Does anyone have a positive thought they could spare? Anyone? Seriously. I’m at the Jack and the Beanstalk stage of need. I’d happily exchange the family cow, or 21st century equivalent, for some magic beans, or in this case, an uplifting notion.

The subject this time was supposed to be how this journey through cancer changed considerably when people decided it was OK to… to… what? Not make fun, I guess, but to know if they wanted to make a joke at my expense, that was OK with me. Not only OK, but … well, fun.

See, as people first came to know I had cancer, it quickly became obvious that most really didn’t know what to say; how to react. I think most of my friends were afraid of saying the wrong thing. No matter how hard I tried to make it clear that there was no “wrong thing,” their discomfort remained obvious. Some were so unsure what to do, they started avoiding me, or at least avoiding talking to me. I can understand why people would want to avoid me, but not for that reason. Bummer.

As time has moved along, and they’ve come to see my death isn’t imminent, certainly no more so than it was before I got sick, we’ve been able to get back to more of the give and take, “So’s your mother” sort of thing.

The trouble with writing about it is that the humor around my illness is normally situational. It’s not jokes, per se, but joint attempts to fight fear with fun.

On top of that, anytime you try to write about humor, it invariably comes out convoluted and/or boring. There’s also the argument to be made that cancer is no laughing matter. I think you know where I stand on that one, brothers and sisters.


As it turned out, I had to turn my pondering on this subject off to deal with how sick I’ve been in the last few days. How sick? Real sick. Wanting to curl into a ball … sick.

My go-to, non-oncologist physician, whose main goal is to manage my pain, has had to make changes to some of my medications and it set off a sickapalooza throughout my system. The symptoms are pretty flu-like. Nausea (Do we remember how much Jim hates nausea? Yeah. That’s right. A lot.), chills, cold sweats, hot flashes, no appetite and so on and so on. Beyond crappy, in other words … waaay beyond. You can’t even see crappy from where I am.

Look, I didn’t sign up for this. Cancer? Sure. Bring it on. After the initial surprise, I’m there. I’m fighting. But flu-like symptoms for days? Being sick enough to want my mommie? Nah. Not acceptable. Uh uh. No one told me it would be like this.

Still, lying in bed, maybe feeling a little sorry for myself, definitely feeling terribly ill, I think of my friend Cindy. She, too, had a stem cell transplant, though her cells came from a man in Germany, whereas we were able to use my own. She passed away in December having put up an amazing fight against her type of leukemia, a variety of infections and/or who only knows what else.

In all the time I knew her, her courage and strength were obvious. She was so sick, but she stayed amazingly positive.

We had talked a lot about the “nasty bits” around cancer and stem cell operations. It helped both of us to be stronger, I think. It certainly did me. But being sick in the manner I have been these past few days has made my admiration for her grow even stronger. I hate being nauseous. I hate having the chills. I hate having to sit, or lie, still waiting to see if I’m going to throw up or not. I hate it.


But, when Mr. Totally Self-Absorbed managed to be less so for a moment, I realized that Cindy dealt with all that and so much more while in an isolated hospital room, with everyone who came to her room wearing gloves and a mask, with limited access to her husband, cats and everything else she loved, and endless nights with only her thoughts for company.

At least, as sick as I’ve felt, Sheri has almost always been there, always when it mattered. Our loving kitten Kenzie has always been there to jump up on me to seek her own comfort, reducing my physical sense of wellbeing, perhaps, but adding so much love and joy to my heart.

I guess I won’t be needing your positive thoughts after all, though I’d be happy to have them. I just need to remember to be grateful for all that I’ve been given and that there are so many people who haven’t had the good fortune I’ve had.

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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