When I first found out I had cancer, I thought that, from that moment on, it would be biggest thing in my life. I mean, who wouldn’t? What could be bigger than having a life-threatening disease, literally, eating away at you?

Well, come to find out, for bursts of time … plenty of things. As a human being, I don’t think I can keep something like having cancer in the forefront of my mind all day, every day. I can’t keep things I like to think about in the forefront of my mind for any great length of time, why would cancer be any different?

There was, obviously, something new and shiny about the diagnosis when it was first given to me and Sheri. It came from completely out of the blue, for one thing. I got stung by a bunch of bees, went to the doctor guessing he’d tell me I had hurt one of my ribs while trying to get out of the way of the bees, and left his office with cancer. Boom Just like that.

Finding out you have cancer should have had a grander beginning than that, don’t you think? In the “dream sequence,” Sheri would have been there, holding my hand, her entire demeanor indicating that everything was going to be all right; perhaps brave little tears forming, but not slipping over the edge of her eyelids. We would have been able to talk about it on the way home from the doctor and begin our plan of attack then.

Instead, I was by myself, driving home at least two hours later than Sheri would have expected, and the plan of attack I was trying to design was how to tell her there was a very good chance that I had cancer? Try to get that out of the front of your head, why don’t you.

And then we started to deal with it. We went to the clinic together every week, and every week we had some new aspect of the disease, and what it had to do with us, to consider. First, it became absolutely definite that I had multiple myeloma. Then we were told there were medical things that could be done. We didn’t really debate them, per se. It wasn’t as if the doctor said, “There’s this, and this, and even that, we could do. What do you think?” It was really, “There’s this, and this, and that … we’re going to do that,” and Sheri and I said, “You betcha.”


My first oncologist retired and my current one took over. He and my lead doctor in Boston both decided a stem-cell transplant was the way to go. “You betcha.”

There are so many moving parts to a stem cell transplant, especially when it is being done 250 miles away (in Boston), that it was about the only thing we could think about. We had to find someplace for Sheri to stay for the month I was going to be in the hospital; we had to build up my healthy stem cells; I had to have radiation on my fractured clavicle; I had to undergo massive doses of very strong chemo; had to have my healthy stem cells harvested, frozen, and then put back in. Whew, huh?

So, we did all that. I felt nauseous for the entire time I was in the hospital. I lost most of my hair and Sheri shaved off the rest. My stem-cell count started at 2 and worked its way up to a number that allowed me to go home.

While we were gone, friends came to our house and cleaned, not only top to bottom, but side to side and then some. Dust and any little bits were my enemy. Little bits of what? Didn’t matter. I had to wear a mask sometimes, especially if I went outdoors. Listen to this: if I went for a walk outside, I had to be sure I picked up my feet; no scuffling. My mother tried for decades to get me to pick up my feet instead of scuffling. Now I was supposed to do it on my own?

So, I was isolated from folks and left with plenty of time to think while I was by myself. During all this, my friend Cindy helped keep me sane as we emailed back and forth about the progress of each of our transplants.

It was about the time Cindy’s condition worsened to the extent that we knew what the outcome was going to be, that I realized my own cancer was not the only thing I was thinking about. Then Cindy died; my lifelong mentor Dick died; my new friend Dolly died (of multiple myeloma) and low and behold, my multiple myeloma was no longer in the forefront of my mind, 24-7.

I had an incurable form of cancer that was responding spectacularly to treatment, while at the same time there was something wrong with my stomach that was tempering our joy. At a time when love was crucial to our well being, Sheri and I had to say goodbye to our cat Kenzie, who provided us with huge daily portions of love.

So, what do you know? I have cancer, and that fact has taken its own place with the numerous other things that make up my life day in and day out. Who’d’ve thought that was gonna happen? Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I need to stop saying, “Who’d’ve thought that was gonna happen?”

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.

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