I’ve been going through this whole cancer-treating process focusing, as much as possible, on simply getting through each day, one at a time, facing the challenges as they come up, and trying to find the funny in decidedly unfunny situations.
I think, by and large, that I’ve been successful. There have been plenty of days, plenty of specific parts of my treatment that were difficult to face and difficult to get through. But I have gotten through and moved on, getting ready for whatever comes next.
We came home the other day after almost a month in Boston, in which we took the final steps preparing for, going through and beginning recovery from my bone marrow transplant. All of which happened, and all of which we got through day by day.
The whole thing sucked, don’t get me wrong. I was nauseous every day, and still am. I was so tired, but couldn’t sleep and still can’t. I went days without eating hardly anything. But I knew I could endure anything for a day, which all I was really being asked to do. And I did.
It wasn’t until we got home that I was able to look at the almost-30 days as a whole. It was hard physically, but I can’t think of anything I’ve gone through that was a tougher mental battle than this.
My Boston oncologist had said I would have good days and bad days, and days where I would want to give up. But, he added, as long as I was able to see each day as just one day, I would be very successful.
Both my daughters and my grandkids have played sports. Regardless of what the particular sport may have been, in each they had the equivalent of a Slaughter Rule. I doubt that it was ever called that; more likely, good sportsmanship rule, or if-we-don’t-have-a-rule-like-this-we’re-going-to-be-here-all-night rule. The point was, of course, after you’re being beaten badly enough, there’s little left to learn and the exercise becomes abusive. So when one team got far enough ahead, it usually was ruled the winner, and the game was called.
I confess there were times after my transplant that I wanted to invoke the Slaughter Rule. It’s not that I wanted to give up, but I had been beaten enough. I was in the same room for 17 days, isolated from just about everyone. The masks the staff, my wife, Sheri, and everyone had to wear added to the feeling of being cut off.
Every day seemed endless, just like the one before it. It would begin around 6 a.m. with the first of several daily checks of my vital signs. Then there’d be my early morning medication, followed by a sporadic stream of nurses, staff and members of my transplant team doing the same things and asking the same questions.
I had plenty of toys with me. I had my laptop, my Nook, my iPod and the hospital provided some sort of ersatz cable television. I had a terrific book my daughter, Alison, had given me, but none of it was much use. I simply couldn’t focus long enough to become engaged with any of it.
As the days ground on, surprisingly, invoking the Slaughter Rule become less of an option. Why? My wife and kids were there with me every day, in the room or by phone, encouraging and supporting. There were my friends and all of you: people I either don’t know or barely know, who have been encouraging since Day 1.
Then there was my friend Cindy. I’ve never met her, but I don’t need to. She is in a situation similar to mine, only about six months further down the road. When I was hardest on myself for not being strong enough, admiring her strength, she reminded me that she had been exactly where I was. The strength and courage I was seeing in her was because she had gotten through the things I was struggling with and come out the other side. She was able to convince me that I would, too.
As I look back over the months I’ve had cancer, I realize that faith has allowed me to face my fears and that courage is the reward for having done so; faith always came first.
So, Sheri and I are home and loving it. I still feel crappy a lot of the time and can’t really sleep very well. Mentally, I feel like I could put my brain in a scratch and dent sale, but I continue to work on that as well.
In a couple of days, I have my first doctor’s appointment since leaving the hospital. It will be in Augusta, back with my team there that has been with me since the beginning. Obviously, I’m hoping that everything is fine, but here’s the truth: The thought of getting outside, taking a ride in the car and actually being around people who, except me, aren’t wearing masks and gloves … pretty exciting, boy.
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.