Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Go West Young Man, and take your cancer with you

I took a look at the weather on my smaht phone after turning off the alarm the other morning and it read 1 degree. It looked odd. Like someone had taken the other numbers. 1 degree. I haven't felt like that since just after my stem cell transplant when I looked at the nurse's board in my room and saw that I had 2 white blood cells, I knew I needed thousands to even be able to leave the hospital, but all I had was 2. What?!

The 1 degree felt similar. I knew I needed a lot more before I would be get out of bed willingly, but there weren't any more.

Still, of all 50 states, Sheri and I made a conscious decision to move to Maine. We were 49 at the time, so it was with full knowledge that we would spend our retirement years here. There was some consolation in the fact that we were leaving a place with much worse winter weather (Syracuse, N.Y.), and that Maine was … well... very Maine-y, which made the winters manageable.

Well, 1 degree it was and I got up, mostly because I was meeting Not-His-Real-Name Walter for our weekly coffee council, so I didn't really have much choice. The Fire Road we live on can be a real bear to navigate when there is snow and ice on the ground, and I've ceased to be surprised if, upon attempting to leave, I end up way further down the hill than when I started. But this day, things were good. My second surprise of the day was to come when I got where I was going.

I reached Not His Real Name's house in time to see a lonely figure walking up his road. I could tell very little about the person because they seemed to be wearing a great number of clothes, covering just about every inch of their body, except for the smallest of slits around their eyes.

As I waited for Walter to appear, the person turned into his driveway and unshielded enough for me to see it was his Wicked Smaht Wife- I'm going to start calling her Sheila (not her real name). As Sheila was telling me how wonderful her walk in 1 degree weather had been, I must confess I was hearing very little of it. I was reworking in my mind what it was that made me think she was Wicked Smaht. So I smiled, and nodded, and muttered encouraging things until Walter came out and we drove off.

“You should think about walking home,” she cried after him. “If you wear lots of clothes it won't be too bad.” Right. So, off Walter and I went in my nice warm car that had taken most of the drive to Walter's to actually warm up. Coffee awaited.

One of the things I like about our Tuesday morning sessions is that NHRH is constantly coming up with theories that are... hmmm... they're... well, certainly convoluted, but almost always fascinating. This week was no different.

“Suppose,” he began, “ you were living in a small village in Vermont in 1850. You were happily married, had a nice life, couple of kids... maybe you were the town newspaper editor and the government came along and told you you had to move West. Had to. There weren't enough people out there and you and yours had to pack up and go.” It took him about five minutes to explain that, but that was the gist.

“You'd have two choices,” he pointed out. “You could fuss and feud and yell about how unfair it was, demand to see a lawyer, and just otherwise be unpleasant and argumentative, even though you were going, and not a lawyer nor a fuss was going to change that. Or,” and he paused for effect, “you could simply say OK and get about the business of heading West. Maybe buy yourself a cowboy hat and some spurs, and look at it as an adventure. It wouldn't necessarily mean you were any happier about it than the other guy; you just understood you had zero options.”

Then he looked at me, and, as he so often does, brought me into it. “That's pretty much what happened to you. A force outside your control said, 'You have multiple myeloma, now deal with it.' Which you have done, like the second guy in the example. You accepted your situation and decided to treat it as an adventure.”

Understand, he had not brought this idea fully formed to the table. It simply developed as he and I were talking. And I realized that, without even realizing it, that was exactly what had happened. In the beginning, my cancer was an adventure; not necessarily a happy one, but still... There was all the new language to learn, health professionals to meet, medicines to take, examinations to undertake, Every week was filled with something new, and quite often, mildly terrifying. It was an adventure.

I think part of the problem I'm having with my overall attitude now, is that the sense of adventure is gone. There's nothing knew. It's become this two-year plus slog through ill health. In the Go West analogy, I've hit Kansas- miles and miles of not much. I dumped the spurs and the cowboy hat somewhere in Missouri. Now there's just constant walking and moving forward, which, though it can be its own reward (if you call it exercise), does wear on a person. And I think that's where I am and what's going on. The adventure has gone, at least for now, and I'm just a guy with cancer and stomach pains trying find an end to all this flatness.

By the way, Walter walked home.

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