Thursday, May 26, 2016

A farewell to arms

Regular readers have often been asked, by me, to be arbiters of taste, mine. And here we are again.

Sheri and I were outside with our neighbors Harold and Sue (their real names) contemplating the demise of some groundhogs who had wrought considerable destruction on our gardens. It was twilight and mosquitoes were out in full force. None seemed to be biting me and so I asked, “If I have a cancer of the blood- which I do – and a mosquito bites me... is the joke on it?”

Not only did I think it was funny, I thought it was a valid question. My wife feigned outrage, although it might not have been feigning. Sue laughed and Harold was not around for the conversation. So, that wasn't much of a sample.

My wife said “only you” would say something in such bad taste, but she says that a lot so it doesn't have the impact you think it might. It's funny, right?

Whether or not you find that funny, last week marked another landmark on my journey through recovery. I had my final replacement immunizations which were the last step in the lengthy stem cell transplant process.

The bulk of the work was done in May 2014, but, since the transplant wiped out my entire.... entire immune system, I needed to have all my childhood vaccinations done again, along with some adult ones. Due to necessary time frames between injections, it took 18 months to complete. So, yes, I had the final appointment on my calendar for almost 18 months.

I have said before that I am not always the go-to person around my disease or my treatment. Tell me when, tell me where and I'll be there. A Reader's Digest condensed version of what the treatment will be is nice, but, as anyone who has compared the RD version of a book and the book itself will tell you, much is left out.

Anyway, I showed up the other day to get my final shot, which I knew was for rubella, measles and mumps. I knew that because I read of occasional outbreaks of these diseases and it worries me to have any of those in my golden years. But... Reader's Digest alert... much had been left out. I was actually supposed to get six shots. Six shots. Six. Shots. Oh, man.

When I was first diagnosed, a friend of mine, we'll call her Megs (not her real name), in a completely unrelated Facebook post, wrote that she'd had to have a shot that day and it had completely unnerved her. She hated getting shots and even the thought of them really upset her. Without thinking, I typed, “Geez. Don't get cancer.” Relax, I didn't send it. That would have been bad taste.

But still, it was moments like this I was thinking of. Especially in the beginning, every health professional I saw stuck a needle, or more than one, in me. You do get inured to it, but still... six. Oy.

Anyway, I got my six shots and they were very professionally administered, three in each arm. There was tetanus, rubella etc., pneumonia, and some others. And that was that. Stem cell transplant successfully completed. I did feel bad that my cancer had returned before the entire process was done, but that was an oversimplification of the event. The shots were technically the end, the practical conclusion had come when the last of the restrictions on my lifestyle (eating soft ice cream) was removed, which was after about a year.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the shots began to create some discomfort... My arms hurt, So, I turned for succor to the fountain of succor in the Arnold house, my wife Sheri.

“My arms hurt.”

“Yeah? Well, you better pull your big boy panties on and deal with it.”

She was kinda joking, but she's had Type One diabetes for over 22 years and in the course of that time she has given herself thousands of shots, many of which hurt. So, there was more than just a touch of “get over yourself” in her jest.

So, I didn't say too much more about it, which was fine. Until I was lying in bed that night and realized I really couldn't lift my arms very easily, or quickly. The thought occurred to me that if someone broke in and told me to raise my arms or I was a dead man, my only option would have been to sing a rousing chorus of Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl epic, “Goodbye It's Been Good to Know You” in farewell.

True story.

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, May 19, 2016

A big brain is a terrible thing to waste

Yeah. So I had coffee with Not-His-Real-Name Walter earlier this week. Please note that this is not something I do just so I may enjoy a delicious beverage..

See, Not His Real Name has a big brain, as do I. When put together, conversation generated can be upsetting to the casual observer. One of the saving graces. Though. is the fact that Walter's brain is more developed and has a greater capacity towards improving the common good. He reads actual magazines, news magazines, as opposed to those exploring and exploiting pop culture. Me, I don't read magazines unless I'm stuck somewhere waiting for a doctor, lawyer, car mechanic or some other who tries to distract you from the amount of extra time you are having to spend waiting for them.

Walter also makes daily visits to web sites specializing in presenting the latest news, usually accompanied by analysis designed to spark discussion. My favorites list is scattered with sites like where levels of sweet and cute can become dangerous to the health of any diabetics who may stumble onto them, and where serious discussion, if there even is any, will invariably swirl around the merits of dogs v. cats and which make better companions.

The fallout from these differences means that if Not His Real Name and I are going to have a serious discussion about a serious topic, he's going to have to take the lead.

Take the other day, for example. He brought up the topic of man's inability to accept that, at some point, he is going to die; that our instinct for self-preservation is driven beyond all logic. By and large, he said, we will fight like the dickens to avoid talking about death, thinking about death, or dealing with death in any way, shape or fashion, even though, on some level, everyone knows they can't avoid it.

“Watching people deal with it,” he was saying the other morning, “is a lot like watching someone living in a house that's on fire and hearing them say, 'Yeah. I know the house's is on fire, but don't you think a new sofa would look great over there? What about some new drapes?”

It becomes a case where something important, nay essential, that is, our desire for self-preservation, actually becomes a bad thing if you think about it. Time we could spend making a logical transition from robust youth to a necessary older age is wasted on nostrums and schemes designed to keep us feeling young, or at the very least, convincing those around us that we're younger than them.

Now, this is where Not-His-Real-Name-Walter's big brain really rises to the fore. Just as the self-preservation battle is reaching a peak such as only a serious physical break can slow, we're given this sort-of aging blanket that covers us and forces us to look at and accept certain things at certain times of our lives.

Under cover of the blanket, we see we can't run as fast as we once did, let's say. We still carry on the fight for self-preservation, but with one less tool. Then maybe we realize we need to take more naps. Arthritis tosses its two-cents worth in to make it more difficult to open that jelly jar lid. And so on.

The fight continues, but as all these little bits and pieces add up, we begin to see that maybe, just maybe, letting go a little wouldn't be so bad; acknowledging that there will come a time when death isn't necessarily the horror we've believed it to be all these years.

Now, this blanket has great value when you're able to start using it at the correct point in your life. For it to produce the desired affect, it should be mid-70s or later, when the parts that aren't working as well as they once did begin to outnumber the parts that do. Makes sense, right? Who wants to jump out of bed first thing in the morning yelling, “Hey. It's raining! I get to battle the arthritis in my knees today!”

So, the fight for self-preservation and the aging blanket become two essential tools in finding comfort as you grow older and move towards the inevitable “you know what.”

But, as Walter is apt to do, he points out that people like myself... those with a major disease that aims to cut my life short, don't really get full advantage of the aging blanket. My aches and pains haven't reached anywhere near critical mass; not even close to the point where there can be comfort waiting along the road that leads to the end.

Unfortunately, that's as far as our discussion got: seeing the issue, but not the solution. Still, as long as he continues to visit cool web sites, progress can be made. At the same time, I can spend my time watching cute cat videos to keep my mind off things. Then we can get our big brains back together and see how far we can go the next time. Stay tuned.

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, May 11, 2016

Hope is just a doggie in the window

Here's what was going through my head as I was waking up the other morning: How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the waggly tail, how much is that doggie in the window, I do hope that doggie's for sale.

Yeah. Welcome to my nightmare. If you're a certain age, you doubtless remember Patty Paige's hit version of this song in early 1953, the one that sold over two million copies. If you're of a different certain age, you likely wonder why a song about a dog for sale in a window could ever be a hit record. Well, it was. You can always bring it up when someone older than you is telling you your music is rubbish and how stupid a certain lyric might be. the...window.

As the endless repetition of the song through my head was finally winding down, I was actually left with … hope. Why did that linger when the rest had gone? Beats me. I really don't like thinking too much because odd things like this are often the outcome.

I will say, and maybe it has something to do with all this, since the first day I learned I had cancer, hope has been an essential part of my journey. It has been one constant in an otherwise muddled and sometimes frightening path.

When you're told you have an incurable, but treatable, form of cancer, it wouldn't surprise you to know that you immediately start hoping for the best, right? I mean, it just makes sense. And that's what we did,

Then, as we moved through all the treatments and medicines, hope remained in the foreground. When I was told the initial treatment would be chemotherapy in pill form, it made little sense, given what I knew about cancer. However, given that I knew next to nothing about cancer, it quickly became apparent that that was how it was going to go. I hoped that it would work, obviously, and to a certain extent, it did.

Then came the stem cell transplant. If I knew little about chemotherapy in pill form, I can assure you, I knew even less about a stem cell transplant. What the heck was that deal? Again, it was time to drag hope into the picture and throw it at this procedure and wish for the best. Again, the treatment was quite successful. It was a lot to go through, and involved many moving parts, and arduous days for both myself and my wife Sheri. But in the end, hope had its day and we beat the multiple myeloma back.

But now, it's making a return engagement and we're back to trying to knock it down again. Hope? Yeah, we could us some.

This time though, hope almost seems like it came be one of those four-letter words. You know, the kind you need the upper case keys on a keyboard to be able to use in a family setting: s#*& or … well, you know what I mean.

Maybe it should be spelled h%&*, or h&p*. I'm finding it hard to hope right now, at least in part because I'm not sure what to hope for. Yes, yes, the big picture: knock the myeloma down again, get back into being free of its more obvious effects. Right. Of course. But there's more to all this than that one big picture.

Daily, you need to be able to find things to hang on to, look forward to, feel good about. You have to be able to hope that this afternoon will be better than this morning and this evening will be best of all.

Many mornings, I wake up and find that I feel okay. But, as I get up and start moving through the day, I begin to weaken; to feel sick and/or tired and don't know what to do about it. Hope sort of turns on you and gives you a false sense of what your life is today. At times like that, I suppose giving up would be one thing I could do, but it isn't an option. Lost as I sometimes feel, I need to keep going, bumping into things as I must, even losing heart on occasion.

But, hope is ultimately going to be the tool to use, because, it's limitless in what it can do. The limits I put on it are mine. Just as we never truly knew if the doggie was for sale, although the singer lists a multitude of reasons why she would like to buy the dog, we just have to keep hoping that the outcome will be what we need, rather than what we might want.

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