Wednesday, September 2, 2015

It's that time of year again... already

We are now just a couple of days short of the official second anniversary of the day I found out I have cancer, multiple myeloma to be precise.

What a couple of years those have been, if I may say so myself, which I guess I just did.

But you can say the same thing too. Right? Haven't the past two years been full of ups and downs, fear and fun, happy and sad for you? That's what life is like, brothers and sisters. We all get our own personal roller coaster and can ride it as often as we want. Unlike their amusement park counterpart though, whether you take or ride on this particular coaster or not isn't up to you. There's no line showing minimum height requirement. Breathing are you? Step right up and take the ride of your life!

Now, I will say that there is very little that has happened during the last two years that I would have anticipated on the day I got my diagnosis. When my doctor said I had multiple myeloma, my first thought was, “What the hell is that?”, followed by, “Did he just say it's incurable?”

All the other initial thoughts and emotions tumbled in on top of those like an unsuccessful game of Jenga.

Obviously, I wanted to know what the prognosis was, but not really; only if it was going to be good. I waited for him to say, and the longer he took, the shorter I figured my time left was going to be. Turns out, he had other things to talk about and in the end not he, nor I, nor Sheri really wanted a guesstimate on this cancer's effect on my lifeline.

I was sick and we were going to do everything in our power to counter whatever moves cancer might have, though I became unfond of any comparisons to chess. This was my life we were talking about, so keep your little horsey thingies to yourself, thank you very much. “Pawn” cliches were also frowned upon.

So, it was September 2013, I was 65 years old and had a rare form of cancer. Now what? I suppose Sheri and I could have looked ahead and seen an endless parade of doctor's appointments, medical procedures and other crappy stuff, especially since Sheri had already gone through it with our son Jason when he was a baby. But the truth was, we just didn't feel like it. Really, one challenge at a time was more than enough. Besides, this really put us into areas where we couldn't possibly have anticipated what was going to happen next.

Initially, a stem cell transplant was in the background, not really talked about, while a combination of chemotherapy and steroids was the treatment of choice. Then, my oncologist retired, my new oncologist and my doctor from Boston joined the team and a stem cell transplant moved front and center, “especially for someone who was otherwise healthy as you,” meaning me.

It was at this same time that I found out I had a damaged chromosome that could affect how my cancer responded to treatment. Oh well, nothing we could do about that; over the side that goes.

We had no idea how much had to be done before the transplant. Drugs had to be administered to bolster the healthy stem cells I did have; that actually hurt. We had to make all these arrangements with the hospital and Sheri needed to prepare to spend the better part of a month in Boston.

I had to have all the blood in my system passed through a machine that removed enough healthy stem cells to go ahead with the transplant. Then I was given killing doses of chemotherapy, my stem cells (sea monkeys as we were calling them by this time) were put back in and we waited to see if they would thrive, which they did.

My hair fell out and my friends and family gave me tremendous support; those were predictable. I spent almost three weeks in isolation in the hospital and had to avoid being around people for another four months after I got home. Those were both harder than I thought they would be.

Given how well the transplant went, I had no idea how much trouble an unknown stomach issue would bring, and continues to bring now. That was definitely an instance of plan the plans, not the outcome. We have struggled and fought with that for months and it still continues to wear me down... bad.

After all, two years ago I was looking at dealing with cancer, fully sure that whatever that might mean, we would deal with it and move on. Well, as it turns out, we are dealing with it. It's the moving on part that's at issue. My medical staff continues to to delighted and amazed at how well my body has reacted to my cancer treatment. My monthly checkups show that the myeloma is truly inactive.

I've even come to realize (about two hours ago, seriously) that my cancer being incurable is a bit of a positive thing. So many people chase exotic cures, often fronted by charlatans who have nothing to sell but false hope ... I've never felt the need to do that. Incurable, but treatable; I focus on the treatable bit.

This other thing though... But, here's the way I am trying to look at it. Two years ago we were on the brink of this scary unknown called multiple myeloma and we have weathered that in stellar fashion. As far as the stomach problem... I guess I'll just keep moving my horsey thingie, sacrifice a few pawns and remove that from our list of worries as well.

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