousness of our illnesses. She told me how much she loved her doctors and nursing staff and I told her how much I loved mine, As a nurse herself, she allowed she may have been a “little” difficult as a patient in the beginning, but quickly learned to let them do their job.

As we settled into the longer-term care for our illnesses, our paths started to diverge somewhat. My results were very good, right from the start. Hers were initially encouraging, but didn't stay that way. She was home for a short period of time, but constant infections forced her back into the hospital. She had numerous transplants in an effort to get her bone marrow to start growing again. It had been destroyed at one point, but, unlike my own, it wasn't responding to treatment. She had no white blood cells and despite numerous attempts, they would not return.

At the same time, she was suffering infection after infection, and the decision was eventually made to let her go home. She wasn't going to get better and she deserved to be where she could see her beloved cats, and her gardens, and all the things that made up the life she and her husband had carved out for each other.

I continued to send her emails, though I knew she didn't have the strength to reply. But I wanted her to know that I still cared for her and was still thinking about her, and frankly, I didn't want to give up the connection. So the emails were chit-chatty and needed no reply. But as her conditioned worsened, it seemed like dealing with them would have been just another burden on her family. So I stopped.

Then her brother sent me the message that she had passed away at 5 am., quietly and in peace. Amen.

I have to tell you- we lost a shining light when this woman left us. The light was fueled by unimaginable courage. So many of you have talked about the courage you see in my writing, and I thank you for it. I look at Cindy and thank her for the courage she showed me, some of which I hope to be able to pass on to you.

The other huge thing I saw in her was her love for her family. The last days of her fight were for them, I think. It would have been so much easier to just let go, but there was no way that could happen. She wanted to give her family every minute with her that she possibly could, and she did.

She was as important to me and my recovery as anyone, except my wife, Sheri. I find myself sad at the end of each day now, because that was the time I gathered up the bits and pieces to put in my email to her for the day. I guess I'll stop doing that soon enough.

So, I've lost one more person who has been very important to me and I am certainly diminished by the loss. Oh... Did I tell you that I never met Cindy? Never. We made numerous plans for when she was well enough to come up here to see her brother, but the one time she was able to, she had way too many other things to do, so we settled on the next time. Sheri and I also offered to stop by the hospital when we were in Boston for one of my own checkups, but she asked us not to, and I certainly understood that.

Goodbye, Cindy.

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.”