This whole having cancer is a tricky business, partly because it won’t stay where I put it.

Some days, I wake up and feel like everything’s good. The discomfort overnight was certainly manageable and a good night’s sleep helps deal with the challenges. I put my cancer in the hopeful drawer.

A couple of days later, I feel crappy. My wife, Sheri, asks for specifics: Physical pain? Mental challenges? And I don’t know. Some of each, usually. Put it in the days-to-be-endured drawer.

The mental challenges of living with an incurable cancer 24/7 can be severe, and I don’t like to give them any more time in the fresh air than is strictly necessary. They don’t play well with others, and they can easily wreak havoc on my overall well being. Put them in the later-gator drawer.

But, no matter what I want to do — where I want to put things — there’s always the whack-a-mole factor. You’ve played the game at carnivals and fairs, right? You get a mallet, and the playing field is made up of holes out of which moles pop at varying times. The idea is to hit the mole and get it back in its hole. Fair enough. But when you do, one pops up from somewhere else.

For me, cancer has been like that, too. As soon as I think I’ve whacked all the moles there are, that now I can start focusing on improving my health, there’s more whacking to be done. I take an occasional whack, and try to ignore it the rest of the time. I have enough to do, frankly, trying to walk the line between hope and denial, to give it too much attention. The drawers are there, the whack-a-mole is there, the walk is there. Deal with it.

But here’s the thing: Lessons I learned back at the end of last year and the beginning of this are having to be relearned. For the longest time, we’ve known exactly what the course was — follow the treatment plan, take the pills, endure the bone densifier, sit through the chemo, have the transplant, get home and begin a long recuperation period. Got it. Can do.

But now this new thing has popped up. I have these pains in my abdomen that just won’t go away. I’ve had many different kinds of tests done, and all we know is what it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, that’s good. My major organs seem to be unaffected, my blood work is good and so on. The obvious things we might have to worry about, we don’t. So what’s up, doc?

Now, how big a deal is this? I do not know. And that’s part of the worry. My doctors aren’t exactly sure either. We’ve done all these major tests, and now we are starting to look at things that seem less likely, but still have to be addressed.

There’s the chance that my new stem cells are causing some sort of irritation in my system, thus creating the pain. By the way, if you haven’t noticed, what I write should in no way be considered medically correct, or in fact accurate, even if it concerns my own health.

Anyway, the current treatment means heavy doses of steroids, which cause all sorts of side issues, but, at the same time, they also seem to do a good job settling whatever it is we aim them at. Once that treatment’s done, I guess we take another look, poke, prod and see where we are.

The thing is, of course, that this could all be nothing; a mere bump in the road that I’ve managed to make into one of the cavernous potholes you find around here in the spring. If so, good for me.

In a couple of days, we’ll be checking my cancer for the first time in a long time. The process has been focused on my transplant and recovery from that, and we haven’t, because of the nature of the beast, been able to even look at what the cancer is up to. We assume it is in remission, but we do not know. We should find out then.

You’d think that would be my focus right now — finding out where we are with the disease that started it all. But here’s the other thing: I know about my cancer. I have lived with it and been aware of it and absolutely aware of what it is and how we are treating it. It’s a known.

This other thing … this unknown. I don’t know how to fight what I can’t put a name to. Man, this sure seems like a huge pile of manure I’m working my way through.

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,

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