Thursday, July 30, 2015

We have nothing to fear, but... everything?

We were talking about phobias, the other day, me and not-his-real-name Walter.

The discussion was occasioned by NHRN Walter talking about someone he knew having uncommon fears around the weather. It's always interesting to find out what people may be afraid of, and, let's face it, we can sometimes find someone else's fears silly, though ours are always going to be very, very real.

Look. Even if you don't suffer from popular (?) phobias such as arachnophobia (spiders), ophidiophobia (snakes), acrophobia (heights), or even cynophobia (fear of dogs) or ailurophobia/gatophobia (fear of cats), you can at least understand why they may be something from which one could suffer. But some, like globophobia (fear of balloons), trypophobia (fear of holes) or koumpounophobia (fear of buttons), just leave me shaking my head.

So why am I even bothering with all this blah, blah, blah about phobias anyway. Well, as Walter and I were talking about his acquaintance's weather worries, a column idea oozed its way into my head. I came up with the great notion that … we have names for fears of things we didn't even know it was possible to be afraid, but we didn't have a name for something huge, like the fear of cancer. I was working on a whole column around that idea. I was really rolling... Yeah, brothers and sister, there's labels for fear of zombies, being attacked by and turned into one (kinemortophobia) or fear of belly buttons (omphalophobia). But we have no name for the fear of cancer. My indignation meter was pinned, people.

But, then, I found out what most of you already knew- there is such a phobia. Carcinophobia Yeah. Well, in my defense- if it wasn't for my general, but well-rounded ignorance, I might never be able to write about anything.

As it turns out, carcinophobia is a very real fear, which, can, in fact, lead to agoraphobia where the person refuses to leave home for fear of getting cancer.

Wow. Who knew? I certainly didn't have carcinophobia prior to getting cancer, and I don't have it now. I mean, I just got cancer. I didn't have the chance to be afraid of it.

I do think about “just getting it,” though, when friends get word from their doctors that there's “ a shadow on your x-rays,” or they find a lump they can't really identify. That strikes me as being truly scary. Release the three Ws- waiting, wondering and worrying! Look at all the time you would need to spend talking yourself into knowing there's nothing to worry about, that it's all going to be okay, but...

As you can surely see, the talk of phobias caused me to actually do some research before writing this week. I know you didn't think I knew what koumpounophobia was off the top of my head. But looking up a phobia can't help but lead to looking up a bunch of them. It's like when I was in school and needed to look up a word in the dictionary. It invariably took much longer than it should have because I kept noticing other words, like so much bright and shiny stuff, which distracted me from my original word search. Or in modern terms, it's like going to the Internet and only looking at one site. How is that supposed to happen? Like the proverbial peanuts, or Lay's potato chips, one is only going to lead to another and then another and so on and so on and scooby dooby do. (Editor's note: this would be scooby dooby do as in Sly and the Family Stone's “Everyday People,” rather than in Frank Sinatra's “Strangers in the Night.” Just sayin'.)

Anyway, I got all bogged down in this and, is so often the case, ended up knowing way more than I ever wanted to about phobias. After all, it bothered me a few weeks ago when I was writing a piece that included references to coulrophobia, and that didn't require any research. I just knew what it was. (As I'm sure you'll remember, coulrophobia is the fear of clowns.)

I guess the end result of all this is- if you can be afraid of something, you can be sure there is a “proper” name for it. Yes, I did not, nor do I now, have a fear of cancer. It would not have surprised me, though, if I did, or do, develop trypanophobia (a fear of needles), nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals) or latrophobia (fear of doctors).

I think being afraid of something to the point where it develops into a phobia is a terrible thing. Probably just as well I couldn't find the “proper” name for the fear of having multiple spleens. I'm just going to have to live with it. Oh the horror.

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, July 23, 2015

I have cancer

I have cancer.

I know. You're thinking: no poop, Sherlock. You've been telling us about it for almost two years. And, oh yeah, your column IS subtitled “My journey through cancer...” So, why are you bringing this up now?

Friends, there are just times when I need to say, in a completely unadorned, non-writer type fashion: “I have cancer.” It's not that I would forget, otherwise. Believe me. Even if you know nothing at all about having cancer, I know you'll believe me when I say it's not something you forget about.

Nah, when I tell myself, “I have cancer,” it helps me bring a lot of other things into focus. Most importantly, it reminds me of the wonderful life I'm living. The appreciation I have for my family and friends is so much deeper because of the needs created by having cancer. If you're the type of person who thinks in color- it turns my life from, let's say, a restrained pink to a deep, warm, enveloping maroon.

But here's something that invariably accompanies my “I have cancer” statement. Early in my cancer days, I wrote about not having a bucket list. I still don't. I believe if there are things I really want to do before I die, I'd better get to them. So should you.

That being said, I am baffled, sometimes, when there are things I would do “If only...” If only what? If only I had cancer? But I don't do them anyway.

Look, if I want to sit down and eat a half-gallon of ice cream, why shouldn't I? Okay, it's mostly no longer sold in actual half-gallons, but in containers designed to trick you into thinking you're still getting a half-gallon of ice cream. But, you know what I'm sayin'.

Why wouldn't I just tell myself, “I have cancer. Isn't it a little stupid to be worrying about my weight at this point?” Right? But, good health is an important aspect of fighting cancer, that's a proven fact, and eating a whole container of ice cream is not healthy. There's also my wife, Nurse Ratched. Slipping all that ice cream by her... not gonna happen.

At one time or another, I'm sure you've all made a list of things you want to do or say when it is your last day on a job. Headed for greener pastures, you want to tell off the ingrate who constantly took the last cup of coffee without making more. Or maybe the person who kept presenting your ideas as theirs when the entire staff was working on a project. Then again, maybe you just didn't like the person and wanted to tell them so, and list the reasons why.

My friend Peters (real name unclear) left more than one job with a flash, but my favorite has to be when he was fired on a Friday and ownership, who certainly should have known better, didn't take his key to the building. He came in and moved all the downstairs furniture upstairs and vice versa, just so he could imagine how stunned the people responsible for his dismissal would be come Monday morning.

I know. That was an awful lot of work just to get a little revenge; revenge he wasn't even around to see. But, still, don't you wish you could something like that?

I've made those lists, but have never done anything about it. Partly because I just didn't feel it was worth it, and partly because I didn't want to hurt the other people's feelings. I know, I know. They didn't care about my feelings, But, that's why, ultimately, I can feel morally superior to so many people!

Approached from a certain angle, having an incurable form of cancer can be regarded as the ultimate last day at a job. And I don't have to limit myself to a narrow band of annoyers- people I am finishing up working with. I can do it with EVERYONE.

Let's say someone constantly dominates conversations when you and friends get together by talking non-stop, regardless of the subject. I can just scream at them “Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutup!!” Oh, wait a minute. My wife actually did that to someone once. Well, how about approaching two employees who are more interested in continuing their talk about how fabulous their weekend was, and asking “Excuse me. Is my trying to buy something interfering with your chit-chatting?” Oh, wait a minute. I've done that; quite often actually. Grrrrrrr. Okay. How about this. You're explaining a project to a group and one of them says, “Do you mind if I make a suggestion?” You could say, “Mind if I don't take it?” Oh, wait another minute. I've done that too.

ANYway, I think what I'm talking about is the realization that having cancer doesn't change the basic you. I've said before, I'm a lot more than a person with cancer. So, why would I expect to be able to handle so many situations in a different manner than before I got sick? I'm no more a furniture mover for vengeance now than I was two years ago. Besides, I bet maybe-his-real-name Peters would do it for me, if I needed him to.

So, brothers and sisters, if you were planning to get cancer as a way to set you free in ugly social situations, I suggest you skip it. (My wife is going to hate that I wrote that; but, hey, she once told someone “Shutupshutupshutupshutup,” so, I'm not sure the moral high ground is her's on this one. Besides, I'm trying to make a point.) No bucket list, no “I'm gonna say exactly what I want to” list. Just the list that lets you do the next right thing in each situation.

And if you just HAVE TO make to make some snappy retort in a given situation? There's always, “Oh yeah? Well, I'm rubber and your glue and everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!” It destroys them every time. Seriously, people. It does.

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What's that smell I'm hearing?

We were having our usual Tuesday morning coffee the other day when not-his-real-name Walter said to me: “Do you ever feel like just chucking it all? Like saying, enough is enough already?” My “Yes” came so quickly, had it been a physical object, it would surely have taken an eye out.

He doesn't like his not-his-real-name, by the way. Walter. He doesn't seem to have anything against the name, per se. I think he might just have wanted something with a little more flash, or elan.

I considered changing it, although he never made a formal name-change request. I don't remember what other names came up, but I'm sure they were in the Steel, Storm, Sherlock, Igor, Fabio vein, which, let's face it, in the wrong hands can sound... well... just plain wrong. But here's the thing, brothers and sisters, I liked using Walter. He doesn't look like a Walter, what ever that might mean but he certainly doesn't look like a Steel either. And, I don't have any Walters who at one time or another have been close to me whom I would want to remember by using their name. Nah. I just like the sound of it. Walter. Nice.

Back to his question, though, and why I was so willing to answer in the affirmative so quickly. First off, I don't really know what he meant. Chucking what? Enough is enough of what, already? To me it certainly didn't mean throwing off this mortal coil, or any variation thereof.

I think my response was simply saying that I didn't really want anything else to go wrong for/to me, especially of a physical nature.

Oh, I haven't had the chance to tell you, have I? While I was trying to deal with the pain in my ribs caused by my recent swan dive into the lawn, I broke a tooth. Not in the same fall, but just... just because, I guess.

Yeah. Breaka bone, breaka tooth. And I had no heartwarming little tale, no amusing anecdote to go with this one. Most of my damaged-teeth stories are filled with, at the very least, discomfort and sorrow. As my Kilbirnie granny always used to say, “They hurrrrt when they come in and they hurrrrt when they go oot.”

It was the fact of the broken tooth which prompted not-his-real-name Walter's inquiry. I guess my “Yes,” was every bit as much a “Why me?” as anything else. “Why now?” “How come?” “Are you kidding me with this?” All the most popular imponderables, with a “Gimme a break” thrown in just so I can say “Hehe. Get it?”

And, because of my multiple myeloma, there was a twist. How could there not be? As part of the treatment for my cancer, I'm given monthly doses of Zometa (zoledronic acid), which inhibits the release of calcium from bones. In the case of my cancer, it can help heal some of the damage done to my bones by the multiple myeloma. In terms of my broken tooth, it can take longer for the “hole” to heal. You know the hole, right? The one your dentist tells you not to stick your tongue in thereby assuring that you'll be putting that puppy in there like you were practicing a certain kind of kissing. (Can I write that in a family newspaper?)

Off to the dentist we go, who sends us to the oral surgeon, who plans to remove the tooth in mini-sections. He thinks it should be easy, but there is always the chance that one of the offending roots could go through into my sinus cavity, which I'm guessing is bad. I hear you say that I could have simply asked the oral surgeon for details. He was very good, by the way, and very professional. And, I did ask him, so there. Of course, in a classic you-bring-this-on-yourself moments, I don't think I asked real good: “Does the root in my sinus cavity mean I could end up smelling through my ears for the rest of my life?” Hey, it seemed like a valid question to me. The doctor just smiled and moved on. I think he wanted to pat me on the head, but, as I said, he was very professional.

I'm a person who believes that God doesn't give you more than you can handle at any given time. In the course of my illness and its accompanying bits and pieces, I have had occasion to wonder about that, more than once. But, I have always remained steadfast. I think the trick is to always look around at others and consider what they have to deal with.

For me a short list would include my friend Peters (not his real name, but it doesn't matter because it was his professional name and now may actually be his real name) who has been color blind as long as I've known him, who now has eye issues which he describes a feeling like he sees everything through a smear of Vaseline.; a friend who has had ten back surgeries; not-his-real-name Walter's wicked smaht wife who has some sort of fusion going on in her neck, and anyone with ALS.

Besides, what could be a better way to stop thinking about how bad your ribs hurt than thinking about how bad your face is going to hurt after oral surgery? You can't think of anything, can you? Enough said.

Anyway, like so many other things, the surgery itself was virtually painless. I had the chance of being sedated, but opted for Novocain instead. I didn't want to miss anything I could have used as column material. In about 15 minutes, or so, the work was done. And afterward... no pain to speak of and no need for even an aspirin. Yeah, baby.

I could now return my attention to the constant pain in my ribs, and with a new hole in my jawline to be putting my tongue in, despite being told not to. What can I tell you? I'm a rebel.

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, July 9, 2015

How lawn care led to medical care

What thought do you suppose was running through my head as I felt myself falling to the ground last week, after getting my feet tangled in a piece of lawn furniture I was trying to move while mowing the lawn?

Obviously, your answer cannot be an expletive-filled, Lord's-name-in-vain laced observation on the unfairness of life. Well, it can be, and it is part of the answer, but I guess what I'm looking for from you now is what else was going through my head as my ribs prepared to meet the ground with a fair amount of force, directly contrary to medical orders which had demanded that I do not fall again?

Let me help you. The thought was one of the following: a) This is going to leave a mark; b) Boy. This is going to really hurt; c) Who's going to tell my physician's assistant that despite her looking me directly in the eye and saying, “Do not fall down ever... ever again,” because it certainly isn't going to be me?; or d) Fall out of bed, breaka bone.

The answer is d). But more about that in a moment.

First this: just about every piece of physical damage I have done to myself in recent years has happened when I was doing some random act of gardening. I don't really care for gardening, it's really Sheri's idea of a great way to spend time. But the fact that I was stung 15 times by bees and have now just done some serious damage to my already damaged ribs while mowing the lawn, certainly gives me reasons for what had been heretofore just a random lack of interest to become a very strong dislike.

True, being stung by the bees led to the discovery of my multiple myeloma, but, then, how's that working for me? Right?

But back to the “Fall out of bed, breaka bone” thought.

My younger daughter Alison, who is about to turn 44 years of age (maybe 43) and her sister Jennifer developed two of the most basic skills in opposite manners. Jennifer chose to focus on learning how to walk and took a while to make speech a goal. Alison was much more interested in talking than moving, figuring, in retrospect, I suppose, that she could voice her opinions to people as they passed by, as opposed to going to where people were and then having nothing to say.

We were actually worried that there may have been some developmental issue involved. It soon became apparent that she had simply been storing up smartass remarks so that she was ready to effectively interact with those around her.

She quickly learned that she could say things and people would react. If nothing else, they would stop ignoring her and pat her on the head. One of the first times she noticed this, I think, was when she fell out of bed one day and broke her collarbone. One and all were told, “Fall out of bed, breaka bone.”

Well, we all felt bad about that, and initially she kept it to herself except when people asked why she was wearing her little figure eight brace to mend the collarbone: “Fall out of bed, breaka bone.”

But as the queries began to dry up, she added to her sad saga: “Daddy bad. He no watch. Fall out of bed, breaka bone.” I'm not quite sure where she came by this thought, her sister perhaps, but it quickly became fact that I was in charge of her for the day, she fell out of bed and landed on her collarbone, and it was my fault, never mind that it happened before I went on Alison-watching duty.

The fact that she insisted on telling this story, over and over was bad enough. The fact that she was just learning to speak made the whole thing sooooo much more agonizing: “Daddy... daddy... daddy bad. He... he... no... he no... he no watch... Fall out....Fall out of... fall out of bed....breaka bone.” Oy.

Let me tell you, a sweet little blond-headed cherub looking sad with a figure eight brace pulling her shoulders back labeling her father as the perpetrator of the need for her brace... You can say it was an accident until you feel that you may need your own figure eight brace to keep your shoulders from slumping, but you would not want to take the witness stand and compare stories. When people heard “Fall down, breaka bone. Daddy bad...” Perry Mason couldn't have helped my case.

Anyway, that's what was going through my mind as I headed for the ground, ribs first. I was right- it did leave a mark, it really did hurt, and no one at the cancer clinic was especially pleased that I had fallen down and hurt myself again when I had been specifically instructed not to do that.

The damage was done to the same spot that has been sore from the beginning of my feud with multiple myeloma. Nothing was broken, but it still hurts a lot and keeps me awake. But at least lying awake at night, gives me more time to think about why all these things keep happening to me. On the plus side, I did break my fall with my face (insert your joke here).

Maybe Alison's sad report on her accident was actually some sort of curse. Maybe I shouldn't have told her that Shetland wool came from Shetland ponies subsequently causing her ridicule when she was older... Oh, wait a minute. I told her sister that and it led to a whole other tale of woe. Let's save that for another day.

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I'm not shipping off to Boston

We didn't have to go to Boston this week. That was a wonderful thing.

Let me clarify a little. When I say, we didn't have to go to Boston, I really mean we didn't have to “go to Boston.” Big difference at our house.

Sheri and I used to really like Boston. It was only three-plus hours away and more like San Francisco (our favorite) than any other city on the East Coast. OK. We have visited every city on the East Coast. Let's just say we've visited enough to consider it... But this isn't a travel piece, so let me return to the point.

To us, though, going to Boston no longer means the science museum, the aquarium, Fenway Park, or even “Cheers.”

“Going to Boston” means an arduous three-plus hour trip at the end of which are difficult memories, often unpleasant news (though not lately), and very, very poor-tempered drivers. I mean poor-tempered. I once got honked at while sitting in traffic for leaving too much space between myself and the car in front of me. Since we hadn't gone anywhere in at least five minutes, I was almost compelled to leave my car and go ask the driver behind us what the point was. “Don't do that,” Sheri said. “He could have a gun.” I don't think she was joking.

If you're going to be coming to Boston this summer, or just to get true horror stories about driving in Boston, talk to Sheri. She did it a lot more than I did. I was sitting safe and secure in my hospital room most of the time. Woops/ Not a travel piece.

So, anyway, most of my cancer care is, and always have been, done at the Alfond Cancer Center in Augusta (technically the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care), about 25 minutes from home. As you have read me say repeatedly, the care is wonderful. But the head guy on my oncology team is based at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute which is in.... right! Boston.

It would be a reach to say I like going to the Alfond Center. After all, you do have to have cancer or be with someone who does, to go there on a regular basis. But, to insert of Bostony-”Cheers”y sort of reference, everybody knows your name, at least in the areas we visit on a regular basis. Also, it rarely seems crowded,. They even bring in care dogs once in a while to help everyone feel better.

The Dana Farber is, likewise, a terrific facility, one of the best in the country, but it is sooooo big. For much of my life, I was a city mouse. I went to New York City every chance I got and would have gladly lived there. Slowly but surely, though, I have become a country mouse. And I like it. We have our little country house on a country lake in the country. The library is open ten hours a week and the post office closes for lunch. It's everything we need. Travel piece?? Don't care.

We get to the Farber Institute and we have to fight traffic and people on foot just to get in. Then, there are people everywhere... and a tremendous number of them are sick!!! I'm still not supposed to be around large numbers of people, especially if they are sick, because of the way my immune system was compromised by my stem cell transplant. Granted, most of the clients aren't the type of ill that is liable to cause an infection, but let me tell you... sitting amongst about 80 people waiting for a blood draw at any given time, there's an awful lot of uncovered-mouth coughing and not-a-tissue-in-sight sneezing for this immune-compromised country mouse. Style-purists- I realize that there are way too many hyphens in that sentence. I'm just not skills-level capable enough to help myself.

As we move through the halls, the memories drop by to say howdy. The apheresis machine room, the surgical area where my Hickman line was put in, the walkway to the Brigham and Womens Hospital where my stem cell transplant was actually done and on and on and on. Again, it's much worse for Sheri because she had to find her way through the halls a lot more than I did., but still... There wasn't much fun to be had for either of us and... nobody knew our name.

So I didn't have to go this time because my cancer is behaving itself and I already have an appointment locally in a couple of days for my monthly check up. I called the Farber and asked and all agreed the trip was unnecessary for now. Will we have to make the trip again? Almost certainly, but not now and, we hope, not for a while. We can put that one in the win column.

Who knows. Maybe we'll even put going to Boston back on our list of fun things to do. Hey, it could happen.

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.”