Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why, you don't look a day over eleventy-seven

      Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees
      Give a home to the fleas in my hair
      A home for fleas, (yeah) a hive to bees, (yeah) a nest for birds
      There ain't no words for the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my
      Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
      The tribal rock musical

    Age and aging- it's a funny thing. Funny-odd, though, not funny hahahahahahaha.

    It strikes me as funny-odd, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that people are perfectly willing to decide all kinds of things about you based on hold old they think you are and what forgone conclusions they have drawn about that particular age. And they're not always right!

    For example, my wife is two weeks younger than I am, yet until her hair turned the beautiful gray color it is now, we were constantly being asked if she was my daughter. Seriously. It was annoying and did get old (hehe). It still happens, but nowhere near as often.

    It could be that I'm her “Picture of Dorian Grey;” she continues to be beautiful as I age badly, taking on the consequences of her debauched lifestyle. Since the most debauched thing she does these days is have toast with peanut butter AND jelly, the theory doesn't really hold up.

    This thinking about age and aging began with an observation on aging I made while driving into town the other day. I was rolling along, (with my hands safely at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, by the way), when I looked at the instrument panel and realized I was alerting one and all to a right turn coming sometime in the foreseeable future. When I thought back, and did the math, I had probably left the signal on for about two miles. I was immediately sure that all sorts of people were thinking, “Look at the old coot, driving with his turn signal on for miles.” But here's the thing: I did the same thing was I was a young coot, or a whippersnapper, or whatever. I play the music (AM to FM to cassettes to CDs to iPod) too loud and don't hear the audio alert on the signal.

    Since I was already in the car, that made me think of another example where the ageists would get it wrong. I have always been a fan of classic British sports cars, Triumphs and Jaguars in particular. I have never been able to afford one. But, let us for a moment suppose I finally was able to purchase the Triumph TR7 I have wanted since the day it first came out, some 50-plus years ago. What do you think the reaction would be? Might it be: “Hey. Look at the old coot trying to regain his youth by driving a flashy British sports car.”? Right? When in truth it should be “Look at the old coot. He finally managed to scrape enough money together to buy the car he's always wanted.”

    By the way, I use the term “old coot” as a descriptor. I feel neither old nor cooty. The term does paint a useful picture in this instance, so, ?old coot” it is..

    Then there's my hair, he writes, apparently out of nowhere. I must confess, I truly believed, apparently naively, that at 65 my hair would cease to be an issue to those around me. I was wrong.

    I have always had tightly curled hair, and usually plenty of it. So did my mother and my sister Moira. Do you remember those combs with the hard plastic teeth? In our house, they always looked like teeth in the mouth of the kid who played the banjo in “Deliverance.” If we were all combing our hair at the same time, it would be hard to find a place safe from flying tooth shrapnel as they caught in our curls and had to be yanked out..

    But, always, my hair was my hair. As fashions came and went, my hair stayed the same. I was actually right in fashion for a short period of time in the 60s when Afros on white kids became fashionable. “Peace, man. Chill out. Love... The moon is in the Seventh House” and all that. I was in! But then the fad passed, the moon moved into h house next door, and I was out again.

    I think we all know the trauma cancer sufferers experience when the chemotherapy causes them to lose their hair. If you took a survey, you'd probably find hair loss among the worst parts of having the disease for a vast majority of sufferers. I'm not one of them. I was okay with it. Look, until I met Sheri, I never even combed my hair. It was only after she had asked, “You're not leaving the house like that, are you?” enough times that I finally got the message. Personally, I had trouble distinguishing combed from pre-combed, but it seemed to make Sheri happy, so I was all for it.

    And it did... keep Sheri happy... for about two weeks. Then she started working on ways to improve how the stubble looked. Oy.

    So, the monkeying with my hair continues. Since it looks like Breaking Bad's Walter White's on a good day, I just let Sheri have her way. The other day, though, she was shaving away and suddenly stopped.

    “Would it upset you if I said 'Ooooops' right now?”

    “Not particularly.”

    “Well then. Oooooops.”

    It seems she had used the wrong size attachment on the shaver and cut too deep. Of course the only way to make it right was to cut the rest of it just as short, which she did. If anything, it looked shorter than it did when it all fell out. We both actually liked it.

    I think, though, this opened the door to perhaps the comment that sums up my whole hair experience. A guy I know looked my head over carefully, while visible evidence of heavy thinking appeared on his face. (This guy looks much younger than his age, if you wanna know.) Always a cautious speaker, he was no less so now: “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You can have as much hair on your head as you want, but you choose to have it look like that?” Amen, Brother. Well said.

    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.”

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oh cancer. Why you so sneaky?

I'm back on chemotherapy; have been for about a week.

On the face of it, it isn't a bad thing. Au conraire, it's by choice and part of my post-transplant regimen. It's the same pill I was on before the transplant, only the dose is different. I had been taking 30 mg and now I'm on 10 mg.

On the even more positive side, it's the only part of my former regimen that remains. I had also been taking steroids, which changed me into a truly manic person who could not stop talking for at least two days after a dose. Nor am I taking Velcade, which was given IV and meant I had to sit still for about an hour. Believe me, I was always careful not to have a Velcade treatment any time soon after taking steroids.

I do have to still submit to a questionnaire/survey from three different sources each time I call to have the prescription refilled. You may remember some of the questions: Have you had sex with a woman who is pregnant or could become pregnant? If so, did you use a latex condom? Are you apt to have sex in the next 30 days with a woman who is pregnant or able to become pregnant? And a few more just like them. I have to answer to three different people each time. EACH time. The SAME questions. Oy.

When the appropriate amount of time had passed, my doctor asked me if I wanted to go back on this particular drug. It seems some doctors are for it and some doctors aren't sure it makes a difference. I didn't ask my doctor which type he was, I just told him I wanted to get back on it even if there was only a slight chance that it would prolong what we have learned to call my remission, even though it is a misnomer.

After all, my chromosome 17p deletion could already be working against me, so I wanted to be sure I am carrying my share of the load.

Now, here's the thing: I asked to be given the drug, knew I was going to be taking the drug, and yet... All I can think of right now is how ill I feel and have felt since I began taking it again. You might think it would have occurred to me that, after taking only relatively benign medicines for about a year- well, not counting my stem cell transplant and accompanying drugs, that is - that reintroducing this into my system would have created havoc. And you'd be right, or at least smarter than I was.

It isn't even just the fact that I feel ill all the time... after all, I've been dealing with my stomach issue for months, and that has made me feel less than great much of the time. You know what I've gone through trying to deal with that. Trust me, I wouldn't have gone through half of it if the pain and sick feeling weren't considerable. Regular readers might also have noticed I was trying to sound so brave; a sure sign that something isn't right. (That last bit was kind of a joke, but not really.)

The thing about how being back on my chemo is that it makes me feel like I have cancer. I'll pause while you let that sink in. The way I feel taking my chemo again makes me feel like I have cancer. Sounds wrong, somehow, doesn't it? True, though.

Part of it is that some of the old pains have come back. My ribs, collarbones and just about every other bone, including the head bone, are aching. My stomach hurts worse than ever and the overall pain wakes me up every morning. With awakedness comes fear and with fear cones the internal debate about whether I want to get out of bed today, or not.

Now, we all know I've been through so much more than this, so why am I being such a baby about it? Good question. I do not really know. If I had to guess, though, I think the absence of feeling like this had lulled me to sleep.. It's not that I forgot I had cancer. I think that, maybe, it had lost it's place at the front of the line. Well, maybe it was like it was still first in the worry line, but not all day, every day.

Besides, stomach pain aside, I was actually feeling pretty good! I guess I got used to it.

Here's the thing, again: remembering I have cancer means remembering all the things that having cancer can lead to, all the possible outcomes. Bluch.

So, I genuinely believe that this won't be a long-term thing. I think my system will adjust and I'll be good to go. Anyway, my guard is back up and I won't be taken by surprise again.

Hey, I didn't even tell you the worst part. Sheri and I were talking about this this morning. She's seen how uncomfortable I've been; the lack of appetite, the grimacing. She said, “You know what? When I look at you, and the pain your in, I remember you have cancer.” That's the worst part.

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.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It was (over) 20 years ago today

I wonder if you are really a friend of mine
If I were lying in jail wouldja get outa bed & pay my fine?
Time stands still for everyone
You never really know who your friends are
Al Kooper

My longtime friend Bob Peters (not his real name) came back into my life this summer.

When I say “longtime friend,” I'm not kidding. We first met in 1970 when he was hired as a news announcer at the radio station where I was working nights. We worked together for about a year, then he was fired and then I was fired. \

My firing was “better” than his. I, at least, was called into the manager's office to be told my career in radio had hit an iceberg. He found out when he came into work one morning and some other guy was working at his desk. When he asked the guy what he was doing, the guy replied, “I'm the new news director,” which came as a huge surprise to Peters who was, at that time, evidently, the old news director.

Yeah, it seems management had covered all the bases except telling Peters not to report to work...ever again. He did get the last laugh, sort of, by showing up at the company Christmas party four months later as the date of someone who still worked there. That was the same Christmas party, by the way, where I made the remark that put a permanent end to my radio career.

By the time we had both been fired, we were really good friends and, as such, stayed in touch. Eventually he moved to Syracuse, and eventually I moved to Syracuse. He moved to Vermont, and I stayed in Syracuse. Then he moved to Idaho, and I stayed in Syracuse. Next stop for Peters was Utah, and I stayed... you get the idea. He then moved back to Idaho, and, sure enough, I stayed in Syracuse.

Through all this moving, of his obviously, we never lost contact. For years we stayed in touch and had the remarkable habit of specifically getting in touch with each other when something bad happened to one or the other, or both, of us.

We went on like that until sometime in the middle of 1991. Then, for some reason, we stopped getting in touch with each other. Nothing happened, that I knew of. I did lose his address, and I couldn't remember how to spell his real name. (You thought I was joking about Bob Peters not being his real name, didn't you?)

Every so often, especially once finding people through Facebook and other social media became popular, I tried to track him down, but I got nowhere.

Then, this past summer, I was sitting on our deck here in Maine (having eventually moved), feeding the chipmunks, when the phone rang and the voice on the other end asked, “Is this the one and only Scotty James from WGVA hit radio in Geneva, NY?” Now, until this moment, only a handful of people knew that was the name I used on the air, so I was appropriately stunned when I realized it had to be Peters.

Come to find out, he, too, had tried off and on over the years to get in touch. But, he said, this time a voice was nagging at him to get in touch “right now.” He somehow remembered that my daughter Alison's name was spelled with one “L” and, after calling numerous phone numbers, he tracked Alison with one L down and got my current phone number from her.

We spent some time catching up, and remembering stuff, before he asked me about my health. I told him I had cancer, and when he asked what kind, I told him multiple myeloma and he became the eleventy-seventh person to ask me what the heck that was. I told him, then he told me he had cancer also, in his case skin cancer (which he has subsequently had taken care of).

It became apparent, then, why he had felt so pressured into actually tracking me down this time. It was a little spooky, but in a good way.

Since I found out I was sick, I have, almost without realizing it, been looking for positive reasons that I got multiple myeloma. Being able to help people through this column has been the biggest plus, but here was another. It was sort of a Reader's Digest/Paul Harvey experience- like opening your back door to find the dog you lost two years ago sitting there waiting for you. Somehow that sounds vaguely insulting, but I don't mean it to be. Being back in touch with Peters after all these years is amazing.

In case you/re wondering- I've never called him Bob. I don't really know why. He's just always been Peters.

We have been keeping in touch now that we've come back together. Of course, right now I owe him a letter, but... Oh, if you want to see what he looks like, and have Netflix, or a similar service, he appeared in an episode of “The X-Files,” playing, of all things, an Idaho TV newscaster, which is what he had done for a living for years. It's Season 6, Episode 2, episode 120 overall, if you're that interested.

Anyway, I'm not saying we would not have reconnected if I didn't get cancer, all I'm saying is that we tried, off and on to get in touch for over 20 years, and didn't succeed until now. I'm just sayin'.

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.”

Thursday, February 5, 2015

One cat + one cat = powerful lesson learned

So, we have a new cat. Well, she’s not new, really. She’s 10 months old. But, she is new-to-us. That sounds like a sales pitch on a used car, I think. But you know what I mean. We’ve had her since the end of October.

Now, you’re probably cringing. “Oh lord, now he’s going to write about his cat? Poop. I liked it better when he was writing about having two spleens. Or, when he was talking about dragging his daughter over the snow? That was entertainment, baby.”

Yuh, yuh, yuh. I am writing about our cat, but the truth is that I think I’m really talking about loss, and how to deal with it.

For 12 years, Sheri and I had the only pet we’ve had together- Samantha, also a cat, a mix, but predominantly Rag doll. As pets are apt to do, she became a huge part of our lives. We got her the day she was dropped off at the humane association, just a few months after we moved to Maine.

The initial thought was that she’d keep Sheri company when I was working nights. There was also talk of her providing protection. However, when we got her she could fit in the palm of your hand and the only way she could protect anyone was if you threw her in the face of a burglar and hope that she put out her claws to grab on.

If you’ve had a pet, regardless of what type of animal it was, you know how she/he took up more and more space in our hearts as Samantha did as we moved through lives as a trio. She developed diabetes, which gave us the chance to do things for her that would help keep her healthy.

She got sick in July of 2013. Our family vet did what she could, but sent us to a specialist somewhere in southern Maine (and I don’t remember where, exactly). When they had done all they could, they sent us to a specialist in New Hampshire. When they had done all they could…

The loss we felt was horrible. We'd done everything the best veterinarians could do. In the end, they were hard put to say what the specific problem was, but cancer seemed to have been at least partly responsible. I was sure I would never have another pet. I knew if we had one, I would end up loving it with all my heart, and I just didn’t want to be that vulnerable again… ever.

Well, lo and behold, just about a month after Samantha died, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. There must be some cosmic message in there, but all I can tell you is that I shed far more tears over losing Samantha than I did over having cancer. That’s still the case, by the way.

As readers, you know how difficult our journey through cancer has been. But, I didn’t tell you how often during the months of pain, fear and isolation I thought about bringing a new cat into our family.
I couldn’t, though. It probably sounds ridiculous, but it didn’t feel right bringing a new cat into Samantha’s home. I realize how that sounds, believe me. But it’s true, and that’s the agreement I made with you when I first started writing this column- If I was going to tell you something, it would be true, and that’s the truth about bringing home a new cat.

Also, though, I just wasn’t sure I could make that emotional commitment again. As time went by, I became- slowly- open to having a new cat. I thought about it for a while before I finally mentioned the possibility to Sheri.
When I did, our new cat was home with us three days later; it would have been sooner, but the local humane association was closed for a day. Sheri was as devastated by Samantha’s loss as I was, but she was able to consider the wonderful time we had with her and the happiness she shared with us quicker than I did. I was still focused on the loss. So, she had a list of websites propviding cats we could adopt.

Mackenzie (named for a wonderful friend of Sheri’s who died of pancreatic cancer shortly after we moved to Maine) has settled in and so have we. Physically, she is the exact opposite of Samantha. She is various shades of brown, where Samantha was predominantly grey. Kensie, as we call her, is so dark, unless her eyes are open, you cannot tell if she is facing you or not. At night, both of us have spent time talking cat baby talk to a pair of shoes, thinking the dark mass before us was our new cat.

In terms of health, this has been a difficult winter for Sheri and me. My stomach pains are worse than ever, and Sheri has had some sort of infection that has laid her flat for weeks. But we have Kensie, who makes us smile… a lot. She is funny, lively, smart and boisterous. She is loving and very rarely sits in a spot where she cannot see we are with her.

Samantha is still in our hearts, for sure. But with Kensie, even as she insists on walking all over the computer keyboard with absolutely no thought as to whether I’m trying to get some work done, I have learned that the only way to deal with loss is to continue love fully. Yes, pain and loss suck; I’ve lost people who were truly important to me in the last few weeks, and it did suck and it was terribly painful.

But, to love completely, and with all your heart no matter the risk? It took two cats for me to realize that it's the only way to live.

 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.”