Monday, December 19, 2016

Sad isn't a four-letter word

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear...
Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get we deserve
Greg Lake


As I sat waiting for Sheri to bring the car around following our latest cancer clinic visit, I tried to root out what I was feeling. Sad was the winner.

There's a lounge just inside the front doors of the clinic, with a fireplace and a piano, of all things, along with some comfy furniture. Now, I would normally have gone with Sheri to get the car, but we were at the end of a truly unpleasant session at the clinic. The temperature outside was frightful, and the fire was kind of delightful, which is a great line for a seasonal song, but not so great when cancer has you by the mistletoe and is making you break out in cold sweat after cold sweat. Single digits, the wind whipping and the day-long sweats had made my clothes damp and going outside into a completely unheated car would have been... well... bad, to say the least.

So, I was sitting there and the usually innocuous, constantly present background music happened to be Christmas, big surprise. Say what you will about Christmas music, it is not to be ignored. This was Bing Crosby, along with a number of collaborators, including David Bowie. And as I sat there and had a lifetime of feelings pass over me, I realized I was simply sad.

I wasn't upset about Christmases past, present or future. I wasn't longing for my two front teeth, and I wasn't remotely interested in a white Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Sheri made some of those our first Christmas in Maine. The fact that they were the wrong kind of nuts probably contributed to the note she left with them for me to read when I got home from work at the credit card call center around 2:30 am: “These are the worst things I've ever tasted. Ever. They're horrible. Try some.” I did not, but enough said.

And sad was okay. We'd had a couple of pretty rotten days to finish out a pretty rotten week in my treatment. With this new regimen I'm on, I have found myself actually throwing up at some point during the week. I hate that! This week, it happened to be Thursday night, just hours before we had to be at the clinic.

So, I woke up feeling less than stellar and... wait a minute... did I just see my breath?!? And am I very, very cold?!? It took a little while, but I made my way to the thermostat to register the fact that it was 53 degrees in our house on a morning when it was minus 7 outside our house.

We use a heat pump as our principal source of heat, which is fine. But they don't really work all that great when the temperature gets too far below zero. We know this. But it was the first night of the heating season when we should have set our furnace as back up. Set up? We hadn't even turned it on.

I must confess, I almost asked out loud if maybe, just maybe, having cancer wasn't enough of a challenge; maybe having to spend seven hours at the center with two different chemotherapies and a bunch of other poisons being eased into my system wasn't enough. Well, brothers and sisters, evidently not.

But, on a positive note, and I mean that sincerely, without a trace of sarcasm, the car started and we were able to make it to the clinic, cold though we may have remained.

Despite the best efforts of everyone involved in my treatment, the day was crappy. I kept getting cold sweats; hot blankets came and went; and I couldn't get comfortable, no matter what.

But, eventually the session ended and it was time to go home and I was actually okay sitting, waiting for Sheri, listening to Christmas songs and feeling a little sad.

This is our fourth Christmas with cancer. I always have to remember that I didn't think I was going to see one Christmas after the initial diagnosis and before we settled down to battle my multiple myeloma. So, I'll take a little sad along with the joy and gratitude that regularly fill our hearts.

You know, probably the best Christmas gift I could get is the one that just came to me while I was sitting here trying to finish this column: no matter where we are in life, or how hard things may seem... we just need to be brave a little bit longer... just a little bit.

Merry Christmas.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The joy can be in the journey

When you take any journey in which you control the mode of transportation, you can experience things you wouldn't if you had to ask the driver to stop the bus, risk the fine for pulling the emergency cord on the train or just continue to look wistfully down from 35,000 feet at, say, where the World's Largest Ball of Twine is known to sit.

My daughters make the best of an average 10-hour journey to visit us by picking a web site featuring roadside attractions, many of them as simple as a business sign that catches their fancy, one like Mr. Peanut in front of Perry's Nut House just north of the City of Belfast, and visit as many of the gems they see as they can fit into their travels.

Maybe it's their recent visit that has me thinking of some of the things I've gathered in this three-plus years journey with cancer. Is that a forced comparison? You tell me. It's certainly something that I've been thinking about.

It could be it's the holidays that make you look back, not only at previous holidays and what was happening in your life then, but at the times around those mostly day-long celebrations.

Whatever the reason, I've been think about some of the things that I've noticed as I spent the past 1186 days with cancer.

First, although I am certainly more than a cancer victim, as I have pointed out numerous times before, it is almost impossible to have a conversation in which it does not come up, usually to the exclusion of anything else because cancer is a definite conversation shortner. Talking about it makes the vast majority of people very uncomfortable, and after a quick check-in to see how you're doing, they generally wander away as their most effective method of ceasing the conversation.

Chronic pain sucks. It doesn't even have to be really painful pain. When it is present every day, it makes it very hard to find positives in your life.

And finding positives in a journey like this is probably the one biggest find/roadside attraction you have to try to discover every day. The days you fall short on that need... it really doesn't matter if your cancer is in recession or has come back full blast,they aren't going to be good days.

People are going to want to show your their love for you , their caring and they're going to want to do things for you. You need to let them.

Communicating in relationships is even harder, and the closer the relationship, the more difficult it can be. Take my wife and me for example. We are both under a tremendous amount of pressure; she sees someone she loves in some state of physical disrepair everyday, while I have to watch her worry and stress over my failing health. Nerves are part of our physical make up and subject to damage just like any other. But how do you snap at a person who has cancer? How do you become short-tempered with someone who is doing everything in their power to help you though this horror? The very nature of the sickness forces us to be together, and under stress, a lot. For Sheri and me, we do the best we can and apologize quickly when we cannot.

And in a somewhat related item, I've found that having two spleens doesn't change the process of venting your spleen. Since one is comparable to the donut-sized spare tire most cars come with these days, you petty much move right though that. But, hey, maybe it replaces the time-tested count to 10 before you say something you'll regret. Maybe not. I'll have to do some research and get back to you, brothers and sisters.

Spiritual signs pop up all over the place. If you believe in coincidences, that might be what you see. I don't. I need to consider just two examples from the last nearly-1,100 days. I first discovered I had multiple myeloma when I went to my family doctor to check out some damage to my ribs that I thought was caused by an attack of wasps while I was doing some yard work. Nope. Cancer. And now for your consideration: a friend of my older daughter's is part of the team that has developed the amazing new treatment regimen that is the latest to be used on my cancer. Add the fact that the same daughter has another friend, working for a different pharmaceutical company that has come close a couple of times in a treatment for multiple myeloma and it pretty much, at least in my mind, rules out coincidence.

One last thing for now: cancer is everywhere. Maybe you need to have it to realize just how much you see it in real life, in the plot of virtually every TV show if it is on the air long enough, in books, movies... everywhere. So I think it becomes important that we keep hope everywhere. Miracles are happening and new treatments and cures are being found. So, let's keep the faith baby. The joy can be in the journey.

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