Our relationship with the new oncologist has gotten off to a banner start. Whether that’s because he has the same professional demeanor and good bedside manner as his predecessor, or because he had so much good news for us, it’s hard to say.
There certainly was plenty of good news.
First off, the chemotherapy continues to be very successful — my blood work showed real progress in knocking down the malignant cells.
Secondly, he is halving the amount of steroids I need to take. They throw my system off track, make me manic, and take away my ability to stop talking. Jabber, jabber, jabber, jabber. Even as I tell myself to stop talking, the steroids tell me not on their watch. The doctor thinks the reduced dose should still be effective against the cancer, and I am certainly willing to give it a try.
Thirdly, we’re adding an intravenous medicine that will start mending the holes in my bones caused by the myeloma. My listening skills decided then that they’d done more than enough, and stopped. The treatment is a good thing, I got that much. Details will need to wait. Besides, we have bigger fish to worry about.
Namely, the stem-cell transplant. My new oncologist thinks I would be a good candidate for the procedure, and I guess it can make quite an impact on long-term remission. I’m not a doctor, though I’ve played at least two onstage, but at least that’s the gist I think I got.
“They” take cells from my own system, process them and put them back in. Shaken? Stirred? Don’t know. Pros and cons? Yes. Since multiple myeloma is as yet incurable, long-term impact of any treatment is important. We have an appointment at the Dana Farber Clinic in Boston for mid-January with someone who specializes in the procedure.
I think I need to take a minute here to say that ignorance isn’t always the wrong tool to use. Just sayin’. There was a time, for example, when, if my car started making odd noises I didn’t understand, I just turned up the volume on the radio to drown them out… OK, maybe not the best example. Things invariably got worse and cost more to fix.
Instead, let’s say we’re having dinner at someone’s house, and they serve something exotic, but don’t tell you what it is. They want you to be “open to the experience.” Fine. Turns out I like it, eat the whole thing. I don’t then need to know it was iguana offal fried in wolf urine. I don’t. I just don’t. Score one for ignorance.
Alas, as we began to consider the transplant, ignorance became the first casualty. It had to be done, but at least it was quick, though hardly painless.
It’s probably just as well that there’s little need for me to into specifics here; you may have noticed that specifics aren’t really a strong point for me. Suffice to say, the transplant is a very serious procedure. It’s time consuming, involves two to three weeks in the hospital, and the recovery can take months.
I won’t know the specifics of my case until after we go to Boston. The information I’ve read seemed to discuss some constants, regardless of the individual situation. But, considering I found out I had cancer after being attacked by a swarm of wasps, I’m open to possibilities.
The one thing I do know about the transplant is this: If it can lengthen the time I’m in remission and reduce the amount of medication I need to take to stay in remission, sign me up.
This isn’t really about life expectancy, by the way, because any number we put on that is just a number, cancer patient or not.
I guess we all have parts of our past that we can describe as our Dark Ages. I certainly do and if all this had happened then, I probably would have joined my father and my sister Moira in giving up the fight because it “just wasn’t worth it.”
Well, guess what? Somewhere along the way I lost my “give up.” I have a life I consider second to none. Frankly, I fought to get it and I’m surely going to fight to keep it. I’m just glad I don’t have to do it alone.
So here’s my current plan: I will continue to take this one day a time and try to keep my brain from treating a lack of solid knowledge about the transplant process as an excuse to party like it’s 1999. (Yeah. I know. But you get what I’m sayin’. Right?) I’ll let you know how it works out.
Jim Arnold is a copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. He was born in Scotland and came to America with his parents in 1963, when he was 14 years old. He and his wife, Sheri, moved to Maine in 1998. He has two daughters, Jennifer and Alison.
Editor’s note: This column is a shorter version of the one Arnold originally wrote. To read the entire column, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.