You know the best thing about thinking too much? It’s… ummm. Well, you can… It lets you… Nothing, actually. Nothing is the best thing about thinking too much.
But as surely as a blind squirrel will occasionally find a nut, sometimes all that thinking can produce a thought that actually works. For example, when I started writing about having cancer, I struggled with how to position what I was doing. I didn’t want to talk about following my illness, or my disease; I wanted to write about more than that. I didn’t want to use “fight against cancer” because the idea of me fighting cancer suggests more control over the situation than I could ever hope to have.
I settled on “my journey through cancer,” and that seems to have been the right choice. It certainly is a journey. At first, the fact that I had cancer didn’t mean much, not really. I didn’t feel any different, I didn’t have to make too many changes to my lifestyle. Yes, I knew I had cancer because my doctors told me so, but what did it mean?
I once imagined a person could physically feel the malignant cells chewing their way through his system, like some ersatz Ms. Pacman. Well, no, that wasn’t the case.
Even the treatment was not what I’d expected. Yes, I was on chemotherapy, but I took it in pill form, not sitting in a chair with an IV dripping into my arm.
Then my first oncologist retired, and his replacement — remember, it’s a journey — deemed me an excellent candidate for a stem-cell transplant, and who was I to say no?
As the journey continued, my doctors discovered a rare chromosomal disorder called chromosome deletion 17p, which has a tremendous impact on how my cancer is treated. I believe it is by the grace of God that the doctors working with me are actually well aware of this issue and are confident they know the best way to attack it in order to lengthen the remission I gain from my stem-cell transplant.
For the chromosome issue, I do sit in a chair and have chemotherapy presented through an IV, as well as taking the pills.
The transplant itself involves taking some of my own stem cells and freezing them. Then my system will be subjected to very harsh chemotherapy, and my own stem cells will be put back — after defrosting, of course. Since my life literally depends on taking care of those stem cells, I guess it’s only natural to have had a couple of Far Side moments around it. The comic panel shows a liquid covering the bottom of a refrigerator and two doctors looking at it: “Geez George. I thought it was your turn to make sure the fridge was plugged in!” Tacky, I know. And it’s no reflection on my actual care, since numerous redundancies are built in, and my care team is wonderful. It’s just the sort of thing my brain will cook up just for its own amusement.
Even though it doesn’t begin in earnest until the middle of April, the transplant looms large in our lives, like the elephant in the room. We have so much preparation to be done, arrangements to be made, financial concerns to be addressed. It is daunting, to say the least.
And here’s the thing … I still have time to put a stop to it all. If I say I’ve changed my mind and don’t want the transplant, the entire cottage industry that is Jim Arnold’s stem-cell transplant shuts down and moves on to the next case.
For better or worse, though, I can’t do that; can’t even consider it. None of my doctors have talked about — well, bluntly — how much longer I can live with what’s wrong. The one thing everyone agrees on, however, is that the stem transplant will extend that time, and time equals hope — hope that a cure can be found for multiple myeloma. We’d still have the chromosome deletion to deal with, but without the cancer that becomes a whole different issue.
Anyway, this has been my journey to date. It’s like the kid in Family Circus when it shows the route he took to get home and it wanders all over, but it gets him home anyway. That’s my journey in a nutshell. It’s taken me to places I never thought it would, but the goal remains getting home safe and sound, with my new pony in the yard. A guy can hope, right?
Jim Arnold is a copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about Arnold’s journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.