I was walking from the kitchen to the living room the other night when I was struck with the thought: “I will never go back to being the person I was before I was diagnosed with cancer.”
I’m not saying it’s a great revelation. It’s certainly no “Eureka!,” as Archimedes is supposed to have yelled upon discovering the principal of displacement.
Still, it gave me cause to pause. Too many things have happened in the past seven months for me to have any chance at being the person formerly known as Jim Arnold. Well the name’s the same, but you know what I mean.
First off, being struck with multiple myeloma. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason why it happened. Maybe developing lung cancer, if I had smoked like my father and my sister Moira, while still a shock, would have been not completely unexpected. Or if I developed skin cancer after being a sun worshiper who worked on my tan until my skin became a color you normally didn’t find in nature.
But, no, my cancer I have is rare, incurable and only about 100,000 people in the country have it.
Then, on traveling to Boston to meet with my oncologist there, I find out I also have an even rarer condition: a genetic disorder called chromosome deletion 17p, which will reduce the effectiveness of my stem-cell transplant.
I’m sure you understand when I say being struck with two rare condition changes a person.
There also have been plenty of somewhat superficial changes. I can’t carry as many grocery bags into the house at one time because I just don’t have the strength There are days when I cannot drive myself places because fatigue takes away the focus I need to drive safely. Since I broke my right collarbone, I’m not supposed to lift anything over 2 pounds with my right hand and arm.
I answer my phone now, when I can. That’s big change for me. After working in customer service at a credit card company for years, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was take phone calls. So I didn’t.
Now most of the calls are from the clinic, or the hospital, or the hospital in Boston, or one of our medical insurance carriers, and on and on and on. For example, the phone rang at 8:01 a.m. one morning. It was my hospital changing the time of my bone marrow biopsy the next day.
As the date of the transplant gets closer (May 2), things are really picking up speed. In addition to the bone marrow biopsy, this week I had two radiation treatments, my regular chemotherapy, a bone survey (involving 21 X-rays) and an echocardiogram. The results will be shipped to Boston to be reviewed when we go there April 9. I get the feeling that the idea is to be sure I’m in good shape, physically and mentally, to proceed with the transplant.
So, with my wife Sheri’s help, I take care of these things. That’s good, right? But I used to love being irresponsible once in a while. Seriously. Knowing the right thing to do but refusing to do it? What’s not to love about that?
When people ask me how many grandchildren I have, I usually get 100 on that one: five. Names, too: Jacob, Matthew, Emma, Sam, Josh. That’s five, right? I’m not so good about their ages or birth dates, but we love them a lot, and I always knew we would be proud to see them graduate from high school and move on to whatever was next. Now, frankly, I wonder if I will see any of their graduations, except Jacob’s, which will be next year.
Please don’t consider that a morbid thought, or even sad. It’s part of what has changed me. Hundreds of cancer-related thoughts whirl around in my brain, edging out many other things that used to share the ride. I don’t spend any great amount of time thinking about any of them, positive or not. That just happens to be the one that popped out this time. It could just as easily have been: Neither Sheri nor any of my Maine friends has ever seen me without a beard, and it seems the pre-transplant chemo will take care of that. Is it sick to think that I’ll look so crappy otherwise that she might not notice? Hey, a fella can hope, right?
I think the changes in me generally come down to the difference between being the person formerly known as Jim Arnold, and James Arnold, cancer patient. Being the cancer patient has let me change some of the things I didn’t much care for in being Jim Arnold. And yet having been Jim Arnold has added strength to my journey that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have him to draw from.
And despite all the changes, I love the fact that the amalgamated me still loves with all his heart, finds a way to laugh through the darkest times, cries at adorable videos on YouTube, uses optimism as a stick to beat on cancer’s crap, and knows enough to value the people around him who refuse to let him reject their love and support.
Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.