Who knew I would ever empathize with Mike Tyson, but his quote used as the headine just about sums up the last week or so, metaphorically at least, if not physically.

I’ve been in one fist fight in my adult life. It came when I was working the lights and sound system at a bar, which was little more than a barn, with a bar, some tables, lights on the walls and a dance floor, with lights below. Admission was $2 (1972) and entitled the patrons to all the beer and wine they could drink, free of charge. One of my big tasks was not to run the strobe lights after 11 p.m. They made too many people throw up. No strobes after 11. Check.

Big task No. 2: Watch for fights. When I saw a fight break out, I turned on a light over the combatants, and the bouncers went and beat the crap out of anyone involved.

One night, the bouncers were busy inside and some yahoo was beating on some of my bartender friends in the parking lot. I didn’t like his attitude, and I got into it with him. It didn’t last long. I had seen enough fights in the bar that I knew just what to do. I pulled his coat up over his head so he couldn’t use his arms, pounded him until the bouncers showed up — laughing hysterically, by the way, at the sight of me in a fight — and pulled me off the guy. Not a mark on me; one fight, one win. I retired undefeated.

Growing up in Scotland in the 1950s, I was no stranger to violence. Teachers in our Protestant school could pretty much punish you with whatever was at hand, including their hand. I once saw my mechanical drawing teacher break a 1-by-1 board over a boy’s back. His crime? He was going through puberty and each time his voice cracked, all the other 12-year-old kids would laugh. I never heard that kid speak in class again.

But those experiences aren’t what draws me to the Tyson quote.

Each Tuesday, a nurse from the Alfond Clinic calls to check on how I’m doing. One of the first questions is invariably, “Have you developed any kind of a rash?” Until a week ago Thursday, I hadn’t; that day, my answer was maybe. I noticed a few spots on my left arm that could have been anything. But I was on high rash alert, so I called the clinic, they called my doctor, the clinic called me back.

“The doctor doesn’t want to do anything right now. Just monitor it and let us know if it worsens.” That made sense to me. My little joke to the nurse — “Wait till it gets worse has always been one of my favorite diagnoses” — fell flat.

By Saturday, the rash covered my lower left leg. Not one to panic, I waited, while it covered my left leg completely up to the top of my thigh, then move to the right leg and do the same. And when I say rash, you might better picture burns because that’s what my skin looked like.

Sunday morning, first thing, I was put in touch with the oncologist on-call, who told me to stop taking Revlimid immediately.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Of all the medicines I had to take, Revlimid was the chemotherapy drug at the core of my treatment for multiple myeloma. I felt like my brain just stopped; at least the part that does my thinking and talking stopped; the metaphorical punch in the face. When I finally spoke, it was in slow motion: “What?” I finally managed.

“The Revlimid is almost surely causing your rash, and you need to stop taking it immediately,” the doctor repeated. She said she would make sure my oncologist and his staff saw her notes, and then said, “And the best of luck to you,” which at that moment sounded like, “Do you want a blindfold?”

Don’t get me wrong. She was wonderful; it was her message that sucked.

In the beginning of my treatment, which was only nine weeks ago but feels like nine months, we had been taking punch after punch of bad news and had no real way of fighting back. Then we developed our plan; Revlimid was the chemotherapy drug we would fight back with.

When the doctor said I needed to stop taking it, I guess I felt about as defenseless as that kid in my mechanical drawing class 40-some years ago. I had followed all the rules, and it felt like I was being punished anyway. If you take Revlimid away, I thought, aren’t we just letting cancer run free?

Sunday and Monday were not great days in the Arnold household. Sheri and I are rarely down at the same time, but when we are both suffering, all we can do is really hunker down, try not to hurt each other, and just pray for it to be over.

We arrived early at the clinic on Tuesday morning. There was more poking and prodding, dozens of questions, a little blood work (which was fine) and then another punch in the face: “Dr. Hart wants you to stay off the Revlimid till he sees you in two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” I got over the sluggishness much quicker this time. “But that means we won’t be treating the myeloma for two weeks.”

“The steroids actually do fight the myeloma,” she said. Glad to know they do something besides making me feel like a lunatic.

I was trying hard not to be too snarky. She was just the messenger after all. I’m not sure how successful I was. But the next part was good.

“We’ve had to go through this with other patients,” she said reassuringly. “It doesn’t hurt what we’re trying to do. It’s a way of getting your body ready for whatever doctor decides to do next.”

That had the ring of malarkey to it. But when you spread as much of it as I’ve been known to do, you tend to see malarky in plenty of places it isn’t.

In the end, of course, I accepted, even embraced, what she said because it made me feel better.

So, I may be fighting with one hand tied behind my back, but fighting I am. Good for us.

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: For a longer version of this column, visit Jim’s blog.

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